Bigger, better, faster, more
Everything changes when you have a baby—including your body. Laura deCarufel joins Canada’s most hardcore gym and charts the blood, sweat and (yes) tears of her fitness journey
I’m a great believer in little joys. For me, that often means food so delicious it’s guaranteed to offer delight: a sandwich oozing with molten cheese, a croissant with a centre of sweet golden damp crunched up with toasted almonds. When I got pregnant, I listened to my cravings with an attentiveness most people reserve for Her Royal Goopness—or the Pope. Two years ago, when I had a baby—the greatest joy I’ve ever known—those little joys became necessary salves for the fact that my life had become a blur of nursing, night wakings and heart-searing love. “Banana bread!” I barked at my husband one particularly dark morning, like an ER doctor rolling up her sleeves. In the evenings, as baby Charlie snoozed against my neck, I scrolled through Insta photos of fitness-y moms, murmuring, “Wow, good for them,” while half-watching Love It or List It and chomping through a bag of All Dressed. Going back to work shoved any thoughts of getting #backatit off my priority list. I was still a sleep zombie, except now I was expected to wear pants. Sure, they were a few sizes bigger than before, but who had time for steamed spinach— or squats for that matter?
Then, last December, in the pre- Christmas swirl of Prosecco and pâté, an invitation arrived from Equinox to start a no-holds-barred six-week pe personal training program in Ja January. Equinox is the type of hi high-end gym that offers chilled eu eucalyptus-scented face towels an and a high La Perla count in th the change room, plus the best tr trainers and equipment in town. IhI had done a Best Butt Ever class th there once and almost died. Sw Swanky, certainly, it was also serious. Plus, January was weeks away. I accepted immediately and probably ate a candy cane.
Reality dawned on a chilly morning, as I arrived for the first session with my trainer, Stephen. Inside, the gym was all chic neutrals and perfect lighting— more like a Dubai condo than a sweat temple. Stephen had a Tom-Cruise-in- Top-Gun- vibe, buff and tough. “So, why are you here?” he asked, pen poised over the paper. I hadn’t expected the first question to stump me. “Wellll,” I began, then proceeded to ramble on about confidence! Empowerment! Positive self-image! Plus, I’d recently had a baby—“Post-baby body—the usual. Got it,” replied Stephen, rightly shutting me up. “It’s okay to say here that you want to lose weight,” he continued. “You’ll definitely get stronger and feel great too—better than you ever have before.” Great! “Let’s start with the weigh-in.” Great?
In the training office, we did the usual measurements—arms, thighs, hips—then I stood on a next-gen scale that calculated, among other things, my body-fat ratio. I’ve blocked the exact percentage from my memory, but I can report that it was high enough to make me blanch—a word I’d previously associated with my beloved almond croissants. I knew my two years of blissful inactivity had impacted how my jeans fit; it hadn’t occurred to me that a 20-pound weight gain was also impacting my health, possibly leading to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease. I had to take that seriously—I was someone’s mother! Clearly, I had work to do. As part of the training program, I would work out with Stephen for an hour every Tuesday and Thursday for six weeks. Every Tuesday, I’d step on the scale to see if I’d met my goal of dropping one to two pounds a week. I would also keep a food diary, which I’d send to Stephen every night. If I had been mildly interested in a kick-start before, I was now fully committed. Time to hit the floor.
I came to understand that Stephen went easy on me in that first session—he was evaluating my strength, stamina and balance, as I lifted weights, attempted the rowing machine and planked for what felt like weeks. “Stop apologizing,” he’d say, laughing, after I’d mixed up my right and left leg for the umpteenth time. I left exhausted, but weirdly exhilarated, too.
The next day, I woke up in pain, but I was still able to lift Charlie out of his crib and walk down the stairs without wincing. Maybe this was how it felt to work out with a professional, instead of taking a frenzied spin class every six weeks.
I arrived for the second session almost excited. I had started the day as Stephen had suggested—with a berry smoothie amped up with protein powder—and I couldn’t believe the difference in my energy levels. “It’s about working smarter: changing 20 per cent of what you do, so that it makes an 80 per cent difference,” Stephen said, as I rolled out my muscles using a foam core. Stephen’s philosophy is all about focusing on strength exercises and perfecting technique to maximize every movement. He’s a fan of the deadlift— bending your knees, keeping your back flat, then lifting a barbell, with arms straight, up to your hips, and then back down—which activates all your key muscles, including your core. We also did back lifts, lots of lunges and chest presses (“Gun show!” Stephen would yell encouragingly as I puffed through them like Rowdy Roddy Piper). Every session ended with a dreaded cardio “finisher” designed to get your heart rate up. On the first one, I imagined that I had to row fast, fast, fast to protect Charlie from a rampaging tiger. Spoiler alert: The tiger won.
Over the next six weeks, I learned about the value of “getting fat” before lifting—taking a big breath so that the extra oxygen protects your muscles. I learned that my strict toddler-induced routine made it a lot easier to stick to a fitness and nutrition plan—I just did what Stephen told me. I also learned a lot about myself. Keeping a food diary was humbling—left to my own devices, I basically ate like a Metallica roadie. I took Stephen’s advice and tried to eat protein at every meal. I dramatically decreased my croissant intake and ate a tablespoon of peanut butter when a sweet craving hit—which, to my shock and delight, they did less and less frequently. “Who are you?” my friend asked in mock horror, when I ordered peppermint tea instead of crème brûlée. “It’s crazy,” I affirmed.
The craziest thing is that I learned that I was so much stronger than I thought. That shouldn’t have been a surprise—having a baby makes you realize that the body is essentially a machine, and the challenge of balancing work and motherhood demands some level of superhero-dom. Somehow, though, I had never connected that to my own physical strength. About a month after my final Equinox session, Charlie woke up in the middle of the night. He had a fever. I kissed his hot little forehead and walked him for an hour to get him back to sleep. In the fog of 3 a.m., the warm, sweet weight of my child against me, something became clear: As amazing as it was to be able to wear jumpsuits again, the greatest gain of my fitness journey was that my little joys had snowballed into my big one. My priorities were aligned. By being strong for me, I was stronger for him. Now I like to think, I’d give that tiger a run for its money.
“Keeping a food diary was humbling—left to my own devices, I basically ate like a Metallica roadie.”
@GOKCENARIKAN “Fitspo” moms, like the ones above, have become an Instagram sensation, offering encouragement and real talk along with workout tips. At their best, they’ll inspire and motivate you— even if sometimes, you may be tempted to power down...
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