This month marks one year since I’ve been regularly attending Crossfit and strength workout classes. I love the progress I’ve made, the skills I’ve acquired, and the community I’ve joined. I feel more confident in a lot of areas and the past two weekends of moving around furniture with Neil has been tiring but also a piece of cake.
What I haven’t learned to love is how it has changed my body.
There’s a popular myth that lifting weights will make you bulky. The truth behind this myth is that women don’t have the testosterone levels that men do to result in such aggressive muscle growth. Typically the amount of weight that these articles and women are referring to is also much less than the 200 lb back squat that I have reached as a personal record. The truth is that if you’re not careful about eating as well as exercise, you absolutely can start to look bulkier instead of leaner and more defined.
One thing that becomes more important as you train with heavier and heavier weights is your diet. If you’re eating whatever you want, you will build muscle, but that muscle will grow along with the fat that your body isn’t able to utilize. The sloppier I am with my diet, the heavier and boxier I look.
When I was incorporating weight training (at a lower level than I am now) in high-intensity classes, I was also running, rowing, or doing some other sort of cardio for 45 minutes. In my new routine, the amount of cardio is intense, but much less. The intensity and amount of cardio I was previously doing allowed for significant post-exercise calorie burning that allowed me to be a little more lax with what I ate.
Prior to starting Crossfit, I was focused on running. Running was something that allowed me to be alone with my thoughts and work through a lot of things in my early recovery and after. There were periods of over-exercise and there were times when my running was healthy and mentally restorative.
As I switched to HIIT workouts and further into more Crossfit ones, I realized that my clothes were starting to fit differently. At first I was happy about it, but as I began to increase my muscle mass and I couldn’t fit in any of my jeans, I started to feel frustrated. On one hand I was happy with what I was now able to do, but my physical appearance was leaving me conflicted.
If you’ve been reading for some time, you know that I’ve had a lot of ups and downs with self-confidence and my perception of myself. This entire blog was started after realizing that making the outside look a certain way won’t change what’s happening inside — that wellness comes from within.
Because it’s been such an ingrained mindset that I’ve worked on reversing, it still comes up. It’s never completely gone. It’s a process to get to a place of total acceptance, and I am 100% in that process. Negative thoughts come up first, then I take steps to tell myself the opposite. I’m working on getting to a place where “the opposite” is the only thought I have, but it takes a little time.
To clarify, I don’t hate how I look. It’s just a change I’m acclimating to. I’m not going to stop workouts that make me feel strong and powerful. I just wanted to talk about a change that I wasn’t entirely prepared for. If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some of the things that I’ve found to be effective:
1. Focus on more than aesthetics
2. Remind yourself what you can do now vs. then
3. Buy new clothes — trying to fit into old ones is just going to feel frustrating
4. Tell yourself you are more than what you look like
5. Repeat affirmations to help you remember how awesome you are (cheesy but effective!)
My arms are bigger. My legs are bigger. My butt is bigger (sweet). But you know what? They’re also stronger and I love that.