Fitness

How I Went From Group Fitness Classes to Competitive Powerlifting

Of course, what little I’d known about powerlifting up until that point seemed less than appealing. Powerlifters were those massive dudes who’d slam their weights on the gym floor and grunt, right? Or they’d converge in dark, dank, concrete basement gyms where women aren’t exactly expected or welcome. In other words, powerlifting seemed like a total boys’ club. Beyond that, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I dread failure (and worst of all, failure in public), so the thought of being judged, and subsequently laughed out of the gym, by said beefy dudes was pretty scary.

Still, driven to revive my relationship with fitness, I opted to give powerlifting a try. My sister helped me scout a few gyms in the city, landing on the closest one to my apartment in New York City. Despite my fears, I signed up for a trial session. And then I got hooked.

As the next few weeks progressed, I continued to lift at least three times per week, practicing deadlifts, squats, bench presses, and overhead barbell presses. Each week, I’d feel myself getting stronger as I added more and more plates to the bar.

As I’ve gotten stronger and better at lifts, I’ve also learned a lot about my body, what it can do, and what it needs in order to perform.

On one particular evening about four weeks into my powerlifting journey, I attempted a deadlift and encountered a problem. As I gripped the bar, I could feel something was off, but I wasn’t sure what. Nothing hurt per se, but something felt wrong. Although I was able to muscle the bar to an upright position on my first attempt, on the second and third attempts, I could barely lift it more than two inches off the ground.

I hadn’t eaten since my morning commute that day (over nine hours earlier) and my body, quite literally, didn’t have enough fuel to lift the weight. There have been many times I’ve done a cardio workout on an empty stomach and felt just fine. But with lifting heavy, it was clear that I’d need to eat enough, and regularly, to be able to make my lifts.

While I haven’t necessarily found my perfect food consumption formula, it’s safe to say that fueling with carbohydrates, even if that’s a frosting-coated soft cookie, will help ensure I meet, or beat, my numbers.

Powerlifting has also allowed me to experience an entirely new state of mind during exercise. I’ve noticed that lifting allows me to enter a deep focus that I almost never experience during other kinds of exercise. When I’m at the gym, and oftentimes even in an indoor cycling class, my mind tends to wander: How much longer? Ugh, I’m so bored. Shoot—another Slack notification from work. Should I stop and check it? Are people noticing the way I look in these leggings? Why does this gym stream exclusively Fox News?

When it comes to powerlifting, my brain simply couldn’t think about literally anything else besides lifting the massive weight before me. Again, I’m not sure if this could be chocked up to that superhuman effort I’m making, or more realistically it could be the fact that lifting barbells is still so new to me that it takes all of my concentration to do it. Whereas I’d find my mind wandering in yoga during a plank, when 200 pounds of weight is bearing down on my back, it’s truly impossible to think about anything else.

Regardless, it’s refreshing not to be trapped in my head and my worries, even if that’s just for a brief moment.

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