Iris is a 24 year old college graduate with a degree in English Lit, the most critical error of her life. She works at a Starbucks and lives in an efficiency apartment. Her biggest regret is believing in “follow your dreams” and not majoring in something practical, like nursing school, or computer science. Her dreams used to be about writing novels at coffee shops. Now she hates most of the things about being at a coffee shop and can’t stand any of the people she’s met who are “working on a novel.”
She is brunette, fair-skinned with freckles, wears glasses, and is 5’4″ last time she checked. She weighs about 145lbs. She isn’t aware of how this looks until she sees a picture her friends posted on facebook of a group picture. Iris is a little surprised.
omg i’m fucking CHUNKY she comments.
A few hours later, some fucking guy “likes” her comment and replies, lol but you look good mama, don’t lose them curves
He is 30 something years old, and his profile picture is a selfie of him wearing sunglasses in his car. He sends her a message introducing himself and asking her what’s up – they have two mutual friends in common. Both the mutual friends are annoying. Iris blocks him.
Iris was on the track team in high school. She ran hurdles, the 400m, and the 800m. She wasn’t stellar or a stand out, but it was fine, and her coach invested in her development – he made objective goals for her throughout her high school career and by the time she was a senior she was in decent shape and could run a 2:20 800m. She liked the feeling of challenging her lactic threshold, but she also enjoyed lifting weights. Her coach had her squat and power clean. Sometimes she did push press.
In college, she moved out, enjoyed great food, and was a responsibly active bar hopper on some weekends. Her boobs got bigger, but she wasn’t a fan of the fluff that came with it.
She decides it is time to start working out again. She hits the track at first. It fucking sucks. After two 400m sprints, she is sucking wind and has a headache. Being an 800m sprinter is not as easy or as fun as it used to be. She could not stand the idea of running anything beyond a mile, though, and when she goes home that night she googles “fat loss.” There is a lot of bullshit to parse through, but eventually she finds the FAQs of /r/fitness and exrx.net. Her takeaway – eat less calories, lifting weights is helpful, and cardio can help. A common theme is focus on compound movements, and go reasonably heavy.
So she signs up at a 24 Hour Fitness.
Her first day, she does barbell squats, lunges, the leg curl machine, and the knee extension.
She remembers being told to squat to parallel for the squats from high school, but after feeling out the movement a few times with the bar, finds it easier to bounce out of the bottom, and also that her legs feel more “work” when she goes all the way down. /r/fitness also told her it was OK to do this. She handles the bar pretty well, tries 65lbs, 85lbs, and then 95lbs, which seems pretty challenging but doable.
As she is squatting, a tall, sorta big guy with a beard and a bit of a belly watches her in-between his own squat sets and nods at her and says, “Nice squats. Do you go all the way down on purpose?”
“Yeah,” Iris answers. “Just feels better.”
“You could do more weight if you cut it off an inch or two below parallel. But those are looking pretty good already.”
“I can’t tell what two inches below parallel feels like, so I just go all the way down since it’s easier to measure. Also, I feel like my legs do less work if I just go to parallel.”
“Well,” the guy says, “you shouldn’t judge a workout by how much ‘work’ it feels like you’re doing, but by if you are lifting progressively heavier weight.”
Then he tightens his belt to take 255lbs out of the rack, and squats to what appears to Iris’s untrained eye to be above what is considered to be parallel. He sits back a lot, and his torso leans forward to such a degree that Iris doesn’t think she’d like how that would feel on her back. He growls with every rep on the way up, though he had not been doing this before Iris started squatting. To Iris, it seems a bit histrionic, considering she has seen high school seniors squat in a similar fashion with up to 4 plates on each side of the bar.
She decides to stop her squats before she’s done all 5 of her sets, because the guy keeps talking to her about being a powerlifter, some lame-sounding website called “strong lifts,” and how cool he thinks it is that a girl is willing to squat heavy.
“I just started lifting today,” she says, “I don’t think 95lbs is ‘heavy.’”
