I've always had a love-hate relationship with working out at the gym. To be fair, that's probably because I only know how to use 20% of the machines (aka the treadmill and the Stairmaster). As someone who thoroughly enjoys running, I'm always a little nervous before going to a workout class because I never know what to expect. I've tried so many new workouts, and nothing usually sticks, but incorporating strength training into my workout regimen has been a goal of mine, especially after I learned about all of its benefits.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to try the Max Effort Training (MET) workout with strength trainer and creator Thea Hughes. It's a mix of strength training and functional and dynamic movements. Hughes started MET to help her friends to feel as empowered in their bodies as they do in their careers.
"I've also struggled with working hard and not seeing results," Hughes tells me. "I've struggled with nutrition and understanding what to eat. I've struggled with not knowing how to put it all together without feeling overwhelmed. And so I created MET as an interactive, customized, educational program that isn't a quick fix or just a one-off workout class, but a framework that teaches people how. I also wanted to be able to introduce friends through movement. A workout requires you to be vulnerable, so once you've experienced something like that with others, you automatically share a bond. I love making new acquaintances feel like close friends."
What Happened During the Workout
We started off the workout by doing some stretches, calisthenics, and mobility movements to prevent any injuries before we started the actual strength training exercises. Our class was small and intimate, which was great because I tend to have trouble when I'm learning new movements, so I need all the TLC I can get from a trainer. Hughes introduced each workout by doing a quick demonstration for us, and then she had us choose a partner instructed us to stay at each station for two minutes before transitioning to the next station.
Hughes is big on calisthenics, and for good reason. Each movement in the workout is strategically planned to cater to your overall wellbeing. "The idea is basically 'mobility before stability before movement' as put by Michael Boyle," Hughes says. "Your warm-up should first mobilize a joint's range of motion followed by dynamic exercise prep—working through movement patterns that you'll be doing in the workout. Calisthenic exercises, meaning bodyweight, allow us to control the integrity of movement and joint alignment and introduce the idea of developing stability before we add external load (weights). This approach can also add to our sense of self-efficacy. Come time for the workout, you're already familiar with and confident in the movement patterns."
Each station incorporated weights, which normally freak me out, but shockingly, this workout was fun. We did a mix of lateral lunges, chest presses, hip thrusts, plank holds, and kettlebell squats. If someone told me a few years ago that I would like doing chest presses, I would have laughed, but during the class, I actually enjoyed the movements. I felt so accomplished as I finished each station.
Hughes sees a big connection between strength training and an increase in confidence. "Strength training is really so important to maintaining and improving bone density, especially as we age and especially for women," she says. "The slower, controlled nature of strength training is also a fantastic way to decrease cortisol (i.e. our stress hormone), providing us with more energy, better digestion, and improved sleep while increasing lean muscle mass, providing muscle tone and definition, and reducing injuries. Most importantly, I love the sense of self-efficacy strength training provides—the 'Wow, I just did that!' feeling. There are few things that compare to building mastery of your body—controlling how it moves, how it feels, and also knowing how to listen to what it needs."
Typically, if I tried these movements on my own at the gym, I would have difficulty determining if my form was correct. But Hughes was there to guide me through every workout to make sure I was doing the movements efficiently. Her guidance gave me the confidence to continue and helped me keep good form throughout the movement. By the time she announced that the class was over, I was shocked at how quickly it had gone by. The workout movements were split up in a way that makes you feel like barely a minute has passed before you move on to the next.
What I Thought About the Class
MET made me realize that it's not about how long you work out but the movements that you're doing and how to get the most out of those key movements. I'm no longer going to torture myself with workouts that I hate. Instead, I've learned that strength training can be fun, especially when you have an amazing trainer like Hughes.
"My goal is for people to have learned how to feel stronger in their bodies," Hughes says, "building confidence in how they approach a workout, the weight room, or other movement practices. Specifically, I want people to have increased proprioceptive awareness—learning how an exercise should feel, what it activates, and how to modify it—so they walk away feeling accomplished and looking forward to the next one."
If you want to feel confident and empowered with MET, book a workout session with Hughes asap!
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