“Sweat with Brook Benten” gives my life’s stories, in puns and pieces. Notably missing: my brief stint as the host of a pole dancing television show; going viral for a humiliating video; getting slapped in the face by a beefy soft taco.
Here’s the first in a three-part blog series of stories that could have been added to each chapter.
Chapter 1: Run
Chapter 1 of “Sweat with Brook Benten” is the running chapter. An unmentioned story is that I added too many miles too quickly when last-minute training for an endurance race two years ago. I ended up limping through the last four miles of the race. I made grunting noises every single step until I crossed the finish line. I refused to stop or even walk. Like an idiot, I kept running, dragging that leg along until I crossed the finish line.
I should have started training sooner.
I should have added in more strength training, specifically for hamstrings.
I should have given myself rest days and used recovery methods.
Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.
I am still injured. It has been 730 days since that marathon. Here I sit, with half of my ass on a chair and the other half hanging off, because it hurts to compress the tendon. But the injury (proximal hamstring tendinopathy) is among the best things that has ever happened to me.
Had I not gotten injured, I would have continued to live my life in extremes: run for time // beat your best time // sustain the best-of-your-best time for longer… harder, better, faster stronger! Then, after I had felt like I’d paid the piper, I would pop open chardonnay and day drink to my heart’s content. Work hard/play hard. Stay skinny. That was my playbook.
When I got injured, it jacked up the playbook. How could I deal with difficult emotions, past trauma, the overwhelming role of motherhood, feeling selfish, feeling like the house was a mess and it was my fault, feeling like I get on everybody’s last nerve, feeling like my inner critic was constantly shoving my head in poop to teach me a lesson. How could I make all of that stop, if not by running?
Initially, I dealt with it by moping, not exercising, and drinking alcohol.
My daughter had just started kindergarten.
Not only could Julie Anna and I not go on our daily “morning adventures,” (stroller jogs), but I’d have to walk my soulmate to school, release her hand, and watch her wave and walk away. It broke my heart. With tears in my eyes, I’d mope-walk back home, singing “Slipping Through My Fingers All the Time.”
After dropping the kids off, I would lace up my running shoes and try to run. But the pain of the injury was so intense that it would level me. I’d drop down to the ground, say some choice words, and dig my fingers hard into my upper hamstrings where they inserted into my butt. Pressure gave it marginal relief.
I would eventually pull myself off the pavement and walk with a limp back home. I would go straight to the fridge and pull out a bottle of chardonnay. Too impatient to cut the foil seal, I’d twist the corkscrew right threw it and pop it off. Before the cold wine even touched my lips, my hippocampus (the part of the brain where memories are stored) told me “there, there, baby girl. I’m about to make it all okay.”
But it didn’t make it all okay.
It made made matters worse.
I would drink my way through all of the bottles in the fridge and refill them with the economy boxed wine I had hidden in the garage. I’d try to mask that I’d been drinking by popping a bunch of mints, brushing my teeth, and putting on the “act sober” performance to teach classes, personal train, and pick up my kids. I could act however I wanted, but alcohol-induced anxiety would wake me up from dead sleep in the middle of the night. It was vicious. Come morning, I was parched, headachy, and struggled to open both eyes. It was Groundhog Day for six months.
How did I come out of this?
I got honest with myself that I was miserable living this way.
I put together a plan for things that I could control.
Out of my control was the time it would take for PHT to heal. I had taken measures of physical therapy, dry needling, acupuncture, chiropractic therapy, hot therapy-cold therapy– the list goes on, but it wasn’t healing.
What was in my control was the ability to perform other modes of exercise, pain-free.
What was in my control was my diet. An anti-inflammatory diet helps the whole body heal. Tendons are no exception (quick aside: did you know that one of the best things you can do to fight overall inflammation? Floss!).
What was in my control was how I talked to the injury: I had been barking at it; I could start treating it as something that was working for me, not against me– like a bouncer (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson), protecting me from myself.
Each of those requires elaboration.
Pain-free exercise, for me, really encompassed every physical activity besides running or rowing. Rowing sits directly on the tendon, causing intense pain.
Even though running has been and will always be my favorite activity, it’s catabolic. That means, it breaks the body down.
Strength training, on the other hand, is anabolic. That means, it builds the body up.
Since running was off the table, I opted to tweak my training to more circuit style or HIIT workouts that mixed power/agility body weight drills with strength training. 62 pounds of my body is now muscle. That’s well over half of me! I never would have achieved such incredible muscle mass if I had done what I really wanted to do, and that is- just run like Forest Gump.
