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Why I Lift. And Why I Think You Should, Too.

Pumping iron is for everyone, says convert Lauren Sams

By Lauren Sams

The day I deadlift 100 kilograms for the first time, it’s a complete fluke that owes more to my inability to do basic maths than my strength. I have added what I believe is 70 kilograms to the standard 20-kilogram barbell, but when the lift shocks me and I can only eke out four reps, I check again. Ah. 100 kilos. Then it hits me – I have just deadlifted 100 kilos.

This is a milestone. I do something I never do – take a photo in the gym and upload it to Instagram. I am inordinately proud of myself. I have lifted one and a half times my own body weight (give or take a few kilos). I have grown so much stronger than I ever could have imagined.

That happened in January this year, and not by accident. By that point, I’d been lifting weights – in a dedicated, focused, progress-driven format – for 18 months. It was a huge surprise to me that I picked up a weight at all; more surprising still, that I loved it so much it literally became the reason I got up in the mornings.


It was a huge surprise to me that I picked up a weight at all; more surprising still, that I loved it so much.

I was never a sporty kid. Those genes must have been reserved for my brother, who was gifted at pretty much every sport he tried. I was the kid who saw debating as a sport. In high school, I mysteriously had my period four weeks a month. No PE lessons for me, no swimming carnival races.

In my twenties, I worked at a magazine and had access to a gym I can honestly describe as beautiful. I became a dedicated gym-goer; spinning, stretching, running, boxing. I never entered the weights area. I was never even curious. A colleague saw a trainer there three times a week, and all they did together was lift weights. I thought it odd, and a consequence of nothing more than this woman hating cardio and avoiding it at all costs. Why else would she spend more time squatting than spinning the wheels of a bike, an activity I was told would burn 1000 calories an hour*?

Why? Because it works. Because lifting weights builds muscle. Because building muscle is like investing in your superannuation: you won’t see the benefits at first. But slowly, over time, as you add more and more weight, as you do more reps and sets, as you push yourself, you will become stronger. Your body will change. You will, one day, deadlift 100 kilograms and it will feel good.

I started lifting weights in 2021. It was in the midst of the second Sydney lockdown, and while I’d spent our 2020 lockdown eating (and drinking) my feelings, this time felt different. I stopped drinking, I started running more. I got up early. On Instagram, I noticed fitness influencers who were close to evangelical about lifting weights (including my favourite, @swolewoman). Through them, I discovered a world of Youtube workouts (Mormon mum NourishMoveLove was an early favourite before I moved on to Irish pocket rocket Caroline Girvan; I still think both are great – free! – trainers) and was forced to repeatedly buy more weights as I got stronger and stronger. It got to the point where the Amazon delivery driver asked me to come out to the van to pick them up myself; he was sick of hauling them inside. Fair enough.

I discovered I loved lifting. I loved squatting and deadlifting and chest pressing. I was learning new terms (Bulgarian lunges, my nemesis to this day) and yes, my body was changing as a result of this new hobby. My thighs were firm, my stomach flatter than it had ever been. I lost my boobs (a good thing; I had never liked having a 12DD chest). My underarms developed a weird concave shape that made it hard for me to shave them. My butt began to take a more rounded, firm shape. A few months after I started, a friend commented, “Wow, you look like a runner.” I gently corrected her. “No,” I said, “I look like someone who lifts weights.” 

More than two years later, it is the thing I wake up for in the morning (4.50am, every day except Sunday). I am a complete nerd about lifting in a way I never felt possible. I love the progressive overload aspect – I am Type A and super-competitive and I want to push myself all the time. It’s hard to do that with running (I don’t know if I’ll ever do 10 kms in less than 50 minutes, which is my ultimate goal) or other types of exercise I’ve tried, but it can reasonably be done with weights. You can add 1.25 kilograms to your lift and it will, over time, make a real difference. You can bust out one more rep and it counts as improvement. (I can now outlift my brother, all 6”2’ of him, in some ways. Proof that you do not need to be athletic, or coordinated, to do any of this. You just need to keep doing it.)

Lifting has also allowed me the grace to pause when necessary, and take care of my body. Sundays are reserved for a walk. I never would have counted this as exercise before now, but heavy lifting means I need recovery to improve and grow.

And though my body has changed in ways it never did with running or spinning or aerobics, lifting has also helped me remove (or least, lessen) my preoccupation with my body. I won’t lie and say it has taken it away completely; I grew up in diet culture and, as a friend recently noted, “Every woman feels weird about her body in some way.” And I’d be lying still if I said I don’t love how it has literally carved a new silhouette for me. But lifting weights makes me feel good about my body. I love that my kids tell people how strong I am. The other night I had to move their bunk bed back into place and I did it with both of them in it. I felt like a badass. I felt like someone I could rely on.

I’ve changed the way I feel about food, too. I eat to maximise what I can do at the gym. I never understood people who truly craved things like salad or chicken, but that is what I truly, truly crave. I want eggs and yoghurt and cottage cheese and chicken and I can’t get enough. I have no scientific evidence for this but I imagine it must be my body crying out for the most efficient energy sources possible. (And yes, I still eat chocolate – every day, pretty much – and bread and other treats. And my body is no temple; I am obsessed with Diet Coke.) 

I love that my kids tell people how strong I am.

There are plenty of women at the Smith machine and barbell bench at my gym, but I know of many others who’d never pick up a weight, whether out of fear or lack of interest or even stigma. There are too many health benefits of picking up some iron to list in this article, but here are a few. Lifting weights will add more muscle to your frame; when you have more muscle, you burn more energy even at rest. Your body changes – this is called, in the parlance of lifting, body recomp – and even if your weight never shifts (scale-wise), you will likely lose fat as you add muscle. You will sleep better. You will have a decreased risk of falls and other injuries. Your risk of osteoporosis lowers because lifting weights stresses your bones (in a positive way). Your mood will improve. (For more, check out the work of Liz Plosser, Dr Gabrielle Lyon and the aforementioned @swolewoman, Casey Johnston.)

But I will tell you this: lifting weights will, I guarantee you, make you feel fit and strong in a way that almost feels subversive, even wrong, because we are continually told, in various ways, that women don’t have control over their own bodies. Lean into that feeling and push right against it. Squat your bodyweight (more!). Learn to lower your knee to the floor as you hold a 40-kilogram dumbbell and then slowly lift yourself again. Press 15-kilogram weights above your head. Then tell me you don’t feel great. Tell me you don’t feel like you have achieved something very cool. Tell me you are not in control of your own body.

I won’t believe you, and neither will you.

*A spurious claim at best. And one I no longer care about, for the record.  


BY Lauren Sams

Lauren is a fashion journalist based in Sydney

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