The Bigness Project

The Bigness Project

By Jennifer Burns

After a few months of breaking a sweat trying to get in and out my favorite jeans, I finally bought a pair a size up this month. It was a pretty exciting milestone for me. Yesterday (Jan. 16) marks one year since starting a six-week Macros workshop at CrossFit Full Circle.

The coaches at Full Circle can and do help people lose fat (and/or weight) when that is a person’s goal, but they can also help when that is not your goal. Last New Year’s, I sat down and thought about my fitness goal, breaking it down until I came to two small steps that could lead me there. When I joined Full Circle in 2015, it was with an eye on eventually trying out a CrossFit competition. Physically, I tend toward “jack of all trades, master of none” and CrossFit seemed like it could be a good fit there. Plus, my brain and my knees were tired of focusing on running.

So my big secret desire/goal became to compete in a CrossFit competition in the Master’s division when I turn 40. January 16, 2016 (my birthday) marked three years until 40. Thinking through where I was and where I wanted to be, sure, I needed things like double unders and muscle ups, but my biggest weakness is just that. Weakness. Especially weakness related to all things barbell. Strength is something that takes a lot of time and effort, but I thought three years might be enough.

From the goal that was three years out, I extrapolated a plan that meant moving from the WOD classes into the barbell class, and I realized I needed to be willing to gain more weight to gain muscle and strength. To that point, I had in the two years prior, working mostly on bodyweight exercises, gained six pounds, which I thought was pretty scandalous at the time. I had been loosely tracking macros using various online calculators and trial and error to come up with my numbers, but I was struggling to maintain upward progress. Not because I’m a “hard gainer,” but because I would panic and cut back.

Despite desiring growth, the reality is that I was and am fighting a lifetime of social indoctrination. I fear “getting too big.” No, that’s not true. I fear other people thinking I’m “getting too big.” I needed outside help, a professional that could advise me and talk me off the cliff when I feared the number on the scale. Luckily Full Circle was holding a six-week macro class that included periodic body fat measuring, and a personalized plan tweaked as needed throughout the course. I grabbed my birthday money and jumped in.

It turns out my mostly Google school of nutritional education wasn’t too far off from the right direction, but the class was invaluable. Being told I should eat 150 grams MORE carbs/day than I had been when I thought I was already consuming a shocking amount was helpful. A lot of the stuff covered in the lectures I had heard or read before, but implementing it with professional oversight was much more useful than I had expected. My work capacity increased significantly, and I was excited.

Unfortunately, I ended up doing too much too soon and not listening to my body’s warning signs, which led to a back sprain in February, so I did not finish the full six weeks of the course. I was 100% out of all things exercise for six weeks and out of Full Circle for eight. Coming back from injury, I was very slow and cautious with lots of scaling and rest. I didn’t start back into barbell until this fall, and I’m still quick to err on the conservative side during max effort work. You can see the injury on my weight chart graph; it’s where it dips DOWN significantly. That was being sad about being a dummy and having no appetite, losing muscle I had worked so hard for.

Even with what ended up being a six-month interruption to my original plan, in this calendar year I have gained nine pounds. Unless you count the dip from injury, in which case I’ve gained 15. (The graph is a little skewed because I started with the gym scale, then later moved to first thing in the morning at home because I’m more consistent with that. I’m usually about 2-4lbs heavier on the gym scale and/or later in the day at home.)

On top of adding at least 20 pounds to almost all of my lifts, and no longer feeling like a baby deer when I squat (most of the time) I’ve also upgraded my pant size. This is something I’m proud of. It feels symbolic. Though there are days of feeling like I’m just getting fat, or “people probably think <insert negative stuff here>,” overall I’m caring less about what I perceive “the world” thinks is appropriate for someone my place in life or gender. I am pursuing a goal I think is good, and worth pursuing.

“Lifting while female” at Full Circle is not at all a precarious or awkward experience (I mean, I can make anything awkward, but it’s not awkward because of being a “girl” doing “boy” things), unlike other gyms I have frequented.

Something I enjoy about pursuing competitive fitness goals is how all the little tedious unseen steps that lead up to competition day are more important than the competition itself, and how analogous that is to other areas of my life, especially my spiritual life. As a Christian, I believe that I am loved and accepted as I am, deeply and well by the person who matters more than the Earth itself. Because of that, I can be free to love and care for people around me deeply and well without concern over what they may or may not think of me. This sounds great on paper, but the reality of it is difficult and it seems like it is not often true of myself.

However, if I had a snapshot picture of a graph over the past twenty years in this area of my life, it would be phenomenal. It would have these same jagged peaks and valleys as my one-year weight graph, with some higher and lower peaks, but the same overall steady upward climb.

These bigger pants are not just the cost of increased mass, but a symbol of being comfortable in my goals and my skin. They are a symbol of growth in the area of not looking to “the world” for affirmation. Am I planning to gain more weight in 2017? I’m not sure. I want more strength. There are bigger numbers on the bar to hit, so that may mean a bigger number on the scale if I plateau.

For right now, I’m giving myself time to enjoy the fit of my new bigger jeans.

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