Lifting Myself

I have been lifting as part of my fitness routine for over a year, but in the past six months I realized how much I like it and started toying with the idea of doing a competition. A competition would make my training realer and give me motivation -- you know, in the same way that training for a half or full marathon motivates runners. It gives them a goal, something to work toward rather than just running "another five miles today." I cannot imagine anything worse than that, by the way. I am not a runner.

But I think I could be a lifter. At least, I want to try.


So for the past five weeks I have been committed to a special training routine and program to help get me ready for a powerlifting meet in September.

Powerlifting means lifting as much weight as you can. There are three events: chest press, dead lift and the dreaded squat. I am doing powerlifting, not physique (the really, really pretty, lean bodies) or bodybuilding (also pretty but beefy bodies). I joke that powerlifting is the one that allows me to still drink my beloved craft beer. But even that I am doing in restricted moderation since I started training for the competition. See? Focus. A target.

Though I still have a ton to learn about lifting (pun intended), I have learned a few things already:

1. This is a very supportive community. There aren't that many women who lift, at least not at my gym, and the one other woman who competes has become my hero and a little bit of a mentor (though I am not sure she knows either of those things). All the other lifting coaches in my gym call out to me during my workouts, supporting and offering encouragement. Before and after workouts, they stop me and my trainer to offer a tip here and there. It seems to take a village to lift that bar.

2. This is hard. If you think it looks hard to lift a lot of weight, you are right. All the equipment is hard. It hurts when you bump into it. It especially hurts when you bump into your limitations. I've learned that you can press through them -- slowly -- but knowing when to press through and when to listen to your body and stop? That's hard too. My trainer, Janet, is amazing at knowing this. And there are strains, and pulls, and aches, and bruises.

3. The next point aside, femmes dig it. I am told that lifting is very sexy. Muscles, sweat and calloused hands, all a plus. I don't have to agree to appreciate this.

4. The gear is super-awkward and uncomfortable. I am competing in the "Raw" category, which means that I am not using performance-enhancing equipment (like special suits and stuff). I get to wear a belt, lifting shoes, and, if I want, knee sleeves. The belt is hella tight, and the clasp digs into my stomach a little. Think corset. You know what I mean, ladies (and butches lucky enough to have a partner who wears a corset for you). My belt is like a corset, only a tiny, 4-inch corset that forces all your fat out over the top and under the bottom, rather than binding it in). Oh, yeah, it's super hot. Mine is red, FYI. My lifting shoes match my belt, natch, and they are OK-looking, but not squishy or padded. I've dubbed them "the most uncomfortable athletic shoes ever." They have a heel in them -- my only pair of heels, really. The heels shift your weight forward onto the balls of your feet, which gives you a little more flexibility in the dreaded squat. Maybe this is why strippers can drop so low -- it's those giant heels. Perhaps I should do some field research....

Oh, and I have to wear a singlet. Have to. Yeah, one of those things wrestlers wear. So add to "awkward" and "uncomfortable" another descriptor: embarrassing. One of the coaches says that anyone who has the nerve to walk out onto the stage in a singlet has already won. Right. I ordered my singlet and was actually pleased to see that it was too big for me. I breathed a little sigh of relief and decided to get a smaller size. I walked out to show my kids how I looked. My son looked up at me and said, "That's embarrassing, Mom." My daughter shot him such a look. So... that was awesome. Like I said, I win by walking out on stage wearing it.

Ugh, I just realized that I will be competing in a skin-tight bodysuit, a corset and heels. It sounds entirely different than it looks -- and not at all butch.

5. There is sweating. Lots of it. And there is crying. A surprising amount. Think about it: You are pushing yourself to the limits of what your body can lift today. And then next week, you push it further. Sometimes you can't do it, and that can be so frustrating that you start to tear up. Sometimes you can do it, and that is so moving and powerful that you start to tear up. The good news is that the sweat sometimes hides the tears. Sometimes.

6. It is fun. A lot of fun.

7. It makes me feel like the Hulk. Seriously. A superhero. Even if I am weak compared with you, I am lifting a lot of weight (for me), and I feel strong. Plus, I've learned to not care whether you can lift more or less than me. Everyone is different, and everyone is pushing. I am pushing. I am sweating. There is an awesome trainer yelling at me, "You can do it!" Sometimes an NFL player hoots and screams over toward me, "Get it, girl!" My kids think I am really strong. I'm pretty sure that that makes me a superhero (for a little while, anyway). I even bought myself some Wonder Woman Converse tennis shoes for the gym.

8. Chalk is rad. As part of my routine between sets, I go chalk my hands. The repetition is good for me, and it gets me in the right space. Plus, it is ridiculously fun to clap my hands together and have that poof of chalk come off. See number 6 above.

9. It has reminded me that I... can! I've never written about my personal limitations and medical history. I've never had any reason to. Someday I will, but not today. I will tell you, though, that I have significant issues with my hips and legs, issues that could easily have prevented me from lifting. My mom was worried when I embarked on this and asked me if my doctor had approved. I think I lied and said yes. (Sorry, Mom.)

Anyway, I decided a few years ago that I was done with allowing my history to limit my future. I dropped a bunch of weight and started doing lots of stuff that I didn't think I could do. Lifting is one of those things. I don't have to lift more than you do. I don't have to lift more than she does. I don't even have to lift more than I did yesterday. But I do have to show up, try hard, push myself and lift what I can. I do that, and I win. I've learned that I can.

No matter how much weight I can lift, I am lifting myself. I'm pretty sure that that makes me a winner. And the singlet... well, that's just an added bonus.

It's butch to lift something heavy. Be butch.