I grew up having a somewhat complicated relationship with my body. I was never into sports as a kid, but I danced and loved doing step aerobics with my mom—which is where my love for group fitness started. But I always battled with my weight and body and wanted to look like everyone else.

I went through the cycle of losing weight, gaining weight, and starting over more times than I can remember until about age 25, when I decided to commit to keeping the weight off for good. For me, that looked like eating too few calories a day and intense cardio. Boy, was I wrong with this approach. (Hindsight 20/20!)

As I got older, I realized that cardio just wasn’t jibing with me anymore.

I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. I felt like I was always working so hard but saw no changes with my body. And I was skeptical of strength training. I couldn’t understand how I could move less, burn fewer calories, but still see positive changes with my body from an aesthetic standpoint.

I took the leap to start lifting weights on my own at the gym. I would put together a few exercises after my run and do them circuit-style. I was curious but not committed! But before I knew it, my 20 deadlifts and 10 push ups turned into writing my own strength-training workouts that I now share through my fitness platform The Balanced Fit Life. I was hooked.

instagram iconView full post on Instagram

Spoiler: Strength training is where the magic happened.

When I first started strength training at age 32, I used 5-pound weights. Everything else felt intimidating. The stronger I felt, the more confident I got. I slowly increased to 8 pounds, 10 pounds…and now I’m up to 25-pound dumbbells for some full-body workouts. Strength gains! To this day, I always tell my clients and classes, “Pick up the weights!"

I can now say with confidence that I love strength and HIIT workouts—modalities that I used to be afraid of. I could never imagine doing burpees, pushups, deadlifts, or squat cleans. I would say, “That’s not my style.” In reality, I was just afraid to try. These workouts don’t only represent strength, but they also represent courage. They make me feel strong both mentally and physically.

I can really see how strong I am because I can now do pushups from my toes (as opposed to my knees). I was committed to this goal! I would do 10 pushups every single day for years on my knees—and now I’ve worked my way up. Now, when I do reps from my toes, I think about how hard I worked to be able to say I could do that. It's always you versus you.

A typical week of training for me looks like this.

I teach strength and HIIT classes Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I have lighter days on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when I do barre and cardio. (Cardio can still play a healthy role in your life, of course!)

On Saturdays, I teach Jazzercise in the studio, which is by far my favorite kind of cardio. I rest on Sundays. Walks are part of my daily routine, too. Walking is so underrated. Also, I am always up for a new workout. It's fun to be the student–bootcamp is always a challenge.

Once I welcomed more calories and strength training into my life, my whole mindset shifted.

My goal before I started strength training was to always just be "skinny." I used to think the number on the scale determined my self-worth. But I could only live that life for so long. I was hungry, irritable, and exhausted. Now, I understand what healthy actually means: to live a balanced lifestyle that includes rest, the foods I love, and things that bring me joy.

Also, my goal is to embrace my season. The smallest version of myself is not the happiest.

These were the biggest changes that made my muscle- and strength-building journey a success.

  1. I eat more (like, a lot more). I learned the hard way, but you can’t build muscle and get strong on 1,200 calories. Protein and calories (and carbs!) are key for muscle growth and energy. I now understand that my body needs adequate fuel.
  2. I let go of my obsession with the number on the scale. That number is just a point of reference, and more than likely, your fit, strong body is going to weigh more than you think. And that's fine.
  3. I take rest days. I used to train every single day. Rest days allow for my muscles to recover and grow.

In addition: I can't stress enough the importance of support. My fitness community is so important to me, and my group classes are so encouraging. We are always cheering for each other. Also, my corner of Instagram is where I am most inspired. I follow so many people in the fitness industry, and we want to see each other win. We pump each other up–I make it a goal every day to share the hype.

I'm 37 now, and feeling strong is such a powerful thing at this stage of my life.

Physical strength helps my mental strength, and I don’t know where I'd be without strength training. It’s never too late to start. You don’t need fancy equipment or the best workout clothes–you just need the determination and consistency.