I stand in front of the power cage, meeting my own gaze in the mirror. My heartbeat is slightly elevated and there are streaks of chalk on my shirt and on my pants. I resist the urge to scratch my nose as I grab the bar carefully, experimentally in a thumbless grip. One big breath, and another, and then I step under the bar. I position it carefully across my traps. Exhale, inhale. Every part of my body tenses and braces. I lift the bar out of the rack. One tiny step backwards and then I squat. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 reps. The cage rattles and clanks loudly as I bring it first against the uprights and then lower it back into the rack. First set out of three. The first is always the worst – and the best.
Each week I come into the gym and I squat a little heavier. At first it was easy but now every rep under the bar is an act of courage and I feel keenly how every small wobble, every minor mistake in form makes me teether dangerously close to failure.
I think about things I’ve read about lifting that come close to an almost religious zeal. Respect the iron. Lifting is an act of courage. I’m on the starting strength program. Besides lifting I’ve begun eating more. “If you’re not gaining mass you’re not doing the program”. I’ve no idea if I’m gaining, I stopped weighing myself for the first time in almost two years. Can’t handle both staying dedicated to my lifting and the pressure to conform to feminie beauty standards. I notice that I’m happier this way. What I eat, what I drink, my sleep, everything is increasingly being taken into consideration as I chase another pound on the bar. Struggling to meet it and match it pound for pound with undiluted courage.