Today marks seven years since I began strength training! When I was approaching one year out of college, I decided to commit myself to lifting at least once every week, mostly out of dissatisfaction with myself.
I must have thought I'd make it at least one year, because I marked down the "anniversary" date. As has become my tradition for seven years now, I'm reflecting on how I've changed since that fateful day in 2016.
Okay, I don't believe in "before and after" photos anymore. Not in the typical "fitness transformation" sense. I used to share side-by-sides proudly, but now I dislike how it implies my younger body was "worse" and my older body is "better."
In comparing these two gym selfies without judgment, here are qualities I see:
2016: Self-conscious, ambitious, uncertain, figuring it out alone
2023: Confident, passionate, capable, sharing with my community
The changes inside feel 100x greater than the changes outside. What began as a physical project has become my lifeline.
Here are three things I've learned about myself in these seven years.
1. My body can change — and changes constantly
A lot of my anxiety about my body has been undone by the mere fact that my body is not one thing. It's constantly changing (and will continue to do so).
That might seem an obvious reality to some people. But I used to see my body as permanently deficient, unathletic, and awkward compared to others.
At the beginning of strength training, I accomplished something most newbies do: a relatively rapid increase in body mass.
It was a new experience of self-induced change that broke my conception of my body as static. (Then I attempted a year of losing weight to remove fat mass from lean mass, with limited success and little importance.)
Since then, my body weight has fluctuated — both daily and over months at a time. I've been fortunate to live without any morbidity, so my weight changes have been affected by my metabolism, the seasons, foods, exercise routines, sleep, and many unseen factors.
I've learned to ignore the up-and-down variances and instead look at trend lines, the mirror, and my physical activities to understand what was happening with my body.
I also learned to value myself beyond any number on a scale. At every point on this graph, I have felt happiness and misery, control and helplessness, strength and weakness. Diligently tracking my weight revealed that my weight is much less relevant than I thought.
Like most people, I am gaining weight as I age. I'm excited to live in my many future bodies, even knowing they may bring pain or discrimination, because they keep providing new experiences. (Plus it beats not living in a body at all.)
2. I am a versatile athlete
I've spent the last few years reimagining my self-identity as an athlete.
Much of that work happened at the gym over the course of 1,000+ strength workouts. I have very rarely missed a week during seven years.
Along with consistency, I've finally added variety to my fitness journey. As my confidence grew from weightlifting, I became brave enough to try new physical activities. In the last 12 months, I have tried (and loved) yoga, rock climbing, spinning, and rowing.
In these activities, I've focused on my own performance rather than competing with people around me — just as I've done in weightlifting.
My favorite measurement of success is charting new territory in my body movements. In yoga I've found my body shaking one moment and then utterly relaxed the next. In rock climbing I pulled and pushed my body to heights that looked impossible. In spin class I turned my body to jelly! And in rowing I'm testing the maximum power my body can output.
What will I try next? Fencing? Kick-boxing? Cross-country skiing? Pickleball? I'm an athlete-of-all-trades and (happily) a master of none.
3. Fitness is an essential part of me
Three years into my strength training, I transitioned to vegan foods. My motives were environmental concerns, then animal welfare, and soon personal wellbeing. I just felt refreshed after eating plant-based meals, and as I continued tracking my lifting, I was thrilled to see my progress was unabated.
Like "athlete," "vegan" is a logical social identity to assume.
During the pandemic lockdown three years ago, I faced the upsetting prospect of going without my workout routine. (I managed to keep it up after a scramble to buy the last pair of 40lb dumbbells in the five-county area.) As I exercised in my small bedroom space, I realized my fitness routine had become fully integrated into my self-identity, alongside veganism and athleticism. That integration kept me motivated, and the routine was a tether to normality.
As the pandemic wore on, my chronic depression dragged me down. My therapist and I recognized movement and strength training as major regulators for my depression, sleep, and energy levels. Physical activity is now a core part of my mental health plan.
But in this seventh year, I really found myself.
Looking to share the benefits of my fitness journey with others, I decided to formalize my practices into personal training. With the support of my friends and family, I began the NSCA-CPT course, learning the mechanics behind my workouts as well as coaching methods to assist others. Successfully becoming certified and seeing clients achieve new things have been two of my most fulfilling milestones yet.
And becoming a personal trainer was a bigger catalyst than I ever expected.
Besides being an athlete, a vegan, a personal trainer, and of course a husband...my main self-identity is a community builder.
Six months ago I jumped on an opportunity to turn a "someday" dream into an immediate reality: forming a fitness studio. Again, with the incredible help of friends and family, I founded Out Fitness Collective here in my neighborhood. Now I've met more LGBTQ+ and allied neighbors, and we've created a welcoming place where we can all make new fitness discoveries. (Check out my one-year reflection on Out Fitness.)
Fitness and my fitness practices are essential to me now. They are how I think of myself and care for myself. They are how I navigate the world and care for my community.
Seven years ago, could I have imagined? Certainly not. And that's why I'm so excited for the next seven years.
To you reading this, thank you for your support of my growth into a more confident fitness advocate. I hope you're looking forward to your next training anniversary, too!