Interview with Colleen Pomranky about Overcoming Trauma with Strength and Conditioning

Hi, loves. Today we have Colleen Pomranky with us, and I’m going to have her tell you all kinds of magical stuff about who she is and what she does. 

But first, I want to tell you how I met Colleen and why I invited her to chat. Colleen is a strength and conditioning specialist and the force behind Gut Check Garage, and our kids went to school together last year, which is where we met. I knew she was a trainer. And after my first winter not in Florida, let’s just say I was definitely in a slump—not just physically but also mentally. And I needed help. And so I hit up Colleen and said, “Can you add me to your book?” I’m pretty sure she didn’t have space but made space, which was super cool. She helped me out of my slump – keep reading if you need help getting out of yours.

Dawn: So, Colleen, you’re not a divorce recovery coach helping women to heal after divorce, and we know that. That’s my expertise, right? But it became very clear to me from working out in your gym with you that what we do overlaps a lot. And you and I have had so many powerful conversations in the gym. 

Today we were there, and I was crying. Because so many emotions just come out there – sadness, loneliness, depression, anger, frustration, or other difficult emotions. But we’ve talked a lot about our life challenges, including how we’ve both battled some disordered eating and body image issues. And you’ve shared how lifting has helped you overcome your life challenges so much, and it has definitely helped me overcome a lot this year, and some things have just clicked for me. And I knew that the women in my divorce recovery membership but especially all women who deal with life after divorce, needed to hear from you and hear about what you do. 

So tell us more about being a strength and conditioning coach, how you came to that, and why it’s so powerful for you.

What is a Strength and Conditioning Coach?

Using weight training and aerobic conditioning, a strength and conditioning coach helps people improve their physical performance. While many strength and conditioning coaches focus their attention on athletes to help them improve performance and speed while preventing injuries, these types of coaches can share overall fitness and movement techniques that contribute to a healthy lifestyle for everyone.

Overcoming Trauma, Eating Disorders, Body Image Issues, And More Through Lifting

Changing Mindset: There is the Time to Be Skinny, and There is the Time to Be Strong in Difficult Times 

Colleen: So, when I was growing up, I was always active in sports. I played softball – I was a pitcher. And I have been 6 feet tall since I was about 13 or 14, which was very, very hard for me. Now I love it. But I just was not comfortable in my skin, and I wanted to be the smallest version of myself that I could be. I wanted to be skinny. The thing that kind of brought me out of the dark a little bit, in those hard teenage years of wanting to be the smallest version of myself, was my dad. 

He sat me down because I wanted to play softball in college, and he said, “Colleen, you have the rest of your life to be skinny. Now is the time to be strong.” 

And that really changed my mindset at that point in time. Because if it had not been for him saying that to me, I could have just gone on a downward spiral. And just become unhealthy.

baseball and catcher, watch this interview with Colleen Pomranky, strength and conditioning coach, and how it helped her to overcome trauma and life challenges.

Training People to Become the Best They Can Be

Colleen: And then, you know, I made it. I pitched in college. I got into college because of pitching. I went to a Service Academy. And then, when I was there, I was in charge of team workouts. ‘Cause I was a two-year captain my junior-senior year. And I loved being in charge of team workouts. I was like, “I love this!” And then it snowballed even more, when I was a military officer. I always volunteered to be the Health and Wellness Officer, which was in charge of all of the PT tests for the crews. It was helping people on weight probation so they didn’t get kicked out. I taught classes on base. It was very multifaceted, and I adored it. So when I left the military for my family, when we moved to Illinois, I didn’t train people. But I trained with people. And they were like, “Can we work out with you today?” And then, when I moved to Connecticut, I had people ask, “Can you work out with me today?” And then I moved down here to South Carolina. I had one of the trainers approach me, saying that they needed trainers. “Do you train people?” Because I was a constant face there. And I was like, “No. But I kind of have a background in it. I just don’t have any current qualifications.” So they were like, “Yeah, do it. And let me know what you think.”

Changing Lives Through Strength and Conditioning Coaching 

Colleen: So I go home, and because of the way that I am, I’m impulsive, and I Googled, “What is the best certification?” And I found the NSCA. Which is the National Strength and Conditioning Association. They had a certified strength and conditioning specialist. Without even reading much about it, I’m like—register. And I’m paying this money. It’s a lot of money just for us to train people! It was so hard, so hard. It had some organic chem. And it had biology and physics. It was a 5-hour exam that, you know, I eventually passed. It was hard, though. I started working at the gym, and then when COVID hit, I was like, “Well, I’m just gonna train people out of my garage.” I have equipment there. And I was like, “I’m just gonna be part-time.” And it just exploded! And now, I have a waitlist, and I work full time.