Anti-Inflammatory Food and Beverage
A diet of convenience food and wine was not helping my weight, mind, self-esteem, nor was it setting a good example for my children. I decided to give up things that were causing inflammation, and that meant removing all ultraprocessed foods, most bread and pasta, most sugar, and prioritizing eating predominately food from the earth and lean protein. Alcohol is the worst offender. “The jig is up,” was what I told alcohol on our very last courtship.
If all Dr. Andrew Huberman, PhD, says is true (and he hasn’t steered me wrong yet), if I traded inflammation-causing alcohol for healing sparkling water, I would feel better.
My injury may not heal, but again, that was out of my control. I would feel better.
As God as my witness, it worked! I didn’t just feel better as in the facts that I lost weight, body fat, and I thought higher of myself. I felt clear, positive, and hopeful every morning that I woke up. I still do! It almost feels too simple. Just quit consuming bad food (or factory-made plastics masqueraded as food) and quit drinking alcohol and you’ll feel good inside? Like, no hangovers ever? Like— jubilation!? Yep, just like that.
Speaking Kindly to the Injury
How I talk to myself matters. When I say I would bark at the injury, I mean that I would lambaste it. I’d blame it for stealing my thunder. I couldn’t do my favorite thing in the world and it was all because of the blasted tendinopathy. That’s “barking.”
I took a perspective change. Maybe, my favorite thing in the world is actually facing my feelings.
I used to shape-shift to try to control people’s opinions of me. I cut that stuff out. I acknowledged trauma. By no means does that mean that I played the victim. I gave up the wish, hope, plea that the past could have been different. I accepted that it wasn’t fair or right and it shouldn’t have happened, but it happened. I forgave in my heart. I accepted myself. All of myself.
I now tell my injury, “I know you were just trying to protect me. But I have it now. You can go. I’ve got it from here.”
It’s still hanging around. I will send it love for as long as it sticks around. And when it’s gone, I’ll love it for what it did: save me from myself.
Chapter 2: Cycle
This story was mentioned in one line of the eBook (Kindle) version, but was omitted from the hardcover.
Quick word from our sponsor (that’s me!): Amazon is estimating 6-7 weeks for hardcover shipments of “Sweat with Brook Benten.”
Great Scott! I’ll have chin hairs and a colonoscopy by then! (Slight embellishment, but the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force did bump up the age for a first colonoscopy to 45.)
You can get the eBook right away! It’s only a buck and some change.
Or you can get the audiobook version right here at brookbenten.com/shop/ and you’ll get the MP3 right away with a bonus 36-minute audio run/walk workout at the end!
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Cyclist versus Cars
It was 2014. I had a baby with otherworldly colic. I was in despair, but like all first-time mothers, I was trying to keep it all together. On the outside, I bounced right back after baby and was back to presenting at fitness conventions three months after his arrival. On the inside, I was frantic. What’s wrong with me? Why is he crying like someone cut off a toe? What will make this stop? Back on the breast? Yes, back on the breast. For that first year, most of his waking moments were spent on my breast, because it soothed him. My breast or a medium-warmth hairdryer. Those seemed to be the ONLY things that soothed him. What would soothe me was to go on a bike ride. Outdoors. I really needed outdoor therapy.
I would make an infant reservation and bring Hayes to the childcare center at Life Time Fitness. When they check you in, they always ask where you’re going to be. “Outside,” I said on this particular day. “Then, I’ll be teaching in Studio 2.” I’m sure they thought that ‘outside’ meant getting some fresh air in front of the gym. It actually meant that I would be mounting my road bike and cycling on Parmer Lane. Parmer Lane spans wider than the entire city of Austin, TX.
I was several miles out on my ride when I approached a red traffic light. I quickly glanced side-to-side and didn’t see any cars coming, so I decided to run the red light and keep cycling. Bad decision. Although there were no cars coming, side-to-side, the cars ahead of me had a green arrow. A pickup truck took a 90-degree turn and ran right into my back tire. It sent me crashing down to the ground. My helmet cracked and my bike frame was bent. I was shaken but able to stand up.
The gentleman driving the truck was older than my oldest living relative. He was couldn’t believe his eyes. I was a petrified mother that was miles away from her baby with no way to get back. He said, “I didn’t see you! I was on my way to a cardiologist appointment.” (A cardiologist appointment! My stupidity could have killed us both!)
“Are you okay?” he asked. I said I was. I asked him if he was okay. He said that he was.
He asked me to get in the truck so that he could take me to the Emergency Room to get checked out.
I said, “Will you please take me to Life Time? I have to get to my baby!”
