My First Three Months at a Real Gym
I joined a gym in February 2017 on an impulse. Perhaps because it was the dead of winter, and I was tired. I blame short days, hectic schedules, Netflix releasing every episode at once, etc. ad nauseam for my chronic exhaustion.
But the truth is, I have felt like this for awhile...
I had fallen out of my regular yoga practice, and flung myself full force into my job.
You know what comes next. With a sedentary life and a not-in-college-anymore body, I gained about 25 pounds in two years. I had no energy to do the things I loved, and all social interactions were centered around food and booze. When I went to my annual physical and learned I was on the borderline of overweight and that my cholesterol was on the wrong side of average, I opened my eyes a bit.
I made changes for a month or two. Bought a pair of jogging shoes. But then I went back to my old ways. Exercising was a chore. Dieting barred me from the only thing I took comfort in—good food with good people. I had no interest in anything. I had no drive, and was just kind of floundering.
In January 2017 the scale hit 160 and none of my pants fit anymore (for the second time), I’d had enough. So I promised myself I would exercise at home. I made Pinterest boards, scraped the internet, and blocked off time to workout in my living room three days a week. February rolled around, and I had worked out at home a total of three times. If I was going to get serious, I needed some skin in the game.
So I joined a gym.
When I joined the gym, I was at about 155 lbs. and 30% body fat. My goal was simple: Get back down to my college 135 lbs. and look good naked.
So how do you burn fat?
I was going to Bodypump classes Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Spin on Tuesdays/Thursdays. I would often throw in some interval running on Saturday or Sunday for good measure.
I lost some weight, but I was exhausted. I had shifted my diet to include more home cooked meals and leafy greens, but I wasn’t tracking anything. I felt like I was wasting away and was more exhausted than I was before I started working out.
Upon more research, I found out that if you are aren’t getting enough calories and you shift your activity, not only will you lose fat, but you’ll lose muscle, too. And more muscle is what makes for a more efficient metabolism. I was essentially telling my body to cannibalize what muscle it did have and store up any excess calories that happened to be left over after my marathon workouts. This was not sustainable.
But this is how many women are encouraged to work out. Cardio, cardio, cardio and maybe high reps of light weights to “build long, lean muscle.” High reps of low weights are great for building muscle endurance, but if you’re trying to burn fat and increase your metabolism, lift heavy instead.
If I was going to get serious about lifting heavy, I wanted to connect with women that have conquered their fear of the weight room, so I joined a forum called Nerd Fitness for more support. I was met with an army of badass female powerlifters that look amazing and were happy to listen to my woes and offer some guidance.
After a few weeks experimenting with some bodyweight exercises, I started to swing around some kettlebells and lift dumbbells. After a week or two, I was seeing results without wearing myself ragged.
What if I became more like Staci and trained barbells full time?
I decided to start with a simple beginner’s program called Stronglifts 5x5. There are five barbell exercises that make up two alternating circuits three days a week.
Stronglifts Workout A
Stronglifts Workout B
After 5 weeks working the Stronglifts program, I’ll let the data speak for itself:
My weight didn’t change much (lost 5lbs), but my arms, chest, waist, and thighs are much smaller. I went from a size 12 to a size 8 from February to May (data begins at size 10) and I feel confident enough to wear shorts this summer.
Looks are important—but here’s what’s even more compelling. My body fat percentage is in a much healthier range, and I am feeling great. I no longer practice restrictive eating and I have energy to work full time, write, perform, spend time with friends, and just be more present and engaged with my life.
I won’t include it in this post, but in April I started tracking macros. This has lead to even more fat loss and muscle gains in the month of May (as I write this on 5/20). Look for an update re: getting started with macros and flexible dieting—as well as May’s results with the full Stronglifts 5x5 program. Stronglifts has been a great foundation, but I am ready to refine my training.
The bottom line:
- Heavy lifts get results. Powerlifting burns fat, builds muscle, and boosts metabolism. It is also great for bone density, neuromuscular health, and a whole slew of other things. We were born to lift heavy things. Go do it!
- Diets are temporary and isolating. Restrictive rules get old fast, and—if you 're anything like me—you end up binging on a cheese plate and feeling bad about it later. If you lift heavy, your body adapts to use calories more efficiently. Eat to nourish your body, not starve it into cannibalizing itself. Remember, eating at a large caloric deficit not only burns fat, but the muscle that helps keep your metabolism humming along smoothly.
- Lifting heavy is empowering. In a few weeks I went from a mousy klutz trying to stay out of everyone's way to a proud gym rat that works in with the biggest bros—and even has a few tips to dish out.
Have your own powerlifting story? Questions about how to get started? Leave a comment below!