Dawn: And you have quite a reputation around town, that’s for sure. So in prepping for this, I was trying to find words for what makes you in particular so special for women who want to build up their confidence and self-esteem. And what we talked about is how you show up in the gym. It’s that our victories in the gym you celebrate as your victories. This is clearly your passion. This is your calling. But there’s just something so special to how you approach it and how you approach coaching women that’s life-changing.

woman puts one bare foot on a scale, watch this interview with Colleen Pomranky, strength and conditioning coach, and how it helped her to overcome trauma and life challenges.

Colleen: I am very passionate about what I do because of what the barbell did for me.

After I had my youngest, I was in a not great place. I went through a little postpartum, and I remember religiously stepping on the scale. I’m 6 feet tall. I should not be 140. And I have a big frame. And I was like, “I wonder if I can get into the 130s?” It was like, I’m wondering how small I can get.

And it got to where I was getting called after bloodwork, standing in the Target line, and the person was like, “Ummm, Miss Pomranky, you just had bloodwork done. Are you OK? Your blood sugar levels were in the 30s.”

Dawn: Wow.

Becoming Who You Are

Colleen: And so they’re like, you need to wear this monitoring system. It’s gonna be a needle in your belly, and then you’ve gotta monitor your blood sugar and all this stuff. I just wasn’t eating. I’m starving myself. And that was kind of a light bulb.

That’s when I really was like, I need to change. I need to change things. I started lifting more. I started paying attention to trying to eat more. Then I found really influential people to gravitate toward, to read the message that they were sending out.

One of them is my own personal coach that I met online that I’ve actually gone to meet. And she’s now a friend that I go and train. Her name is Katie Sonier. She talks a lot about mindset stuff.

The act of not wanting to be the smallest version of myself but being the strongest version of myself. And being OK as a 6-foot-tall female. To take up space. It has that sense of power and courage and strength that I was missing when I was feeling dark and lost and alone going through postpartum.

Dawn: This is what makes you so magical. Just magical, and the emotion is all over your face right now, and it’s beautiful. But this is what I think that these women who are following along and dealing with life challenges need to hear. Because in a post-divorce world, weakness is what is the predominant feeling – like brokenness. And there’s a quote that you read to me once in the gym. Would you share the quote with us?

weight lifting, watch this interview with Colleen Pomranky, strength and conditioning coach, and how it helped her to overcome trauma and life challenges.

How Strength and Conditioning Training Changes How Women Feel About Themselves

Colleen: Yes.

“Women need iron, not the mineral, the barbell. We are trained by the world around us to have fucked up ideas about our bodies. Iron unfucks them. We are supposed to be as thin as possible, as small as possible, perhaps until we disappear. Iron teaches us to take up space. We are taught that the only good direction for the scale is to go down and to agonize ritualistically when it goes up. Iron teaches us the power of gaining weight for strength and gives us another way to care about the weight we are lifting. We are taught to eat small amounts daintily and treat food as sin and pleasure. Iron teaches us to eat heartily. To see food as fuel for life and to seek out nutritious food rather than avoiding sinful food. We are taught to think of our bodies as decorative and objects to be looked at. Iron teaches us to think of our bodies as functional, our own active selves, not passive objects for another’s regard. Whole industries exist to profit by removing from us our confidence and selling it back to us as external objects. Iron gives us confidence from within through progressive training and measurable achievements. We are taught to be gentle and hide our strength, or even to cultivate charming physical weakness until we start to believe our bodies are weak. Iron teaches us how strong we can be.” – A.K. Krajewska

Dawn: That quote is so powerful. I mean, we could unpack this quote in an entire divorce recovery podcast episode alone, right? But this quote is everything. And you know, when I think about my own story when I started to date after divorce, there was so much of this in there.

The needing to be a certain type of attractive in order to get back out there and not to protect myself from rejection.

But it’s very backwards the way women have been socialized. And the way that women attempt to feel and experience love. All based on some crazy idea that we need to be a certain way.

How to Become a Badass Girl

Colleen: Going from that, as a society, we have come a long way. You know, as a teenager, we wanted to be little. We wanted to be skinny. Wanted to be cute. And now we have so many more influential people that we look up to that are just strong, like the Simone Biles and the female athletes that are just badass women! That you’re like,

“Damn, they are beautiful. They are strong. And the way that they walk around with such confidence, how do I get there?”

And I truly believe that lifting weights helps that mindset shift. And helps you feel confident.

Dawn: Absolutely. So let’s take that into real life. Tell us a little bit about a woman whom you’ve worked with that’s been transformational. Bring it home for us. Help us see.

Changing Lives Through the Barbell 

Colleen: I’ve had many clients that say I have changed their lives. But it’s not me, it’s the barbell. They’ve drunk the Kool-Aid.

My favorite story is of a client that moved down here from out of town. She didn’t know a lot of people. She had a couple of kids. She was a tall, broad woman who was heavier. She had never touched the barbell before.

