Is Your Workout Identity Helping You or Hurting You?

I can tell what a person’s workout identity is just by watching him or her for a few seconds in the gym. It’s clear who doesn’t have a weight lifting identity… They flop dumbbells up and down in a noncommittal way and try to blend in. It’s not that they don’t know what they’re doing; it’s that they aren’t sure if they should be doing it.

People who do have a weight lifting identity – that is, they view themselves as someone who lifts weights and does it well – are confident in the weight room and their results are evident.

Case in point: I’ve seen the same woman in my gym for quite awhile, but it’s only recently that she clearly owns her weight lifting identity. She walks around the gym assertively and with purpose now. She lifts weights like she means it and like she means business (I might even venture to call her a bad ass!). I saw her using a personal trainer a few months ago and this may have given her the knowledge and confidence to get serious about weights.

Kudos to her for taking action. If this sister is consuming enough calories, I should start seeing some real muscle on her soon.

Over and over I hear people say they are a runner or are trying to become a runner. My friend Alicia has never considered herself “a runner,” but she recently ran longer than she expected, asthma notwithstanding. Afterwards, she said in her blog that she “felt like a true runner” for her own unique reasons. (See another runner’s perspective here.)

Everyone has a picture in their heads of what it means to be a runner, a cyclist, a swimmer, a person who lifts weights. But if you don’t already consider yourself to have a particular identity – and “set your intention, big or small,” as Alicia puts it – chances are you won’t get there.

If your mental picture of someone who lifts weights is a bodybuilder or a male only, and not a small-boned woman, or an older man or woman, or an overweight man or woman, or a runner, then weights will not be something you own as your identity.

And if you don’t own your weight lifting identity, you won’t be seeing results any time soon.

Are you still a “fat girl” even though you’ve lost weight? Are you “academic, not athletic?” Are you “frail,” not “strong?”

Whatever outdated physical identity baggage you’re hoisting around, isn’t it kind of heavy? And not the kickass weight-lifting kind of heavy.

You should know what your workout identity is, because it’s influencing the goals you set and whether you achieve them. When you allow yourself to have a weight-lifting identity, you won’t look timid while you’re lifting weights. You’ll look mean. You’ll look serious. You’ll look bad ass. Why? Because you ARE.

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  1. Interesting idea. I agree–I used to notice the people who were way into weight lifting and then the people that were just going through the motions.

    On a similar subject, if you want to develop a body in a certain way you have to look at what activities people are doing to get that body. Like if you want big muscles, lift weights and eat enough calories to build muscles. If you like the look of a swimmer with broad shoulders and a narrow waste, start swimming. To get lean muscle without bulk, try cycling.
    Lisa recently posted..My Diet Steps (A Giveaway)My Profile

  2. I LOVE this. It’s so true. We are who we think we are and so often that holds us back.

    I really have to work on getting the ‘fat girl’ identity out of my head.

    I’m so done with her.

  3. I’ve always pondered this topic, as someone who is currently trying to define their own gym identity. lately i’ve been kind of put off by individuals whom through my observations have little identity in life, let along the gym. I know this should really bother me, but it kept standing out in my head. Recently i’ve taken note of my gym performance and overall sense of satisfaction in my workouts as i split training between two different gyms. My training sessions in the advanced, show-offy gym are ALWAYS 25% better than my sessions in the company of the elderly gym patrons. Everybody’s got their own their own journey on fitness and that’s cool but, i have concluded that i feed off the energy of those on similar or greater paths than myself.

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  4. That identity can definitely be hard to shake. At 5’0″, I think I still get some looks even though I’m pretty confidently owning my weightlifting identity. When I first joined a gym 2 years ago, though, I felt like I was not supposed to be in the weight room!
    I’ve enjoyed changing from weak to strong and will never forget the first time that a muscular guy asked me for deadlifting pointers! That would have never happened had I been too scared or too tied to being “little” to get out on the floor.

