I never really bought into the myth that weight lifting would make a woman too bulky or less feminine (not that I personally cared either way) nor believed women were too fragile to lift heavy. The irony is that I was the cardio sheep of a lifting family. My mother used to be a competitive bodybuilder, and both my father and older sister were familiar with weight lifting. I was more inclined towards running because I was built for and enjoyed it.
However, after suffering a few running related injuries and seeking improvement in muscle stability and overall form, I read enough online about weight lifting being beneficial for runners to finally try to take it on, and like any challenge I am presented with, I dove in head first. This runner was going to start lifting.
One thing that tends to be common is the male-biased sex ratio in the free weights section of gyms, and it was no different in my campus recreation center. I admit it. I was a bit nervous when I walked into that area. All I could see were buff men grunting their way through their snatches and clean and jerks, deep squats and loaded shoulders, and the resounding clangs of heavy weights being dropped from deadlifts as they finished their last reps. There seemed to be maybe two other girls there by the dumbbells or Smith Machine. I stood awkwardly in the corner for a good twenty minutes, just watching, too intimidated and inexperienced to fully approach at first.
I had downloaded an app called Stronglifts 5x5 that created a personalized plan for me based on my age, sex, and weight. It provided me with two workouts that I would alternate between on the three days per week that I was supposed to lift. I chose Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays since it would be easier for me to build a consistent routine. My favorite bit was that it linked to videos that demonstrated what I should do for each of the three exercises in each workout.
With my headphones on and the videos loaded, I managed to claim a barbell that was on the floor and started the first squats of my weight lifting lifestyle. I made so many mistakes, and I must have looked really bad. I knew that just because I did not really know what I was doing. However, it took time before I realized what exactly I was doing wrong and how to do better. The only reason I did not get hurt in the beginning was because I started light, and when I realized something was wrong with my form, I was willing to drop weight until I could comfortably correct it.
I became really familiar with below parallel squats, bench presses, overhead presses, bent over barbell rows, and (the lovely) deadlifts. I learned how to use the squat rack because it was dangerous to try to lift the bar over my head onto my shoulders as the weights grew heavier for squats. I had to work on improving my flexibility to properly row. The biggest lesson, however, was learning how to relax. The guys there were pretty chill, and the most interaction I had with any of them was them asking how many sets I had left or if I would spot for them.
Though my physical form does not show much difference besides a bit more definition than before here and there, there are changes that I experienced from weight lifting that I am rather a fan of, and they are non scale benefits that I think others on the fence about lifting would not mind themselves.
Things are easier.
Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash
My bag is not as heavy as it used to be. My water bottle is lighter, and I can carry more things for longer distances and time if I need to. I actually keep underestimating my increased strength which often results in me slamming doors open into walls if I am distracted. I can move things with ease and pick myself up much more easily. I can even do a pull-up!
My posture improved.
Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash
Since I started my well rounded routine, my posture has improved as I developed the muscles to support it. I do not have to hold it up with conscious thought as much anymore. I also have not experienced lower back pain as much, and I find myself walking and standing taller which is good for confidence along with just feeling good and pretty cool.
My athletic performance is getting better.
Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash
It actually has helped me with my running. When I picked up my running again, I felt that I was running really slowly and kept trying to speed up. I ended up setting personal bests for my 1 km, 1 mile, and 12 minute distance without meaning to. I dropped by at least a minute in some of my times.
I am ravenous.
Photo by Hari Nandakumar on Unsplash
That may not seem much of a benefit, but it did make me take a look at my eating habits and diet. I have a habit of not eating as regularly as I should, and I do not always pick the best meals. I had to learn to start intentionally adding more protein to my diet along with fiber and good fat and a little less carbohydrates because I burned through carbs too quickly for them to be a good caloric investment, often leaving me hungry and more likely to just keep eating. The others kept me feeling fuller for longer and/or kept me feeling more alert and energized. Plus, more protein is needed to help muscles recover and develop.
My fat is being replaced with muscle.
Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash
My fat is not turning into muscle. It is burning off, and muscle is showing up where fat used to be. I look relatively the same, but some things are smoother and tighter. The one downside is some of my clothes and costumes do not fit as well as they used to, but I think it is a worthy payoff.
It makes me want to take care of myself.
Photo by Kate Stone Matheson on Unsplash
It is similar to how I changed my eating habits in slight ways. I also am inclined to stretch and sleep more because my body needs time to recover. If I skimp out on these, I only feel worse in the end, and I cannot perform as well as I would like in my lifting and in other activities as well. I am still not the best at self-care, but there are more upsides to the efforts I am making than downsides.
I learned a lot.
Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash
When I become interested in something, I like to research all I can. I have watched so many videos on form, routines, diets, supplements, alternatives and modifications, etc. I also have quite a few articles saved on fitness discussions and advice, and I have begun to pick up on the lingo on- and off-line. I even joined a few Reddits and a Discord server for Swole Acceptance, one of the funniest decisions I made in my weight lifting journey.
I can flex.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
It is not much like I said, but I am proud when I do see changes in the mirror. Most of all, I feel proud when I can handle weights I could not even touch weeks ago. Even when I am tired, I can do more than I expected, and that leaves me feeling really satisfied.