Barbells and Back Again (Part 2): A Wife’s Tale of Becoming a ClientMy worth being tied to my athletic performance was deeply ingrained in me. I had no idea how to break free from that mindset. The more my husband implied that I wasn’t training correctly, the more hostility I developed toward barbell training. Our relationship was steady, but we got into regular, heated arguments over our fitness and nutrition preferences.
Barbells & Back Again (Part 2): A Wife’s Tale of Becoming a Client
By: Kristen Fannon
This post is a follow-up to Colin Fannon’s article about coaching his wife, Kristen. Colin is a Barbell Academy student and an independent coach. Click here to read part 1: Barbells and Back Again (Part 1): A Husband’s Tale of Coaching His Wife’s Return to Barbells.
My husband Colin and I both have degrees in exercise science, and we love all things fitness. When we met, it seemed that we had everything in common. We both enjoyed running and cycling, and we loved to challenge ourselves with cardiovascular feats that made many of our friends (and training clients) shudder.
I was an NCAA Division I cross country and track athlete for four years in college and an all-state runner for three years in high school. As an endurance athlete, I had been exposed to many training methodologies and developed a passion for improving human performance. Of my various cross country and track coaches in high school, some preferred more traditional methods of long-distance training, while others preferred the new (at the time) metabolic conditioning workouts often promoted in CrossFit gyms. As a competitor, I enjoyed it all. The barbell training in the CrossFit-esque workouts was stimulating, and I was completely bought-in to strength training as a method for accelerating my recovery time and building a leaner, meaner fighting machine. The problem was I got hurt, and I got hurt often. By the end of every single competition season, I was badly injured—even requiring surgeries after two separate seasons to repair hip labral tears. The durability attribute I had studied in textbooks was not playing out anecdotally.
Despite these setbacks, I was recruited by a Division I university and had the delight of competing at the conference and regional level. My college coach was a firm believer in standard endurance training—high mileage and minimal strength training. This coach was the Tony Robbins of my life, and I wholeheartedly subscribed to his training methods. I was convinced that being leaner (read: dangerously underweight) meant that I would become faster, and unfortunately, that was true. After reading that one pound of weight loss could shave off approximately five seconds from a runner’s 5k time, I tried to become as lean as possible. Disordered eating habits ensued, of course, and they plagued me for years, even after my collegiate athletics career ended.
With the hope of securing a lucrative position as a personal trainer at a local gym and becoming an Instagram fitness model, I was inspired to pursue my degree in exercise and biomedical science. As a naive, immature 20-year-old, those were the things I aspired to achieve. Lord have mercy. (Note: If you’re reading this as a successful trainer and Instagram fitness model, let me just say that deep down, we all still want to be you. Good for you, honey.)
I met Colin, and we were married soon after. He was everything I ever wanted in a husband: faithful, goofy, competitive, and really flippin’ fit. He trained for endurance races, and he was faster than me—a prerequisite for any man I seriously dated but also a curse due to my competitive nature. We moved to a different state together, and we both began working as personal trainers for different gyms.
My manager was a trainer who thought he knew everything. It was his way or the highway, and no amount of education or experience could persuade him that his training methodologies weren’t helping anyone lose weight or gain strength. In my naivete and desire to please everyone, I found myself training as he did—an unnecessary amount of reps and workouts that lasted two hours a day but were ineffective in providing the results I wanted to see (which were weight loss and “toning”). My Instagram model aspirations continued to fail. I actually got bulky—adding twenty pounds to my small frame—and felt uncomfortable in my body. I was ashamed for my husband to see my body without baggy clothes on. My disordered eating patterns wreaked havoc on my mental health and our relationship. In a period of great discontentment, I started a new job and ran back to what I knew, figuratively and literally. I began training for a half-marathon.
I raced in two half-marathons in two years. I lost some weight. I felt more confident. My eating patterns improved. Overall, things were going better for our relationship.
Running seemed to have smoothed things over—until Colin participated in a Starting Strength camp and returned home with an enthusiasm for barbell training that I had never seen before. He decided to ditch endurance training and train with heavy barbells almost exclusively. He would come home after each training session and talk about how everyone should be lifting weights. In my insecurity, I felt like he was saying that my training methods were inadequate. The thoughts swimming around my head went something like this:
But I’m finally fit and healthy and comfortable in my body. If I start lifting weights again, I’ll get fat again. I’m not very strong, but I am fast. I’m not meant to lift weights. Will Colin still love me if I don’t start lifting? Is he even attracted to me anymore? Am I satisfying his needs as a wife if I’m not attractive to him? Why am I such a failure?
My worth being tied to my athletic performance was deeply ingrained in me. I had no idea how to break free from that mindset. The more Colin implied that I wasn’t training correctly, the more hostility I developed toward barbell training. Our relationship was steady, but we got into regular, heated arguments over our fitness and nutrition preferences.
