A Woman’s Journey of Strength: How Lifting Changed My Life Forever

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Note from TG: Today I have a special weekend edition post from fitness & lifestyle coach, and writer, Neghar Fonooni.  Neghar was someone I featured on my “go to” female resources last week and she’s also the wife of my good friend, John Romaniello, which basically makes them the fitness equivalent of Beyonce and Jay-Z.

I don’t typically post on the weekend, but I felt this article deserved some special attention. It’s flippin fantastic!

I’ve been lifting weights, seriously and consistently, for eight years. That’s eight years of deadlifting, squatting, pressing, swinging, and even pull-ups. It’s been an incredible journey, but it actually started with a great deal of frustration.

Let’s go back to 2006. I had just given birth to my son, Isaac, and after gaining 50 pounds during my pregnancy, I was feeling pretty out of shape. I’ve always been active, playing sports since I was a kid, and having (and using!) a gym membership since senior year of high school. In fact, I exercised throughout my entire pregnancy, running 3 miles a day until I was 7 months pregnant and switched to walking for comfort purposes.

But until those first few months post-partum, exercising for me had always consisted of running, yoga, and machines.

Don’t get me wrong, running and cardio have their place in a well-balanced fitness regimen—especially if you participate in endurance sports. Plus, well-programmed cardio has a lot of benefits, including mental and emotional health. And, as an avid yogi, I have developed a very advanced practice over the last 14 years, and am no stranger to how challenging bodyweight workouts can be. I’m not ripping on yoga and cardio here, as I utilize both regularly and I think, with the appropriate application, they are invaluable tools.

What I am saying is that all I was doing was running and yoga—to no avail.

I didn’t feel as though I was in control of my body, and I felt weak and defeated. Add to that the inevitable stress of raising a beautiful infant, and I was just fed up. 

Discouraged with my body and my lack of progress, I knew that if I continued exercising the way I had that nothing would change. But, like many who have never embarked on a journey of strength, I lacked guidance and education, and was lost in the endless sea of exercise information. I’m embarrassed to say that even as a certified personal trainer, I would often pull workouts out of women’s fitness magazines and rarely followed an intelligently designed program.

So, out of sheer frustration, I began to delve deeper into the world of strength training, reading every book I could get my hands on, and learning from great coaches like Mark Verstegen, Mike Boyle, and Gray Cook.

I started by following their programs, and eventually learned to write effective and efficient programs, no longer looking to Shape or Self for quick fix workouts. I learned how to properly squat and deadlift, was introduced to Olympic Lifts, started sprinting instead of taking long runs or spending 60 minutes on the elliptical, and my yoga practice even benefited from my jaunts in the weight room.

I lifted weights initially with the intention of losing fat and transforming my body, but eventually shifted towards lifting because it was good for my soul. I was empowered, and felt truly capable of anything, for the first time in my life.

Six months post-partum I’d lost all the baby weight, but perhaps more relevant is how different my body looked and felt than it did pre-pregnancy. I was more muscular, athletic, lean, and strong, even though I weighed the same as I did before the baby. My body and mind had completely transformed, all through lifting weights.

Today, while I practice yoga regularly, take leisure walks on the beach, stand up paddle board a few times a week, and do fun things like trampoline jumping and salsa dancing, the heart of my exercise regimen is still (and always will be) smashing weights. It’s the firmest foundation of any fat loss program, and its benefits are vast and undeniable. While an exercise program can be comprised of a myriad of activities, lifting weights is at the top of the fat loss and fitness hierarchy.

Muscles and Metabolism

Lifting weights regularly promotes the growth of lean mass, which is an integral part of any fat loss journey. Put simply, muscle helps cultivate a healthier metabolism because the more muscle your body has, the more calories it will burn at rest. In addition to increasing metabolism, lifting weights promotes natural growth hormone production, which in turn helps reduce insulin sensitivity.

