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'The Gym Used To Intimidate Me. Now I Deadlift 375 Lbs. In A Crowded Weight Room’

strength transformation
'How I Progressed To Deadlift 375 Pounds'Sydney Cassidy

I grew up in a household that prioritized exercise as a means for engaging in social activities and for maintaining mental health. For that reason, I was always in different sports as a kid: cross country, swimming, gymnastics, dancing, you name it. I consider myself extremely lucky for this. I had a wonderful time trying everything, because sports always felt like something I was good at. In school, physical education was even one of my favorite classes.

Once I reached my mid-teens, however, I narrowed my focus. I started competitively cycling around velodromes, inspired by my brother and my dad who loved the sport. I competed in regional and national competitions, and I was told by my coaches that if I put my mind to it, I could really go to the top with cycling.

But I wasn’t very confident back then. I struggled to channel and compartmentalize my anxiety during competitions, and the nerves completely destroyed me. It got to the point where all the anxiety and nerves I had made the races very unpleasant. I always put so much pressure on myself and I felt like I had to win every single time. Because I was no longer enjoying it, I decided to give cycling up around age 18 and fully focus on my studies instead.

I found my way back to fitness after a period of low mental health.

After I stopped cycling, I completely lost my way with exercise, and from my late teens to my mid-twenties, I wasn’t doing much of it. Then, after finishing university, going through a breakup, and experiencing the pandemic, I was really struggling mentally. I’d lost my spark and I turned into a completely different person. I couldn’t get out of bed. I quit my job.

Overall, I felt lost, like I was empty and really unhappy. But at the end of 2021, I started to remember what my parents had instilled in me while growing up: “There will never be a time where you exercise and don’t feel better or happier afterward.” With that sentiment in mind, I decided to sign up for a gym membership.

The more time I spent at the gym, the more I felt comfortable stepping outside my comfort zone.

At the beginning, I felt like a complete fish out of water. Intimidated by the machines, I started by sticking to cardio and the studio section. I didn’t want to be around other people, who I felt like knew so much more than me. Slowly, though, I progressed, making my way out into the open floor, starting with cables, which I felt like I could do at my own pace.

The more time I spent at the gym, the more inquisitive I became. Soon I was willing to push myself outside of my comfort zone, and I tried squats, deadlifts, presses, and the like. I completely fell in love with being there. I finally had a safe place, one that helped me work on my mental health. I started to feel like myself again, if not even better than before.

Longing for a big community, I decided to build my own.

To check my form and track my fitness, I recorded myself exercising and posted my lifts to new Instagram and TikTok accounts at the beginning of 2022. Then, the more I posted and started being myself online, the more my account grew. Eventually I gained nearly a million followers across all of my socials.

Even though I felt more supported than ever, I was still longing for the big social community that I had when I was competitively cycling and doing sports as a kid. I wished there was a way to experience that kind of togetherness around exercise again in adulthood. I also had so many questions on everything from exercise form, to gym clothes sizing, to people’s favorite proteins, and more.

I decided to take initiative and form my own group by starting a Facebook page called Gym Girls Locker Room. It’s a private, women-only group and safe space that’s evolved into a massive community with over 300,000 women. We support each other online and host in-person events where women can embrace being strong and make friends in their area. Most of all, I love that it challenges the narrative that women have to compete against each other or feel intimidated at the gym.

The lifting milestone I’m most proud of is being able to deadlift 375 pounds.

One of the biggest moments of my lifting journey was when I was invited to a fitness convention for a panel discussion. So many of my lifting heroes were also invited, and I felt honored just to be there alongside them. During the convention there was a deadlift workshop, and I was encouraged to try maxing out in front of everyone.

There were cameras and a massive crowd around me. I was nervous, but with everyone cheering me on, I ended up being able to lift my heaviest deadlift ever: 375 pounds. Seeing everyone’s positive reactions was such a cool experience, and it forced me to look back and be proud of just how far I’d come. I learned to really appreciate my own progress.

These three factors were key to my transformation.

1. I realized that motivation isn’t going to be the thing that gets you through tough days.

On the days where I don’t want to train, it’s about discipline. A lot of people think that if they get into fitness, they’re always going to be super motivated to get to the gym. But that’s not how it works. It requires a lot of commitment. Your motivation to go to the gym is not going to come when you’re sitting at home, it’s warm, and you’re still in your pajamas. It will come when you step across the gym floor.

2. I worked on my confidence to make the most of my workouts.

Even if you feel intimidated by the idea of going to the gym, remember that everyone pays the same membership fee and everyone starts somewhere. When you walk into the gym, we’re all on an equal playing field, no matter your experience level. People are so concerned with their own workout anyway that they’re probably not worried about you. Focus on yourself and don’t let insecurity or anxiety get in the way of your goals.

3. I utilized the resources at my disposal.

This is the best time ever to crush your goals, because the internet contains so much free information to help you (including actual training programs, exercise routines, form tips, and more). You can also find online and in-person communities to join (like Gym Girls Locker Room!) that can help answer your questions and where you can feel like you’re not fighting toward your goals on your own.

These days, I focus on compound movements, bodyweight exercises, and cardio.

Nowadays, I like to begin every workout with a compound movement such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, or overhead presses. This is the most fatiguing part of my workout, so I try to go heavy and put in my maximum effort. I’ll make sure that I do those every single week, and they’re great because they work the entire body.

I like to use free weights, too, so I’ll also usually do accessory exercises or bodyweight movements like pullups, dips, or pushups. Because I’m trying to incorporate more conditioning into my routine, I’ll finish with a mini circuit on the row machine or bike.

On days that I don’t workout, I like to take active rest days, making sure to walk a lot. I’ve got a puppy who likes to keep me on my feet.

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