Taking Up Space at the Gym: 6 Plus-Size Women on the Power of Heavy Lifting

Though weight lifting can be intimidating, these 6 plus-size women find it physically empowering and mentally strengthening. Here’s why.

Ever looked at the heavy machinery and muscular men weight lifting at the gym and been too intimidated to even step foot in that section? You’re not alone—size stigma in the fitness industry is prevalent, and a recent viral fatphobic article about a plus-size mannequin donning workout clothing can leave any plus-size woman feeling complete and utter gymtimidation. Take inspiration from these strong and fierce plus-size women who are shattering fitness stereotypes and owning the space they take up in the weight room. They are certainly #FitToThrive‚ so take that, naysayers. *Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

plus size women weight lifting with trainer

Charlie H. on how lifting has changed her mindset for the better:

“It’s not just being strong. That’s part of it, of course, but fitness helps me mentally, too. It’s my therapy time. Earphones in, metal in my hands, music in my ears, and my own thoughts in my head. Had a bad day? Lift. Had a good day? Lift. Break up? Lift. Someone tell me off at work? Lift. It allows my mind time to process, assess, recover. It gives my brain a rest.

When I started lifting, my mindset changed, too. I discovered a whole group of other plus-size women who lifted heavy and weren’t interested in shrinking but just getting stronger. It meant my social feed changed from being full of ‘fitspo’ to images of big men and women lifting heavy. It changed everything.”

You can follow Charlie here to add the right kind of inspiration to your feed.

plus size woman weight lifting at gym

Pattie C. on how fitness and lifting have given her the confidence to battle her condition:

“In 2007, I was diagnosed with stage 3 lipedema, and because it took so long to get properly diagnosed, I also was diagnosed with secondary lymphedema. At the time, the advice given was to stop working out, as they felt it could make my symptoms worse. I listened and stayed out of the heat with my legs elevated as much as possible—no more gym—and gradually lost almost all of my mobility. I became depressed and lived in fear that I wouldn’t be around much longer. In 2013, I stopped listening to the advice, because by not staying active I had become worse. I had enough and decided I wanted no more living in fear.

My husband was teaching CrossFit and I asked if he could offer me modification tips so I could participate in the workout, too. Gradually, I regained all of my mobility and got stronger physically and emotionally. At first, I would do the workout in the privacy of my own home until I worked up the courage to work out in the park with the other athletes. When we first started training in the park, I would look for trees to hide behind, then I got to the point that I wanted to be seen, so I could show others what big bodies are capable of. Now I’m comfortable taking up space in the weight room, lifting alongside fellow athletes.

A lot of confidence comes with lifting. Knowing my form is spot on and hitting a new personal record is priceless, but the actual lifting makes me walk taller and improves my posture. I literally ‘lift’ myself up and walk taller.

I lift because it makes me feel strong. I no longer feel like I’m a victim of my condition, but a warrior who fights against it!”

You can follow Pattie on her blog, Lipedema Fitness.

plus size woman in red tank top and shorts using weights

Sandra M. on what lifting has done for her fitness journey:

“When I lift, I feel like a Boeing 747—that’s how magical and free it makes me feel. When I lift, I feel like with each rep old skin is shed, and the new skin has new hopes and new dreams. The old skin that falls off is all the stress and anxiety from that day. As a mother of four with a part-time job at the bank, lifting and working out are the only things that I have control over in my day.

After weight lifting and working out with weights for five years, I started running. I took my first run outdoors in March of 2018 and then I did my first marathon that November. That’s what lifting has done for me—it’s made my body strong. It’s made it strong enough to accomplish even more things. I hope other women find their strength in starting with one small dumbbell and working up to the thing that seems impossible.”

Follow Sandra’s fitness journey on Instagram.

plus size woman lifting large weight

Vanessa C. on her lifting journey, and how it makes her feel:

“When I started my journey, it was all about losing weight. But with continued training, I started to realize I was actually really strong, competitively so, and my gym journey naturally led me to lifting. Now I love competing in both Strongman and powerlifting!

Lifting makes me feel strong—it makes me feel alive. It makes me sore and tired in all the right ways, like I’ve accomplished something. When I put something heavy over my head, it makes me feel like I’m ready to take on the patriarchy. When I come out of the gym smelling like knee sleeves and ammonia, I know I did something awesome. All the difficulties of the day are lost in the endorphin rush.

My most recent accomplishment was that I finally hit a 100kg bench press in a competition (220lbs). Next, we’ll add five pounds to that for a ‘2-plate bench.’ Then, after that, we’ll focus on hitting the Oregon State record!”

Follow Vanessa’s journey on Instagram.

plus size woman competing in weight lifting competition

Rhonda B. on the confidence, attitude, and success that come from lifting:

“Stepping outside society’s idea of what is ‘normal’—not only for women but larger women—takes a bit of confidence. At first, I was a bit timid, but over time, with my trainer showing me what my body was actually capable of, I only wanted to do more. Three years later, I am not intimidated by anyone, male or female, in or out of the gym.

I own my space and no one is taking that away from me. My goals in powerlifting demand that I have the mindset to do whatever is needed to get to them. So that squat rack? Yeah, I’m using it, so don’t ask when I’m going to be done. My husband likes to say that powerlifting has made me develop an attitude—and he’s probably right. Where once I would let a snide comment about my body upset me and say nothing, now I’ll tell you what I think of you and your salty comments.

In November, I set world records for my age (54) and weight class with the Revolution Powerlifting Syndicate in the squat, bench, deadlift, and total. On May 25th, 2019, I competed in a deadlift-only competition, and I pulled a 358lb deadlift, winning my age and weight class. I love what my large body is capable of.”

Follow Rhonda’s journey on Instagram.

plus size woman lifting a weight

Shannon B. on how therapeutic lifting is:

“I feel empowered and I walk into the gym ready to work! The men and women are always encouraging.

My endurance and stamina have increased. I can leg press 800lbs, calf raise the whole 150 rack, and I have decreased my anxiety and depression medication dosage because gym time is my therapy.

I lift because it gives me the overall confidence I didn’t have before. I even walked in my first fashion show! The endorphins are so therapeutic.”

 

Ready to start weight lifting? First, get yourself some killer activewear by requesting a Dia Active Box. Then, give the above ladies a follow and fill your feed with more plus-size fitness inspiration. Finally, be sure to read up on how to properly advocate for yourself when you work with your trainer so you can find the perfect regimen to embark on your weight-lifting journey. When you’re on your way, be sure to post on social with #FitToThrive so we can cheer you on!