That Badass Broad

Inspiration and info for midlife women who lift—or want to start

First time going to the gym? We were all newbs once

The new year is here, and thousands of people all over the world are facing their first time going to the gym. 

You may be one of these folks. Maybe you’ve decided this is the year you’re finally going to get started with strength training. You may be preparing to pick up dumbbells or a barbell for the very first time. 

If so, way to effing GO! I’m so proud of you!!

On the other hand, maybe you’re an old hand who practically lives in the gym. If so, you may be dreading the impending onslaught of new members, because you’ve been here before. You’ve watched newcomers wander around aimlessly, overwhelmed and unsure what to do, looking baffled as they try to figure out what this machine is for and how to adjust the seat on that one. 

Whichever you are, I’m talking to you: veteran and newb alike. There are some things we all need to remember at this time of year.

Let me tell you a story. 

Woman with insomnia, maybe suffering with menopause, lying in bed with a pillow over her head, anxious and upset because she can't sleep.

My insomnia battle

Hello, dear reader. You may (or may not) have noticed that I haven’t posted any new content here for quite a while… much longer than I intended or wanted.

This has not been due to lack of desire to post. Quite the opposite, in fact.

It’s been the result of hitting a metaphorical brick wall: wicked and at times intractable insomnia.

Older woman holding smartphone in the gym, smiling because she knew how to get motivated and stay consistent.

How do I get motivated and stay consistent?

I may earn a small commission for purchases made using links in this post. I only recommend items I know, use myself, or have otherwise vetted.

I’ve been going to the gym on and off for five years. I go from fully committed, getting great results, great diet, etc. to falling off and starting again. I can’t figure out how to get motivated and stay consistent.

If this is a priority for you, stop allowing training and good nutrition to be a choice based on how you feel, or on motivation. 

Build habits. 

Female athlete using foam roller to alleviate muscle soreness, DOMS

I’m not sore—do I need to work harder?

My question is, how come I haven’t been getting sore? I’ve been lifting heavier, getting my protein in, but the last few weeks I only feel sore or tender sometimes. Makes me wonder if I’m not working hard enough, but it feels like I am when I’m in the gym!

Soreness is absolutely NOT the measure of how hard you’ve worked!

The underlying biology of delayed onset muscle soreness, which typically hits 12-18 hours after exercise and is often called “DOMS” by lifters) is not very well understood, but we do know it’s the result of microscopic muscle damage (which is how we get muscles to grow) and that a few specific scenarios tend to cause it.

Airplane high above the clouds, traveling to a powerlifting meet

Tips for traveling to a powerlifting meet

I recently returned from competing at WRPF Nationals in Las Vegas, a five-plus-hour flight away from my home. (It went well!) This was something like the sixth large meet to which I’ve had to travel a long distance (including a couple internationally). Through all of those trips, plus hearing stories from fellow lifters, I’ve picked up a few pointers you may find useful if you’re new to the experience of traveling to a powerlifting meet.

Surfer on a big wave at Jaws in Maui, Hawaii, as an example of overcoming fear when dealing with a heavy barbell in strength training.

How do I Psych Myself Up Before Heavy Lifts?

Do you have any tips for mindset and overcoming fear before heavy lifts? My issue is when I step up to a big lift I try to psych myself up but there’s always a voice telling me “you’re gonna fail this.” How do I shut that voice up?!

This is a common problem and one I deal with myself sometimes. I jokingly apologized to my coach recently for being a head case—my self-talk has been pretty poor as I struggle to come back from a back injury—and he kindly referred to me as a “psychological athlete” 😂 and said he’s going to tell me to just shut my brain off for the entire day at Nationals in a couple of weeks.

But, how do we shut our brain off? How do we stop thinking so much and just DO the damned thing? 

Older woman in superhero cape flexing biceps on a mountaintop.

Recovery: The Unsung Hero to Build Muscle

Ask most people what they’re doing to build muscle and they’ll tell you all about which training program they’re on, which exercises they’re doing, how much protein they’re eating and how many hours they spend in the gym every week. They may even brag about their dedication and “no days off” mentality.

Unfortunately, most lifters don’t understand a key principle:

If you want to build muscle, the real secret is outside the gym.

It’s called recovery, and it’s the unsung hero of gains.

Set of dumbbells increasing in size to illustrate the importance of progressive overload in building muscle.

Progressive overload: the key to building muscle

New lifters often spin their wheels because they don’t understand one of the most important principles of building muscle: progressive overload. 

I hear from so many beginners who say “I’ve been working out for months but I’m not seeing any changes.” Leaving aside other factors–for example, sometimes not eating enough protein–a big reason for this when we start digging into their routine is a lack of progressive overload.

Thief with flashlight as a metaphor for comparison is the thief of joy.

Outsmarting the Thief of Joy

You know those days when you wake up feeling like a champion? Like you could eat the world for breakfast and in fact you just might? Those days when you feel strong and powerful and capable and you know in your bones that nothing’s gonna stop you?

I fucking love days like that.

Unfortunately, they’ve been rather few and far between these last few months.

Lately I’ve been waking up quite often feeling small and weak and scared and full of doubts. Doubts that I will be able to get past this back injury to put up decent numbers at Nationals. Which leads to questioning why I shouldn’t just say screw it and drop out, because I’m not going to win. Which reminds me of the videos I keep seeing of my friends PRing their 300-plus-pound deadlifts, when pulling 300 is just an elusive dream for me right now.

And on and on, down the rabbit hole of comparison and self-doubt.

These days happen to me more often than I’d care to admit. I share them occasionally, but mostly I keep them to myself and do what I can to hack my brain and endure the negativity until it passes. Talking about it feels self-indulgent and whiny.

But I decided to write about it because I figure I’m not the only one who has feelings like this sometimes. Maybe talking about them, and what I do to deal with them, might resonate and help someone else.

Stop Procrastinating: Start with Just One Thing

You can’t do everything, but you can do one thing, and then another and another. In terms of energy, it’s better to make a wrong choice than none at all. You might begin by listing your priorities—for the day, for the week, for the month, for a lifetime. Start modestly. List everything you want to do today or tomorrow. Set priorities by dividing the items into A, B, and C categories. At the least, accomplish the A items. Try the same thing with long-term goals. Priorities do shift, and you can change them at any time, but simply getting them down in black and white adds clarity to your life, and clarity creates energy.

George Leonard, Writer and Aikido teacher, in his book Mastery

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