5 Things I Learned at Summer Camp

And by Summer Camp, I mean, the Women’s Fitness Summit in Kansas City, Missouri.  As a fitness professional, I am required to complete yearly continuing education.  However, that’s not why I attended this event. 

I went to meet up with some of my fitness friends and fellow coaches who live far away.  I wanted to hang out with them, stay up late talking and have some play-time in the form of fancy restaurant meals and a downtown walking tour:  my own version of summer camp.

The event itself was two days of speakers and activities.  Being rather busy prior to the event, I barely glanced at the agenda, so I had no expectations of what this event might have to offer other than science-y stuff about fat loss and perhaps a mandatory workout.  But I was wrong. 

The Summit had a panel of exceptional speakers and useful information that I could integrate in my practice to help my clients, but more than that, I found a community of change-makers.  The organization which hosted the event, Girls Gone Strong, aims to help women getting stronger, not just in body, but in mind and spirit as well.

So here’s what I learned:

1. Overnight Mastery is a Myth

I heard from speakers who participated in the CrossFit games and Olympic trials.  There were PhDs of academia and medicine.  There were exceptionally well-educated, highly experienced women at the podium and in the audience.  And yet, in the speakers’ stories, in our break-out sessions to learn bodyweight exercises and handstands, I did not find anyone, among these fitness professionals and avid enthusiasts, who told a story of how easy it was to gain experience, to lose weight, to finally walk on their hands, or to reach some other personal fitness goal.  Instead, what I heard was that is takes time, it takes consistency, and sometimes, it takes sacrifice that perhaps was too much. 

What a relief to find out we are all human, and in spite of being adults, that change is hard but not impossible if we give ourselves some time and a bit of grace. And, that even in the “over-sacrificing,” there is a lesson, and there is recovery; we are never to old to start something new, to get better, to treat our bodies better or to rebuild.

2. Shame is Sneaky

Sometimes it masquerades as perfectionism, other times it shows itself as Imposter Syndrome, but at the root, most of us have doubt about our abilities, our value and our worth.  Something or someone has taught us to feel ashamed about our needs, our bodies, our emotions, our desires and dreams. 

Speakers Erin Brown and Kelly Coffey reminded us to ‘own our story,’ but not to let it completely define us.  Also, they suggested to consider whether the belief system we have been operating within is actually the truth.  Perhaps someone else called us a name when we were a kid or young adult, and we took that as our identity.   And that false identity kept us afraid and using our body to hide in, or kept us from speaking up for ourselves, asking for our needs and wants.  Both speakers encouraged me to ‘take up space’ and embrace who I was, who I am now, and who I want to become.  Being strong doesn’t always mean muscles.

3. Reframe for Resilience

One of the speakers at the Summit asked us to define ‘resilience.’  My first thought was: getting up one more time than you fall down.  Answers from the audience were a range of statements about mental, physical and emotional strength. 

So how do you cultivate resilience?

Resilience is not so much about pushing ourselves harder and seeing if we can take it.  But instead, it is about how we recover from when we do push ourselves.

We cannot develop resilience if our stress levels are too high.  And surprise, surprise: our body reads just about everything we do as stress.  It does not designate a gym workout as “good” stress and a fight with our boss as “bad” stress.  

For activities that create an emotional, physical or mental demand on our bodies, the effects of stress are cumulative.  Resilience is actually what takes place when we are balancing out the effects of the stress, by doing low intensity enjoyable activities like taking a nature walk, getting a massage or having a chat with a friend.  Sometimes it can mean getting to bed 30 minutes earlier, or adding specific foods to our routine to support what our body is going through.

My big “aha!” moment was that it was not the hard stuff that makes us better, but the easier stuff after the hard stuff that helps build resilience.  Resilience is built over time through a combination of challenging ourselves AND intentionally taking care of ourselves.

4. Tribe is Key for Growth

Many women attended this event with their friends, or they came because they were encouraged to attend by their coach or trainer.  Most of those who attended seemed to have a strong support network, back home in their day-to-day life, as they pursued health and personal goals.  

So I guess I should not be surprised then, that when all of these women converged, along with the event's hosts and speakers, it created a unique environment: where it felt safe to be vulnerable, to be raw, to be outspoken, to be curious, to learn and grow without comparison or judgement. 

There’s a well-known book titled Tribe that I have been meaning to read.  I was curious about what exactly it meant, and had never really experienced the concept in person until this event.  Honestly, I thought it was just a marketing ploy-type word. 

But here, I saw it in action:  this was a community that valued one another just as they are, speaker, coach, trainer, fitness enthusiast or attendee.  It offered a powerful gift: unconditional support for growth. 

If you don’t have a “tribe”, that is, a group of people who are like-minded, keep looking and find them.  They are your best chance for change, whether that means getting the encouragement you need to finally try a Zumba class, or finding someone else who understands what its like to deal with gluten sensitivity.  We are not meant to be alone; a good community strengthens us.

5. Climate Change is a-Comin’

No, no, not the tree-hugging kind.  But rather, the “I am woman, hear me roar” kind.  

I never considered myself a feminist.  In fact, I thought the phrase “female empowerment” was becoming trite and overused.  Until I saw it in a tangible way . . . not only at this Summit, but as a collective of voices that could significantly change the quality of life for today’s women and the following generations.

Girls Gone Strong is about getting stronger, but in a bigger sense.  It offers a refreshing and much-needed approach to wellness and women’s rights.  It is a movement to resist and reverse the negative messaging, perfect-body-obsessed, “you are broken and we can sell you the fix” $64 Billion-with-a-B diet industry.

Girls Gone Strong (GGS) encourages women to take charge of their own bodies and decide how they wish to care for them, strengthen them, decorate them and enjoy them.  It offers women support with science-driven research so they can make informed choices, instead of depending on the media and advertisers to suggest calorie-counts, beauty standards, or what constitutes a “good workout”. 

Most critically the community of GGS affirms that we can be whatever we wish to be.  We are allowed to define or re-define our identity as a woman: a powerlifter at 70, a yoga instructor who lifts weights, a curvy mom of twins who takes longs walks and eats vegan, a gal with mermaid hair who drops the F-bomb and has a Master's, or anything in between.

GGS reminded me that the unified WE, that is, all of us women coming together, can change the climate of conversation around women’s bodies, how female athletes are paid, and so much more, in what we buy and what we don’t buy into anymore.

If you are curious about GGS and their well-written articles about women’s health and fitness, click here to go their website and sign-up for their newsletter.

Or, leave me a comment below and tell me how you would like to take charge of your own body and wellness.