Why I Lift Heavy Things

I’m on a yoga retreat in Tulum, Mexico this week. If things are going right, I’m either meditating, bare foot running, or sipping a pina colada right now. I’ll be back in the world of all things digital on June 4. Until then, enjoy this post and take good care of yourself.

This is an old post of mine, and I like it because (1) it’s about a woman who is clearly not pudgy, but is named Pudgy; and (2) I would love for every girl, woman, boy, man, and animal that reads this post to consider adding strength training to their routine.

Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton (source)


It took me a while to come around to the way of the barbell.

I was a long-form cardio, met-con queen. Chippers and ever-longer runs made me feel challenged and invigorated. The crazier the list on the whiteboard, the happier I was.

But then I ‘graduated’ from bootcamp to indoor classes, and suddenly the barbell was part of my CrossFit workout routine. I expected to see dramatic changes in my body. And I was sorely disappointed when I didn’t.

That’s when one of the smartest, most charming, most motivating women I know (I’m looking at you, Moxy-Boss.) suggested that once or twice a week, I should forget the sexy-fun stuff and just lift heavy things. I needed to build more muscle. Work my core. Overcome my fear of the heavy barbell.

I resisted this idea. (And by ‘resisted’ I mean I pretended I didn’t hear her say it. Over and over and over.) Then I relented, joined an old school gym with intimidating metal plates, and started doing un-sexy things like 5X5 deadlifts and 5X5 front squats. I got comfortable being uncomfortable. I adapted to feeling fatigued in that “I just wrestled a saber-toothed tiger” way. I got down with the barbell.

It worked, too.

I went through an entire thyroid meltdown and gained only 5 lbs. in the process. I’ve heard horror stories of hypothyroid patients who gained 30 lbs. in 30 days. Join me in tipping my hat to clean eating and heavy lifting for helping me avoid that fate.

Then last spring my life implosion happened, and training lost priority to tasks like remembering to eat and trying to sleep.

Tuesday was my first day to get back to the iron, as Henry Rollins calls it, after a 6-month lapse. The night before, I was apprehensive, so I used one of my favorite tricks: I pretended I wasn’t going to do it. I set my alarm. I got up at the appointed time. I drove to the gym, renewed my membership, and started my warmup… all without ever acknowledging I was doing it.

Then I did it.

And all the dread and procrastination were replaced with muscle memories of why I lift heavy things…

Nothing can compare to that ‘I can take on the world’ feeling when something intimidates me and I do it anyway. I’m always anxious – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot – every time I approach the barbell. There are times when it really does feel like I’ve never done a snatch, a clean, or a deadlift before. And the weight is always a little scary. It seems silly, but I’m surprised by how heavy heavy lifting is. (For real, I almost always say, “This is heavy.” like it’s news, or something.) Plus, there’s so much to remember: core tight, knees pressed out, shoulder blades together, heels down, chest up… The ability to commit to that bar, even when it seems like my cells are yelling, “Run!” makes me feel like the most beautiful, most badass, most accomplished woman around.

Ritual and superstition.
I love that the weight plates are supposed to face IN… that I wear my Converse on heavy lifting days… that I’m superstitious about ‘addressing the bar’ and how long my hands are on it before I actually lift. I like using my thumbs to measure how far apart my hands should be and pulling the bar to my shins just so… flipping my braid over my shoulder and thinking, “Tight, tight, tight.” There’s a mythos built up around lifting heavy things, and it’s easy for me to feel a connection to all the faceless others who’ve walked up to a scary-heavy bar and done their best to get the damn thing off the ground.

There’s freedom in focus.
There is so much to think about in executing a lift – and so much danger in over-thinking it. If I let my mind wonder during a deadlift or clean, it’s all over – and if I worry too much about one part of a move, parts that were previously instinctual go wonky-donk.

In that magical, in-between space of thinking/not thinking, there is freedom. A focus that’s pure. As my core tenses, my mind relaxes. And when it’s really going right, I can’t think about anything else, and I’m not really thinking about the barbell. I just am.

Fat burning, baby.
I’m not gonna lie: I want to look Good. Not just ‘good for a 42-year-old’ or better than the people in my high school graduating class. Objectively, unequivocally, make-other-people-envious good. Everyone I trust and respect tells me that the way to get the lean, shapely, strong, efficient body I want is to lift heavy things. Leaner arms? Tighter thighs? Flatter abs? Chiseled jaw? Those are the result of heavy lifting, clean eating, and righteous rest.

I want to be a tough old broad.
The thing about lifting heavy stuff with our muscles is that it also makes our bones, tendons, and ligaments better equipped to handle whatever we dish out. No osteoporosis or joint troubles for me! I fully intend to carry my own groceries, move furniture myself, haul suitcases around the globe, and sprint for the bus from now until the end of my days.

It would be dishonest to say that I always look forward to addressing the barbell, and yes, sometimes 5X5 seems So. Freaking. Boring. But I have never regretted a heavy lifting session. I always feel better after than I did before. And sometimes, on that special kinda day where everything clicks into place, the bar just floats free – and I’m free with it.

Read more about Abbye Stockton!

New York Times Obituary
IFBB Professional League

Abbye upside-down (source)

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  • Megan says:

    I have almost the EXACT lifting ritual:). Great article

  • So why were you resistant at first to lift heavy things???

    • Mel says:

      I’m not sure. I think it was mostly intimidation… I was unsure of technique, and it all seemed so FOREIGN. But once I learned how to do the math to figure out which plates to use and got into the HABIT of lifting, it started to feel really good. I am VERY ritual oriented, so it takes me a while to feel comfortable with new routine — then once it’s familiar, I fall in love with it.

  • Stacey says:

    That article was like looking in the mirror! Thank you — awesome!

  • Linda says:

    I love, love, love this post! You have captured all that I think and feel on weight days…so freakin cool! Today I lifted more than I thought I could, just cuz my coach said so. I’m still beaming!

  • nalani says:

    Thank you for this post. I think that I discovered my deadlift 1RM today. My crossfit box has regular lifting and i am so happy. Lifting is something that I have been wanting to learn because of the very reasons that you articulated.

    I want some core strength and some arms to admire in the mirror. Woohoo!

    • Mel says:

      Congrats on finding your 1RM! I always find that kind of workout intimidating — but it’s great, too! Have fun lifting!

  • Brandy says:

    You need to buy a pair of these: http://goo.gl/9Hwi5

    I just got the Wonder Woman ones. Badass.

  • Brandy says:

    I was torn too. I ended up with WW because I identify with her more, but the BG ones were super cute on with the black toe. Didn’t think I would like it as much, but they looked really cute on. They are limited edition – so dont wait.