In My Gym Bag + GIVEAWAY!

*Note: this post does contain some affiliate links.*

It’s been quite some time since I shared my favorite/essential gym gear and let’s just say…my collection has grown.

Gym bag: 

HYLETE backpack

 

[source]

THIS BAG. This backpack is hands-down the best gym bag/backpack I’ve ever used. It’s absolutely massive (I really think I could fit in it if I tried hard enough), has tons of compartments, and fits everything. I use it as my daily gym bag and competition bag since it can fit several pairs of shoes (thanks to an expandable compartment), has a dedication “food” area, a removable bag that is perfect for tacky clothing and more zippers and pockets than I know what to do with.

I purchased it before my January contest and am SO glad I did. It IS pricey – there is no doubt about that. BUT, you can score it at a discount using my affiliate/referral link! I think it’s a definite winner for anyone who competes frequently and needs to tote around lots of gear.

Shoes:

 

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Deadlift shoes: Converse Chucks

I found these at Ross one day and had to have them because um, polka dot chucks. I like them for deadlifting because they feel a bit more grounded than my nanos and let’s face it, they’re freaking cute.

 

All purpose/moving event shoes:  Reebok Nanos

I’ve gone through several pairs of Nanos and love them as an all purpose shoe. They’re what I wear for most moving events since they’re flat, slightly grippy, and flexible.

 

Weightlifting shoes: Nike Romaleos

I splurged on these shoes and they are worth every.single.penny. They’re sturdy, fit great, and are quite comfortable for weightlifting shoes. I use them for pressing and loading events.

 

Belts:

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Inzer Forever 13mm Lever Belt

This belt is my favorite. I use this for pretty much everything including squats, deadlifts, yoke, farmers, heavy log clean and press, and heavy presses. I was a little worried that I would have to purchase a new one after moving down a weight class but there was more than enough room to accommodate my changing waist and I still have plenty of room left in either direction. I personally like the 13mm because I like a thick belt but the 10mm is also great and a little more comfortable than the 13mm. Either way, this belt is definitely one of the best belts you can purchase.

Harbinger Velcro Belt

I use my soft belt (I ordered it off amazon) for non-maximal pressing, light insane volume front squatting, axle clean and pressing events, and loading events. I like that this belt can get very tight and provides a soft surface to brace against. It’s also great for loading events because stones or kegs won’t get caught on it. I prefer a soft belt for axle continental cleans because the bruising is a little less bad than continental cleaning with a hard belt.

Wrist Wraps:

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Hyperforce Wrist Wraps

I use these heavy duty wrist wraps for log pressing, circus dumbbell pressing and benching mostly. They’re very stiff and provide some serious support. If you’re looking for more heavy duty wrist support, these are amazing.

Strength Wraps

I like this light-medium support wraps are great all purpose wrist wraps. I love that they’re adjustable which means you don’t have to take them on and off between sets. I use mine for cleans and lighter high volume pressing.

 

Knee Support:  Ace bandage

I’d like to get some new knee sleeves (I typed knew knee sleeves) but I’ve yet to find a pair that I’m sort of willing to invest in. I’ve been wrapping my knees with ace bandage for awhile now as a result of 1) getting annoyed at squatting with fabric bunching behind my knees with regular knee sleeves and 2) I outgrew several pairs in a matter of months. I also like that I can wrap my knees tighter or looser, depending on how my knees are feeling and what I’m doing.

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Because I like you all, I’ve decided to do a gift card giveaway for two readers to win a gift card for some of my favorite things! Simply tell me what your favorite piece of gym gear is and you’ll be entered to win a $25 StrengthWraps giftcard OR a $25 HYLETE giftcard! The giveaway closes Wednesday, April 1 at midnight. Good luck! (P.S. These prizes aren’t being provided by the companies in any way, I’m just giving you all some stuff because I appreciate you!)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

My Lifting Story

I realize that I’ve never really told my “story” of how I got into lifting and strongman in its entirety. It’s sort of evolved in this space over the years and there are bits and pieces of it floating around, but it’s never been put down in one place. So that’s what I’m going to do.

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Early things:

I was always overweight from the time I was in elementary and middle school. I liked to be active and played basketball and volleyball in middle school but was never really “sporty” or super active. I had  no idea if I was any “good” at my respective sports but I enjoyed it. My school was very small (as in I graduated 8th grade with 18 people) but I had fun and liked being competitive and practicing. My weight was an issue and I felt very self conscious about it; but at the time, I felt like it would work itself out somehow.

[we are babies. BABIES. Also, prom.]

