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As a dancer from the age of 3 ½ turned martial artist at age 27, I have always been athletic, physically strong, strong willed, and a master of my bodyweight. Not until I changed careers from IT consulting to work full-time as a personal trainer and obtained my Russian hardstyle kettlebell certification did I truly begin to thirst and have the desire to be strong and skilled with iron.
I started my real journey with iron in 2008 by falling in love with the kettlebell as a strength tool and with the skill of kettlebell training. I had lifted weights prior to learning about the kettlebell but I had never discovered a tool and skill so magical and miraculous (in my eyes) as the oddly shaped ball of iron called the kettlebell. When I first embarked upon this journey I started training with a mere 10lb kettlebell and now, my preferred kettlebell size of choice is four times that size at anywhere between 40lbs (18kg) to 44lbs (20kg).
Recently I’ve been training for the Iron Maiden Challenge, which is a strength challenge of a pull-up, an overhead press and a pistol squat with a 24kg (~53lbs) kettlebell. To put this challenge in perspective, I am 5 feet 1 inch tall and on average I weigh about 115lbs. Right now I can pistol squat the 24kg, complete a weighted pull-up with 20kg (44lbs) and get my chin to the pull-up bar with the 24kg around my waist and the press appears to be my nemesis. I have not budged beyond pressing the 20kg for reps. Solution: keep training.
24kg (~53lbs) Pistol Squat
20kg (~44lbs) Pull-up
20kg (~44lbs) Press – My Nemesis!
I started training for this challenge about two years ago, which compared to the four years that I trained to obtain my black belt in kung fu, is a very short period of time. As Mike Boyle writes, “Training is like farming… The key is not to quit. Have faith in the process.” Training takes patience. Not only does building strength take time but also it takes skill and practice to perfect that skill. In the end it is well worth the wait to see progress; however as Master SFG Mark Reifkind writes, “Getting strong is not for everyone… That is not to say that everyone can’t be stronger, couldn’t get stronger. They can, and they could. But the truth is, they won’t.” This is because it takes time, patience, skill, the desire to improve the skill and most of all strong will. Not everyone is built with strong will.
All along the way through my journey to the Iron Maiden I have seen gradual, yet significant strength gains but recently I have truly been amazed at my newfound strength. The 20kg (44lbs) kettlebell used to be a bell size that I only considered a two-handed swing or goblet squat kettlebell size. I remember around the time that I was training for the first level of my Russian hardstyle kettlebell certification that I used to watch this woman at the gym that I trained at (this was before I founded my current business, Iron Body Studios, with my Co-Owner Eric Gahan) WARM UP with Turkish Get Ups (TGU) with a 20kg (44lbs) kettlebell. Granted she had about six or seven inches of height on me and probably weighed 20+lbs more than me but it still amazed me. Now? NOW I can complete two to three consecutive repetitions of a Turkish Get Up with the 20kg kettlebell, in addition to one-arm swings, presses for repetitions, clean and jerks, etc. It is my new best friend. When I watched that woman warm up with 20kg TGUs, I never thought that two years later I would be strong and skilled enough with my strength to use that same bell weight for every single movement that I train. It’s not that I assumed that it would never be possible, but rather that I couldn’t fathom it at the time as I was still trying to master 12kg (26.2lbs).
24kg (~53lbs) Turkish Get Up
I choose strength because not only does having the patience to train your body to be strong and skilled with iron build character, but also, strength builds confidence and independence. There is something incredibly empowering about being strong and it helps you to realize that anything is possible. In addition, there are the pleasant benefits or rather I like to call them “side effects” of looking 27 years old when I am in fact 37 years old, having the ability to carry my own groceries, having the strength to replace the 44lb Poland Spring water bottle on my own on our cooler at home, shovel snow during the harsh Boston, Massachusetts winters without getting winded, fatigued or sore, and generally continuing to move well as the years pass. Strong is sexy in every aspect. Period.