In my time as a coach, I often hear ladies afraid that lifting weights will make them “bulk up.” They can sometimes be deterred from lifting weights for fear of being “manly” or “too muscular” so let me go ahead and allay your fears: lifting weights won’t turn you into She-Hulk overnight (although I would argue that She-Hulk is pretty much the best Super Heroine ever, as she promotes body acceptance and self-love).

You’ll build muscle through strength training, of course, but you won’t pack it on in absurd amounts and it won’t happen instantly.

Simply put, women do not have the testosterone necessary to support that kind of muscle growth. If gaining muscle were so easy, body builders wouldn’t spend hours in the gym for years on end in an effort to bulk up.

Genetics, nutrition, and training methodology all play a part in how your body will transform, but if you train to be strong, and eat to support that, you’ll end up with an athletic, feminine physique.

Not to mention, that although you can certainly lose fat and gain strength doing a number of things, only lifting will allow you the most bang for your buck. As a busy mom and entrepreneur, I understand deeply how precious time is. It’s our only non-renewable resource, and we must use it wisely, especially when we’ve got multiple commitments and obligations.

I don’t always have a lot of time to devote to exercise, but if time is limited, I always prioritize lifting.

You can easily make use of 20, 15, 0r even 10 minutes of weight training to maximize your time, by speeding up the rate at which you lift or ramping up the intensity. Utilizing training methods such as Metabolic Resistance Training, Complexes, Density Training, and what my good friend Jen Sinkler calls “Lifting Weights Faster” you can burn fat and build strength even when time is of the essence.

Meaning that you don’t have to spend an hour doing cardio, and another 30 minutes on the machines, followed by 30 minutes of stretching. You can save time and attack your fitness goals, all by choosing to prioritize weights. “I don’t have time to exercise” can be a statement you never utter again. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of setting a timer for how much time you do have, and then doing as much as possible in that time frame.

If you utilize the right training programs, you’ll build a strong, athletic, lean physique—provided that your nutrition is on par with your fitness intentions.

You’ll want a good mix of strength training and metabolic resistance, paired with a nourishing diet packed with protein, fresh produce, and healthy fats. If done correctly, lifting weights will help turn your body into a fat loss machine—making the weight room one of the most important stops on your fitness journey.

The Power of the PR

I remember the first time I performed an unassisted pull-up.

It was early 2008, and I was (unfortunately) awaiting knee surgery for an old sports injury. The extend of my infirmary kept me from doing any lower body training, which although it was frustrating, encouraged me to focus more on strengthening my upper body.

So, strengthen my upper body I did, paying special attention to things like pull-ups, pushups, and overhead pressing.

One day I had an “I wonder if I can do that moment,” deciding to forgo the band, and try my hand (or my lats) at an unassisted neutral grip pull-up. Astonished at my body’s ability to get my chin over the bar, I hopped down and looked around the crowded gym; “did anyone see that?!” I wondered. To this day, it remains one of my proudest moments.

Note from TG:  Oops, obviously the video I posted right before that last paragraph doesn’t jive. You get the idea folks.  Carry on.

Every single time I workout, I get better. I lift heavier, or faster, or even more efficiently. I might be able to stick a handstand more easily, manage a heavier squat, or do one extra pull-up.

Sometimes it’s not a matter of more, but simply better.

Other times, my progress is more intrinsic, lying in my ability to give my body a break when it needs one. Regardless of the exactitudes, I find myself consistently improving in some way, shape or form. This is what my friends at The Movement Minneapolis have termed “PR every day.”

Breaking records, or setting PRs, is incredibly mentally rewarding. It keeps you coming back for more, and creates a sense of purpose in the weight room. While aesthetic goals, such as losing a few inches on your waist, are certainly worth pursuing, performance goals are notably more sustainable.

It really wasn’t until I shifted my intentions towards performance, and away from aesthetics, that I was actually able to significantly change my physique.

What I didn’t realize completely the moment I performed my first pull-up, was how much that simply act would profoundly affect the rest of my life.