High school:

I was still overweight and decided not to play sports in high school. In reality, I was just really afraid of joining a big team and not being really good at something. I threw myself into school and getting good grades. I also took up music as a more serious hobby. Throughout high school, I tried over and over again to lose weight but it never really happened – probably because my uhhhh extra curricular activities weren’t conducive to health and fitness and because again, I was afraid of trying and failing. By my senior year, I’m pretty health conscious, I had been exercising with some regularity for a year or so (all cardio although my dad did introduce me to weights). I felt okay and not great. I had lost a little weight but not much.

 

College:

[because after you graduate, you drink champagne in your kitchen]

After moving across the country and starting college, I started exercising very regularly since most of my friends also worked out. I partied hard but worked equally as hard. In college, I never took less than 15-19 credits while working 2-3 jobs. I also managed to graduate with a 3.8GPA.  To say I was stressed out was an understatement – and all of that stress was my own doing. I was so incredibly sick at the end of my undergraduate career and start of graduate school that I could barely work. I went to numerous doctors to try and figure out why I’m was so sick, why I couldn’t lose weight despite barely eating and exercising all the time, and why I felt so bad. At this point, I even think that maybe I’m  never going to feel better or maybe this is all in my head. It really felt like there was nothing that would help.

I gained quite a bit of weight at this point because of how awful I felt, a new relationship (WE LOVE FOOOOOD!), and just being too busy to do much of anything but trying to survive. I reached my heaviest around this time. I have no idea what I weighed (I avoided the scale) but I’d guess close to 200lbs.

I traveled hours and hours to go to specialists who told me to “try eating 700-800 cals a day and do 4 hours of cardio”. I told them to fuck off and cried. This process repeated itself a few times until we finally figure out that 1) my insulin levels are waaaay out of whack and 2) I have a serious problem with gluten.

Fixing those issues brings dramatic results: I’m no longer in so much pain that I can’t do anything, I no longer take heavy duty psychotropic meds for daily debilitating migraines, and I finally feel like a “normal” person. I’m able to work out and lose some weight and drop to about 185lbs.

Post-college:

I exercised a lot – mostly a variety of running, plyometric stuff, and the occasional machine at the gym. I was eating more, kind of, but barely. I was also eating a mostly vegetarian/vegan diet which seriously screwed with my system (uh if you’re super insulin resistant and haven’t addressed that and try to survive off of carbs, you’re going to have a bad time). I also tried a keto/low carb diet to get my insulin levels under control and it didn’t help but does make me miserable and cranky. At this time, I was working closely with a sports med doctor and nutritionist to get a handle on my numerous injuries that had occurred with regular frequency for years (mostly knee related). I got married and was in better shape than I had been in in years. I felt okay but not fantastic.

Finally, after years of not eating enough, having serious malabsorption issues, and trying to cardio myself into a size 6, I fractured my foot. My doctor was puzzled by the type of fracture and sent me to get a dexa scan. It turned out I had severe osteopenia and my bones were incredibly weak – like “are you sure you’re 20something and not 95 years old” weak. At this point, my doctor tells me I need to start lifting weights or I can anticipate a pretty lackluster quality of life. Since I was in a boot and wanted to stay active somehow, I didn’t really have a choice.

I started lifting some dumbbells and weights and followed a program – I think it was one of Jamie Eason’s programs from Bodybuilding.com. To my surprise, I started to lose weight and I found myself really looking forward to my lifting days. I liked seeing my weights and reps move up and it gave me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. I started incorporating a few barbell things into my workouts and doing more crossfit type workouts. I I had spent about 3 months lifting some sort of weights, lost another 10lbs or so, and was generally happy with what weights were doing for me both physically and mentally.

 

Crossfit:

Since I already liked  doing that sort of stuff, I tried an actual crossfit gym. I loved it and committed to doing Crossfit full time.

I did crossfit regularly and lost weight and made progress. I learned a lot and enjoyed every single second of it (okay, maybe not the running or pull up seconds).

I soon realized that I really love lifting and loathed running and started doing our barbell program exclusively. I also did a whole30 at this time and end up learning a lot, but lost a lot of muscle because I wasn’t eating enough and had gone too low carb. I was mostly paleo and shunning carbs but I tried incorporating more food and more carbs to try and gain some strength and muscle back. I started gaining muscle and strength and feeling better than I had ever felt. I was fully invested and had 100% drank the kool aid.

 

Strongman:

I decided (ok more like I was strongly persuaded) to try strongman. It was really the first time I did something that I was not remotely good at. I mean, I wasn’t very good at Crossfit either, but having to commit to something and perform at something where I am virtually guaranteed to not be the best was something far, far, FAR outside my comfort zone. If you haven’t noticed, I’m a perfectionist and over-achiever to the billionth degree. I was scared but trusted my program.

 

I was terrified that I would forget everything and fall on my face but competed anyways. It was such a great experience that I decided to compete again. And again. And again.  I am absolutely smitten with strongman.

