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Self-Care | Jessi Kneeland | Empowerment

3 Unexpected Reasons I Stopped Lifting Weights

I recently gave up lifting weights. This is a big effing deal for me.

Self-Care | Jessi Kneeland | Empowerment

I fell madly in love with lifting weights nearly a decade ago, when I became a personal trainer. I even launched Remodel Fitness specifically to spread the gospel of empowering women through strength training.

Over the last nine and a half years I tried every imaginable kind of lifting program, I carefully studied exercise science and lifting technique, I ate, slept, and breathed lifting, and I loved every minute of it.

box 1 9 yrs

Then nearly 3 months ago I quit cold turkey. Here’s why.

Why I stopped lifting weights:

Note: This is my personal journey, not a recommendation for anyone else. It’s simply the stage of the journey I’m on, with regard to my very personal relationship to my own body.

1. Getting Brutally Honest about Body Image

The only thing I’ve been more passionate about than fitness is body image. For years I’ve been actively working toward helping women love their bodies— at first I did it through fitness, but now I do it through education as a speaker, writer, and body image coach.

I believe a woman’s worth has absolutely zero to do with how she looks. This isn’t just lip service, either. I do my own deep inner work, and I write often about my own relationship with my body, promising total transparency to my readers.

Which is why I started to get a bit uncomfortable.

I loved my body, sure. But I also looked “like a fitness professional,” whatever that means. I considered it a part of my job to look the part, mostly meaning lean, tight, muscular, and flat-bellied. I was attached to the idea that my body gave me credibility as a trainer, and I really enjoyed the positive feedback I got from people.

Now don’t get me wrong, I lifted weights because I loved it.

But would I still have lifted weights if I thought it made me look less appealing, professionally and sexually? If I’m being honest, probably not.

When I realized this, I was like… oh shit. I have some deep digging to do.

I discovered that since I moved out of NYC, I haven’t been enjoying my workouts nearly as much, since I was unable to follow a serious strength program while traveling. My workouts had started to feel kind of obligatory, like I was just going through the motions. If I had been listening to my body, I would have realized a while ago that I just wasn’t loving it anymore.


I didn’t listen to my body though, because that message was scary. I had this belief that I needed to maintain a certain fitness level. Deep down I didn’t want to lose the appealing aesthetic I had worked so hard for, and afraid of what would happen if I lost it.

Would I lose credibility as a coach and brand? Would I still feel sexy?

There it was. Despite my strong beliefs to the contrary, I had been subtly letting my self-worth be determined by my appearance. To challenge this issue head-on, I immediately stopped working out, and have been pursuing other forms of joyful movement instead.

2. Embracing and Prioritizing Feminine Energy

I’ve always been someone with masculine energy. As a kid I wished I was a boy, because boys seemed to get all the good stuff: respect, authority, and the ability to be aggressive AF without anyone getting uncomfortable or telling them they’re being unladylike.

There’s nothing wrong with having masculine energy, mind you. Every person has both masculine and feminine energy inside them. The problem, for me, was that my energy was way out of balance. Being a girl felt like a consolation prize, like we were just a less-good version of boys, and I hated it.

Later on, I felt terrified of my woman-ness, and I felt like any indication of “feminine” energy meant you were weak, passive, and boring. The short explanation for this is that, like most people, I had internalized misogyny. The long explanation involves childhood sexual trauma, and feeling unsafe in my female body.

I felt like any indication of “feminine” energy meant you were weak, passive, and boring.

I’ve rejected my feminine side for so long that I got stuck in my masculine energy; I was always hustling, creating, defending, providing, controlling stuff, and forcing things to manifest. Since I held so much fear and resentment of the feminine, I never let myself do anything that seemed weak or soft, including resting, recovering, letting things unfold naturally, anything sensual, and anything gentle.

Image 3

Recently I went to Peru and took plant medicine to heal some of my trauma history and my damaged relationship to the masculine and feminine. It was a powerful and utterly transformative trip, and one of the things I realized while I was there is that in order to restore balance, I must purposefully spend as much time as possible nurturing my feminine energy.

When I got back, I set about removing anything from my life that felt contrary to this new goal. Not because being in my masculine energy is bad, but because I’ve been out of balance for decades, and I’m trying to restore balance.

Since lifting weights puts me into my masculine/aggressive energy, and I have a finite amount of time and energy to spend on self-care every day, that means that my movement practice needed to change.

My goals right now are to soften, loosen, open, receive, allow, and surrender.

I now spend time every day moving my body in a way that supports these goals, including things like dancing, gentle stretching, hiking, sensual movement, and yoga.

3. Removing leftover armor.

“Armor” is the term I use for the various ways we protect ourselves when we feel unsafe showing up as our fully vulnerable selves in the world.