His eyebrows go up. “Impressive for your first day.”
Iris feels a sickening creepy-crawly sensation on her skin. She leaves to do lunges.
Despite disliking most of the people she saw – which Iris is used to having worked at a Starbucks for a year – she had a fairly positive experience. She feels like she worked hard, and now her muscles are already getting sore. It kinda hurts, but is a pleasant feeling.
Standing at work the next day hurt, but Iris decided that lifting weights was going to be her new hobby. After getting a useless college degree, resigning herself to work at a coffee shop, and basically doing nothing but getting chubby in her 20s, working out felt like the first productive thing she’d done with her life. She read more about lifting, looked at pictures of hot guy lifters, and made personal goals for herself.
Pull ups seemed pretty fun. She remembered doing 3 in high school. She couldn’t do one now. But she did the lat pull down every upper body pull day, and eventually began trying to do a pull up 2-3 times a week, getting closer every time. She did her first, barely-legit pull up within two months of training. By the end of the fourth month, and having lost 15lbs at this point, she beat her old record and did one set of 4 (her chin probably did not go over the bar on the last rep, but goddamn it, it was close enough).
One day while reading /r/fitness, she saw what she thought was a dumb thread – “just did my first pull up! here’s a celebratory selfie!” with a link to a pic of some chick in a sports bra and short shorts making a duck face and flexing an arm that didn’t look that impressive. A lot of redditors were absolutely sucking her clit over this and Iris couldn’t help but express befuddlement –
I didn’t know doing a pull up was such a big deal, she commented. This was downvoted to -5 and a guy – Iris could tell from his post history – responded with for a lot of people, doing a pull up can be a pretty big accomplishment.
those people sound like they are just starting to get in shape, but the level of praise over this seems a little excessive Iris wrote. This was downvoted to -6.
Seven months into her lifting adventure, Iris squats 135lbs for 7, benches 95lbs for 5, and deadlifts 165lbs for 10. Some of this is muscle memory, as she is no stranger to hard work thanks to her high school track career, but she squats deeper than before, and thanks to a smarter, high-protein, carb-cycling diet, her overall body composition is probably the best it’s ever been. She wonders how jacked she would be if she lifted heavy throughout the year in high school, as opposed to just three months in the summer, then doing lighter circuit work for maintenance the rest of the year.
One day, as she is knocking out submaximal sets of 3 on pull ups, a thinner guy who wears glasses and loves to drop his 295lbs deadlifts tells her, “Pull ups for reps, nice job.”
Compliments for pull ups at this point are her pet peeve. He does 12. Because she hates him, Iris fantasizes about the day she can do 13. She knows it can be done because she has seen enough videos of CrossFit chicks.
As she leaves the gym, an overweight woman in her 30s stops her.
“Hey,” the woman says.
“Hello,” Iris says.
“I’ve seen you exercising for a while now,” the lady says, “and you’ve been losing a lot of weight. I just want to make sure you’re not on a starvation diet. You know, exercise and health aren’t synonymous with weight loss. And if you feel pressured to look a certain way – don’t. You have the right to look however you want.”
“Okay,” Iris says, “Well I want to look jacked.”
Iris realizes at this point that not all gyms are necessarily the same. Her high school weight room was much more suited to the kind of lifting she liked, and people on reddit talk about “real gyms” with better squat racks, deadlift platforms, bumper plates for stuff called “oly lifts.” And her hatred of most of the people at 24 Hour Fitness intensifies with every workout. After a few attempts at googling and asking on the craigslist for her city, she finds out that the local YMCA might have a better set up. Supposedly some powerlifters and weightlifters train there.
When she goes there, she signs up immediately. The gym has everything 24 Hour Fitness does, three power racks, and three deadlift platforms with bumper plates. It is not as crowded, and she got a cheaper membership because she lied about being a student and used her expired ID.
She benches the same day she signs up.
After her first workset at 105lbs, a very pretty blonde girl approaches her with a bright smile.