He insisted that we go to the hospital.
I insisted harder that we go to Life Time.
He wanted to give me his insurance information, phone, etc, but I denied it all. It was my foolish mistake to run a red light. If any harm was inflicted, it was my financial responsibility, not his.
I limped into Life Time, checked on Hayes, who was, obviously, just fine, drooling on a block. I then went up to Studio 2 and taught a cardio kick boxing class. Then, I went to the ER.
I, quite literally, got my head checked.
Fortunately, everything was fine.
Had it been a nanosecond later, I would have been unscathed. Had it been a nanosecond sooner, I would have been killed.
That experience taught me a lesson to obey road rules. As a cyclist, it’s you versus cars. You lose. You cannot be vigilant enough. Wear your helmet! Wear gloves! Never ever ever run red lights.
If you’re a mother and you need help, ask for help. You’re not a failure. Everybody knows you love your baby. We are all here to help each other lift the motherload. If you don’t now who to ask for help, ask me. I will help you.
Chapter 3: Dance
“Sweat with Brook Benten” mentions nothing about pole dancing. But there’s a story.
About two decades ago, pole dancing entered group fitness scene. At the time, I was managing the group fitness program for Southern Methodist University. Students requested that we add it to the schedule. Before shooting the idea down (it was ultimately shot down), I did some market research. I signed up for a few classes at a boutique studio on Greenville Avenue. Not a strip club. A legit group fitness studio. Classes were led by professional dancers and former strippers- maybe current strippers; I don’t know I didn’t ask to see their W-2s. The instructors empowered us to dance sexy and do calisthenics on a pole.
My sexy dancing looked like Elaine from Seinfeld… only with duck face and up-down-up-down eyebrows. Oh baby, oh baby!
Toward the end of one of our classes, an important-looking man wearing important-looking clothes walked in. He was accompanied by a striking blonde that couldn’t have been a day over 22. His daughter? No, The Mrs.
The couple had an idea for a reality television show. The plot: moms and everyday women would compete for the top prize of best exotic dancer. It was to be called “Suburban Striptease.” They had bigwig LA contacts who were going to pitch the show to networks. They were casting.
I knew there was not a snowball chance in hell that I belonged dancing on a show like that. But I wondered if they needed a host. (You’ll miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.)
I asked if they had a host in mind. “Yes,” they said. They intended on working with Amber Campisi.
I’ve never so much as held a copy of Playboy magazine, but I gathered from context clues that she’s a big deal.
I inquired if they already had a contract with her. They didn’t. I told them that I had emcee experience (I had emceed a bodybuilding competition at SMU) and TV and video experience (I had been on a kitsch Discovery Channel show in college, called “Perfect Partner.” Cyndi Cieluch and I tried to find a perfect partner for Kristi Oberpriller. I had just released my first workout video, “Kettlebell: Butts & Guts”- you’ll read all about that in the book. All this to say: TV, check! Video, check!).
I asked them to give me a chance to host the pilot episode of Suburban Striptease. I’d do it for free.
Hustle gets you further than talent. Free gets you further than anything.
They said okay.
Filming the pilot episode was a two-day event. The first night was heavy on the host. It was shot at the couple’s mansion home on Turtle Creek Boulevard. The script was longer than the preamble of the constitution and there was no teleprompter.
The second day, the host just had to ad lib after the contestants would dance. That part was filmed at a strip club. I had to take a vacation day from my job at Southern Methodist University to spend the day at the STRIP CLUB! Never had I been at an establishment like that and it showed.
The ad lib commentary they expected from the host was cool and sultry.
Mine was obnoxious and peppered with words like “hubba hubba,” and “She’s a brick house,” sung like I was Lionel Richie of The Commodores.
More details will be divulged this Friday in Season 2, Episode 5 of More than Sweat Podcast.
If you cannot wait- or aren’t a podcast person (boo!)- here’s the long story short:
I think they speed-dialed Amber Campisi and asked her to just name her price!
Chapter 4: Be Strong
Strength training is the hottest fitness trend. As of 2023, less than 30% of American women were getting the CDC’s recommendation of two days a week of strength training major muscle groups. Fortunately, that statistic should rise in 2024. I could have used this chapter to preach a story of why strength training is important and why you should subscribe to it. But it’s not that kind of book. If you want to read about why exercise is beneficial, go to journals published by the American College of Sports Medicine (here’s one on strength training). After you feel both enlightened and so bored you could yawn, come to “Sweat with Brook Benten” for some fun, wild, stories that will actually motivate you to do the thing that you really didn’t need a journal to convince you needed to do.
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