Why I Don’t Lift Heavy Anymore: Finding a New Perspective on Fitness and Life 15 Months Postpartum

Before giving birth, my favorite form of exercise was without a doubt lifting weights. Besides walking my dog and occasionally bouldering at the indoor rock gym, I almost exclusively lifted about 4-5 times a week. Especially as my husband and I were trying to get pregnant, cardio wasn’t something that I wanted to do. To me, lifting and fitness were pretty much one and the same. Not only that, but lifting and my identity had become pretty much one in the same in my eyes (even though I had previously tried to stop thinking that way). During pregnancy, I tried to stay as active as possible; however, it was mostly for my mental state and to get off of the couch. COVID and social distancing settled in not too long after I got energy back in the second trimester. I felt more confident in my body during pregnancy than I ever had in my life, and having exercise be about how I felt versus how I looked was a great shift in perspective.

If you’ve read my birth story or any of my postpartum posts, you know that birth was hard on my body. As a result, I was thrilled just to be able to go on a walk, let alone think about doing a workout. Time went on, and I began to feel “normal” again, so I picked up my lifting sessions from where I left them before pregnancy. I even wrote a blog post about it at the time (linked here). Everything was going fine… until it wasn’t. Most noticeably, I got a terrible case of mastitis after an upper body, chest-focused workout. Less obvious were the ways that my body started to buckle under the stress. Even though I was well beyond my postpartum workout clearance (I’m talking like a year postpartum), I began to feel less secure in my core and more heavy in my pelvic floor. It wasn’t painful or groundbreaking, but a little voice in the back of my mind started to tell me that something wasn’t right. My immediate reaction was denial. If other moms can get back to the gym far sooner, then what I’m feeling must be in my head. I thought that I was simply not used to my new body and feeling anxiety due to my traumatic birth experience. I kept going. Slowly, other symptoms started to form. I’ll spare you some of the details, but my digestive system began to feel… I’ll just say off. I was anxious about both nothing and everything, and I was stressed out about finding balance between self-care and spending time with my son. I began researching everything that I was experiencing, and I eventually realized that the voice in my head was right. The physical stress of lifting weights and all the pressures I put on myself to be “perfect” in the gym were too much; however, I think it is important to mention that I have discussed the physical issues with my doctor, and she wasn’t concerned that something deeper was taking place.

My emotions flipped from denial to anger (why can other people return to lifting after having a baby, and I can’t?) ,but I eventually came to terms and decided to embrace it. Because of how rooted being a “lifter” was in my sense of self, a change in exercise caused me to rethink who I am as a person and my lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, there were other lifestyle factors that needed adjustment; however, I’ll save those for a different conversation. 

So enough of talking in the past tense. Did changing my fitness routine actually make a difference in my overall wellbeing? The answer is for sure, yes. I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders, no pun intended.  Physically, my body isn’t as achy or exhausted, and my eyes aren’t burning at the end of each day. Mentally, I feel free. I don’t worry about if I can fit a specific workout into a busy day, what my macros should be, and if I’m doing enough to be “fitnessy” (I know that sounds silly, but it consumed me). Exercise has become something I do to feel good rather than something that defines my personality. Shifting my mindset and routine didn’t happen in the blink of an eye. There were a few things that really helped:

  1. Unfollowing fitness influencers that didn’t align with my goals and values
    •  I’m not a college kid trying to get super lean, and my job isn’t to look a certain way. I am a stay-at-home mom that just loves to be healthy, and scrolling through “perfect” bodies isn’t great for my mental health.
  2. Not following a plan or challenge
    • Unlike what many people argue is the best for progress (and rightly so to be fair), I find choosing a workout daily rather than following a plan more motivating. If I’m really tired, I’ll choose something like Yoga. If I have to take a shower anyways and feel like moving, I’ll choose a cardio-heavy workout to get sweaty. This way, if I don’t have the energy to do what is prescribed by a plan, I can do something different rather than skip it and feel defeated. Also, I feel more anxiety when I am “supposed” to do a particular workout and down on myself if I don’t have the time or energy to finish a plan. I have the opportunity to exercise rather than the obligation, and that mindset shift has been monumental.
  3. Finding a new hobby to talk about and look forward to 
    • I used to think that outside of lifting and my son, I had nothing else unique about me to talk about. I know that sounds silly, but I believed it. Lately, I’ve been really loving reading, and I enjoy sharing plot pieces and my thoughts on different books with my husband. Being able to separate myself from the gym and find other ways to spend my “me-time” has helped me to destress and feel like a more well-rounded person.

While there isn’t really a “normal” week for me anymore, I thought it would be interesting to document one full week of my workouts.

SaturdayGentle Yoga Flow by Boho Beautiful Yoga and a country walk with my dog

SundayNo Repeat HIIT Workout (with weights) by Heather Robertson

Monday– resistance leg workout by @desb__ on Instagram

Tuesday45 minute Sculpt + Flow Vinyasa Yoga Workout by Kaylie Daniels 

Wednesday– Upper Body Resistance Workout – 4 sets of supersets and some stretches for about 30 minutes total (created by me)

ThursdayKiller Kickboxing TABATA Workout by Heather Robertson 

Friday20 Minute Dance Cardio and Sculpting Workout by POPSUGAR Fitness and Spinal Waves Flow Yoga by Charlie Follows

It’s been energizing mentally and physically to discover ways to move my body that make my body feel like home and me again. If I feel like dancing, then that’s what I’ll do! It’s funny that by taking a step back from the gym, I’ve found a new love for fitness and myself. Being shredded is not only something that I don’t have time for, but it is literally not healthy for me. Having a baby is different for everyone, and for me, I am still processing postpartum life even though my son is 15 months old. There is no one-size-fits-all healthy lifestyle for each person, and I don’t even think there is one that is perfect for all phases of a single person’s life. 

I am not a “fitness girl”. I am a woman named Gabriela that likes to live a balanced life.

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The Trainer RN Hood River

Change is good