Why I Lift Heavy Things

This is a post I wrote a few years ago, but two things have prompted me to bring it to your attention again. The first is that I am grateful that years ago, when I was afraid to try strength training, I did it anyway. Increasing my physical strength—and having barbells as my companions through all kinds of regular-life ups-and-downs—has given me a core of confidence and buoyancy.

The second reason this is relevant now is that my good friend and amazing (inspiring, strong, kind, motivated, intelligent) woman Steph Gaudreau recently launched her free Women’s Strength Summit. If you’ve been flirting with the idea of strength training, or have been lifting for a while and want to improve your technique and mindset, this summit will help you take the next step.

Steph has conducted interviews with many of the women who’ve educated and inspired me over the years—Jen Sinkler, Molly Galbraith, Summer Innanen, Ann Wendel, Emily Deans, Krista Scott-Dixon, Neghar Fanooni, and Steph herself—and many more of similar caliber and philosophy. These women are strong in every sense of the word, and they generously share what they know. The first phase of the summit addresses physical strength and the second tackles mental fortitude. It’s basically everything you need to be your awesomest.

The Women’s Strength Summit kicks off March 1, and you can register for free right here. I really hope you do because it’s going to be tremendously awesome.

And if you’re still not sure that strength training is for you, take a few minutes to read this and allow me to convince you otherwise.

Why I Lift Heavy Things

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

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

But one of the smartest, most charming, most motivating women I  know (I’m looking at you, Melissa Hartwig.) 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.

Then a life implosion happened and training lost priority to tasks like remembering to eat and trying to sleep.

My first day to get back to the iron, as Henry Rollins calls it, after a 6-month lapse was pretty intimidating. 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… blowing my bangs out of my eyes 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 your age’ or better than the people in my high school graduating class. Objectively, unequivocally 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 it’s intimidating. But I have never regretted a heavy lifting session. I always feel better after than I did before.

Sometimes, on that special kinda day where everything clicks into place, the bar just floats free – and I’m free with it.

If you want to give this kind of thing a shot, the best place to start is education. Register for the Women’s Strength Summit.

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  • Jessica says:

    Will the events/speeches/interviews from the summit be available (recorded) after the live presentations?

  • Melissa says:

    Yes!!!! I want to be a tough old broad too!

  • Angharad Ansell-Jones says:

    I am struggling at the moment with paying for the gym as I am saving for a wedding. I have some barbells at home and also kettlebells (the heaviest being 12kg for the kettlebells) if I start with these, are they better than nothing until after the wedding? (Ideally I want to lose weight prior to the wedding!) Thanks. Angharad

  • Evan Andrews says:

    Mel, you’ve got a new picture-have you lost some weight? Somehow, you look younger than in your previous pics-you look fantastic! And am I a
    complete idiot for mentioning all this??
    Anyway, thanks for a GREAT blog post. I just wish I could memorize it all!

  • Alex McMahon says:

    I remember reading this post a few years ago when I very first got into paleo and it’s been awesome to see the lift heavy things and strength movement get popular among women. Gaining strength is badass no matter who you are!