I love this sport and it holds my interest. It’s challenging and hard and varied and the people in it are absolutely amazing. After competing a lot my first year, I decided I wanted to aim higher and get better and REALLY do this. My coach and I decide that I can move down a weight class and get out of the novice division for my next season. I spent 6 months losing about 30lbs and competed in my first contest as an open lightweight competitor in January.

 As I got leaner, my carbohydrate tolerance significantly changed. I can eat 200-300g of carbs a day and maintain sub 20% bodyfat and excellent health markers. It turns out if you stop being a ball of stress and improve your insulin sensitivity (via lifting a LOT of weights and increasing muscle), your body gets pretty happy.I also got a lot stronger, faster, fitter, and cannot wait to compete a few more times this season.

 

I LOVE competing and I really can’t imagine life without it. It’s truly something special. I love working hard and achieving something. At times, it is really difficult and there may be some tears shed on platforms (happy tears and frustrated tears), and I’ve thrown my belt and stomped around and yelled and cursed and jumped up and down more times than I can count. I’ve felt completely beat up and tired and like I’m totally not going to compete again because it’s hard and then I do it and it is all WORTH IT. Beyond worth it.

Plus, I now have a team full of the most fantastic and hilarious people to compete with. Between my first competition and today, the strongman/strongma’am  team at our gym has grown from: me –>me and my coach –> me and now 7-8 women and 4 men. I really can’t imagine a more fun and rewarding sport to be a part of and having a team just makes it that much better.

So that’s my story, so far. I can’t wait to see where this story goes.

“But I Don’t Want to Look Like You”

This past weekend, my husband and I catered a private event (bachelorette party) for a friend’s friends. It was a lot of fun, A LOT of work, and a pretty hilarious endeavour. To be perfectly honest, most of my girl friends are chicks who lift/strongma’am so I’ve forgotten a little bit about what it is like to be surrounded by what would be considered, “normal” girls. Allow me to set the scene for you:

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[sort of like this outfit...with less chalk]

So, I’m standing in the kitchen between courses, talking with my friend (a fellow teammate and lady who is strong as eff) and one of her friends begins talking to us about working out/the gym. I give a spheal on how our gym is fantastic and such (because it is!) and she tells us about her past injuries and her desire to not “bulk up” and how she bulks up quite easily. She specifically refers to how her legs get “huge” and she wants to be able to wear jeans. My friend laughs and says “oh, gabby can’t wear jeans.”  Now, I was wearing a very glamourous outfit of leggings, a mens tank top (so much lat freedom!), and an apron so my thighs were covered.  At some point, I pull the apron away and the other lady instantly grabs my legs and says “yes! that!” patting my quads. At another point in the conversation, I also end up flexing (I don’t even know) and being called “jacked” and while this very nice woman is complimenting me on my physique, she is also saying that she doesn’t want to “get big”.  It was certainly not the first time I’ve heard that or the first time someone has grabbed my barely existing biceps but somehow it was different.

 Maybe it was because I was in a totally different and novel environment but it struck me that what this woman was really trying to say was: “I don’t want to look like you”. And that, to me, is not a bothersome statement. She wasn’t being malicious about it or rude in any way (although there certainly are people who DO use that phrase to be insulting), she was just expressing her own opinion. And that person isn’t going to look just like me because, you know, genetics. It was as if she expected me to say “I know! I bulk up easily too. My legs got big and it’s awful”. While that would potentially make the conservation more in line with societal expectations, it would be a lie. I told her that I’ve had big legs all my life, that’s just how they are. They’re legs. They’re supposed to carry my body around and do stuff. They need muscle.

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[leg muscles. you can't pull 350# off the blocks without them, you can't front squat without them, and you can't jerk without them]

 

Why do I bring this up? Because I think it’s something that every woman who lifts can relate to. People say, “I don’t want to get big/muscular/bulky/whatever” while simultaneously complimenting you on your musculature. Contradictory much? Perhaps. But it does force people to reflect on the whole notion of being comfortable in your body, particularly when that body doesn’t look a certain way. And above and beyond that, it made me realize that at some point, women’s bodies are seen as things that can be commented on without question. (As an aside – this isn’t a women’s only thing. I know plenty of guys, particularly very muscular guys, who get constantly poked and prodded and commented on without question). It seems that if someone else isn’t comfortable with your body, then you must not be either.  And that’s not a very comfortable feeling.

 Rather than getting upset or feeling awkward or shamed or self conscious, I would hope that most women take the opportunity to, for lack of a better phrase, own that shit. I think the initial reaction to any situation is to feel like you have done something wrong  and apologize or justify your body. I’ve done it countless times.

But why? No one needs to apologize for their bodies, to anyone. It seems a little ridiculous to say “I’m sorry my lats are just so wide!” but it happens, in some form or fashion, all the time.

So next time you feel like apologizing, don’t. Instead – smile, say thank you, and own it.