Mass Moves Mass
A Very Special Corinne Takeover Edition
If you, like me, have ever rearranged a room alone by willfully shoving a couch across the floor, or if you have broken a chair by sitting down too fast, then you know this: Mass Moves Mass. But when my coach Cassi casually dropped that phrase into a conversation, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Mass moves mass. Mass (my body) moves mass (big pieces of iron.) I have a lot of mass, so I can move more mass. And this can be a good thing!?!
I have wanted to try weightlifting for years, in part because it’s one of very few sports where people in larger bodies are celebrated for their wild success—people like Sarah Robles and Holley Mangold and Tamara Walcott. Fat weightlifters are a thing! It’s an advantage to have more body mass because it means you have more muscle mass and more leverage.
I know a lot of fat people don’t feel comfortable in gyms and that is valid. I ran a couple half marathons in my twenties and have taken yoga and bootcamp classes and never felt uncomfortable because of my body size. Maybe my resting bitch face is too good, but the most obnoxious comment I’ve gotten was a quiet “good for you,” that I responded to with a hearty eyeroll.
The gyms I previously went to didn’t have great weightlifting equipment. They had rows and rows of treadmills and a whole bunch of ellipticals. The current gym I go to only has two treadmills that are awkwardly placed in the middle of the room. On the other hand, there are at least six squat racks, five bench press stations, and five dedicated deadlift platforms, plus a ton of other stuff that I don’t even know how to use yet.
If you go to a gym and get on a treadmill, it basically tells you how it works (just press start) but barbells are, sadly, not self explanatory. Programs like Casey Johnston’s Couch to Barbell (and probably others?) exist to help you make this transition. Liftoff has a section called “How to go to the gym, emotionally speaking” which really struck a chord, but for me, the leap was still too great. To be fair, Casey is not a coach or a trainer! Her program is self-guided and it might be better for people who have a higher threshold for public failure than I do. Knowing that I already stand out in a space dedicated to fitness, I didn’t want to stand out more for using a barbell wrong. Nobody wants to be the fat person who doesn’t know what they are doing at the gym. Which is why I had previously stuck to the rivers (treadmills) and lakes (yoga classes) that I was used to.
Then in December, my friend Maddie told me she was going to start lifting and working with a coach. She had a bunch of coworkers who went to this gym and worked with Cassi, and she assured me that Cassi was queer friendly and would not make me go on a diet. We met with Cassi and did a short workout with her to make sure it would be a good fit. It is amazing to recall now that after a couple sets of squatting just the bar, I was pretty sore. Less than three months later, that’s an easy warmup. Cassi also had a really thorough intake form that covered all kinds of stuff, from whether I wanted to discuss nutrition to injury and pregnancy history that made me feel confident that my specific needs would be considered.
The gym that I go to now is, as you might expect, full of teenage boys and adult men and they blast heavy metal LITERALLY 24/7. What could be more intimidating? But having a coach and a gym buddy has allowed me to gain a level of comfort and confidence that would certainly have been a lot harder won and more embarrassing alone. In a sport that sometimes involves people involuntarily peeing or getting bloody noses, I feel so lucky to have escaped a few minor mortifications thus far. I don’t think there is any amount of reading or video watching—trust me, I did it—that could have prepared me for the physical experience of being in this gym. It’s incredibly helpful to have someone show you exactly which way to face the plates on the barbell and which way to face them when you put them away, even just to avoid having that awkward conversation with a perfectly nice stranger. I definitely haven’t figured everything out, but I do know which way the plates go.
I needed a little help figuring out the gym and the moves, but I did not need any help lifting heavy stuff because this is where bigger bodies sometimes have the advantage. My gym buddy Maddie is a (very wonderful) straight size person and we realized early on that I could lift heavier weights sooner than she could. At first, I kind of assumed it was pure attitude, which I would prefer to explain by way of astrology (Leo rising, Capricorn sun, Taurus moon) though I could also say that I can be strong-willed and overconfident in taking on a challenge. But also, it makes sense! I have a bigger body. Day-to-day, I am moving more mass through the world and that means I can benchpress more, too—at least for now.
As a fat person just trying to live my life, I spend a lot of time stressed and sad about the things that are really hard for me: Flying on airplanes, seating in general, clothes. It feels really nice to have a few hours a week where I get to think about what my body can do rather than what it can’t do and where having a lot of mass isn’t purely a burden (pun intended).
I don’t have any specific goals for my training other than seeing what happens, and of course, trying to be the absolute strongest person in my gym (never going to happen, but I dream).But I have noticed that some small things feel easier: Getting up off the couch, squatting down to pick up the dog bowl. That feels good. But even more importantly, it feels good to have unlocked perhaps the ONE secret advantage of being in a larger body: More muscle mass, which I will use to move heavier and heavier things. Because mass moves mass.
So You ALSO Want to be a Fat Lifter? C’mon, I know you do.
Probably the most helpful things for me have been 1. a gym buddy and 2. a coach. I know that finding a coach who isn’t going to push weight loss goals can be really intimidating, but I was inspired by a comment on the Friday thread to recall that I can advocate for myself and set my own boundaries. You are totally allowed to tell a coach or a trainer that you don’t want to talk about weight loss or nutrition! Yes, you can definitely search for HAES-friendly trainers / coaches in your area, but don’t let not finding one stop you!
My coach is Cassi Niemann and she works with people in person and online!
I really like these leggings which are more cottony and these ones which are more spandex-y.
I like this bra for a strong hold and this bra for more of a loosey goosey vibe (another great thing about lifting: not a ton of bouncing!) Have also heard great things about this one.
I love reading the She’s a Beast newsletter for a great anti-diet-culture perspective on fitness and strength.
I’m really enjoying following these folks on Instagram: @tamarawalcott.shw, @thatqueerpowerlifter, @thepowerliftingsocialworker and if you have ideas of who else I should be following, put them in the comments!!
My coach says this could totally happen, but a couple weeks ago I watched a 16 year old deadlift 500 pounds and I could never.
Something I learned recently: physical therapists sometimes have gyms, and sometimes offer personal training at much more reasonable rates than a traditional gym. They're also more experienced with making adjustment for different bodies, and don't attract a crowd of teenage boys. Would recommend!
I'm not lifting but I am rowing (on the water and everything) and yes, the sheer muscle mass I can bring to bear on things gives me a lot of power that my smaller teammates don't have. I also excel at carrying boats, so I guess it's rowing with a minor in weightlifting?