Here are some real life examples, both entertaining and earnest, as to how my choice for strength and being strong impacted real life situations:
My 15-Year High School Reunion
I choose strength because… At my 15-year high school reunion in November 2008 I was discussing with a few fellow alumni that I was training for my black belt in kung fu. At the time I was a second-degree brown belt. I explained to them that as part of the black belt test one of the passing requirements was to complete 100 consecutive military style, chest to the ground push ups within two minutes. I had just recently had a progress check for my black belt and was tested on how many push ups I could complete in one minute. If I recall correctly I think the number that I achieved at that time was 64 push-ups within a minute and yes, they were particular about form. As a result of this discussion, one of my fellow alum, who is a man and he served in the Marines, challenged me to a push up contest. Without hesitation I graciously accepted. After the re-union was over, three of us left Big City Brewery in Allston, MA, it was myself, my challenger (let’s refer to him by his initials JM) and one other alum, also a man (let’s refer to him by his initials MC) and walked to where our cars were parked in the Blanchard’s liquor store parking lot. JM and I got ready to put our hands down on the cold November parking lot pavement, (please also keep in mind that I had consumed a few beers and I was wearing a dress, knee length boots with 4-inch heels, jewelry and had my hair and make up done), while MC got ready to time how many push ups we each could do in a minute. “On your mark, get set, GO!” While I was doing push ups I heard MC yell at JM, “What kind of push ups are those?? You’re not even getting all the way down! Look at Artemis’ push ups!” and then when the minute was done MC said to me, “Artemis, you can stop doing push ups now.” I completed 63 push-ups within the minute and JM completed 55. After confirming that I won, I brushed the dirt off my hands and said, “My work is done here. See you guys later.” and walked towards my car. JM may never live that story down. True story.
Encounters at the Commercial Gym
I choose strength because… A few years ago, before I established my current business, Iron Body Studios, with my boyfriend and Co-Owner Eric Gahan, SFG, CK-FMS, I was working out at the commercial gym that I worked for at the time. During my training session I asked a man at the gym if I could work in pull-ups with him at the pull-up bar. His response to me was: “Yes, but only as long as you don’t do more pull-ups than me…” I smiled as I replied, “Well, I can’t promise you that…”
Managing Inventory at Iron Body Studios
I choose strength because… One time we received a shipment of heavy kettlebells for our business. Eric was recovering from an injury so he was not able to lift the heaviest of kettlebells that we received as there was a limited load that his body could handle. Therefore I carried the 44kg kettlebell (~97lbs) that we received in the shipment up two flights of stairs to the studio without thinking twice about it. Even if he had been able, I probably still would have carried that kind of weight up the stairs without blinking an eye.
Tasks at Home
I choose strength because… We have Poland Spring Water delivered to our home. We usually receive a shipment of about eight to ten 44lb water bottles. The deliveryman leaves them on our front porch but we carry them around to our side porch so that we can store them inside on our back stairs. I choose strength so that when we receive this delivery, if Eric isn’t home I don’t have to wait for him to get home to help me do four to five rounds of two Poland Spring water jug suitcase carries, weighing in at 88lbs per carry from our front porch to our back porch. I can do this myself and I am happy to be strong enough to do it.
I choose strength because… One time when I went grocery shopping at Whole Foods, the Whole Foods’ employee who helped me bag my groceries expressed his concern to me about the weight of one of the bags. I replied, “Don’t worry, I might be little but I’m packed with power.” He laughed in response. This scenario happens often, but people have no idea…
Staying healthy and youthful
I choose strength because… Last year I started to attend a new kung fu school, Yang’s Martial Arts Association (YMAA) located in Roslindale, MA. One day, recently after I had started to attend classes there, I had the following exchange with a senior student:
Student to me: “Artemis, so I see that you have a wushu background, when did you start studying kung fu?”
Me: “Yes. I started studying kung fu in New York City in 2003 and then continued on at the Chinese Martial Arts Institute when I moved to Virginia in 2005. I received my black belt in Virginia in 2009 and then moved home to Massachusetts.”
Student to me: “I see. So you started studying kung fu when you were a teenager?”
Me: “HAHA! I’m 36 so NO, I was 27 when I started but I will take it! You just made my year!” (This was last summer, I am now 37.)
Take care of the one body you have, and someone will think that YOU’RE 10 years younger than your actual age!
I choose strength because strong is strong, strong is healthy, strong is sexy, strong is beautiful.
Why do YOU choose strength?