Personally I used to be a walking coat of armor. I felt frozen inside a costume of physical tension, self-conscious holding, anger, and fear. I’ve removed most of this armor over years of healing, and I now for the most part I feel open, soft, and loose.

Despite how far I’ve come though, in Peru I become aware that I still carry some deep, subtle armor still. It’s like a rigid holding in a place I want to be fully soft and open.

Armor is anything that you use to protect yourself because you feel unsafe showing up as your vulnerable self in the world.

This armor is both physical and emotional; it’s a leftover relic of how unsafe I used to feel in my body, and it shows up as chronic tension in my muscles and viscera.

Bear in mind that this armor is no more than the barest echo of its old form. Some people would be perfectly satisfied to have made so much progress at softening and opening physically and emotionally. If you met me now, you would probably have no idea that there was anything left of my former fear-based life.

Image 4

But I want to keep going, because I believe there is deeper healing available. My intention is to release those final clinging strands of armor, because openness and fullness and balance are more important to me than anything else right now– including looking fit, or even being so-called “healthy.”

box 3 openness

Why not just do both?

Many people have asked me why I can’t just do both: lift weights, and also do stuff like stretch and dance and meditate. Why do I have to give up lifting altogether?

The answer is that I just do. I realistically don’t have the time to commit to a whole new set of gentle, healing self-care practices on top of my old workouts, and lifting weights has such a powerfully masculine effect on me hormonally/energetically that I don’t think I could ever fully soften or let go like I want to without stopping.

Doing both might work for someone else, but I personally feel like I need to swing as far as I can in the opposite direction if I want to stand any chance of restoring balance and emotional healing.

Do I miss lifting? Yes. Absolutely. Nearly every day.

In fact, recently I went to the gym with a client and I gave in to the strong desire to lift with her. Before I even started, I experienced a Pavlovian-like reaction to the knowledge that I was about to bench press. My heart rate and body temp increased, my mind sharpened, my mood boosted, and I suddenly felt bigger, taller, and more aggressive.

 
I basically had an alpha-dog reaction before my fingers even touched a barbell; that’s the response to lifting weights that my body is now conditioned for. That experienced showed me exactly how important it is for me to stay away from the gym for a while. That’s why, for at least the foreseeable future, I will not be lifting weights of any kind.

Why am I sharing this with you?

This gym-quitting experiment demonstrates the interconnectivity between a person’s inner work and outer work. Often we pay lip service to the idea that the mind and body are one, and that “holistic” health matters, but we totally miss the boat when it comes to integrating them within ourselves.

The inner work you do to heal, forgive, love, and accept yourself can’t stay inside; at some point in order to continue, it must start directly affecting your choices, behaviors, lifestyle, and body.

The inner work you do to heal, forgive, love, and accept yourself can’t stay inside; at some point in order to continue, it must start directly affecting your choices, behaviors, lifestyle, and body.

And likewise, your body and your habits and behaviors must be allowed to affect how you feel and think.

Is it easy? Absolutely not. Integrating your heart, body, and mind is actually really inconvenient, difficult, and even painful, as I’ve described. But integration is a non-negotiable requirement for continuing to heal and grow, as well as to live a fully embodied, authentic, and joyful life.

My goal as a body image coach is to offer you the tools to examine your deepest beliefs, remove your armor, and integrate the work you do on your heart, body, and mind– all in an effort to show up more fully, authentically, and joyfully in your body.

If this is something you’d like to learn more about, I’ll be teaching the following workshops in Toronto on April 22nd and 22rd:

How to Handle Body Image as a Fitness/Wellness Professional
Saturday 4/22 from 11-4pm; Open to men and women in the fitness/wellness industry.

How to Love Your Body: Heal your heart. Find your truth. Remove your armor.
Sunday 2/23 from 10-4pm; Open to all women.

The early-bird discount ($100 off if you do the whole weekend!) is now available, until March 24th.

To learn more or grab your spot, message me here!


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  • Beth Young

    Great post. I’ve been going through my personal journey of trying to put down the armor and be more in balance myself, so this was a good read and very timely for me. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://Aesthetic.id David Juanda

    I love the way you’re striving , this is gonna be my motivation!

    To know more about natural skin care follow us on http://aesthetic.id

Jessi Kneeland is out to save women from their own negative body image.

I want to help you find confidence — in yourself and in your body — through fitness. I believe most people have no idea what they’re capable of, and when they find out, they can enter a whole new era of self-love. Finally you can feel empowered, and can feel the peace that comes with challenging your body, rising to the challenge, and succeeding. It’s time for the mean little voice in your head (you know the one) to SHUT UP. You can read more about me here.

 
 
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