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Strong is the New Black: The Joys of Weight Training and Powerlifting

Strong is the New Black: The Joys of Weight Training and Powerlifting

Most of my fitness life was spent in motion. For years, capoeira workouts, West African Dance, urban rebounding, boxing, and HITT classes were my nourishment. But when the pandemic hit, I found myself quarantined with and caring for my elderly parents. I needed to stay put and strong. 

So, like everyone else in the country, I ordered heavy barbells, found weightlifting classes on YouTube, and started lifting weights. Once the vaccines were out, I joined a fitness complex and worked with my trainer Will Brothers, who specializes in weight training and powerlifting. In the process, I found a community in the hometown I grew up wanting to be away from, and the resilience I needed to assist my parents through my mom’s passing on from this earth. 

I ended up being strong enough to take the time to bear the weight of gently, slowly lifting my mother as she managed her pain in a way her nurses could never have done. Weight training and powerlifting strengthen the bones, increase our basal metabolic rate (the body’s energy to accomplish life-sustaining functions), build muscle, can improve balance, build resilience, and attract a supportive community. 

BGN spoke with two Black women who love to lift as much as I do, Alicia Archer, (BFA in dance from Fordham University/The Ailey School, Equinox, NYC group fitness instructor) and Phoebe Gavin (career coach) about the joy that weight training and powerlifting has brought to their lives.

Alicia’s background is in dance, circus arts, and acrobatics. She’s taught various group fitness classes for years. For the past few years, in her personal workouts and with clients, she’s focused more on weight training and powerlifting. 

When I asked why she’s turned toward weight training, Alicia shared: “I’m a little bit of a nerd about fitness and nutrition. When I dove deep into the scientific perspective when it comes to weight training, I realized its importance. Not just from an aesthetic standpoint, it empowers your actions and mobility. 

“It’s important for us to build muscle from a physiological standpoint. We need to know that I’m investing time in my longevity and quality of life, my ability to, (because I also live with my parents), and my ability to help them through their own fitness routines because they don’t know anything. [Laughs] I can suggest a few things to them like, ‘dad just to the band. Mom, do some squats, here’s how.’

“I love strength training because it gives our bodies the capability to do more, lift more, push more, pull more. I think it is a primal need to be strong because ancestrally we had to build shelter, lift stones and rocks. We had to carry our kill from our hunt to eat. When we tap into those movements and experience that stimulus it’s only natural for us to want more and to feel grounded. Not only mentally but physically in all our other endeavors during those moments where it’s really tough when you’re on the last set, have to get the few reps out. 

That mental fortitude and endurance integrates itself in many facets in our life. I think that’s why lifting, for lack of a better word, is addicting. Like anything, you could do too much of one thing. It will then present negative effects, but typically, it’s fantastic. That’s the joy I found in weight training to know that it has such tremendous value in my own personal growth, not only in giving my body the ability to live longer but live stronger and more able.”

The person I most admire in my weightlifting community is career coach Phoebe Gavin. When I asked Phoebe how she started powerlifting she told me: “I got into powerlifting because our trainer Will told me he thought I would be able to do powerlifting well. He had incorporated a lot of strength into his classes. He also could tell that I was really into learning the correct form when we lifted weights. 

He told me that sort of eye for the technicality of movement would lend itself really well to powerlifting. I decided to do a few sessions with him, and we started learning the simple deadlift. I really was surprised at how much I could lift. It was interesting to learn all the little tweaks to do the movements correctly and how much of a difference these tweaks can make in how much you can lift.

The success in weight training and powerlifting differs from the success you normally think of in fitness and diet culture. I’m 5ft 8in and weigh about 220 pounds. While I run and definitely incorporate cardio into my fitness and health activities, they’re definitely not the places where I performed the best. Strength-related movements are where I perform the best. I enjoy them so much. Weight training and powerlifting have redefined my relationship with my body.”

I asked Phoebe if any other aspects of her life had changed since she started weight training and powerlifting. After thinking for a few moments she said, “Learning how to do all of these lifts requires a lot of practice and failure. It’s changed the way I think about risk and failure. I go to the gym and fail more than I succeed. I’ve gotten comfortable with the fact that failure helps me improve. It has been good for my career too. I feel a lot less risk-averse. I’m willing to put myself out there, make mistakes and learn and grow from those mistakes. 

“In powerlifting, you look back at what you’ve done and examine yourself in an almost clinical way. You’re looking at the video and saying oh my back was too arched or I pulled up too quickly so that you can have better results. Being able to look at my body identify mistakes in form, and not assign sort of a moral value judgment has also been really great for my self-esteem. 

“I’ve been on the heavier side basically since puberty, and, in the past, I’ve always felt like I need to try to get smaller. Working with my trainer Will, was really the first time that I started to define fitness differently from size. Now I really think in terms of what my body is capable of versus what my body looks like. 

“That has been transformational. Now I feel excited to get into the gym and do what I can. I don’t care about who can see me or who’s looking at me. I don’t care about what I look like because I know that I can step up and deadlift my current personal record, 305 pounds, which is really exciting.” 

Picking up heavy things, carrying them around, and putting them down is a simple, yet brilliant process of joy connection, into power through strength.

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