How Weightlifting Taught Me to Love My Body

Post by Alessandra Hechanova for the Kind Kindred series.

I’ve been a runner for longer than I can remember. Before I mustered up enough courage to step foot into the weight room, my passion for running was fueled by all the wrong reasons. I was driven by the disdain I felt for my puffy abdomen and by my compulsion to maintain a calorie deficit. I started to eliminate everything “bad” from my diet and I out-ran my meals until there was nothing left of me to hold.

I eventually recovered from disordered eating, but it took awhile for me to develop a more positive relationship with exercise. Weightlifting completely changed the way I perceive my body, strength and sense of self-validation. I’m a more forceful, confident and deliberate runner because of it.

Weightlifting helped me to release my emotional baggage

Women aren’t always told that it’s okay to be strong. We’re often fed the opposite tale: we need to lose weight to be valued. By fixating on smallness (eating less and weighing less), I became a lesser version of myself. It was exhausting to think of myself as a failure all the time. With strength training I’m able to let go of my negative self talk and the mental baggage that comes along with it. I focus on overcoming the force of gravity that’s ahead of me now. This mindset and metaphor travels with me everywhere, even when I’m confronted with struggles that don’t involve a 45-lb bar.

Weightlifting made me emphasize function over form

Calories and cardio gave me a sense of control. It ended up being destructive to the point where I couldn’t eat 15 grapes without feeling the need to run 15 flights of stairs. Weightlifting gives me control, but in a more constructive way. When I do weight-based exercises I’m able to focus on different muscle groups. I’m carving them out for the world to see. I’m making myself grow, not shrink. My muscles are tiny mountains – they’re landmarks of progress. My calluses are battle scars – they’re emblems of endurance. With weightlifting I’m able to applaud myself for my abilities and I don’t obsess over my appearance. I appreciate my body for what it can do rather that beating my body up for what it isn’t.

Weightlifting changed how I validate myself

All kinds of small victories manifested themselves when I began to lift weights. The first time I pushed 200 pounds on the leg-press – the weight of a red kangaroo mind you – I felt like Rocky Balboa climbing the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This feeling of triumph happens every week now that I focus on personal bests, not pounds. It’s easy to do that with weightlifting because there are so many achievable markers of progress that aren’t related to the scale (more reps and/or heavier loads for hundreds of exercises). These victories pop up outside of the gym, too. My forearms don’t feel like they’re being burnt to cinders when I’m carrying heavy groceries. I’m not as clumsy as I used to be. I stand taller and straighter without thinking about it.

I’m even a better runner. Resistance-based lower body exercises have made my strides more powerful. My new-found upper-body strength has improved my endurance, form and efficiency. I no longer run because I have to. I’m a changed runner because weightlifting equipped me with physical and mental fortitude. That’s why I’ll continue to walk into the weight room with my head held high, even though I can’t bench press my body weight (yet). Every time I pick up the bar I’m reminded that I’m capable.

Alessandra Hechanova is a highly caffeinated long-distance runner with a penchant for puns. 
She is the Director of Social Media at PumpUp, an inspiring mobile health and fitness community. 
When she isn’t toying with typography or serving up a smoothie, she’s struggling to achieve the elusive pull-up. 

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