Michelle Chai is a current Senior on the Lowell High School dragon boat team. She is heavily involved with the community, as the Head of the CDBA Youth Leadership Board, a veteran of her team, a volunteer at many CDBA races, and now a writer for PAYR. She recently began weight training, and wrote a piece to share what it’s like as a teenage girl embarking on her fitness journey. We hope her experience can inspire young female athletes like herself to try strength training!
When I first heard about weight lifting, I thought “Isn’t this mainly for guys?” and “I don’t want to get freakishly huge like people say.” I remember taking my first step into the gym. Looking around at all the equipment and buff bodies hauling weight in every imaginable direction, it’s a wonder I didn’t turn around to walk back out the doors!
As I walked in, fear was largely written on my forehead. Everyone was staring at me as I slowly walked around soaked with a nervous sweat. After making 3 laps around the gym, a man must have noticed how nervous I was and approached me to ask me what I was doing. He was tanned and enormously muscular. I told him it was my first time coming to a gym and that I wanted to try weight lifting. The guy looked at me up and down, laughed and said, “Little girl, weight lifting isn’t for you. Women like you can’t lift these heavy weights. It’s only for us men as you can see around you. Even so, if women did lift, they aren’t considered women anymore.”I couldn’t believe people really thought that way, if it wasn’t for another man who spoke to me just a few days after. He said, “Women don’t need to lift. All you need is a bit of make-up … maybe lose a couple here and there but what matters most are your boobs and butt.” I grew offended and I vowed to prove these people wrong.
As I approached the bar, I took my aggression into play. Yet I was still intimidated by all the factors that played into my physique and was too scared to even try lifting the bar by itself. My nervousness began to overcome my anger. I looked at myself in the mirror and slowly walked away from the bar. The woman next to me saw the panic and stopped me from packing my things. She said to me, “It’s okay to be scared of the bar at first. But in reality, weight training doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, you should feel the weights calling your name every time you enter the gym.” With her words, weight training has been my calling ever since.
As spring season of my sophomore year came to an end, I gained 15 lbs from stressful binge eating. Weighing in at 155 lbs, my entire physique changed – all the muscle I built up during the season had turned into fat. The self-respect and confidence I had disappeared as I went into a slump. Because of injuries and other factors, I was unable to change my body for the better, even as the new school year started. I continued to struggle and finally confided my struggles to a teacher at school whom I was close with. I told her I wanted to change my body image and regain the confidence I lost but did not know where to start.
To this day, I am still thankful for this person. She motivated me to give weight training another go and gave me pointers to help me reach my goal. She even allowed me to join her weight training class, which had an overflow of students, at my own convenience. Walking into the class, I noticed that it was male dominant with the exception of a few petite female students. Remembering back to what the obnoxiously rude man had said to me, I started to believe that weight training wasn’t for me. Unfamiliar with the people around me, I spent the next few minutes off to the side observing the other students working out while also trying to figure out how to not embarrass myself in front of these athletes. Thankfully, Ryan, a fellow teammate, was also enrolled in the class. With his presence, I overcame my fears and believed that I could prove those men wrong. I began to depend on Ryan to help me achieve my goals. He became my workout partner and one of the key motivators in my transformation.
I also turned to fellow alumni that I looked up to for guidance. Timur and Benson, ℅ 2015, introduced me to new workouts, shared their gym tricks and routines, and helped spot me at the gym. Thomas, an alumni and coach of my dragon boat team, gave me key tips to improve my technique and also showed me workouts that activated the different muscle groups. Without their guidance, I would not have been able to reach the point I am at now.
Looking back to a semester ago when I first started off, a lot has changed. For starters, there are noticeable changes in my body. My posture has improved from the usual hunch, my shoulders have become broader, my range of flexibility has increased, and the majority of my muscles have become more toned and defined. Starting out with just the bar (45 lbs), my strength has also proven to increase. I am now able to bench 135 lbs (1 plate), deadlift 150 lbs (1 plate + 10) and squat 155 lbs ( 1 plate + 12.5). Though there are still places on my body that need work, I’m still pushing through to reach my goals. I previously mentioned that I was unable to do a proper pull-up … well I’m still unable to do them but I’m almost there. 🙂
I also regained my confidence and my mindset has strengthened. Looking back at the ill-mannered men’s remarks, I first believed that women could not perform half of the things men could do and that society judged us wholly based off of beauty standards. Yes, there are physical differences between men and women but I now realize that we are more than capable of achieving even twice of what men can accomplish with hard work and perseverance. Beauty and size aren’t everything. What matters most is what we think of ourselves and not by what society thinks of us. No matter the size, gender, or strength, nobody should be discouraged from trying weight training.
Now currently weighing in at about 140 lbs, it’s safe to say that I made the right decision by going into weight training, it changed my life for the better. After putting in all the hard work, I’ve come to realize that I am happy with all the changes that have happened. My previous goal was to return to my original weight of 140 lbs and I did. With a new goal in mind, I hope that I can reduce my body fat percentage and slim down to 130 lbs whilst continuing to build muscle and reach a 1 plate and half to 2 plate (180 – 225 lbs) personal record for all 3 weightlifting events.
You never know, the least expected person can show the most results and do the impossible.
– Michelle Chai