So I decided to cut calories and start running, which I had never done before. With my new routine, I started to see changes on the scale, but I felt miserable. I didn’t enjoy running very much, and I was starving all the time on my 1,200-calorie-a-day diet—but I thought ramping up my cardio and lowering my calories was the only way to lose weight. Plus, it was technically working.
When I hit 63kgs, I was back to my more ideal weight but was completely unhappy with the way I looked. I had lost a lot of body fat, but I was still wobbly—I was, as some people call it, "skinny fat."
My husband, who works out religiously, convinced me to go to the gym with him. I had never been to a gym before in my life, but I agreed to go and just test a few of the weight machines. I was so nervous. I felt very intimidated and thought everyone was going to be looking at me, judging me for not knowing what I was doing.
But when I got in there, I realized that everyone was doing their own thing and didn’t really take much notice of me. I tried a few machines and, to my surprise, liked it. I liked feeling sore, I wanted to tone up and get stronger, and I liked lifting more than I liked doing cardio—so I signed up and soon started going to the gym on my own.
Soon, I got the bug and was heading to the gym four times a week, but I was still pretty unsure of how to do most exercises. I would spend my evenings when the kids were in bed looking through YouTube and Instagram videos for workout ideas, and then I’d copy those routines at the gym. To my luck, I made a friend in the gym who knew a lot more than me, so I started training with her. She taught me a lot about proper form and, over time, it helped me become knowledgeable about what to do on my own.
In the beginning, I was following up my weight training with an hour of cardio. I wasn’t that strong and didn’t know exactly what I was doing, so I would just do the exercises on low weight and practice my form.
After learning more about technique, I started doing just 30 minutes of LISS(low-intensity steady state) cardio after lifting weights. I liked doing cardio after my weights so I could use up the energy from my pre-workout meal on lifting, and then burn off the rest during a cardio portion. I usually started with heavy compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and hip thrusts, and then moved on to isolation exercises. I put a lot of focus and effort into my glutes, cranking out exercises like squats, deadlifts, glute bridges, hip thrusts, and using the hip-abduction machine. But I'd also deliberately mix up every single session to keep my muscles shocked and growing.
After a few months of training, I started to see noticeable differences in my muscles as they began to grow and tighten.
My workouts now: Tuesday is legs/glutes, Wednesday is back/arms, Thursday is legs/glutes and Friday is shoulders. Sometimes this changes depending on my kids’ schedules, but that’s my usual routine.
One of the biggest factors contributing to my success was ditching my 1,200-calorie diet. It was a struggle to get my head around eating all those extra calories since I didn’t want to put weight back on, but I just had to trust the process and forget about the scales. I discovered that the more food I fed my body, the more the muscles would grow, so I kept upping my calorie and protein intake until I was consuming 2,000 calories per day—and this is when I started to see the real progress, especially in my glutes, the area I focused a lot of effort on.
One thing I wish I had known from the beginning is that weight lifting increases your metabolism, which burns body fat faster—I put myself through such a miserable time with under-eating and doing hours of cardio and home HIIT workouts, when what I really needed to be doing was lifting.
Now, I still eat 2,000 calories per day over five smaller meals. I eat every three hours starting at 9 a.m. and make sure each meal contains a ton of protein, adding up to at least 150 grams a day to help my muscles repair and build. I track my macros to make sure I am getting the right amount of protein, but I am not too strict about it. If I am hungry and I want a snack, then I have one. I listen to what my body needs, and what it wants—there aren’t any foods I will never eat. On the weekends, I allow myself treats; if I want chocolate then I will eat it, but I just try not to binge, and instead indulge in moderation.
I’ll be honest: My original goal was always to look better, which I thought meant weighing less. But now, at 68kgs, I weigh 5kgs more than when I did during my cardio-only days.
Along the way, I’ve also learned working out is about so much more than how you look. I have found happiness in fitness; it’s an escape and a therapy. I’ve also found a ton of inspiration and motivation in the Instagram community. I reply to every single message and comment because the fitness industry is all about encouragement and inspiring others to better their lives.
My life has completely changed since I started lifting. I feel strong, I feel sexy, I feel so confident. Before I hated my husband looking at me when I was getting undressed, and now I am like a completely different person. Fitness isn’t just about changing your body, it changes your mind too. I love my body now. It’s in no way perfect—I still have stretch marks and cellulite. I had two kids, after all. But I love the new curves that weightlifting has created for me.
KIM’S NUMBER-ONE TIP
Weight lifting will not give you a manly body. It sculpts and builds your muscles and gives you a beautiful, curvy figure. Most importantly, though, it makes you so much stronger physically and mentally.
As told to Rachael Shultz.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.