I started fucking around with barbells in the spring of 2013, right after I graduated from law school, with the generic goal of “getting stronger.” I didn’t become serious about competitive powerlifting until the last couple of years. My last tested maxes are 250/135/325. I just competed in my first USAPL meet a few weeks ago and was immediately hooked. I had no idea it would be this much fun to compete!
Growing up, I was laughably unathletic. I spent my college and law school years binge-drinking, getting zero exercise, and taking horrible care of my body. I have struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life. I was anorexic/bulimic for about 15 years, and though I never had any serious health consequences, I vacillated between being skinnyfat and grossly underweight. I was also briefly addicted to prescription stimulants. By the end of law school I was 113 pounds at 5’6″.
At some point I looked in the mirror and realized I was tired of looking and feeling like crap. I read up on the basic 5×5 beginner programs and started doing a bastardized version of Stronglifts. I had no idea what I was doing, but I made gradual progress. I’ve had a few coaches over the years, but the majority of the progress I’ve made has been on my own, because I’m stubborn and don’t like to be told what to do.
Lifting gave me a reason to ditch all my bad habits at a point in my life where I had very little mental energy or incentive to do so. Once I had the tangible goal of getting stronger, it became increasingly clear that my poor lifestyle choices were incompatible with that goal. Now, I rarely drink, I am fully recovered from my eating disorder, and have gained about 20 pounds of muscle. I had no idea that it was possible to feel this good on a daily basis. The downside is that if I decide to have a cheat day and eat crap food, my body revolts!
I do train primarily for strength, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about how I look. For many years, I felt I had no real control over my body, my appearance, my hunger, or my food intake. Now, I know that if I lift heavy, eat enough to support my training, and track my macros, I can build muscle and get stronger without suddenly gaining a ton of fat.
I don’t think it’s helpful to tell women they shouldn’t worry about what their bodies look like, because we are human and that pressure is always there. In my opinion, it’s more empowering to give women the tools and knowledge to enable them to shape their bodies to look, and perform, the way they want to.
If I could tell my younger self one thing, it’d be to hire a good coach, stick with a program, stop trying to max out every day, and not be a stubborn asshole! My progress has been slower than it could have been because there was a huge learning curve for some of the movement patterns (squat in particular, because I am a gangly giraffe), and my tendency is to go way heavier than I should way too frequently, which has led to a lot of fatigue and disappointment. Patience and humility would have gotten me there a lot faster. I still tend to push intensity too much, but I’ve gotten better about not going for that ugly PR and not “punishing” myself when I have a bad day at the gym.
Lastly, I want all women to know that no matter how unathletic, overweight/underweight, unhealthy, or inexperienced you are, you may surprise yourself with how strong you can become. Ditch the bodypump class and elliptical and pick up a barbell! If I can do this, literally anyone can. I just wish I had started sooner.