The fact that I played softball for 13 years without an ounce of upper-body strength is, in retrospect, amazing. You see, the main thing that matters in softball is how much power you can put behind the ball. Some of that comes from your lower body, sure, but at the end of the day it’s a sport that’s mostly about your arms. Girls were throwing line drives from center field to home plate and swatting home runs over the fence. Meanwhile, I was over here playing second base because it had the shortest throw to first and trying to swing a bat with arms like limp noodles.
I’ve spent my whole life as either an athlete or an amateur fitness fanatic, but never once did I pause in my runs, HIIT workouts, or elliptical sessions think to myself, you know, it would be nice to have some upper-body strength. I was all about that cardio and an occasional lower body workout. Did I care about building muscle? No. Did I care about my arms, my shoulders, how much I could lift or push? No. I was like, cool, the workouts I’m doing are enough to keep me in shape. I just assumed that I wasn’t “naturally” strong in my arms and back, so why bother?
Then a couple of things happened. I started getting bored, because I’d been doing the same workout routine for five years. I started reading about the benefits of strength training for your body, mind, and metabolism. And, finally, I got curious. After years of taking it for granted that I wasn’t “meant” to build muscle, especially in my upper body, I wanted to know what would happen if I just tried. What would it be like to get strong?
I started with full-body dumbbell workouts, the simplest ones I could find. (This 30-minute strength session was and still is one of my favorites.) Almost immediately I started to see and feel a difference, in my entire body but especially in my arms. When I flexed, I had major definition. I could do bicep curls and shoulder presses; me, who could barely do a push-up for years! It was shocking, and it made me see my body in a whole new light. I’d always focused on how I looked; I stuck with cardio in part because it helped me maintain my weight and the way I looked. But now I realized that I was selling myself short in an enormous way by concentrating on appearance alone.
I’m not going to lie: strength training makes your body look great, and that’s a really nice outcome. But have you ever tried moving up in weights? That sh*t is EMPOWERING. I’m lifting my suitcase into the overhead bin with ease and casually turning down the grocery store cashier when he asks if I need help with my bags. Today I looked down at the dumbbells in my hands and thought, “A year ago, I wouldn’t have even tried to pick these up. Now I’m doing three sets of bicep curls with them.”
At the end of the day, I still love lower-body workouts, ab workouts, running, and doing HIIT, but I’ll never again brush upper-body strength aside. Am I happy with how my arms look? Yes, but here’s what really matters: I’m way more proud of what they can do.
Image Source: Getty / Joel Sorrell