I started seeing her around December or January of last year, and she is just a strong, strong woman. The way that she approached weight training was very, very timid at first. Like a lot of, “Oh my God, you want me to do that? You want me to put my chin over the bar? Have you seen me?” She’s an amateur comedian, so she’s hilarious. And she’s like, “Have you seen this? That is not going up there.” I’m like, just trust me. And she did it. Her mindset shifted. And she’s like, “Colleen, I used to try not to eat and then just binge when I got hungry. But now, instead, I am eating for performance. My favorite thing right now is my English muffin with my eggs, my arugula salad, and this with some goat cheese or feta.” And she’s telling me all these things are tasty and make her feel great!

And, “Oh my gosh, I feel stronger today ’cause I ate enough yesterday.”

I was like, you know, you’re not gonna recover. You need them, you know, acids to recover, or else you’re kind of wasting your time in here.

And when she started shifting her mindset from eating to look a certain way, when she made that shift, her strength took off. Her confidence took off. She dropped 50 pounds. She owns her own business. And she said because of her confidence, her business took off.

She’s got a waiting list, and she is who to go see in this area. And people from Charleston pay for her to go down there and do what she does. It’s changed her mindset about herself.

Healing Happens in Many Ways 

Dawn: And so then when I hear you tell us a story like that, I think, “OK, here are these women who have been divorced and they’re feeling so weak, without confidence, and they know they need to heal to overcome their divorce. But maybe they need you more than they need me.” I think healing trauma sometimes is so hard to kind of wrap your head around. Like, how do I put my life back together after something so devastating as a divorce? But when a woman walks into your gym, and she picks up a weight over and over and over again, it makes it concrete. That confidence, that rebuilding, you can literally see it, you can feel it, you can know it.

different weight sizes, watch this interview with Colleen Pomranky, strength and conditioning coach, and how it helped her to overcome trauma and life challenges.

Confidence Boost Through Goal Setting 

Colleen: And your mini victories that you have in the gym carry over to your confidence elsewhere. I always tell people after I see them for three to six months, “Alright, I want you to try to think about a couple of goals that you may want to do in here. Whether it’s go down one band in a pull-up. Or get your first pull-up. Or squat your body weight. To deadlift over 100 pounds.” You know what I mean? Like, I wanna hip thrust this amount.

Once you make these goals on paper, and when you attain them, you’re giving yourself that confidence. And also, the confidence that you gain doesn’t always have to be from those measurable/tangible goals that are a number on a barbell. They also can be: I showed up three days this week, even though I felt like absolute shit, my kid was up sick… I showed up for me. This is an hour for me.

Dawn: Preach!

Colleen: I’m showing up here for my kids. I’m showing up there for my friend. But this is for me. This is my hour, dedicated to myself that I need for me.

And when you can do that for yourself, that is a victory. Especially when you have so much other shit going on in your life.

How to Get Some Colleen In Your Life:  

Dawn: So, three things. I want you to tell our readers how they can find you. Because women need some of you in their lives and these women need your motivation. And I want you to tell our readers how they could get started, but then also, what would you say to the woman out there who’s grieving her loss? And maybe can’t seem to find the willpower to get unstuck and learn to trust again, especially herself. How can she get started?

#1 Start Small With Bite Size Goals

Colleen: OK. I do online and in-person training. So, I have clients in California and, Boston, Colorado, and Texas. Oftentimes people can’t afford a gym membership. People can’t afford, you know, an online coach. So part of it is, if you are trying to make these small changes when you feel lost like I did, my recommendation to somebody who is feeling lost and doesn’t even know how to start, doesn’t even have the energy to pull from inside of them and be like, “I cannot even get to the gym at this point,” start small.

If all you can give is 10 minutes three times a week, then that’s where you start. If you can’t even do that, 5 minutes. Or it’s just what bite-size pieces you can do.

Because, like I said, showing up for yourself and making that habit helps establish that routine. Then you can start adding to it, so it’s not as overwhelming. Because if you give somebody a program that has never touched a weight in their life, and you expect them to do that at home with some dumbbells and some bands, and it lasts 45 minutes to an hour, then they’re just like, “I just, I don’t know, I don’t have it. I don’t have that yet. I cannot wrap my head around that.” Don’t do that.

You want to make sure that whatever you plan on doing, you achieve it. Because when you fail that plan, you’re setting yourself to continuously fall short. And that’s what you don’t want to do.

Dawn: So you want to start with really small, bite-size goals?

Colleen: Yeah, ’cause you want to succeed each week.

Because that success sets a precedent for their confidence in their ability to keep showing up.

Dawn: I’m thinking about James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. I think it’s him who talks about starting with flossing one tooth. And then you’re like, “Yeah, ok, I could floss a second tooth!” That’s a similar concept, right? Building on simple wins.

