Playlist: Barbell Bangers

Over the past six months, I’ve gotten very into powerlifting. It’s the first and only sport where I have ever, in my whole life, felt like I have any kind of skill and like my body is an asset rather than a hindrance. Mass moves mass; often, a body that is larger is a body that is stronger; and as I’ve been feeling the barbell get heavier and heavier in my hands or on my back, I’ve finally begun to appreciate what mine can do. I can feel myself transforming, I feel strength where I previously felt tightness or pain. If I lift in the morning before work, when I get to the office I walk around thinking “you have no idea how much weight I can pick up” like I have a secret identity that my colleagues don’t know about. And I have become a total pain in the ass to my partner who now has to constantly put up with being asked to look at how strong my legs are and my suggestions that I could probably deadlift him if I wanted to.

I showed a friend some videos of my favorite lifters (Jessica Beuttner, Brittany Schlachter, Evie Corrigan, Nikkijoy Baker, and Tamara Walcott are currently a few of the heroines on my list) and she asked me why they snuggle their feet into the ground, wave their hands over the bar, or do other little pre-deadlift dance moves before they pull. I told her that I think it’s 50% actually setting up your body so that your muscles engage in the way that you need them to, and 50% voodoo that tricks your brain into remembering how your body works. And I realized it’s just like singing. When my coach yells at me to push the ground away in my deadlift or stack my lats in my bench press, it’s just like when my voice teachers would implore me to lift my sound or support from below or (my favorite) let every note slide out of my mouth like pearls on a string. These are metaphors that make the body act: they put into words the feeling of muscles and tissue moving and working in a particular way — and when I internalize, feel, and trust these words, it lets my body do something incredibly difficult, like hitting a high C in tune or lifting a 300 lb barbell off the floor.

Songs have started doing this to for me, too. The songs I listen to on the way to the gym are almost all loud and relentless, and singing along with them feels incredible: they force me to draw energy from my gut, to muscle my way through melodic peaks and valleys, to breathe deep and low and full, to control my breath the same way I need to control it for a heavy rep. It’s a warmup that reminds me that I know how to do incredible things with this body. I think part of why powerlifting feels so good to me right now is because it’s brought me back to my singing voice in a way that I thought I’d lost; I’m building new muscles and reviving old muscle memories.