Taking Up More Space and Lifting More Weight

I really hope that my last blog spoke to you in some way. Talking openly about one’s own struggle with mental health can be daunting. There’s always a threat that others may use it as ammunition. Even so, it was cathartic to share, and it liberated me from the weight of those thoughts. Well worth the risk, especially if it helped anyone.

Today, I will be getting back to my sport nutrition and fitness roots to describe the outcome of my first intentional massing phase. But first, I want to explain why I did it, because it wasn’t just about crushing weight (though, that’s the really fun part!).

grayscale photo of black adjustable dumbbell
Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

My thought for today:

You may need to adjust your expectations, but you shouldn’t compromise on your standards. 

Not everyone shares the same definitions of expectations and standards, but these are things I’ve spent a great deal of time mulling over in both professional and personal situations. Expectations are centered around actions; these are things a person should do, like turn in assignments on time, or respond to e-mails within 24 hours, or wash the dishes after dinner. Sometimes expectations are inappropriate, like the expectation that someone will spend a month’s salary on an engagement ring, or score perfect marks on every assignment for their entire academic career, or stay stage-lean year round. Expectations often come with the word ‘should’ attached. Standards, on the other hand, are about values, and they’re more internalized. You may not be able to identify a specific action that’s required to meet a given standard, but you can probably feel when they aren’t being met. You can tell when someone lacks integrity, respect, or tact. You can tell when you aren’t adhering to your own value system, too, because that usually manifests as guilt or regret. You don’t feel that you’re meeting your own standards.

adult alone black and white dark
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

When we develop inappropriate expectations for ourselves and subsequently underachieve, it can feel like we aren’t meeting our standards. We may feel as though we’re failing to follow through, so we tell ourselves that we’re too weak, lazy, unorganized, and so on. That quickly leads to discouragement and loss of motivation. This is common in folks who try to diet or maintain weight loss, even after a single episode of eating something considered unhealthy or a single missed gym session. On the other hand, sometimes the expectations of others cause us to question our own abilities and worthiness. If you want to see this in action, check out Rate My Professor; it’s the Yelp of academia and it can get ugly. In case you weren’t aware, student evaluations impact professors’ salaries, so failing to meet their expectations (about how easy a course should be, for example) poses a tangible risk. Likewise, as a fitness professional, the masses expect you to appear fit and practice what you preach. Of course, as a female fitness professional, you can’t be “too muscular” or “too lean” or “too bulky.” As a graduate student, I was told not to be “too bitchy” in my e-mails to the undergraduates I was advising. Don’t confuse unrealistic expectations with high standards. High standards are a good thing; they provide protection against situations and people that threaten our well-being. Unrealistic expectations, however, cultivate environments that inevitably lead to diminished self-esteem by causing us to question our character. You are still a reliable person if you miss a gym session. You are still a responsible person if you eat a cookie you hadn’t planned on. You are still a knowledgeable and capable person even if you don’t have visible abdominal muscles.

A number of eloquent and insightful writers have shared their thoughts about the ways in which women are socialized to take up less space. We need to be smaller, quieter, less emotional, less assertive. In February, I experimented with taking up less space, cutting to a lower weight class for a meet. The cut was successful in that I made weight, but it severely impacted my strength, and my lifts were terrible. I decided to cut to that weight class because I was uncomfortable with the idea of gaining to the top of the class in which I easily maintained. I was actually anxious and fearful of gaining weight. Rational parts of my brain know better than this, but the anxious parts are sometimes louder. I was unable to heed the advice that I’ve given my own clients: The scale is just indicating the relationship between your body and the earth’s gravitational pull. The numbers that describe your weight or your clothing size have no bearing on your worth as an individual. You are gaining weight for a purpose and it is going to improve your athletic abilities. Don’t be afraid to take up more space

After realizing that fear was causing me to stagnate mentally, emotionally, and athletically, I went ahead and gave myself permission to take up more space. I let go of my unrealistic expectations about significantly increasing my strength without any additional muscle mass. I let go of the expectations that I perceived others may have about my appearance. I revisited my standards for myself: kindness, compassion, and respect, regardless of an individual’s appearance. Then, I massed just as successfully as I had cut, and according to my DEXA scans, in 14 weeks I packed on 3.7 lbs of lean mass and 7 lbs of fat mass. Yes, I gained almost twice as much fat as muscle, and I’m thrilled! You may be asking why, now. Well, let me tell you: I have been training for over a decade, and I am a natural female athlete over the age of 30. I was expecting (hah, there’s that word again!) a ratio of about 1 lbs of muscle to every 4-6 lbs of fat, and a total gain of perhaps 1-2 lbs of muscle. Not only was this mass incredibly successful, but compared to my DEXA scan at this time last year, I have 3.8 lbs more lean mass and 2.1 lbs less fat mass. I weigh more with a lower body fat percentage. So, take that, scale weight. Oh, and this translated to huge PR’s in my squat, bench, and deadlift.

Date Body Mass Lean Mass Fat Mass Percent Body Fat
3/31/2017 140.712 97.9 38.786 27.6
2/7/2018 131.692 98.01 29.568 22.5
5/21/2018 142.45 101.684 36.674 25.7

I have seen so many women approach massing with anxiety and apprehension. Too many of us fear taking up more space in more than just a physical sense. Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to my next meet as a 63kg lifter and I will be taking up all of my 138.6 lbs.


One thought on “Taking Up More Space and Lifting More Weight

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