I left the gym yesterday with burn marks and bruises down my arms.

Ava and Georgia (my 10 year old twin daughters) got very upset when they saw me.

“Did someone hurt you?” “Were you in an accident?!”

My explanation sounded strange:

Mommy is squatting holding a 40lb bag of sand and then flipping it up on to her arms and swinging up on her toes. I showed them the movement with flair to try to get a laugh.

This is when they roll their eyes and say “oh, part of your crazy work outs!”

Sand is heavy. It moves around when you hold it, sending you off balance.

It’s awkward to grip so you stabilize with muscles you don’t usually use.

My mom Ginny training pulling tires in 2000

A constantly shifting, heavy load helps you develop functional strength. It is one of the most versatile torture instruments in the gym.

Here are a few examples of how I have used sandbags from 30-50lbs in the last few weeks:

  • Side lunge + dead lift (burning glutes)
  • Dead lift + squat (bruised arms)
  • Bear crawl + pull along (abs, cardio and sweat machine)
  • Side plank + pull back and forth rotation (this kills)
  • Plank + lateral pull (ab scorcher)
  • Single dead lift + row (glutes, hip flexor and back)
  • Abs + leg lowering (side ab scorcher)

I know Tiffany has more plans for me with the sand bag.

My second new training instrument is the tire.

Norwegians and most serious Nordic ski expeditioners use tire pulling to best simulate pulling a sled across snow.

I have asked all of the experienced expeditioners I have access to, including my guide at Hvitserk and my mom, how to prepare for pulk pulling in a very cold environment.

The number one thing they say is “PULL TIRES!”

Tire pulling helps you build strength and power in your legs, hips and core that is specific to cross-country skiing. It also forces you to lean forward which is an element of proper cross-country ski technique.

My pulk sled in Norway will be around 80 lbs when loaded with my tent and supplies.

I will, at times, be skiing in to the wind. You do not ski for 8-9 hours a day at max heart rate, you work at 50-60% to conserve energy.

Ideally, you train pulling a 40-50 pound tire, not a light-weight sedan type tire, a truck tire. Start with one, and then move to two.

Hvitserk said to start 6 to 10 months before the trek, and mix with strength, core, arm, leg and endurance work outs.

This is exactly what I am doing.

Note of caution, you do feel somewhat like a pack animal pulling tires, and it is embarrassing to do in the city.

But, if you would like to build your core, back, legs and tackle heavy cardio, this is your workout.

I am excited to report that I am seeing results! I have been in an intense (for me!) strength and cardio program with Tiffany for 12 weeks now and I feel stronger and healthier than I have in years.

I sleep better. I feel less stiff. My clothes fit better. It sounds silly, but I am standing more tall.

We are tracking my body fat percentage, weight, measurements, and functional movements.

My body fat percentage has gone down. My weight is stable which is what happens when you replace fat with muscle, and let’s face it, I love food! I have essentially stopped drinking unless it is a special occasion.

My measurements have gotten smaller in some areas, and actually bigger in my shoulders and quads. My functional movements are smoother, deeper.

When you see me around town, the changes are not in your face. I started out in only ok shape after having knee repair surgery last year and four kids in a relatively close period of time.

I am taking the baby steps approach because I have time, it fits my personality, and I want to prevent injuries.

The program is working and I feel great. I have 9 months to go so a lot more work to be done.

My first day training pulling a tire. I’ve replaced this now with a larger truck tire.

The last and most important part of my daily routine when I hit the gym: I look at Tia’s picture from the recent PKU gala in Denver holding a sign that says “Proud PKU’er, Thank you for the support.”

This picture is a reminder that Tia, and other people like her, are the reason we search for a cure.

She is doing as well as a teen PKUer can do, but it is a hard road on a daily basis. She is a positive person who is not transparent with her struggles.

She would rather they stay as invisible as possible.

So, I like to remind myself that no matter what I face in the gym, it does not compare to the difficulty and endurance that Tia has faced over her lifetime and will face in the days to come.

This reminder keeps me going.