By April Yee
Though many women aspire to get smaller and more waif-ish in the New Year by exercising compulsively and restricting their caloric intake, I have vowed to get bulkier. Yep, I’ve been following a weightlifting regimen for about three months now, and can happily say that if you were to challenge me to a street brawl in a dark alley I just might be able to punch you out.
Prior to October 2013 I had only ever dabbled in weightlifting and usually gave up when I didn’t see results. Oh, and my only guidance was cobbled together advice from my various public school P.E. teachers and the mantra “low weight, high reps.” So let my story be an inspiration to you — I knew nothing about nothing and here I am, bench pressing 10 pounds over the bar, which is 50 pounds!
Why, at 23 years of age, had I decided to get buff? To be honest, I was sick of all of the meta-narratives in the shows and movies I watched, and from women in my own social circles, that implied that body size mattered most. Be tiny, be “acceptable”. Okay, that’s total bullshit. And I knew that for me, getting more muscular would challenge the norm of thinness. It also brought up some of my own internalized transphobia, since I’d been so used to thinking that girls aren’t supposed to be “ripped”. That’s a “boy thing”, and any woman who looked like a “ripped” male was deviant and abnormal. Girls are supposed to be dainty — no broad shoulders allowed. As if. If I were to get flack for “looking like a man”, fine. Those uncomfortable with my slight gender non-conformity can go to hell.
So under the tutelage of a Danish former competitive swimmer, I jumped feet first into the Back to Basics weightlifting program. I followed a three-day routine focused on a certain set of muscle groups each day, which repeated once meant six days a week at the gym(!). Day 1: chest and biceps. Day 2: back, triceps and shoulders. Day 3: legs and abs. For each muscle group I did four different drills at four sets of 10 repetitions. No matter that I was usually one of only two women in a gym full of brawny men. As Lady Gaga’s “Applause” rang through the rafters I thought to myself, “I’ll show them.”
I won’t lie, there were days when I absolutely hated having to train. Since I was increasing the weight on each drill on a weekly basis, I would at times have the urge to cry because it was just so hard to complete a set. “Why am I putting myself through such agony?” I would wonder to myself. In those moments I could have scratched someone’s eyes out in frustration.
And yet there have been such triumphs and milestones to prove that, indeed, hard work pays off. I can now successfully lift myself out of a swimming pool with my awesome upper body strength, and can change our purified water jug (20 liters, or ~44 pounds) at my house without even blinking. My shoulders are broader, my upper arms notably bigger. I don’t have much muscle definition at all, but I’ve definitely got increased mass.
Weightlifting is a definite time commitment, and takes discipline and perseverance. To be honest, I’ve moderated down to only three times a week at the gym to maintain my strength, because six times a week is simply too tough to keep up for the long haul for me. But I must say I am extremely satisfied with and proud of myself for sticking it out enough to see an actual change in my body size.
So for 2014, I’m only looking forward to getting bigger… and better.
For more information on the specifics of my weightlifting program, or other advice on starting a program of your own, please feel free to contact me at @aprilmyee on Twitter!
April is a 23 year-old Asian American third wave feminist from Seattle, Washington. She currently lives and works in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico, with a non-profit that supports working class, single-parent families. She’s into all of that pop culture analysis stuff and will never stop reading books featuring strong female leads.