Next in our LGBT(+) series: Fitness Coach Megan Byrd. Megan is originally from Chicago (go Cubs!) but has lived in Nashville for 7 years. After pursuing a degree in Exercise Science at Belmont University, Megan began working in the fitness industry as coach. She now works in corporate fitness, coaches clients in strength training and coaches U-11 girls soccer. Megan’s passion lies in helping people, especially women, get strong and find their true value and purpose in life. When she’s not lifting barbells, you can find her hiking, reading or watching Friends with her girlfriend Laramie and their dog, Phoebo!
Like most women, the first time I walked into a gym my goal was to “get skinny.” Even growing up as an athlete, I always felt like I was too fat and that I could use to lose some weight- these thoughts started as early as middle school. When I got to college I spent a lot of time in the gym trying to lose weight. I became a personal trainer and tried to help other people lose weight. I graduated and became a coach at a gym that helped women lose weight. My boss at this gym even put me through a weight loss transformation program and told me that I was her “project” when I first started because of my weight. I’d tried “strength training” here and there but I’m not sure it counts given the fact that I used the same weights over and over for years. One day in the midst of this weight loss cycle I found barbells and everything changed.
Once I started training with barbells, I realized a lot of things about myself and about training others. The key word here is training, not working out or exercising. Most exercise conducted in the fitness industry exists only to get you sweaty and not really to get you closer to your goals. Exercise also tends to focus on weight loss which creates poor a body image for many people. The reason I differentiate between training and exercise is because I spent a lot of time exercising but made little to no progress. It wasn’t until I hired a coach and took a hard look at my goals did things start to shift. When the focus changed from weight loss to gaining strength, my mentality changed right along with it.
I learned that I could do hard things and I felt empowered and ready to take on more in my life. The best part? I felt inspired to pass this on to more people.
The fitness industry can be a nasty place. There’s a lot of focus on making women smaller and the hetero-patriarchy is alive and well in most (if not all) commercial gyms. That is why it’s so important to me to help show all people—especially marginalized groups such as women and people in the LGBT community—the power that comes with lifting. Lifting teaches you that it’s okay to take up space. Lifting reveals how amazing your body is and what it can do. It shows you that you can do hard things and get through hard times. We need the empowerment and hope that getting physically strong provides us-especially in times like these. Women and LGBTQIA people face discrimination, hate, and hardship daily.
Lifting is voluntary hardship—you choose to get under the bar and through this voluntary action, you experience the refining process that occurs via challenge and difficulty. In the end, you come out stronger, physically and mentally.
Your body adapts biologically but your mind is refreshed and reveals your newfound power, power that you can take out into the world and create change with.
In order to learn more about the experiences of other LGBTQ lifters, I reached out to a few I know. Here’s what they had to say:
Toni- “Being a part of the LGBTQIIA Community I’ve had my difficulties with coming out and finding where I fit in this big world. I found new strength I never had before and never knew I could have. I had control over something for once. Being in the gym I wasn’t judged, I wasn’t shamed. I was empowered, uplifted, motivated and inspired as well as inspiring.”
Lexi– “I’d say the best part about lifting and being a part of the LGBTQ community is that the focus is lifting. That’s it. It’s one of the few places in terms of being an athlete where your sexuality doesn’t get dragged into the conversation. Lifting and becoming stronger/better is always the focus, just as it should be because that’s all that matters.”
Katherine– “As far as my sexuality, I’m not sure it has any effect, aside from being a better wife because I’m happier and more confident in general. I’m lucky to have always been pretty secure and comfortable with my identity. As a coach and business owner, being a queer person makes me more conscious of the struggles of other queer people, and I desire to shape my business in such a way that I’m able to serve that community. My queerness informs how I move in the strength world, not the other way around. “
The biggest highlight from these accounts is this:
strength matters, identity does not.
In the strength world, all that matters is how strong you are. You put weight on the bar and you lift it. Gay or straight, cis or trans-it doesn’t matter, the only expectations under the bar are between you and your body. What does matter is that lifting makes you better in ways you would never anticipate. Lifting allows you to take control, accomplish something incredible, and go out into the world and do more incredible things. This is why I always encourage clients to focus on getting strong; the change strength can bring to your life cannot be matched. Lifting is like pride month every time you train: you get under the bar and celebrate you, you celebrate your body. The fitness world will tell you to be small, but fight that voice.