“Emma, look at you!” commented a family friend as she squeezed my sore bicep. I guess my hard work in the gym is finally paying off, I thought to myself. The swell of pride was cut short when she followed with the observation, “You’re beefing up!”
Hmm. “Beefing” up. The tone of her voice was complimentary, and rationally I knew she was saying this as a comparison to my old body. But I couldn’t get past the word “beef.” Beef, as in a thick meat patty? Beef, as in cow? I thought. This adjective replayed through my mind for the rest of the day as I tried to make sense of it.
Up until a few months ago, I had a very rigid definition of what it meant to be “in shape.” Anything not synonymous to “lean” or “thin” felt like an insult, whether I admitted it or not. Embodying “runner” in every sense—physical appearance, nutrition plan, and overall lifestyle—was my definition of fit. Words like “beefy” certainly did not fall into the runner category.
When I first attended SFL with my mom last spring, I was hesitant to sacrifice runs for strength training days. However, I couldn’t help but catch the lifting bug after trying a few strength classes. Every time I returned to the gym on my school breaks, I gained more education, reassurance, and appreciation for strength training. Reassurance was key; reassurance that I would not attain a meat-head physique if I packed on calories and started lifting more. I loved that every strength class left me inevitably sore (a sign of change) and held the potential for heavier lifts as I became stronger.
As I strived to maintain my weight with running while trying to gain strength, a contradiction became evident. I would come home on college breaks, attend classes at SFL, and become excited about the strength I gained. When left to my own devices back at college, I would fall into the comfortable routine of daily long runs. Every time I returned to SFL after weeks of strictly running, I would become frustrated and disheartened by the loss in muscle. In hindsight, I had not yet realized just how much nutrition (specifically protein) I was lacking. When I came home for summer break, I realized it was time to commit to one or the other. Feeling “strong and powerful” (as we like to say at SFL) felt way better than depleted, as I often felt after a week of running, so I sat down with Ed and designed a strength-oriented plan.
After a year of routine 4-6 mile runs at least five days a week, I slowly transitioned to three strength classes, one conditioning class, and one sprint day a week. In addition, I signed up for a Spartan Race, completed a SFL-approved birthday challenge based upon my newfound strength goals (My original running-intensive birthday challenge was nixed by Ed, who reminded me running is too comfortable), and most recently, joined the new Power Lifting Club at SFL. Of course, my nutrition needs had to align with my new training regimen, so I have been focusing on increasing protein and caloric intake.
If you understand the logic behind your training plan and follow through, change of some type is going to take place. Outside influences may make you doubt the new path you’ve chosen. The media, for example, likes to misleadingly portray weight as the ultimate symbol of someone’s fitness level. For women, losing weight is always for-the-better, and gaining weight is only commendable when men put on “gains.” With this in mind, it’s no wonder I had a negative reaction (almost involuntarily) when someone insinuated my weight gain. The point is, setting new goals and veering from a familiar routine takes bravery, reassurance from people you trust, and the ability to block out negative influences.
Although I may have disliked my friend’s word choice, I was not about to let months of working to correct my definition of “fit” go to waste. I reflected on recent accomplishments, such as completing the Spartan Race, rising to the challenge of my three-hour-long birthday workout, and climbing a rope up and down three times without stopping on upper-body days (easy). If I wasn’t brave enough to set new goals and veer from a familiar routine, I wouldn’t be nearly as “strong and powerful” today. In my case, putting on weight in muscle mass was essential in reaching my strength goals. A few more pounds gave my body tons more capability. After giving it some thought, I’m definitely proud of “beefing” up.