That pull-up, as benign as it seems, sparked a greatest sense of self worth, an escape from feeling defined by what my body looked like, and instead taking pride in what it could do.

If I can pull myself up over a bar, without any assistance, what else can I do? Feats of strength in the gym began to translate to strength outside of the gym—the intrinsic strength needed to thrive and excel. When I crushed it at the gym, I felt more capable of crushing it at life. And without stressing out over my weight or my body composition, my body changed as a result.

Lifting weights helps boost confidence like nothing else I have ever seen. I’ve helped timid, overweight, stay-at-home moms go on to crush feats of strength and then start their own personal training businesses. I’ve seen beginners afraid of lifting a kettlebell move on to chasing a double bodyweight deadlift while breaking out of their comfort zones.

Physical strength contributes to strength of character, which in turn boosts confidence—and there’s just no downside to that.

Being strong makes everything else easier

Moving furniture? Carrying multiple bags of groceries? Hoisting a heavy carry-on into an overhead compartment? Keeping up with your kids? All of these things are not a problem when you’ve got strength on your side.

When my son was in kindergarten, I visited his class to speak about the importance of exercise and proper nutrition. I’ll never forget an adorable little kindergartener named Lizzie, with her long locks and her matter of fact demeanor. I asked the class why they thought exercise and strength were important, and Lizzie said, “because it makes everything easier.”

Lizzie was one smart little 6-year-old. Exercising to be strong, mobile, and fast makes every day tasks less cumbersome.

I spent many years as a single mom, unable to rely on another adult in the house to accomplish household tasks. It’s because of the strength I’ve gained from lifting that I was able to carry a sleeping child from the car with minimal effort, and move a twin sized bed into the apartment with no help whatsoever.

Bottom line: Strength reigns supreme.

From fat loss to empowerment, there isn’t a downside to lifting weights. All you need is a willingness to learn and listen to your body, and a program that will support your intentions.

Note from TG: Neghar’s Lean & Lovely program is something I can’t recommend enough to any woman looking to improve her health and fitness in a way that DOES NOT fall into the “I’m not sexy enough” trap that the mainstream media often conveys.

It’s not about being “sexy” anything.  It’s about making the best version of YOU possible.

The long and short of it is that it’s an amazing program that will help women get fit and gain confidence all while loving their bodies and not hating them!

Unlike a lot of program out there this one does NOT sell sex or use target terms to make a woman feel she’s not sexy enough or has to look a certain way to feel sexier.

Rather, the message of Lean & Lovely is for women to meet their body where it’s at, and to be more mindful of the transformation – both physically and mentally.

Every part of this program is incredible, and every part will help you in some way. Here’s just a few pieces…

  • Firstly, as mentioned before, there are 12 full weeks of amazing, fat burning workouts
  • Then there’s the comprehensive Nutrition Handbook, which will teach you how to lose fat without dieting
  • There are over two dozen bonus “sweat session” workouts to do whenever you like, with minimum time and equipment
  • Instructional videos to teach you how to do every exercise in the program.
  • A series of MINDSET exercises and strategies to help you be happier, more positive, more productive, and make the program more effective

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For more info click HERE.

About the Author

Fitness & lifestyle coach, writer, veteran and mom, Neghar Fonooni is passionate about empowering women through strength.

A Los Angeles native with 14 years experience in the fitness industry, Neghar believes that a positive mindset is the most important aspect of a fit lifestyle. Through her blog, Eat, Lift & be Happy, she teaches women how to embrace their bodies and enrich their lives with food and exercise.

Neghar is a contributing blogger to several sites, including My Fitness Pal and Schwarzanegger.com, and is the author of the 12-week total transformation system, Lean & Lovely.

An unabashed sci-fi and fantasy nerd, Neghar snorts when she laughs and loves lifting weights, yoga, red wine, dark chocolate, travel, fashion, and reading and collecting books. She resides in Santa Monica, California with her husband, son, and two silly bulldogs.


