I Didn’t Start Weight Lifting Because I Wanted to Be Strong
June 21, 2022 11:41 AM   Subscribe

"I had thought that “cravings” and “bad” foods and striving to eat as little as possible were just facts of adult existence, particularly as a woman. But just trying to eat enough to support my lifting slowly unraveled for me how widely shared, carefully crafted, and viciously protected those delusions were. Building back muscle was a much slower process than I ever realized; even as a new lifter, one pound of muscle a month was as much as I could expect to get. As I regained strength, I came to realize that whatever I had needed to be protected; what I had lost turned out to be critical to the experience of living in my body." CW: discussions of dieting and exercise
posted by Lycaste (18 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
This seems to be the reddit post that she talks about.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:25 PM on June 21

I miss lifting. I tore up my shoulder pretty gnarly about 5 years ago and stopped. I was started back into the gym in January 2020. I switched focus. My deadlifts were climbing rapidly and I felt my mental health coming back online. Then the rest of 2020 happened, me and my awful lungs went into hiding and my mental health went into the toilet.

It's taken this long, but once I'm healed from my surgery, it's finally time.

I would have never thought that working out with weights would do so much for mental health. I had also thought "oh yeah, gotta run to be 'healthy' and that's not in the cards for you". At least for her and for me, the whole act of lifting and lifting heavy, does it. (My wife gets her benefits from cardio in a way I can't)
posted by drewbage1847 at 12:31 PM on June 21 [8 favorites]

Here is an archive.org link for those who have "reached their monthly limit."
posted by AgentRocket at 12:37 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]

The freedom is real. I know what it's like to eat without restraint and not gain weight, I did it for 41 years. If hungry, eat. Eat what you want. If full, stop eating. Life was so simple. I must be charmed, a self-balancing metabolism and an ass like a peach. If someone asked me how many calories were in half a cup of carrots I could only answer I don't care.

About this time last year I had a heart attack. Apparently my arteries are lined with so much cholesterol they're too narrow for blood to pass through. They had to implant a piece of metal - a stent - in my heart, to hold the artery open. I'm 42yo and I've had heart surgery.

Now I'm dieting. I have to learn all these things about fat and sugar and calories and on and on. And this isn't so I'll have nice abs, this is so I won't die. I fucking hate it, but it's better than the alternative.

What I was doing before, let's call it the IDGAF diet, I wish I could give it to someone who worries way too much about it. Not so they'll get sick like I did, just so they can take a break from all this stress Casey described here. I give them my IDGAF, there's no guilt, just freedom. Be at peace.
posted by adept256 at 12:43 PM on June 21 [5 favorites]

Casey is a great writer and definitely helps people - including me - keep their heads screwed on straight when it comes to the mental and physical aspects of lifting and working out generally. I highly recommend subscribing to her Substack and, if you want to ease into lifting, sign up for her Couch to Barbell program.

drewbage1847, I'm with you, lifting heavy feels amazing and satisfying. I've been lifting pretty consistently for a while, but I too dialed back the deadlifting. I have a wonky disc, and if I lift wrong it goes out and I'm in for a world of hurt for a week. So I'm very skittish. I'm working around it, lifting lighter with a trap bar, but for me the most important change was my mindset - I no longer feel like I'm failing if I'm not lifting 300 for reps. I'm not competing with anyone but the Grim Reaper, and I've decided a few more sets at 250 is probably enough to keep him at bay for a little while.
posted by schoolgirl report at 12:48 PM on June 21 [6 favorites]

Schoolgirl - that's one of those ego points that I still need to integrate into my process. "If I'm not going for PR's, what's the point?" (And that's how I turned my shoulder into angry ground glass shards - so the lesson should have been learned)
posted by drewbage1847 at 1:03 PM on June 21 [2 favorites]

Hahaha wow one real good way to know how far you have NOT come in adjusting your mindset around food and weight is to read descriptions of disordered eating and think "aw man, I never even made it to being cold all the time, jeez."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:16 PM on June 21 [11 favorites]

I'm one of the many people* who get no endorphin, no feel-good, while working out. I do it anyway because it makes the other 23.5 hours of my day much easier as far as movement and health and such go.

