Why I got into weightlifting


“Yeah, you were always to big for ballet.” Jemma stopped for a moment. “You were never fat,” she amended. “You were just too muscular.”

“Erm…” I replied hesitantly.

“Like, you weren’t fat or huge or anything. You just always looked like you had muscles.”

The girl smiled reassuringly at me and picked up her burrito.

I put my fork down and remembered that time I stopped being a ballerina because I felt too big to be one.

You were never fat, you were just too muscular.

I never thought I was fat or overweight in any way, I just knew that I lacked the necessary attributes to be a ballet dancer: the delicate swayed-back shins, the dainty feet with high arches, the long legs and narrow hips, the beautiful turnout and the nymph-like shoulders.

No matter how hard I tried, I could never get my athletic body to move or look the way that I wanted it to. My legs will always be short and strong (I was an excellent sprinter as a kid), I have hips and muscular shoulders, and I have terrible feet.

How women are “supposed” to look

I was always aware that women were “supposed” to be tiny. That they should never take up too much space.

When you’re in primary school the big kids love the tiny tots of your class – the small, cute and pocket-sized. And when you are a teenager the prettiest girls tend to be those with the smallest waists and/or the biggest breasts.

If a woman is going to take up space, she has to do it in the right way.

Even after I quit dancing, I vowed to stop doing anything that would make my arms and shoulders any more muscular than they already were.

If a woman is going to take up space, she has to do it in the right way.

Ignorance leads to crash dieting

Like most women, I have been on a number of crash diets.

Eating 1000 calories a day and armed with a cupboard full of sugar-free jelly and frozen vegetables, I would embark on a miserable journey of self-denial.

If I caved and ate a doughnut, I felt disgusting. Some days I would decline an offer of a crisp with the smug words “Sorry, I’m on a diet” only to later secretly gorge on four cupcakes in the privacy of my home.

Sure enough I would lose weight and reach my goal, but I would be right back where I started a few months later.

Sound familiar?

Stepping into the weights room

One day I found myself following my boyfriend to the gym and asking him how to lift weights. (Yup, he was as shocked as I was.)

There were three key reasons for this change of heart:

  1. I was sick of starving myself and hating on my body. I had gained a fair bit of weight travelling, and I did not want to run laps around the city and starve myself on 1000 calories a day. I had to find an alternative, and my boyfriend suggested weightlifting. I then did my own research and concurred.
  2. The explosion of female weightlifting on social media. From YouTube to Instagram, there are now thousands of women promoting the message “strong is sexy”. From the very first moment I started following these women, I felt more inspired and motivated about fitness than I had in years.
  3. I wanted to do more than lose weight – I wanted a new mentality and lifestyle. I wasn’t always so caught up on looking like Marissa Cooper from The OC – I actually grew up hiking, cycling and running. Whilst I adored ballet, I also loved being strong. I wanted that back.

Why do I love weightlifting so much and why do I recommend it to other women?

Women are stronger than they think they are

The first time that I stepped into the gym I picked up the 2kg dumbbells and cautiously lifted them above my head. I was convinced that my arms would fail at any moment. Turns out that I can lift more than five times that.

And I know that other women feel the same way. I watched one lady come into the gym with her friend and seriously do three sets of shoulder press using a wooden stick. This stick is supposed to be for stretching and warming up, and weighs less than 1kg. The lady’s friend suggested that she try one of the small weighted bars, but the lady shook her head adamantly and insisted that she would never be able to lift that much (“I’m a weed,” she confessed a little dejectedly as her friend picked up a 5kg bar.)

The only downside to realising how strong you are is that you do come to notice just how frequently people underestimate yourself and other women.

(NB. If someone tells me that I can’t lift something that I know I can or insists that I can’t use so much as a power tool “because I’m a woman and therefore too weak”, I curtly inform them that I can deadlift 90kg and then pick the damn thing up before they can utter another word.)

Moving on from yo-yo dieting

Food isn’t the enemy – it’s the answer to your gains

Eating enough fat, carbohydrates and protein become a priority when you get into weightlifting. You cannot skimp back on any of these components, otherwise you won’t make the kinds of gains that you want.

I don’t cut out food groups. I eat dairy and gluten. I make sure that I consume plenty of fat. I eat chocolate in moderation. I enjoy carbs. I don’t restrict myself to 1000 calories a day. There are no expensive detox teas or radical diet plans.

Weightlifting drastically changes your outlook on weight loss because if you lose too much weight too quickly, like you would on a crash diet, you cannot build muscle. So if you’re hoping to build a nice perky bum or move up to the bigger weights, you’re going to have to eat. When I want to lean out I aim to lose no more than 1lb a week, and I follow the If It Fits Your Macros diet (a more flexible approach that accounts for your protein, carb and fat intake.)

Most importantly, food has become something to support and nourish my body. It’s not an evil enemy – it’s the answer to my gains.

Feeling better and stronger

Weightlifting has not completely banished all of my insecurities, and the bodybuilding industry is not without its flaws.

However, what I do know is how proud I am of my body – and not just for how it looks. I enjoy how capable and strong my body is (the minute you start deadlifting you feel badass forever!)

I love how much more confident I am.

And for the moment, regardless of whether or not I ever get that flat stomach and those rounded glutes, I am pretty damn content with that.


PS: Got a fitness story to share or got any fitness-related questions? Please share it in the comments below!

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