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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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Comments for This Entry

  • Shelby Lynn Downey

    Thanks so much for sharing!! I am very happy to say that I figured this secret out about a year ago. I moved to Texas two years ago and began training for a half marathon, doing Bikram yoga 1-2x/week, and weight training 3x/week. When I visited home for Thanksgiving, everyone said I looked great and I could feel it too! I assumed it was the extra running and the yoga since I've always done weights and ran on and off. But 9 months later, I was recovering from moderate tendonitis in my lower body (so little to no running) and I could no longer attend yoga, but I still consistently trained three or four days a week in the weight room. And you know what? I was still improving how my body looked! I've actually cut back my running to increase my time in the weight room because it makes me feel stronger, better about myself, and I can accomplish way more in a one hour gym session than one hour on the road (I'm not exactly the fastest runner either.. ha) Thankfully women have finally began to understand this idea and that's why we have seen this movement of "strong is the new skinny"/"strong is the new sexy". And I completely agree with Neghar that everyday tasks become so much easier when you're body is strong. This is such a great message that every woman should read!

    July 26, 2014 at 8:19 am | Reply to this comment

  • Ben

    Inspiring! And also a dead ringer for Skye out of Marvel: Agents of Shield so gets geek cred also

    July 27, 2014 at 5:38 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kara

    This is FANSTASTIC. You've just written my story for me -- only add three more 45+ pregnancys and take out the long runs (because if I'd done those I woulda bitten my arm off). Even my "ah- hah" moment was the same -- I'm still blown away when I do unassisted pullups (and dips!). Because of lifting - at 47 I'm in better shape mentally and physically than I've ever been in my life. Boom. MANY thanks for this awesome piece.

    July 29, 2014 at 5:51 am | Reply to this comment

  • Sophie

    Neghar, what a great article thank you. As women we're repeatedly told that "we can't" and "we're weak" and that we'll always have to be dependent on men for strength. You are a rare example of independence, passion and strength that fires me up to achieve more. Your story recounting your first pullup reminds me of training for over a month in my old basement until I finally got the strength to do my first rep and the epic video of you cranking out 16 inspires me to beat my record of 10. Also your egg bake recipe helped me get through a lot of early morning law school classes so thank you for that too. PS John, I also love your blog. Tony, thank you for being always highlighting as you do and your general kickass advice and sense of humor.

    July 30, 2014 at 10:04 am | Reply to this comment

    • Neghar Fonooni

      So happy that my egg bake helped you out, Sophie! That recipe really is a life saver. You will crush those pull-ups (although you are already crushing it), just keep your positive outlook :).

      July 30, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Reply to this comment

  • jeremy

    5 Grocery Shopping Habits That’ll Help You Lose Weight Spend your money and time wisely with these slimming strategies. Tune into your gatherer instincts http://www.mommyathlete.com/blog/2014/08/04/5-grocery-shopping-habits-thatll-help-lose-weight/

    August 5, 2014 at 1:45 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Diane

    I have always been active--racquetball, tennis, aerobic dance--but a couple of years ago, I began strength and balance training for the first time. I also do weight-hauling and weighted sprinting on the performance turf. I have some vulnerabilities--torn rotator cuff and T.O.S. (In remission)--and this is one of the reasons I decided to add more muscle. Also, I am a very small woman so I wanted to increase bone density. Oh, and my horrible marriage was ending and I just wanted to be stronger. I found a very creative trainer who could work around the injuries without being afraid of them, and who didn't think I was limited because of my age (I just turned 66) and size. This is one of the best things I have ever done in my life. Weight-training has gotten me through the divorce, my bone density has increased, my muscle density has greatly increased, and I am much stronger. I now pull a 240-lb. load 50 yards and can walk all around a BOSU ball both directions with my eyes closed.

    January 15, 2015 at 11:12 pm | Reply to this comment

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