Carole Reading: A Profile in StrengthLike many people who end up training with barbells, Carole had tried many other types of exercise and physical activity. As a teenager, she studied dance, maintaining a high level of fitness in her youth, but she could not continue to exercise regularly after her first child was born. She picked up dance classes again later in life, but soon injured her Achilles tendon. After this injury, she decided to try a local gym, but despite signing up for personal training, she made little progress.
Carole Reading: A Profile in Strength
By: Dan Shell, Staff Coach
“Sustained physical exertion is essential for health—so while your body can still move and your brain can follow directions, get under that bar!”—Carole Reading
Carole Reading—BLOC and in-person client of Adam Skillin—epitomizes the benefits one gains from consistently overcoming the challenges of iron and gravity. Training has improved her health and confidence, enabled her to lose weight and feel better, and become a valued aspect of her life. As a 68-year old woman, she has not felt this good or healthy for decades.
She displays a vibrancy and vitality that even the typed word cannot contain, and we’re excited to share her story with you.
Like many people who end up training with barbells, Carole had tried many other types of exercise and physical activity. As a teenager, she studied dance—“ballet, jazz, and modern.” With regular activity and youth, she maintained a high level of fitness but could not continue to exercise regularly after her first child was born. She picked up dance classes again later in life, but soon injured her Achilles tendon. After this injury, she decided to try a local gym, but despite signing up for personal training, she made little progress.
Over the years, she had gained thirty-five pounds and been unable to lose weight and keep it off despite exercising and dieting. She exercised regularly but did not train. She would “work on various machines,” but never progressed long term.
Looking back, she recognizes why she failed to make progress. “You need a program. When I studied dance as a youngster, there was, in fact, a programmatic approach to your development as a dancer.” You can’t be proficient in dance through random practice and drills: why should fitness be any different? Progress beyond the most basic, beginner levels requires a systematic approach.
Getting Under the Barbell
Her son gave her an introductory session with Adam Skillin as a birthday gift a couple of years ago. Adam taught her the four main lifts, and she felt a bit overwhelmed with all the information. She went to bed early—in the afternoon—and feared the soreness she would inevitably experience the next morning. She was certain that, after squatting and deadlifting, her back would hurt the next morning.
She woke up the next morning; not only was she not sore, she felt great. She thought that her son—who lifted and had been encouraging her to lift—might be right about barbell training. “He had been telling me this, but I didn’t really believe it: you can’t get hurt with that heavy bar on your back??? Puhleeze! But it was true. So, I became a believer.”
Prior to this, Carole had returned to personal training at a big box gym and injured her neck and shoulders from elastic band exercises. Her injury required physical therapy. Whereas elastic band training had injured her, the supposedly scary barbell training had not caused injury, pain, or soreness.
Adam began filming her sessions and sending them to her son, who encouraged her as she set PRs every session, without injury or soreness as she had expected. “Working out hard and feeling great and not getting hurt at all, well, that sold me on the program.”
Prior to barbell training, Carole had a tendency to overdo things. Adam has both pushed her at some times and prevented her from pushing too hard at others. She explains how Adam has helped her progress: “He knows when I can do more, even when I don’t, and when I am at a limit, even when I can’t see that; so that has kept me from overdoing the training and getting injured.” She continues, “In other words, the program has worked really well for me.”
She has trained consistently since June 2019—and we mean consistently. Her BLOC coaching compliance shows 100% over the last 90 days, and she has not missed a training session in over a year.
Her PRs include a 205-pound deadlift, a 168-pound squat, a 62-pound press, and an 85-pound bench press.
What keeps her motivated, beyond PRs? “Wearing size six jeans after years of wearing size twelve is a constant motivation. So I never don’t want to train when it’s training day.” Speaking of weight and waist size, let’s examine more closely how strength training has changed her health.
Become Healthier Through Nutrition and Barbells
A little after she began training with Adam, she had a blood lipid screen showing high cholesterol and a weight that scored in the mid-range of overweight, though not obese. Her doctor prescribed her a statin, and she talked to Adam about how statins can affect training and what she might be able to do—beyond barbell training—to take on the root causes of the high cholesterol and weight.
Once again, she followed her son, who had been using a nutritionist who understood strength training. She increased her protein and lowered her carbs, and “the weight just rolled off—much faster and easier than I would have imagined, and I made good gains in my training.”
After only four months of training and three months of focused nutrition, her triglycerides and LDL had decreased, she had lost twenty-two pounds, and her osteopenia had stabilized.