Colleen: Correct. Small wins. Because once you start moving for five minutes, you tell yourself, “Alright, I can move for at least like 5 to 10 more minutes.” But showing up is the hardest part. Because there’s that load of laundry that you need to change out. There’s the kitchen floor that needs to be swept. There are all these other things that need to be done.

Dawn: You know me!

Colleen: And it’s like, “All right, Colleen, you want me to lift for 45 minutes at home, and I’ve all these other things to do?” No, I want you to do something that you can do. I want you to succeed. And even if that means succeeding for 10 minutes three times a week for two weeks before we bump you up to 20 minutes. And that’s what we do.

Dawn: Your heart for people and especially women is amazing. So we want the women reading this to find you on Instagram and your website. And you’re totally cool with people reaching out to you, which I love.

#2 If Your Form is Shit, Your Program is Shit 

Colleen: Yes. If people don’t have it in their budget to hire a trainer or do online programming with me or anyone else, I think it’s important to note that regardless of who you pay to program for you (you can pay like $1,000 to have the world’s best strength coach program for you), but if your form is shit, your program is shit.

Dawn: So at the end of the day. If your form is shit, your program is shit. And if you’re not eating, it’s all shit.

Colleen: Yeah, so, that being said, I have people that message me, and they’re like, “Colleen, I’m feeling my knee when I Bulgarian Split Squat.” And this is someone I went to high school with. She just messaged me last week. I said, “shoot me a video.” And they sent me a video. And I said, “OK, your weight is coming off of your heel.” And it takes me five minutes. And maybe if I have a crazy amount of online people, I wouldn’t be able to give that much help. But right now, I love it! That’s why I love online coaching. It’s because when people send me their form videos, my ADHD brain works well in those short bursts. Like, “I’m sitting in the car line. I’m going to look at some videos and give my feedback.” Things like that. I could watch people weight lift all day.  

Dawn: Amazing!

weight bands, watch this interview with Colleen Pomranky, strength and conditioning coach, and how it helped her to overcome trauma and life challenges.

#3 Get Started 

Colleen: But I would say to start small. Just get some bands and be like, “This is my home workout. What do you think?” I’ll say, “OK, add a way to pull. Whether it be pulling from a band that’s hooked onto a doorknob or whatever. But just add that and go from there.”

Dawn: We were talking once about not needing a lot of equipment or just being able to use your home as the equipment. You have a lot of clever ideas that I know these women could use.

Colleen: Yeah. During this pandemic, a lot of gyms were closed. People were like we can’t work out. And I was like, but wait. And I put together at-home videos to do at home. For some of them, all you needed was a towel, body weight, access to something like an ottoman, or a kind of lower chair. A table. Things like that. If you don’t even have it in the budget to buy some dumbbells, which would be a great investment eventually, you can say,

Colleen, I just wanna move my body. But I don’t have anything.”

Walking is so underrated, one.

And two, pushups on like the fifth stair are still hard. I cannot do push-ups. These are girl push-ups. Which I hate.

Dawn: Yes, I’ve witnessed that. When I’ve said that and you’re like, “These are modified push-ups!”

two women doing push ups on outside stairs, watch this interview with Colleen Pomranky, strength and conditioning coach, and how it helped her to overcome trauma and life challenges.

Colleen: So then, I wanna do 10 pushups on the fifth stair right now. And my goal is to be able to do 10 pushups in three weeks on the fourth stair. And then, in three weeks, I wanna do 10 pushups on the third stair. And then you might say, “OK, I’ve plateaued. And I’m here for like a month and a half. Oh, but let me see. Can I get five push-ups on the second stair? Alright, I got five. But then I’m gassed out. Let me finish the next five on the next stair.”

Essentially progressive overload is to keep track of how many reps you did each week. To be like, “Holy shit, I’m on the floor four months later, and I can do a pushup! Colleen, look, I can do a push-up!”

Dawn: Yeah, I love it! I love it. OK, your story is amazing. You have shared your heart with us so much today. And I know that you have inspired many women who are dealing with life after divorce today too. To heal in a way that they maybe didn’t even know was possible. 

So, loves, if you are missing confidence and self-esteem after divorce. If you are feeling disempowered. If you are feeling broken. If you are feeling weak. There is a very concrete way to capture your strength. To rebuild your strength. It’s often that we women need to do a variety of things to get strong again, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Meditating for an hour a day or seeing a divorce recovery coach are great. But I want you to also know that there are other things you can start doing today to feel like a stronger version of yourself.

And I am so grateful to you, Colleen. A, for being such a force in my own life. And then B, for being so willing to share you with all of us.

Colleen: Thank you for having me. It means a lot.

Dawn: It’s been awesome. Alright, loves, until next time. Peace.

Ways to Contact Colleen

Visit Colleen and the Gut Check Garage on Instagram at @gut_check_garage or online at gutcheckgarage.com.

 

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