Real Life Advice from Women Who Lift
Ladies, I’ve already argued that weight lifting will not make you bulky. Instead, it will make you sexier, bolder, and more defiant.
But don’t take it from me. I interviewed three of the most influential and inspiring women who lift. Jen Sinkler, Staci Ardison, and Jessi Kneeland offered some of the most courageous, honest, and eye-opening advice I’ve ever received.
Read on to learn their incredible stories of transformation and real-life advice about why you should start lifting now.
Why do people have such a hard time reconciling that a woman can be both strong and feminine?
Jen Sinkler: The collective voice stating that women can be both strong and feminine at the same time is getting louder and louder, so I don’t anticipate it will be newsworthy for long. Presenting as feminine (as society defines it)—or not—has no bearing whatsoever on the amount of weight you can lift. All that matters is, “Can I lift it or not?”
I embrace being part of a message that what you are capable of is in no way a result of, or restricted by, what color your nails are painted.
Jessi Kneeland: Women have a lot of pressure on them to look and act a certain way… “feminine” seems to mean sexy, pulled-together, nice, and modest. Lifting weights isn’t nice or modest. It’s powerful, wild, and transformative. The popularity of women lifting weights is blowing up the idea that women should be meek. It turns out we’re not meek… and the more weight we lift, the less meek we become.
Staci Ardison: In our culture, the marketing is so different for women – we’re taught it’s about looking good, not about getting strong. Everyone’s body is different – but we only have one set of standards for beauty. Like the whole thigh gap thing. Some people just can’t get that – it’s physically impossible.
Take that popular song, “All About That Bass” – it sounds empowering, right? But the message is that “my mom says men like more booty.” Ugh. We need to stop saying you should look a certain way because that’s what guys want.
Are big weights better? Should we abandon the small weight / high rep theory altogether?
Jen Sinkler: Big weights aren’t necessarily better, but they should always be part of the game plan. Keep in mind that “big weights” doesn’t imply lifting hundreds of pounds in every instance—it simply means big for you, whatever level your strength is.
For general health, keeping a good mix of heavier weights for fewer sets and reps and lighter weights at higher sets and reps is advisable, as is training the bigger bang-for-your-buck movements, like squats and deadlifts.
You don’t have to be a powerlifter to appreciate the benefits they have to offer. These movements call on our biggest muscle groups, and when resistance is added, they result in a coordinated, multi-joint effort, with a higher caloric expenditure–which is just one reason why, with consistent training, many women lean out and see more muscle definition when they lift more.
Jessi Kneeland: Lifting heavier weights really hooked me. It was the feeling of purpose, courage, and focus that comes from giving something your ALL, even if for just a brief moment.
Also, chemically, I love the flood of adrenaline and testosterone that comes with a heavy lifting day. It makes me feel like a superhero.
What has weightlifting done for your own self-image?
Jessi Kneeland: Growing up, I had pretty big boobs and men were constantly making me aware of how valuable I was to them because of how I looked. I liked being valuable (we all do), and I certainly internalized that value system for a long time.
I felt like being attractive to men was unfair and unwelcome though, because it called all kinds of attention that I didn’t feel I deserved, both in the positive and the negative. Ultimately what got me past it all was fully embracing my own value system, which is NOT based on appearance, and letting go of everyone else’s.
It’s been a cycle of acceptance, celebration, and love.
Staci Ardison: Before, I would get up in the morning, do an hour of elliptical, then go to work. After work, I’d go back to the gym and do another hour of elliptical. Seven days a week. I thought that I knew about fitness – but I had no idea what I was doing.
I thought I’d get bulky in the weight room, so I just did cardio. I wanted to be super skinny with a big thigh gap. But the reality is, my anatomy would never have allowed that. I drove myself nuts analyzing every nutritional label to see what would have the fewest Weight Watchers points.
I stopped seeing results, which led me to develop an eating disorder.
I was already working out seven days a week, so the only answer was to eat less, right? Wrong. [Read the full story of how Staci beat bulemia here]. Now, as a Nerd Fitness trainer, I’m willing to do anything that will help other women. I don’t want women to go through what I went through.
In what ways has being a powerlifter made you stronger in other parts of your life? What do you have confidence to do now that you didn’t before?
Jen Sinkler: I often say this to new lifters and clients: “Strength is contagious.” It has a habit of bleeding into every other aspect of your life, and the empowerment you feel after completing a big feat in the gym is easily carried out beyond the gym doors.
I’ve been lucky to have found my way to sports that celebrate boldness throughout my life—I played rugby for 13 years, and I credit it in large part for my approach to, well, everything. Powerlifting, since I started competing this past August, has been a lovely addition; and I’ve noticed some striking similarities in the passion, enthusiasm and pervasiveness of body acceptance between the two communities.
Jessi Kneeland: I used to think I was uncoordinated, clumsy, and weak, just because I was never an athlete. But now I have the confidence to try just about anything. I never would have tried snowboarding or hiking, or acro yoga, or rock climbing if it weren’t for the strength and trust in my body that weight lifting has given me. I would have missed out on so much!
In other parts of my life, lifting weights has consistently helped me to break down labels and boundaries in my identity.
It allows me to reinvent myself every day… Yesterday I was someone who couldn’t do that. Today I’m someone who can.
It makes me braver, less afraid of failure, and more able to embrace the process of anything worth pursuing. It’s actually taught me patience, too. I am able to trust the process in all things better… to put in the work and let go of the outcome, because that’s all we can do.
Staci Ardison: I have never once thought, “Oh, I wish I wasn’t so strong.” I mean, it applies to everything. So many people experience back injuries – the majority from carrying couches or shoveling snow.
When you’re more aware of how your body moves, it becomes intuitive. You know which muscles to load to shovel snow properly. There are all sorts of applications you don’t even know about.
The wonderful thing that goes hand-in-hand with strength training is body acceptance.
Special thanks to Jen, Staci, and Jessi for their inspiration and encouragement. Y’all rock.
Find out more information about them here:
Staci: Nerd Fitness
Jessi: Remodel Fitness
Featured image courtesy of Jen Sinkler.
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