On Strength Training and Loving My Body

Ladies, listen up. We’re skipping Friday Favorites today. Don’t hurt me. You’ll survive. ūüôā

It’s the day¬†before Valentine’s Day, and the Internet is going crazy with chocolate¬†dessert recipes, Valentine’s themed workouts, presents for him ideas, and how to have fun with your gal pals if you’re single.

Valentine's Day Two A Day 2014

Valentine’s Day is traditionally a day to celebrate love, most traditionally with someone you are romantically involved with, but today I want to talk about love in a different way. I want to talk about loving ourselves¬†and¬†how important it is to love our bodies. Not our bodies if we could just lose ten pounds. Not the bodies we wish could have a flatter stomach or a better looking butt. Not the bodies that we wish could just look like someone else’s.¬†I want to talk about loving the bodies we have right NOW, flaws and all.

I’ve realized over the past year that I feel extremely passionate about this topic. As a woman in the fitness industry, I want to show my fellow ladies¬†that it is possible to be fit, strong, and confident… and still have a little bit of cellulite. Some stretch marks. Imperfections.¬†I don’t think there is any woman out there who hasn’t seen things she wanted to change about her body when looking in the mirror, and I am no¬†exception to this. Despite my career, I too¬†have days where I am¬†hard on myself and notice things that I wish¬†I could change things about my appearance.

For example, I remember being away¬†one¬†weekend last year, taking a bunch of silly pictures with Tim on a boat, and saying “ew, redo” when I saw this one:

Memorial Day Weekend

What I¬†should have noticed in this picture¬†was how Tim and I were smiling and having a great time, the beautiful day, or maybe that¬†it kind of looks like I’m getting hit in the head. But I’ll be honest with you, all I could focus on after this picture was taken was how my thighs were smushing together. I look at this picture now and am mortified that I would even think that. I’m embarrassed to admit that I made Tim’s sister retake the picture, and I ended up posting this one on Instagram instead:

Memorial Day Weekend

I posted the latter not only because I thought it was funnier, but because I thought my legs looked better in it. Oh look, guys, fake thigh gap. It’s embarrassing, but something tells me I’m not alone here. How many times have you retaken¬†a selfie or re-snapped a pic because something about your body¬†doesn’t look good enough¬†to you? The point I am trying to make here is that every¬†woman¬†has something about themselves that they wish was a bit different, it’s just that some of us feel this way more often than others.

I feel very fortunate that I don’t feel this way a lot… anymore. I’ve never struggled with an eating disorder or body image issues so severe that the overall quality of my life was affected, but¬†I will say that these types of moments and feelings of insecurity and negative self talk used to happen with a lot more frequency. I remember being one of the larger girls during my dance days (it’s true) and wishing I could be smaller framed like everyone else. I remember¬†spending¬†hours on the elliptical in college doing steady state cardio and then leaving wishing like I could leave looking more toned¬†like other girls were. Teaching fitness helped, but I always taught aerobic based classes or ones with lighter weights until only a few years ago. I was never overweight, but my body did look a lot different than it does today. It was a little softer and just never felt quite right to me. It didn’t help that my nutrition was ALL over the place too: late night binges, too much beer, way too much pasta and bread, and to be honest, I was just uneducated about what healthy food actually was back then.

A couple of years ago, I signed up for Tina Reale’s , and that was the first time I tried to lift heavier weights. At the time, that meant increasing my usual weights from three and five pound dumbbells to eights and tens. And eventually twelves and fifteens. I encourage lifting heavier weights a LOT. But if you’re not lifting weights at all, lifting heavier means simply starting. Maybe it’s bodyweight. Maybe it is that five pound dumbbell. But if you’re using the same five pounders¬†over and over and wondering why you’re ¬†not seeing results, just try the next increment. That’s all.¬†You don’t have to go out of the gate with big barbell lifts.¬†I digress.

After BBB, I started reading more and more articles on weight training. I became a certified personal trainer. I started following more and more female fitness figures who encourage heavier lifting and discourage myths like spot toning and ineffective isolation exercises. You guys get the idea. I became more comfortable with writing programs, and in turn started teaching more effective group exercise classes.

Eventually I decided to dabble in some bigger lifts.

Trap Bar

Getting over my fear of the weight room was one of the best things I ever did for myself. After strength training with heavier weights¬†more regularly, I’ve seen physical results just by nature of the game, but to me that’s an added bonus. The MENTAL¬†changes far surpass ANY¬†physical benefit that’s come my way.¬†I am more comfortable¬†in my own skin and feel awesome in (and out!) of my clothes. I feel strong.¬†I no longer approach my workouts with an all or nothing mentality. I don’t go to the gym because I’m unhappy with my body. I no longer hop on a cardio machine for an hour¬†to try to lose weight or look like someone else. Instead, I focus on INCREASING weight. What a totally different concept from¬†the societal norms, huh? I’m telling you, focusing on increasing the weight I’m lifting instead of decreasing the weight on the scale has been life changing. I lift now because I love my body. I love that I am able to workout. I am proud of what my body is able to do and how it keeps getting better and stronger.

There is just something so empowering about the feeling both during and after a heavy strength training session. I’m amazed at how powerful a tool strength training is for increasing self confidence and mental toughness. Trying to lift your bodyweight off the ground tests your mind. Working at accomplishing just one damn chinup for over a year and trying not to compare yourself to others? Tests your mind. Once you’re out of your comfort zone, you can test your physical AND mental capabilities simultaneously, and the result? It¬†carries into every other aspect of your life. The empowerment from¬†a weight training session? Contagious beyond the doors to the gym.

Plank

Over the past couple of years, I’ve become mentally strong enough to let go of toxic friendships. To not be ashamed to admit that I have an anxiety disorder and have gone to therapy to be in a better place. I’m strong enough to stand up for what I believe in, at both work and in my personal life, even when it feels like I’m standing alone. I’ve forged enough mental toughness to recognize the difference between situations I can change and situations I can’t… and accept them with grace.¬†I don’t find it coincidental that these shifts in mentality came AFTER I started lifting weights.

I still have rough days where I struggle with these things. I still have days where I’m hard on myself physically,¬†but now that I’m strength training regularly, the amount of times I look at a picture with disgust is close to none.¬†My body is not perfect (news flash, nobody’s is!), but it’s the only one I have. It’s my home, and it keeps me alive. I constantly have to remind myself how important it is to love my body and celebrate it. I wish I could have had this much self compassion¬†throughout the rest of my twenties, but it’s never too late to work diligently on how you talk to yourself. Also! Once you accept yourselves as you are in this very moment¬†and start treating yourself like you would any close friend or family member, it becomes a LOT easier¬†to treat yourself well with proper nutrition, consistent exercise, and enough rest, without an all or nothing approach.

Young girls need positive role models to show them how to be proud of who they are, and as adult women, that’s our responsibility. I would NEVER¬†want my own daughter someday to be ashamed of how her thighs are touching in a picture. I would want her to be strong and confident, PROUD of the legs that allow her to do so many things, and¬†to never even question whether she loves her body or not.

Portland Maine Quads

This Valentine’s Day, it doesn’t matter if you are single, dating, engaged, married, whatever. I just hope you’ll join my quest to spread this message of self love. You can start now by sharing this post. Then go pick up some weights, get out of your comfort zone, and celebrate¬†what your body can do. <3

Readers, let’s chat! We’re talking about you today. I want to see your positive self talk in the comments! What do you love about your body? How have you worked toward self compassion and acceptance? For those ladies who lift, how has it forged mental toughness in your life?