“FINALLY, another chick who isn’t afraid to lift.” She is wearing bright pink short shorts and a “Strong Is The New Skinny” tank top. “My name’s Melissa, I do powerlifting.”
They add each other on facebook and instagram. Iris regrets it. Melissa posts a steady stream of selfies, Starbucks, what she eats, pictures of her loaded bar at the gym, and the LIFT LIKE A GIRL socks she wears every squat and deadlift day. According to Melissa, you’re not a “real” woman unless you squat heavy, and you’re not a “real” woman if you’re not trying to build muscle. For someone who is apparently so obsessed with “#thepowerliftinglife,” Melissa also isn’t that strong – she squats 165lbs at 145lbs bw. Despite this fact, she tries to gently mentor Iris, and the only piece of advice she really listens to is getting a pair of lifting shoes, not because Melissa recommended it, but because every “serious” lifter at the YMCA seemed to wear them.
When Iris squats more than Melissa six months after joining the gym, Melissa stops going out of her way to talk to her.
When the powerlifters and weightlifters begin to take notice of Iris, Melissa begins to train at a different time.
When Iris deadlifts 255lbs for a triple, Melissa makes a status update that says, Just because you lift a lot in the gym doesn’t mean you’re strong – if it’s not done in a meet, it’s not official!
“So does anyone else think Melissa’s a fucking bitch?” Iris asks some of the lifters one day.
“Oh yeah,” the only other female lifter says, “She’s a fucking narcissistic brat and she’s only been lifting for like, a year. Her ex-boyfriend got her into it and now she acts like her fucking shit doesn’t stink because she deadlifts 225lbs for reps.”
“I just feel like she has a problem with me, and I haven’t done anything to her, I just like to lift? I mean, I’m sorry that I’m stronger than her, I guess?”
The other female lifter’s name is Jamie. She does the olympic lifts. She snatches 60kg and clean-and-jerks 75kg at 53kg bw. Iris bonds with her over hating Melissa, and Jamie begins to teach Iris how to snatch and clean-and-jerk. Iris likes the lifts a lot, and wishes she could bang Dmitry Klokov and the 9″ veiny dick she suspects he has.
Iris’s arms and lats are sore from doing 8 pull ups for a few sets, but she deals with it as she makes a customer’s java chip frappucino. She struggles through her shift, everything from lifting milk jugs and reaching into the pastry display for brownies. Finally, she gets to take a lunch break, and she takes off her apron. Her coworker gasps.
“Dude, are you on steroids?”
Iris looks down at her t-shirt. “No.”
“Your back is like, bulging, are you still powerlifting?”
“I just lift,” Iris says.
“OMG your forearms are so veiny! Eeewww!”
Iris eats her feelings at the Chipotle next door.
At this point, Iris is 140lbs. She had cut to 130lbs, then went back on what she thought was a maintenance diet. It turned out to be a slow bulk diet, and now she is fairly muscular, reasonably strong considering her training age, and because of her exposure to high school athletics and an awareness of what an international level of lifting constitutes, has no illusions about her abilities as a lifter.
“Do you know what I hate most about being a girl lifter?” she says to Jamie one day. “It’s that I can’t just, you know, lift. I can’t just be a regular girl lifter. It’s like I can’t squat 225lbs without some dude at fucking 24 Hour Fitness telling me how amazing that is, I can’t wear a t-shirt without one of my coworkers telling me I look manly. I mean, I just want to lift, you know? And not be made a spectacle of or fetishized, or have some attention whore tell me I’m not as cool as her because I don’t wear knee socks when I deadlift.”
“You should read mopeilitywod,” Jamie says.
Iris hates it. It is some fucking misogynist Asian guy with probably a little dick who portrays women as either vapid sluts or ultra-rabid feminists. All he does is bitch about lifting being so hard, well if he doesn’t like it so much why doesn’t he just do something he DOES like, like writing stupid stories? And the comments, oh Jesus, the COMMENTS.
“You know,” Iris says, “it’s just lifting weights. I feel like no one really gets that.”