What weight lifting has taught me

My quads and glutes are crying and my heart is pounding. I exhale sharply when I let the barbell clang back into place on the rack and glance down at the calluses on my palms. They’re kind of ugly but I secretly dig them. It’s not even 7:00 am and I have hardcore rap blasting in my ears.

Good morning, world!

I never thought I’d be that girl at the squat rack or curling weights in front of the mirror beside a couple guys. But now it’s how I start most of my days.

Throughout grade school, I was always active through team sports. When I got to university, I realized my after-school activities weren’t there anymore to keep up that habit. I knew the importance of staying active for my health but, let’s be honest, at the time I mostly just wanted to avoid gaining weight.

That was it – I wanted to just stay “skinny”. Like many women, I was afraid of getting “bulky” if I started pumping weights at the gym so I thought the one and only way was cardio, cardio, cardio. So that’s what I did. I jogged after or before classes.

At some point, I got bored of jogging. Plus I wanted to see more physical progress and it clearly wasn’t doing it. I did develop a solid yoga practice (chaturanga can change a girl), but I wanted something else more intense to compliment it.

I sought out apps and online posts about short and intense workouts. Mostly High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts that involved various spouts of cardio and body weight exercises, like burpees, squats, jumping jacks, mountain climbers etc. I found it less tedious and I could feel a little burn in my muscles.

One summer in between semesters, I tried out the new gym in Squamish and dropped in on a workout class. I was nervous going in – but hooked immediately. It was also a combination of quick cardio moves, body weight exercises and some light weighted work which, when all combined, was intense.

This spiraled into an allegiance to Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide and, eventually, workout videos like Fitness Blender, which offer both HIIT workouts and strength training workouts you can do at home. As I hear about others’ fitness experience, I’ve learned this is a pretty common progression for many women.

I continued with the Fitness Blender, BBG workouts, and the occasional freestyle in the school gym (if it was really quiet there) until I graduated university. When I went back to Squamish, I bought a membership at that same gym: Mountain Fitness.

For at least a few months, I just attended classes which incorporated a lot of weights and HIIT. I was still a bit nervous to step out onto the weight floor by myself with all those people who seemed to know exactly what they were doing. But one summer evening I screenshot a Fitness Blender workout and armed myself with it to tackle the weights with the exercises it laid out.

None of the guys curling 100lbs laughed at me while I curled 15. None of the girls squatting twice the amount I could sneered. They didn’t give a shit and it wasn’t nearly as hard as it seemed. And, what do you know? I didn’t leave looking like a bodybuilder (uh duh).

It’s an irrational fear that so many women avoid strength training because they’re worried about looking “manly”. For one, that takes a hell of a lot of time and effort into your training and eating habits. It’s hard to do even if it is what you want. And 2, so what if a girl wants to look stronger in general? It’s fucking badass and she should be proud of her definition.

As my training progressed, I began to see and feel changes in my body. I got excited about the little muscles I saw and, over time, I noticed I got colds less often and felt more energized. Best yet, I started to focus more on what my body could do than what it looked like.

I’m still constantly learning when it comes to strength training – whether it’s from trial and error, tips from trainers at the gym, or reading and watching stuff online. I don’t have a definitive end goal in site – it’s a lifelong journey. Remaining open to learning seems to be crucial.

The thought of doing a few simple dumbbell exercises in front of people used to make me nervous sweat, but now I feel fine walking into the gym and trying out some exercise I’ve never done before. We’re all there to practice and improve.

Some days, I feel like I can go all out. Others, I can’t. But I always aim to do my best, even if that just means showing up. Really, things can’t change if you don’t put in the effort so why waste your time?

Be humble. Try new things. Give it your all – whatever that is on a specific day. Focus on your limitless abilities. Clearly, weight training has taught me about more than just how to be comfortable in a gym.

I used to think picking up heavy things and putting them down was pointless, but turns out there’s been a bunch of nuggets of knowledge hiding in those pieces of metal and rubber.