by C.L. Frederick
The question I get asked often is how I manage to stay in such great shape, as if it’s shocking that at 38 you can’t have an incredible body, or that being in the best shape of your life is only reserved for your 20s.
Another question I get asked often is how it’s possible for me to have HIV and still look healthy and viable. I understand the stigma associated with being HIV positive. I get that many believe the virus gives you the “wasting” look. The reality is that keeping to a strict antiretroviral regimen and regular checkups with a specialist enables HIV-positive individuals to lead healthy and active lives. The fact of the matter is that anyone, no matter their age or HIV status, can look their best and stay in great shape.
I also am asked about what tips or secrets could I share about how I stay in the best shape of my life. Well, tips and secrets are as follows.
There was a time when I would measure myself against each and every stunning image that would pop up on my social media feeds. I was never happy with my looks and became fixated on the impossible quest for perfection. As that happened, I began to think more about process, preparation and the perfecting of images and video. Imperfections can be erased, filters applied, soft focus video used, and how one must dehydrate and starve themselves before a shoot. This changed my perception of beauty and allowed me to focus more on simply being healthy for more than aesthetic reasons. I figured I had worked with some top photographers on some big campaigns, so what I brought to the table must be just as good as others in my field. Confidence reborn! Lesson to be learned: Stop the insane measuring yourself against others. It’s all an illusion. No one is flawless. I’m not, and you won’t be either.
Begin asking yourself what you want to accomplish in relation to your body. For some it might be to lose a few pounds and tighten up. Others might want to be more defined and cut. Others might covet the bodybuilder physique (hats off to you for that). I don’t have the body frame, patience or money needed to be a bodybuilder. I can’t spare losing any weight. So the most natural purpose for me was to focus on my muscle definition. I decided that I would concentrate on being proportional and symmetric, which complements my specific body type. The smartest decision I made was when I first joined a gym. I took the offer for one free personal training session. I asked the trainer questions, learned about equipment and developed the confidence to at least initially look like I knew what I was doing. I then partnered that with researching other exercises and workouts and zoned in on areas of my body that I wanted to work on or develop. Initially, I started with the basics. Light weights and simple exercises. I listened to my body and as I began to see small results I stepped out of my comfort zone and challenged myself to move my body to the next level, the next goal. I began increasing weight over time when I would plateau and I discovered new exercises when my interest began to wane. I kept my workouts fresh, built up a kick-ass playlist that empowered me at the gym, and got in the zone by doing me at the gym rather than allowing myself to be intimidated by any envious body that might be working out next to me. This may sound generalized, but I found my confidence in holding my own, and I find this to be the best fitness advice you will ever receive. That is if you truly take in and apply its simplistic message.
The biggest secret I have to getting the best results is the practice of isometric contractions, which involve the voluntary tensing of a particular muscle. The tension and intensity of a contraction can help promote muscle growth. The added tension on muscle fibers promotes extra stimulation giving you tighter, firmer muscles. I practice isometric contractions with each free weight, squat, abdominal and leg-extension exercise. At the end of each set I tense the muscle being worked on for about 10 seconds or until fatigued. Since I started practicing isometric contractions I have noticed that my muscles feel the burn better during workouts, my endurance has skyrocketed and my muscle definition seems to stay swollen for longer than expected. Also, I have noticed something quite unexpected, and that is how calm I now feel after exercising. I have since learned that isometric contractions help lower blood pressure and resting heart rate. By using this practice you can also help lower your risk of developing heart disease. Using isometric contractions has become the key to my workouts. When not at the gym I find myself flexing certain muscles and holding the contraction.
Something that has always driven me crazy is when I hear people talking about or pushing their preworkouts or supplements. Pipe down already! Enough with trying to phish others into believing you to be some fitness pariah. Reality check: Most supplements can be detrimental to your health and are often not even regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Manufacturers tout phenomenal results, but their promises are not always scientifically proven.
Supplements are crazy expensive, so why not make the most out of things that are proven to work? There is much to be said about proper nutrition. Simply eating right should be the most important aspect of your fitness program. I make sure each meal has protein, vegetables and I refuse to snack on junk. When I choose to snack that is where my fruits come into play. Fresh fruits or dried fruits have become my in-between meals snack. Spend your money on eating quality foods. When I want to gain weight and muscle I pair protein shakes with my diet and quite frequently add fruits into them. While technically a supplement, whey protein powder shakes can fill in the gaps in your quest to build muscle and can be a convenient and inexpensive way to get extra protein and healthy calories into your diet. It’s always best to get your nutrients from the foods you eat, so invest in your body by filling it with nutrient-rich foods and eat healthy meals. Basically, it’s all in the foods you eat, honey.
Fitness is more about loving the body you are living in. Ignoring what society tells you is sexy or fit is the stepping stone to any effective fitness program. Discovering what exercises work for you, and building confidence in not only yourself, but your goals, will power you through. Feeding your body healthy foods is the deciding factor in what you hope to achieve. Sometimes we make things so convoluted that we become lost within our own mission. Getting back to basics and keeping an obtainable approach that does not set you up to fail is the end game. Through educating yourself about exercises, understanding the importance of the foods that you eat, and simply putting in the hard work you can look your best and be the healthiest you can be. Age, HIV status, or whatever labels you identify with are ultimately just that: “labels.”