Lexington women breaks stereotypes about weight lifting, blog about fitness journeys
By Abby Laub
Several women sat on the floor at J&M Strength and Conditioning on Regency Road in Lexington and discussed their excitement at seeing new veins in their toned, strong arms.
“I’m very proud of what I can lift,” Emily Clark said. “It’s nice to feel tough. You can be super girly and still be really, really strong. I get excited when I see a new vein pop out or my shoulders get a little bigger … When someone’s built like that, you know they’ve worked for it.”
Clark is part of The Miss Fits — a group of Lexington-based women who are into lifting heavy weights, as well as generating a discussion on their blog about how they tackle everyday obstacles and celebrate triumphs in and out of the weight room. Though they lead normal lives — their ages range from 23 to 42, some are married, some are mothers and two are pregnant — their fitness regimen is anything but normal.
Peeking in at their workouts at J&M Strength and Conditioning on Regency Road, you’ll find the group of seven women and their trainer, Jim Laird, hauling chains, doing pull-ups with calloused hands, bench pressing 100-plus pounds, talking about “getting under the bar” as in Olympic-style weight lifting, and preparing for lifting meets. These are not your mat-toting Pilates chicks. The Miss Fits get in to the gym, get the job done a few days a week and then keep their lives in order the rest of the week with clean eating, adequate sleep, de-stressing and active, sensible lifestyles.
“Everyone here is a full-time worker, so trying to balance gym with real life is something everyone battles with,” Clark said. “But we’re only in here three or four hours a week, so not an intense schedule.”
But the work is intense. Pulling hundreds of pounds in their dead lifts, squatting well over their body weights and generally putting a new face on female weight lifting, work that tough does not require hours and hours of time. Go in, get it done, they say.
Suzanne Waldrop used to live by the opposite mentality — more is better. But the former distance runner and marathon addict said it was becoming obvious that the more she ran, the “softer” she got.
“If someone would have tried to tell me three years ago to stop running I would not have listened,” she said. “Personally I got into running because my son was 3 and I was still carrying baby weight, so I got on the treadmill and ended up running half marathons and marathons. My body required more and more and more. That’s what brought me in here, thinking I needed to add strength training and do both. Jim told me, ‘No.’ It took me a while to listen.”
Things didn’t start to change for her until she backed off on running and began lifting weights and improving form and posture.
Waldrop jokes that she finally “drank the Kool-aid,” and when started lifting heavy and working out less often, she saw drastic results. Now, the mother of two holds the NASA Unequipped Powerlifting national record in deadlifting, pulling a jaw-dropping 369 pounds in the Masters 1 and Masters Pure (lifetime steroid free) divisions. She won first place in all three divisions entered, with a squat of 253 pounds and a bench press of 121 pounds. Three other miss fits — Clark, Jen Rankin and Missy Hicks — also set personal records and won different weight categories with jaw-dropping numbers, like Rankin’s 220-pound squat.
The rest of the group also is pulling impressive numbers. What started as a group of like-minded women taking group classes at J&M Strength and Conditioning quickly turned in to The Miss Fits. Now they share their journeys, knowledge and thoughts on their website, www.themissfits.com, as well as their Facebook page. The feedback has been good, and the encouragement has helped each of them reach new goals.
They also have inspired more women to get into weightlifting, dispelling the myth that it will make women bulk up and look manly.
“I think a lot of times it does get a bad rap and women think they’ll get bulky, but I think it’s about body image in general,” said Lizz Kunz. “There’s a lot of pressure from the media and society to look a certain way and feel a certain way about yourself, and I think what lifting does is it helps alleviate that pressure. You’re not going to get super bulky and look like an Olympic man. You’re going to be strong and your body is going to transform, but it’s going to bring out the best of you.”
Waldrop said her “soccer mom” friends have noticed the changes she’s made and pull her aside and ask her what she is doing.
“They see the change, and my kids say I’m obsessed with it,” she laughed. “If someone asks me, I do tend to go on and on, but it’s so fun to talk to everyday women like us who are learning and having fun with it.”
Training with the group has helped member Jen Rankin control her stress levels and eat appropriately. Previously she was not getting enough calories and protein. Since she began eating more, resting when she needs to and lifting heavier weights, she has become much more lean.
“We have to take care of ourselves out of they gym so we can come in and lift,” she said.
All of the women are chasing personal lifting records but hardly ever will be found stepping on a scale. Generally, they go by how their clothes fit, how they look and how efficiently they can work out.
Waldrop’s deadlift record is proof that the method and hard work pays off.
All of the women have set state records in weight and age categories.
When they hit the weights, heads turn. Men often are impressed by their abilities. Kunz mused, “‘Who are these girls in here? They look pretty normal and then they’re pulling 300-plus pounds.’ It makes guy scratch their heads.”
All with perfect form.
“I’ve had guys come over and literally sit down and just watch me, and the next thing you know they’re asking me questions about training,” Waldrop said.
To get started, first find a good trainer who knows what he or she is doing. Do your homework and try out gyms.
“And diet is first,” Kim Klimek said. “Eat the correct foods to fuel your training. We suggest staying away from gluten. Just start at your own ability level and work up — starting with the right diet and training level and don’t try to dive in too fast.”
All of the women started with simple exercises, such as body weight squats, and in some cases, they had to wait weeks and months before “getting under a bar” and lifting weights.
Most of the group follows a Paleo or similar diet.
“Basically we all try to do real food, fresh, lots of veggies and good protein,” Klimek said.
Splurges are a welcome reminder that having a little fun sometimes is necessary and can be totally guilt free with a proper diet the rest of the week.
“We are all every day, busy women and the cool thing is that we are now good friends and we support on each other,” Waldrop said. “We are just talking about how we feel and our own struggles. We’re just sharing that and hoping to do that for other people through our efforts with the blog.”