Muscle Can Be a Metaphor…

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“I use lifting as a metaphor for describing how important it is to allow skills to develop over time, the process is as important as product, that learning how to do something the right way is better than doing something the easy way.”

Maureen Matarese

Activities: Weight lifting, ballet, hiking

Q: What style of weight lifting do you train, and how did you get started?

Functional hypertrophy. Mostly strength training and some body building. We focus on power lifting movements. My trainer has a bias for Olympic lifting, so I also do a lot of front squatting.

Interestingly enough, my trainer is a former student of mine (I am a professor). I was complaining about my knee in class one day. I had cycled into work (about 10 miles) and my knee was feeling tight. He offered some recommendations for stretches I should do, which totally worked. When the semester was over and grades were submitted, he offered to train me, and I jumped at the chance.

Q: How long have you been lifting?

I have been lifting for about eight months.

Q: Did you participate in sports as a child?

Absolutely! I didn’t do a lot of team sports when I was young, which I think, is why lifting really appeals to me even now. I ran track in high school, and I was deeply committed to ballet, courses that I attended probably three to four times a week from the time I was little until I was sixteen or seventeen.

Q: How has lifting changed you mentally and physically?

I really love lifting. Certainly, I’ve seen physical changes—some moderate weight loss, toned and developed muscles. I’ve really enjoyed becoming a stronger person.

Other changes are perhaps more emotional. Three years ago I initiated a divorce. It was a hard decision that came with tremendous grief, sadness, regret, and feeling like I wasn’t able to overcome or change how much I had disappointed people, especially my family. I saw a therapist (because a healthy mind and a healthy body go hand in hand). Friends suggested yoga, it turns out, I’m not great at yoga or meditation. However, I feel like lifting is a similar experience that has similar benefits. I slow down. After about five minutes in, I forget my problems. I focus on my breath. I focus on my body, my muscles and which ones are firing. I really get lost in the struggle of successfully completing the last couple reps of a particular lift. I thoroughly feel and experience that simultaneously delightful and terrifying wave of fear and panic when my muscles start to shake or I start to max out and my brain says “Damn it, Maureen, you’re gonna drop that f@#&ing bar on your face.” For me, the challenge of making those last reps happen, mirrors the difficulty I have in fighting my emotional fear of failure, my fear of disappointing others. Successes in lifting remind me that I am strong and that I am able. It also reminds me that fear is okay, and that moving through fear is something I am capable of doing, even when it feels like I might fail. Moreover, because my trainer is there supporting me, I am reminded that I can receive help when I am really in danger of failing.

Q: Have these changes trickled into your professional life?

Definitely, I would say that on a pedagogical level, lifting has given me limitless metaphors for connecting with my students. So often, they treat college courses as if the only thing of value is the grade at the end of the semester, or the diploma when they have satisfied their credits. I use lifting as a metaphor for describing how important it is to allow skills to develop over time, that process is as important as product, that learning how to do something the right way is better than doing something the easy way.

Q: Lifting isn’t easy, so what keeps you coming back?

Because being a strong woman is important to me.

Q: Do you watch what you eat?

I mean, I watch the delicious food when I put it in my mouth. 😉 I really like bacon and butter, and I love junk like jelly beans and ice cream. Yeah, sure, I try to eat healthily, but I don’t obsess over it.

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Q: How much of a role does your diet play in lifting?

I give my body the fuel it needs to do the things I like to do. I eat a lot of fruit, nuts, and yogurt.  I probably should eat more salad. I’ve started bringing an orange to each lifting session, it’s so refreshing!

Q: What other things do you do to stay active?

I cycle to work, and I lift several times a week. I do ballet and/or sprints three times a week. I am a busy gal, and I love working exercise into my daily routine (like cycling to work). If I don’t eat healthy food or enough food, I simply won’t make it home on the bike.

Q: Why is staying active so important to you?

Because I want to be an adorable, spry, strong old lady someday. I want to establish patterns that will allow me to hike in Nepal when I’m 60 or 70 and that will hopefully make me less of a burden to my partner later in life.

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Q: What’s the hardest part about lifting?

I mean, I would say that my most challenging lift is getting weight over my head. Emotionally, I’d say sometimes I feel really defeated when I don’t do as many pull ups or bench press reps as I was supposed to.

Q: What is the easiest part about lifting?

I really love feeling a movement click into place. Sometimes after months of working on a particular lift, all of the sudden I’ll get it. Which muscles to engage, what form or position to use, it all snaps into place. I feel really successful at dead-lifting, and it’s such a fun lift. You get to move so much weight! I recently started benching MUCH more efficiently, and that was a great feeling.

Q: Where do you see yourself going with weight lifting?

If I’m going to be a spry old lady, I’m going to have to keep lifting, but I don’t see myself competing or anything.

Q: If you could go back, what advice would you give your younger self about being athletic?

I’ve always been pretty athletic. I guess I would tell myself that keeping it up is worth it, and that being 37 isn’t old. That you’ll still get hit on in bars. That your life will be shitty for a while but that by 37 it’ll be amazing. That lifting will increase the number of possible orgasms you can have in one night, and who doesn’t want that?! That lifting more than you weigh is absolutely possible and totally awesome.

Q: Even though more women are starting to lift, there are still more that don’t than do. Why do you believe so many women avoid lifting heavy weight?

I think that women are socialized to believe that they need to be weaker than men. I was recently at a strip club with some friends and one of the women who performed (who was an amazing, muscular, acrobatic powerhouse on the pole) told us that men tended not to ask her for lap dances because she was a more aggressive, athletic dancer. I think that being feminine doesn’t mean being weak. I can be both.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the body to train?

My butt and hips are great fun to train. I have a lot of strength there, and I always feel successful afterward.

Q: Read an article that stated the generation coming up, is the first generation in modern history that won’t live as long as their parents. The estimated life expectancy is five years less. Why do you think that is considering so many people are on the “fitness” kick?

I don’t know. I mean, I’m really speculating, but I feel like “fitness kick” kind of summarizes it. A “kick” to me implies a short-term blast of some lifestyle change. Rarely do people talk about fitness kicks or juice kicks etc as a 50 year lifestyle choice. People often lose weight for events—weddings, etc. Maybe there are more “kicks” than lifestyle choices? It’s probably also a food thing. Increasingly poor quality meat, GMO foods, etc.

Q: Why did you agree to be a part of MCBMI?

I believe in encouraging women to be strong. We can be strong and feminine. Those are not mutually exclusive concepts. I’m proud to be part of something that advocates for both.