  5. Great post matter what shape I’ve been in I’ve always been confident when I lifted weights or play basetball.only different is the levels and where you start at.I always see the gym as my fortess of identity is a beast I’m Rawr,roar and grrr my way to my workouts and dominate.not gonna lie with my fitness knownledge I’m super confident when it comes to would be to if you were a hot chocolate brotha 🙂

    Keep training hard people and be the sexy beasts I know each and everyone of you are.

  6. Great post! I used to be afraid of weights, and I would only do cardio. However, over the past 2 years I’ve been getting into the strength training and I LOVE it 🙂 I walk around with a lot more confidence, knowing that my body is exactly as I want it to be. Also, I just put a mirror in my workout room…and I must say, I love watching myself lifting those heavy weights….I am woman, hear me ROAR 😉
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    • @Lisa– Love this input about how different activities shape your body differently. I haven’t thought of it that way very often. I want ALL those body types!

      @Michelle– So true… we are the ones holding ourselves back. Breaking through that old identity will happen. If you let it 🙂

      @Kohy– I’m right there with you on this. So interesting that you observed this about yourself. I always perform better when i can feed off the energy of others. I never feel as energized in an empty gym. My gym doesn’t exactly match my own type but somehow I’ve managed to be very energized there. Maybe it’s the very few hotties who go there!

      @Megan– I’ve heard that a lot, feeling out of place in a weight room to start off. I did too. And wow – you’ve accomplished MUCH being little yet conquering weights and becoming strong. It still floors me how much weight lifting can change your body AND your mindset.

      @Ndem– You are amazing! Confidence, positive energy, and love all wrapped up in a beautiful hot chocolate brotha. I’m your partner in crime – confident to the max, ain’t nobody gonna stand in my way! And fortress of solitude? That sums it up perfectly for me as well. Love my little nirvana.

      @Jen– SWEET to hear that you love weight training and own it babydoll! I love hearing about women who let themselves be strong and strut their stuff. And without mirrors, we couldn’t watch our hawt selves – that would be no fun! 🙂

  7. This is key in so many ways! How we mentally view things affects the outcome of our endeavors. It’s just the same for racing or taking on a challenge or sport. If you can’t visualize yourself as a winner or excelling in playing the sport or tackling the challenge, then you most likely will fall short of your goals.
    Jeannie recently posted..22 mile run done, 50K here I come!My Profile

    • Jeannie, good points about visualization. I’m thinking more and more that if I’m afraid about trying something new, I should visualize myself doing it successfully.

  8. I call it, “putting on a show”. Whether you’re a supreme and fit athlete, or overweight and earning your way into a better place, I suggest to everyone, that they make their workout an act of performance art. Lift like you mean it, with purpose and concentration. Lifting weights, done with concentration and belief, is, body-prayer.

    • Roy, I’m so fortunate to be connected with someone so soulful, knowledgeable, and right there with me. Body prayer… there is no better way to say this. Thank you.

  9. Sable@SquatLikeALady says:

    I LOVE THIS! For the first…oh maybe 6 months…I lifted, I did NOT have a weight lifting identity. Then my MIL came down for a visit and said, “Look at your muscle!” and I saw it for the first time. That totally changed my life and my routine and everything, and the results I’ve gotten since then have been just outrageous. Now I am transitioning to a powerlifting routine (for a lot of reasons…I’ll be doing a full post on it at some point in the near future so I won’t bore ya now) and even though I haven’t ever been to a meet and I’m just about to start my first Sheiko split, I say “I AM a powerlifter.” And that statement creates my reality. 🙂

    • Sable it’s cool to hear to your perspective because I know you have come a long way. I mean, look at you now – a strong, powerful woman who blogs about your weight training (and otherwise) adventures. Honestly, I never pictured myself in this role either… I never even considered how I could share my experiences and let them bring me to new heights physically. Can’t wait to hear about the power lifting and your reasons for pursuing it 🙂

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