In my 20s, I wasn't what you'd call a "hard body." Despite seven childhood years as a gymnast, despite dancing in an acrobatic company after college, despite working out ALL THE TIME, I couldn't achieve muscle definition no matter what I did.
In addition to lackluster physical results, as a professional dancer I struggled with the same functional challenges that plagued me as a young gymnast. I was flexible, but not strong. I was fearless, but not fleet of foot. I possessed grace, guts and gumption, but lacked power, explosiveness and energy!
I eventually resigned myself to the notion that I must not have the body type that could get chiseled, that it simply wasn't possible for me to become a more dynamic dancer. I bought into the belief that this was "as good as it gets."
My journey of transformation began when one of the dancers in my company herniated a disc in his lower back and began practicing Pilates to strengthen his core. Over six weeks, I witnessed his body change dramatically in shape and function, and he was pain-free after just a few sessions! Whatever this guy was doing, I wanted to try it.
What happened next was a miracle. Each step in my journey revealed the power we all posses to transform ourselves, inside and out.
1. Try something new, with someone new.
Accepting that I wasn't getting anywhere on my own, I enlisted a Pilates instructor to help. The first session included bizarre and impossible movements combined with an ego-beating exercise in humility. With each awkward "exercise fail," my instructor drilled me to contract muscles I didn't know existed, exposing the fact that I used only a few large muscle groups to move my skeleton sloppily through space. I'd neglected the small yet critical musculature that creates real strength, stability and integration.
Over time, I focused less on the outer form of each exercise and more on the inner sensation. My instructor helped me locate deeper, smaller muscles in my upper back, shoulders, core and hips, and in turn, my body responded. My arms became more defined, my abs grew taut, my hips drew in at the sides and I felt stronger than ever.
If you're spinning your wheels during workouts, a skilled professional can help you break poor body habits and ignite your journey toward change. Find someone (or something) who encourages you to go deep both physically and mentally.
2. Use your mind more than your muscles.
As my knowledge increased and my muscles more uniformly strengthened, a paradigm shift occurred during my workouts. Instead of trying to do more reps or push more weight, I used my mind to execute each exercise with better form.
Form is defined as the process of focusing on proper skeletal placement, correct muscle recruitment, and the optimal breath pattern and energy expenditure required to execute with power, flow and control. The synergy of these processes yields maximum benefit from any exercise.
Working out with your mind — analyzing, interpreting and improving your form with each repetition — is like learning to speak a language with fluency. Never haphazard or arbitrary, performing each exercise becomes an intentional expression of the body and mind. Suddenly, you're so mentally focused that working out doesn't feel like "work" anymore.
3. Undergo an attitude adjustment.
My attitude toward exercise underwent a major metamorphosis. No longer a chore or obligation, my workouts became opportunities for growth. I no longer fretted about results, but concentrated on understanding my muscular system so precisely that I had absolute control over it and could create the body I wanted.
After years of fruitless efforts and nearly giving up on myself, I now possess all the tools I need to continually become the best of me. What began as a desire simply to look good and dance better turned into a journey of discovery, of unlocking the magical power of my body and falling in love with the process of self-improvement.
If you're feeling stuck, uninspired, frustrated, if you're telling yourself this is as good as it gets, then reach out for help! Find a mentor, meet your muscles, flex your mind, and discover the undeniable potential of YOU.