Then he became completely indoctrinated. He joined a cohort in the Barbell Logic Academy led by Michael Burgos and started coaching his clients in the methods of progressive overload. This man did not stop talking about the Academy and what he learned in each session. He talked about physics. He discussed anatomy. He explained levers and squat depth and how to perform an optimal strict overhead press.
Let’s back up. I have a degree in exercise science. I was a certified personal trainer myself. I excelled in my anatomy and physiology courses in college and earned higher grades than he did. Where did this guy find the nerve to act like he was teaching me something? Why does he feel entitled to coach me when I’ve never asked for his opinion? I know how to train clients. This husband of mine was not about to tell me what to do. (He’s laughing as I read this to him because he knows that’s how I operate.)
Next thing you know, I was blessed with the gift of pregnancy. Though I was beyond excited to become a mother, the process of discovering my pregnant body’s newfound unimpressive capacity was disheartening, to say the least. Throughout my life, I have been in complete control. Now, with a baby growing inside me, I was continually exhausted. It was uncomfortable to move (and to be sedentary), and I felt weak. I exercised throughout my pregnancy, but I felt embarrassed at how difficult it was to lift myself off the couch some days. All the while, Colin continued to participate in Barbell Logic courses.
A few months after giving birth to our beautiful daughter, I decided that it was time to get back into a more consistent exercise routine. I returned to running with enthusiasm, but my entire body still felt weak and broken. I knew what was needed; after all, I studied exercise physiology formally and informally for over ten years. I also knew that there was a dark figure looming over me: fear.
I’ll just train by myself. I’ll start with some bodyweight exercises. I’ll train at my workplace when no one is watching. I’ll strength train until I start to gain weight, and then I’ll back off. I won’t tell Colin because then he’ll write an email to Scott Hambrick and Matt Reynolds’ podcast to tell them that he “won me over.”
For months, Colin gently encouraged me to slowly allow my body to recover from childbirth while nursing our daughter and balancing the demands of being a full-time working mother. But all the while, he would drop not-so-subtle hints that he still thought I would benefit from strength training. I knew he was right, but his “hints” brought me right back to the first gym I worked at. I felt pressured. I didn’t feel like he respected my fears and hesitations. Because of the pressure, I became obstinate. Nevertheless, I’m mature enough to know when my inflexible mindset is harmful to myself or others. Colin truly became disheartened when I rejected his viewpoints about strength training, and I knew that I was not living according to our family values.
You see, in our household, we have six main values. We’ve promised to stick to them even when the going gets tough. One of those values is “We can do hard things.” Another is “Kindness before rightness.” My obstinacy ignored both of those values, which created a moral dilemma.
Back Under the Bar
One day as I was working from home, a delivery truck dropped off about forty heavy boxes. Inside was a full garage gym setup—a squat rack, bench, bumper plates… every exercise science nerd’s Christmas morning. Even if I didn’t lift, Bro. Pure joy emanated from Colin as he set up the rack and reorganized what was previously a parking space for our cars. How could I not allow him to train me with this setup, just steps away from our living room? I had no excuses, and I had essentially nothing to lose aside from my pride.
“Would you be interested in making a training plan for me?” I asked him apprehensively. His eyes lit up. He may have even shed a tear if I remember correctly—not that he’d ever admit that. In the midst of this (or mist, depending on how many tears you’re envisioning that he shed), I was quick to add my boundaries:
1) I didn’t want workouts that were two hours long. They needed to be quick and efficient because I wasn’t going to sacrifice time with our daughter.
2) I wanted our daughter to see me completing these workouts to show her that mommies exercise and get strong.
3) I didn’t want to lift super heavy. I wasn’t training for a competition. I was training to ensure that my bone density was maintained as I aged.
He eagerly agreed to my terms and devised a plan for me that night. The rest is history. I’ve now completed 18 weeks of his workouts, and I have no plans of slowing down. I actually look forward to my lifting plan—complete with squats, deadlifts, bench, and overhead presses, and chin-ups. I’ve only gained one pound in 18 weeks, but my lifts have progressed dramatically, and I’m hitting personal bests left and right. My entire view of myself has changed, and I’m proud of the way I’ve overcome my fears and past negative experiences. Colin continues to listen to my requests and ensures that I’m involved in developing my own lifting goals. He’s the best coach I’ve ever had.
I still run or do cardio occasionally, but I structure my exercise goals around my lifting days. I’m finding more enjoyment and life in my workouts. When my daughter is running around in the garage while I’m lifting, I can’t help but hope that she sees her parents as an example of how to live a healthy lifestyle. I’m thankful that I’ve rediscovered barbell training. In doing so, I’ve rediscovered myself.