Head

Lifted.

Come Monday, every gym in America will turn Battle Royale as meatheads and hard bodies alike gear up to defend valuable floorspace against the flood of the newly resolved. But February will happen, and most will fall to inertia.

As the once optimistic abandon their resolutions of weight loss and fitness, despite new gym clothes, shoes, and accessories, balance will restore itself, and gym-rats everywhere will delight over reclaimed territory.

According to WebMD, nearly 36 percent of health-oriented resolvers will ditch the fitness grind by month’s end, and 56 percent will quit after six months; a sad fact.

To the motivated millions suiting up to get fit this year, I say this: you will feel intimidated, embarrassed, and inadequate. You will drench yourself in too harsh judgement. You will compare yourself. You will get lazy.

Keep moving anyway.

In March, I made the executive decision to dip into my excess funds and invest in a personal trainer. I wanted to lift, and I wanted to build muscle. Weight loss wasn’t a concern; I wanted to realize my body’s potential.

What began as a one-month commitment ultimately progressed to four, and I found myself achieving goals I couldn’t have imagined my teeny frame could conquer.

During my first session with Angela, a 24-year-old CrossFitting powerhouse, I learned to deadlift; a powerlifting exercise in which dead weight is lifted from the ground to the hips, and returned.

I approached the bare 35-pound barbell with utter intimidation, tapping my shins against the ice-cold steel, and tried to stifle the mild self-consciousness brewing in my gut. In a room full of muscle-ridden, grunting dudes, it’s easy to feel small. It’s also easy, as a spandex-clad female, to unintentionally pique their interest. Please, no.

I bent forward and gripped the bar, pinching my shoulder blades and tightening my core, just as she’d instructed.

Inhale, exhale.

I drove through my heels and guided the bar to my waist. I paused for a moment examining my form in the mirror as Angela offered additional instruction, then slowly returned the barbell to the ground.

Baby steps.

That day, Angela scribbled “Deadlift: 90 lbs.” in my notes. I felt like the Hulk, and promptly called both my parents to share the news of this incredible display of athleticism.

I’d go on to raise that bar many more times.

Over the span of 16 weeks, Angela hurled me through a lifting crash-course, teaching me the squat, front squat, shoulder press, push press, and the clean. I rowed, lifted, sit-uped, push-uped, pull-uped, squatted, lunged, thrusted, burpeed, box-jumped, dipped, planked, hand-standed, carried, swung, threw, and stretched until I nearly broke in half.

It was fucking hard.

I became well-versed in gym lingo, and proper gym etiquette. I learned good form and how to gauge appropriate weights. I learned to craft workouts, and how to target muscle groups.

I gained nearly 25 pounds of muscle, and developed a metabolism that could put down a grocery store in one sitting.

I came away with more sweat-soaked gym clothes, sore muscles, and nasty bruises than professional athletes. My hands slowly transitioned from fair, unscathed beauties to looking like I’d realized my quarter-life dream of “gloveless mechanic.”

But more important than any fitness technique, I learned to just be okay with learning.

Fact: exercise is difficult. Toss in the body image issues plaguing humanity, add some showy meatheads, and the gym transitions from “place of wellness” to “personal hell.” It’s easy to feel embarrassed. It’s easy to feel inadequate. It’s just as easy to pick a hard body and self-destruct on points of comparison.

But this wasn’t about them. It was about me.

I showed up two days a week with an unkempt braid, a raggedy t-shirt, and a positive attitude prepared to do my body some good. I did, and I stuck with it.

Unless you’re the unspoken lovechild of Hercules and Wonder Woman, your fitness journey will not begin with ease. And that’s fine. That’s how it’s supposed to be—that’s what’s expected. Don’t beat yourself up for your inability to run one full mile, or exceed 10 push-ups, or curl more than 12 pounds. Progress will come with effort, and you’ll peak later.

Give your body some credit—it’s capable of incredible things.

Establish checkpoints to make lofty fitness goals feel achievable. Every accomplishment counts, and every accomplishment should be acknowledged. Improved a half-mile run by five seconds? Celebrate. Lifted 10 more pounds? Celebrate. Pumped out three more push-ups? Celebrate, and keep moving forward.

Because you’re growing stronger.

That growth is all that matters. Not the inches of your waist, or the size of your clothes. Not the weight of your barbells, or the weight of your body.

When our last session arrived, Angela and I settled on deadlifts as the precursor to a “filthy fifty” (kill me) for my final workout—a sort of poetic ending to our time spent pumping iron.

I approached the barbell with fierce determination, tapping my shins against the ice-cold steel, and worked to stifle the mild doubt brewing in my gut. In a room full of muscle-ridden, grunting dudes, I felt powerful. I bent forward and gripped the bar, pinching my shoulder blades and tightening my core, just as she’d instructed.

Inhale, exhale.

I drove through my heels and guided the bar to my waist. I paused for moment, hyper-aware of my onlookers, and smirked. Because I successfully lifted 190 pounds from the gym floor.

I released my grip allowing the steel mass to crash against the carpet. It boomed, and I proudly brushed the chalk dust from my palms, convinced that if I could lift the weight of a full-grown male, I could surely throw the world on my back and squat it.

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