I shared this post on my Facebook page yesterday and it got a great response. It is a short and straight-to-the-point interview with Talia Van Doran, a strongwoman and powerlifter. I have long been a fan of Talia’s and I always find myself nodding along to everything she says.
The piece from her interview that specifically spoke to me was this:
Embrace that your body will change. You will gain weight. You will lose weight. Your shape will change to reflect your hard work. Your conception of your beauty will grow and shift as you grow and become stronger. You’ll have muscles. Lots of them. Your clothes won’t fit anymore. You’ll be resolved to wearing stretchy things most of the time. Your body is your house. Its transformation is one of the most eye-opening and powerful things you will ever experience. Don’t shy away from this change. There is nothing to be afraid of! Build your house…brick by brick.
Many fitness professionals, myself included, love to tell women that lifting weights will not bulk them up. While that is technically true, it is important to acknowledge that lifting will change the shape of your body – especially if you are competing in a strength sport such as strong(wo)man, powerlifting or Olympic lifting.
To gain muscle, you must consume a surplus of calories. For most women, this means at least 2,500 calories per day. Let’s face it – most women aren’t even close to this level so don’t need to worry about hulking out of their clothes any time soon.
However, once a woman starts eating a proper amount of calories and starts training for strength, an interesting thing happens. Her body will change. Initially, this may involve weight loss as a result of increased energy expenditure, but it often also involves weight gain. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – adding muscle to your frame will give you a nice shape and usually simultaneously encourage fat loss, resulting in the “toned” look coveted by many.
What is more interesting to observe is how these women respond to the weight gain. I’d estimate that 95 per cent of the women I work with have an initial goal of weight loss. If they are also focused on training for strength, nine times out of 10 they will move away from the aesthetic goal completely.
They may gain five pounds or move up a clothing size, but their focus will shift to the never-ending goal of getting stronger. Their focus becomes pulling twice their bodyweight from the floor, being able to repeatedly lift their own body weight over a bar, or to pull a car behind them. They are far happier pursuing a performance goal rather than an aesthetic goal.
Personally, I reached a point in my life where I went from eating completely “clean” and training like a bodybuilder with no real strength goals, to wanting to be the strongest and most powerful version of myself possible. This also involved enjoying the foods I love like burgers, pasta and dessert, and realising that they would actually assist in my strength goals. I stopped wanting a six pack.
I’m not saying that the goals of performance and aesthetics are mutually exclusive; there are plenty of strong men and women who eat clean and incorporate aesthetic goals into their training, and I would encourage anyone who is completely aesthetically-focused to still base their workouts around heavy compound lifts.
However, the simple fact remains that you will never be as strong as possible when you are shredded. A small amount of body fat will make a huge difference in terms of strength. Can you really expect those who are depleted and hangry to have enough energy to smash a PR?
Depending on where you are in a training cycle, what exercises you are focusing on, and what your diet is like, your body will constantly change. Sometimes this will be a good thing, but other times it won’t.
I have gained 14kg (30lbs) since I started lifting. Have I always been comfortable with my body along the way? Absolutely not. It takes time to get used to your body having a new shape, and growing out of your clothes is never a fun experience. Like most other women, I initially started lifting with the goal to lose weight. As I was so fixated on the number I would have likely never continued if I knew I would gain so much, but then I would have never experienced the joy of feeling strong and capable that lifting has given me.
I now appreciate the look of a strong body. Before I started lifting, I strived for the skeletal look. Now, not only am I more appreciative of my own body type, but I also accept and see the beauty in all different kinds of bodies.
Nowadays, I’m confident in my body most of the time but if I have a particularly indulgent week of eating I will certainly feel a bit blah. I think it’s perfectly normal, especially as a woman, to have ups and downs about your body – but lifting weights certainly makes the down moments much less frequent.
I could certainly stand to lose a couple of kilos, but I would much rather be in the position where I don’t have to track macros, limit my favourite foods to “cheat meals” and constantly spend time trying to be less instead of more. As long as I’m consistently getting stronger, that’s all that matters to me.
How has your body changed since you started lifting?