(I did an informal poll of about a thousand people about whether they feel pleasure from exercise: about 40% get nothing, 30% get a pleasant buzz, and 30% get the whole endorphin rush thing.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:19 PM on June 21 [8 favorites]

I'm back at the gym and lifting again. I'm at roughly about 60% of my pre-1000-day-interregnum highs despite a recent knee problem and breaking ribs in December and I'm not pushing myself too hard to get there. I have time. There is no rush.

I don't exactly enjoy it but I do find something deeply satisfying about Sisyphusing. Kind of like how I feel about the sense of accomplishment running gives me except unlike running weight lifting provides no high (only DOMS at first when I restart and then just dead-tired limbs after that). I think there is just something deeply satisfying to making your body function. Also I like writing the numbers in my log book and seeing improvement over time.

As a life long weight mover who has never bulked up (I'm a posterboy hard gainer) nor been an athlete I just don't have the concerns other people have. I just want to be functional. I want to remain capable into old age. I want my bones to be harder to break. My balance harder to lose. My groans when getting off the couch to be quieter. It also calms my left arm's essential tremor.

I just want to be better today than yesterday and if I can't pull that off I want to be not much worse than yesterday.

With that in mind I made my pandemic workout choices very carefully. I strain but not the point of herniation or injury. I mask in the gym (maybe less than 10% do). I chose a university gym where the school had a vax and booster mandate. It's wonderful now that it is summer term. If I am going to chase the health benefits of weight training I'm going to try to not throw them away because of repeat covid infection roulette.
posted by srboisvert at 1:33 PM on June 21 [3 favorites]

I recently was thinking about how I've never actually seen results from weight training. The best it's done for me is to get me used to it so I can do it without getting sore. If my body changes, it's because I'm dieting too, otherwise: pfft. When I exercise, I'm either going too easy or going hard and giving myself a stress fracture or other injury that keeps me seated for a couple of weeks or longer, after which I probably am going to put off getting back in the gym for years.

I like her piece, though. It makes me feel a little wistful, but I am glad she is strong.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:39 PM on June 21

I am an on and off lifter (currently off) and need to get back in the game - I fell out of the habit during the gym closures in the pandemic and don't have a proper setup at home, aside from a set of 5 and 10 lb dumbbells I use in the Peloton strength training classes.

I think lifting is one of the most underrated fitness activities there is and I strongly recommend it to anyone. The basic moves (squats, deadlifts, jerks, curls) are simple to learn and you can choose how much or how little you want to put into it. Squats especially are the single best exercise you can do in my under informed opinion. You are a human animal and your body wants to move and lift.

When I was on a regular lifting program, it was like a cascade into the other parts of my life: I slept better, ate better, and felt stronger and more confident. I was never so much into running and cardio that I experienced the issues this woman dealt with, but I think we often focus too much on cardio at the expense of strong muscles. That being said, if you're moving regularly and it's translating into an improved level of health and comfort for you, more power to you.

And, you can definitely avoid the IRON IS YOUR GOD NOW bro culture and just stick to a setup and environment that is comfortable for you.
posted by fortitude25 at 2:07 PM on June 21 [3 favorites]

At 14 I was 5’10” and weighed ~195 lbs; I wasn’t fat but I didn’t have much definition.

So at my request my parents bought me a weight set which included dumbbells, a barbell, and a bench for bench presses.

I could see changes by the end of the first week, and by the end of the second other people were making comments. I was kind of elated.

But by the end of the third week something strange started happening: my left side, from biceps to calves stopped getting sore from my workouts, though my right side was just as sore as it was when I started — and my left side stopped making gains as my right side got bigger.