Now, after sixteen months of training, she has lost thirty-five pounds, and her weight has stabilized. Her blood pressure has lowered from high to healthy levels. She continues to have healthy levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. She now takes no medications.
Beyond losing weight and improving health markers, she has strengthened her back, despite a history of injury. In 2015, she underwent back surgery for a posterior interbody lumbar fusion. She happily sent her neurosurgeon a video of her 180-pound deadlift. She plans on sending him another video when she hits 225!
“I love the fact that I am free of medications, that I am able to maintain a much healthier weight, and that I feel as energetic as I did a few decades ago. Routine tasks and chores are so much easier—I’m much stronger, so standing and walking around for long periods are just not as taxing as before.”
Gaining Confidence and Strength
Despite the enthusiasm for training, she began with some fear during her training. “I frankly was somewhat frightened of hurting my back or dropping the bar while benching or pressing or getting under a heavy bar for the squat.” Though it took time, she eventually overcame her fears. “With time and work, and ceaseless encouragement from my coach, I finally got the message in my brain that I actually could lift these heavy bars.”
Like many lifters, certain milestones particularly frightened her. “I remember being sleepless the night before I was programmed to squat 135 lb.—two big blue bumpers on that black bar. I really thought I would not be able to do it.” She did, and beyond PRing her squat, she PRd her confidence.
“Overcoming this fear has taught me how, in those moments, when you have to move that bar, that’s all you think about.”
Those of us experienced with heavy barbells know that intensity has a double meaning. Other types of training—such as an intense interval or conditioning circuit—do not require the same kind of focus. If we take it easy, we complete the event more slowly than intended, perhaps not gaining the desired training effect, but we don’t fail. The barbell, however, does not adjust its load according to our effort. As Carole has learned, “you have to have your mind totally focused on the lift—you can’t think about anything else at all.”
In a world with chronic stressors like social media, deadlines, cell phones, and being on call, it can actually be a nice relief. “In a strange way, it’s very liberating: either you make it up, or you don’t—but for those few seconds you have one goal, and one goal only, that rep. When you get to the top and let out your breath and get set for the next one, you are in a zone of really pure focus.”
She also gains confidence from her significant progress. “Back in the fall, when you could still actually meet people for dinner, everyone commented on how great I looked! At my age, comments like that really make your day!”
When she feels fear swell up before a big lift, she remembers the feeling of hitting a PR and the knowledge that she’s done this before. “The next time you have a tough set, you can remember that great feeling, and get yourself set to get the job done. Getting this kind of mental focus has been really valuable for me.”
Typical Results on an Atypical Path
Carole’s story is not atypical. With dedication and effort on an intelligent barbell training and nutrition program, we can often treat the root causes of what Doctor Jonathan Sullivan calls the Sick Aging Phenotype.
When we consider barbell training, we understand its value to normal people in everyday life, trying to find a sustainable practice to improve their health and appearance and feel better. Despite this, barbell training remains largely misunderstood and undervalued for normal people trying to improve their health.
Barbell training’s history includes many extremes: the oversized personalities of Kirk Karwoski and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the gargantuan numbers of powerlifters like Ray Williams and Ed Coan, the hulkish physiques of bodybuilders Ronnie Coleman and Dorian Yates, impressive displays of power from Olympic lifters Serge Redding and Waldemar Baszanowski to the more recent mammoth figures in Professional Strongman competitions such as Hafthor Bjornsson and Zydrunas Savickas, and freakish jack-of-all-trade CrossFitters like Rich Froning and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet. Despite barbell training’s storied elites, we understand, as lifters and coaches, that the strength of barbell training is its ability to transform normal people, allowing them to build muscle, strengthen bones, grow confidence, and improve health.
Despite the truly elite performances of those listed above, we coaches have a different pantheon, a better pantheon, filled with people like John Claassen, Carole Reading, Sybil, and countless others. They are our athletes: the reason we coach and Barbell Logic exists. They don’t train for a medal or a big stage, though they may choose to compete in a meet as part of their training.
They train with barbells and dumbbells and racks and plates. They train in world-class gyms, outdoor gyms, black iron gyms, and garage gyms. They train using towels and cans and water jugs if they must. They train when they want to and when they don’t. They train when their coach programs a PR or a deload. They train because they must—because they refuse to live the alternative.
They train to fight cancer or the supposed limits of cerebral palsy. They train to get outside of their heads and busy lives. They train to combat depression and anxiety. They train for themselves and their loved ones. They train for vitality and to stave off death and decrepitude.
For those of you who may be considering training, listen to Carole’s advice: “Make the investment to work with a coach in person when you can; and be consistent in training.”