Fitness can be so much more than a physical challenge. The right workout can break us open in profound ways, revealing truths about our perseverance and inner strength that might have been otherwise invisible. It’s therapy. It’s meditation. And sometimes, it can be hugely transformative. With this in mind, we invited some of our readers to share their own stories of The Workout That Changed Everything—how they found their ideal form of movement and what it taught them about themselves. Below, Maeve Sheridan shares how strength training helped heal her relationship with her body.
I think almost everyone has gone through their cardio phase, especially at the beginning of college. What better way to combat the “freshman 15” than to run as much as humanly possible on the treadmill three times a week? When your weight fluctuates, you feel frustrated and burnt out. How is it possible that these mind-numbingly long sessions spent slogging along, watching the calorie counter steadily increase, don’t result in the perfect body you had expected?
This is how I spent most of my late high school and early college years. Even after successfully running two marathons, I wasn’t happy with my body. I wasn’t the confident, comfortable person that I pretended to be, and instead, I would look at myself in the mirror and wish the effort that I was putting in would have tangible results. I was stuck in a cardio cycle.
I struggled with my weight for most of my adolescence due to my tendency to eat whatever was nearby, along with my intense intolerance to dairy, which I didn’t know about until I was 16. After eliminating dairy from my diet and finding a new source of energy and excitement, I began running. I ran those two marathons excitedly, finding the steady monotony of running to be soothing. But once my body grew accustomed to it and began to produce fewer results, I finally burned out on cardio and slipped back into my cycle of anxiety about my body.
I don’t remember the exact day I decided I was going to take responsibility for my health and regain some control of my lifestyle, but it was when I had hit a point where I knew I had to change or I was going to be stuck in this depressive state forever. I had tried weight lifting a few times at the gym during my first and second years of college, but it hadn’t stuck. I wasn’t confident in myself, I didn’t know the correct form or what weight I should be starting at, and I didn’t have the guts to ask anyone for help. The one time I did seek advice from a male friend, he adamantly proclaimed that I should stick to the machines rather than attempt heavy weight lifting since I was a) a girl and b) “not strong enough” to actually join the big guys over there. (Insert eye-roll.)
I took those words to heart and avoided the free weights for a while after that, but when I decided to make the switch over to lifting, I quickly realized that my so-called “friend” had been sorely mistaken when he called me weak. I was shocked by how much weight I suddenly found myself able to lift. For so long, I had hated my thick thighs, my broad shoulders, and my naturally muscular calves, but I suddenly began to see them as an asset rather than something to be ashamed of. Without those thighs and calves, I wouldn’t be able to deadlift my bodyweight, and without those broad shoulders, I wouldn’t have gone from only being able to do a half of a pull-up to comfortably doing five (okay, the “comfortable” part may be a lie—pull-ups are still my biggest weakness).
Weight lifting has taught me to go to the gym because I love it, not because I feel like I have to. I love the feeling of the sweat building up on my skin as I push my body to be at its physical peak. I cannot wait to smell the acrid metallic scent on my hands after a good workout and see the hard calluses that seem to be permanently present on my palms. I love looking at myself in the mirror now, thinking of how strong I look rather than focusing on how I could be skinnier.
The dread I used to feel as I tried to psych myself up for a run has been replaced by a surge of excitement as I plan my session for the next day. Weight lifting has been my savior, improving my mental and physical health, and although it is a constant process, I relish the fact that I will always have a goal. I will always be pushing myself to be stronger, work harder, and I will love every second of it.