So after another week or two, I decided to quit doing anything with my right side and concentrate on my left using the dumbbells until it caught up.

But it didn’t catch up, and it refused to get sore no matter how I structured the weight/rep ratios.

Yet my right side somehow kept getting a little sore and kept making (somewhat smaller) gains from exercises I was doing exclusively with my left side!

So I gave up. That was it for me and weights. Chalk up another one for my weird physiology.
posted by jamjam at 2:19 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]

I have never lifted but as I get older I'm getting increasingly frustrated at how weak I am compared to when I was younger (and, to be clear, I was never that strong). It's frustrating to not be able to lift things I once could! I never lifted when young because of frustration that my body just doesn't show any gains in a way which might have been appealing, like big arms or abs or whatever--I have friends who can lift a pint of beer and get big biceps from that, and it was so disheartening to not show any progress. Now I guess those days (of looking to gain sex appeal) are behind me. The biggest hurdle now is getting equipment, since I'm not going to drive ten miles to the nearest gym several days a week.
posted by maxwelton at 2:25 PM on June 21

This is such an encouraging article, thank you for sharing it.
posted by JDHarper at 3:13 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]

I'm so motivated by this Swole Woman! I'm in my mid-fifties, and only started lifting pretty recently. I was at my lowest adult weight ever a couple of years ago, after decades of being Very Fat, but I found I really couldn't sustain it. What I could do, instead, was focus on making my body as strong as it possibly can be. Now when I'm deadlifting 135 pounds I feel DAMN STRONG. When I have setbacks -- last week I could no longer squat my usual 95 pounds and had to drop down to 75 -- I still feel strong, because using my muscles is so very, very satisfying. Catch me carrying in my grocery delivery (which usually arrives in one enormous box) without the slightest trouble!

And yes, I've gained quite a bit of weight back. It kind of sucks, on one hand, because I'd like to more easily be able to pass with ease in a deeply fatphobic society. But on the other hand...I'm quite literally the strongest I've ever been. Gonna have to try to keep focusing on that.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:44 PM on June 21 [9 favorites]

Sounds like lifting should be more about lifting up each other
posted by Apocryphon at 6:09 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]

This article is beyond timely.

I started getting serious about lifting in February. My initial motivation was thinking about how my mother's bones were so bad before she died that she would have been immobile in another year. I don't want that for myself.

Progress has been slow and I am focused on the standard olympic bar exercises (for lack of a better description) - squats, presses, rows, deadlifts. I started adding back in some barbell reps to keep things interesting. I've also added back in one or two rowing sessions a week just because sometimes I need to clear my head.

The r/xxfitness subreddit has been such a great resource to motivate me to keep going.

Since starting February my knees don't hurt as much. I can see definition developing in my shoulders and arms. The day I picked up and racked the 45Lb bar without a struggle I went and did a little happy dance after. Feeling stronger feels AMAZING.

The biggest gain, aside from shedding those teenage years of conditioning that said that girls don't lift heavy weights, is that even when I don't really want to do it or an asthma flare is making me miserable, I still do it. On those days maybe I'll put less weight on the bar, do fewer reps or skip the last set of crunches.

The biggest obstacle is the food thing, but I'm working on that too.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 2:37 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]

I had started getting serious about getting stronger but then the pandemic happened. But I recently made an appointment for one of the trainers at my Y to show me how to lift the heavy things, inspired largely by Casey. The trainer instead showed me around the Precor machines, which I've previously turned my nose up because everyone knows lifting freestanding weights something something micro movements something stability. But I AM IN LOVE with those Precor machines. I can get in, do all this heavy stuff but with more fluid movements than I can with the dumbbells, and lift thousands of pounds and be out within 30 minutes.

(Or at least I can when the teenage boys aren't just sitting on the machines looking at Tiktok for their five-minute rests. Dudes. Stop. Nobody needs to rest that long. 30 seconds and then back to work or get out of my way.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:05 PM on June 27

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