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Casey Johnston says weightlifting is for everyone

It was this “obsessive” mindset about diet and fitness that led her to a thread on Reddit documenting a woman’s progress over six months of weightlifting. The physical results were appealing, but what held them back was the program itself: three workouts a week, lots of rest, and lots from eating. This led her to starting strength and the bare bones gym.

“I found it extremely satisfying, affirming and enlightening that I just had to show up, do this very specific set of work, rest the next day, and eat my food,” she said. “It felt almost magical.”

Lots of people think like this when they run, do yoga, climb, or do any other physical activity, but lifting clicked for her — and she couldn’t stop talking about it. After providing the editor of The Hairpin with a version of this story, she began writing about it with the zeal of a convert. “I’m not a personal trainer, physical therapist, psychotherapist, doctor, lawyer, nutritionist, nutritionist, CEO, gym owner, Pokémon gym owner, or anything like that,” she wrote in the first post. “But I like to train and it would be cool if other people would also like to train. If we’re all making sick gains and getting stronger (musculoskeletal, emotionally) in the process, fine.”

When The Hairpin closed, “Ask a Swole Woman” switched to “Ask a Swole Woman”. Even and then to Vice. (Evenhow GQ, is owned by Condé Nast.) Then, after a layoff in the middle of the pandemic, Johnston went independent, and now her newsletter has around 10,000 subscribers on the free list and enough paid subscribers to compare her to “and more.” their past employees to support work. She removed a title she didn’t have from her original disclaimer — she earned a personal training certificate last year — though the general tone has remained that of an avid amateur with an eye for bullshit.

While there are plenty of posts scrutinizing the claims made by fitness influencers and the weight-loss industry that they are too good to be true, the core message of their project was metronome-consistent: Demystifying strength training for people who aren’t in the traditional Meathead demographics, and then convincing them to train (and eat) like a Meathead anyway.

That means compound barbell exercises — squats, rows, deadlifts, bench presses, and overhead presses — with heavy weight and low reps. It means avoiding the on-rail weight machines that overload most mass-market gyms. It means eating lots of protein. And most importantly, it means closely tracking and systematically increasing how much you lift. This is a fundamental principle of most serious weightlifting programs, but is typically absent from muscle magazine plans or high-rep, low-weight programs designed to “work out.” When Johnston says “getting stronger,” she literally means lifting more weight.

Her last big project was a self-published book, Take off: From the couch to the barbell, a program designed to get anyone with “zero weightlifting familiarity” up to speed. It addresses the pitfalls she faced in the beginning: not being strong enough to get stronger. (In demonstrations for the first phase without weight, she lifts a swiffer’s grip.) Johnston says she wrote the book for anyone who “feels alienated from the burden of their physical self and their body, which is never hot enough, always.” in too much pain and never able to show up when it matters most.”

The idea, as always, is that each individual could gain something by becoming stronger. Johnston envisions a future where serious weightlifting is seen in this light, as a source of growth accessible to everyone, rather than the domain of Cro-Magnon narcissists. “There should be free gyms everywhere with dozens of squat racks,” she told me. “We’re not there yet.”


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Casey Johnston says weightlifting is for everyone

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