Meet Staci: Your New Powerlifting Super Hero

Ladies, meet your new hero.

Men, prepare to be humbled.

My friend Staci, or Spezzy as she’s known around the Nerd Fitness community, has one of the best transformations I’ve ever seen.

She’s also a nerd (check out that Waluigi costume).

  • If you are a female, you will be inspired beyond belief after following Staci’s adventure.
  • If you are a dude, you will be in awe of Staci’s lifting power – I bet she can out lift an overwhelming majority of the male population.
  • If you’re a robot, I’m really freaking impressed that you’re reading my blog.

So, where was I?

Right! Staci!

Staci’s story is awesome for a number of reasons, but a few in particular stand out to me:

  • Working a sedentary desk job, Staci slowly packed on weight and ate like a typical unhealthy American.
  • Before getting educated, she tried to get in shape by doing what 95% of the female population does when they try to lose weight: she ran a lot and essentially starved herself – Not surprisingly, she dropped to an incredibly low and unhealthy weight.
  • She educated herself, cleaned up her diet, and immediately started feeling and living better.
  • She found the Nerd Fitness community, discovered a love for barbell strength training, and started lifting HEAVY weights.
  • She’s now in the best shape of her life, healthier and happier than ever before.

For the women out there who are scared about “getting too bulky when lifting weights,” this article is for you.  If you’re curious what happens to a girl who packs on twenty pounds of muscle and starts lifting heavy weights, you’ll find your answer here…I have no doubt it will surprise the hell out of you.

Staci in 2009 – 170 pounds

This is a picture of Staci back in 2009 before she decided to make some changes in her life.

As I said previously, Staci works a typical American desk job where she spends all day in front of a computer screen.

Starting around age 16, she started to put on weight relatively steadily through high school and college and after, when she reached her peak at 170 pounds in 2009 at the age of 25.

Here’s her background:

“Growing up I was never comfortable in my own skin.  Never.  I was always the weird one.  I mean, I raised rabbits for a hobby!  RABBITS.  The only after school activity I did was band, and never participated in any sports.  I always thought I was fat.  I always hated my legs, and would refuse to wear shorts in the summer because I was so uncomfortable with them.  If we went to the beach, I’d wear shorts over my bathing suit bottom.

I was super timid, super shy, afraid to talk to ANYONE I didn’t know, even if we were all out with a group of people.”

I asked her what a normal day used to be like for her back in 2009:

“I’d get up at like 9, go to work, have a Slim Fast shake because I never had time for breakfast.  I wasn’t a big snacker but I ate a lot for my meals – I’d typically go out to eat for lunch every day and get a sub or something from D’angelos or Subway – and it was never the 6″ one, it was the big one.  And chips. Lots of chips.  Or french fries.  Getting home I’d either go out to eat with friends or plop in front of the tv playing video games for hours.

My favorite meal was tacos and nachos.   I just asked my old roommate what I used to eat because I didn’t remember, and she said ‘oh, you used to plop in front of the TV with a big plate of meat and cheese, and go ‘Hm, I guess I should have some chips with this.’  On many occasions we’d order pizza around 11PM too.  On top of all of that, I used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day!”

I’m sure this is a daily scenario that you can relate to: too tired in the morning to eat a healthy breakfast, lots of unhealthy meals, general apathy towards what you’re eating and when, and no real direction.  She went to the doctor, who told her that she had high cholesterol and needed to lose some weight if she wanted to live a long healthy life.

Except that she wasn’t really sure how to lose weight and get in shape.  And she certainly didn’t want to get bulky by lifting weights (gasp!), so she did what most women do when they want to lose weight: eat way less and run way more.

Staci in early 2010

To get started on her weight loss journey, Staci joined a gym and started doing the elliptical as much as possible (because that’s what you do when you want to get skinny, right?).  She said:

“At first I was only able to make it 10 minutes, but eventually got up to about an hour a day.  Keep in mind though, I’d smoke a cigarette walking up to the gym, and light up again immediately after leaving.”

I always thought that being super skinny would make me happy, like it was the one missing piece of my life.  I bought countless exercise machines for my apartments, which all ended up sitting in the corner gathering dust.  I bought DDR thinking that if I could exercise in a video game, that would do it.  But it didn’t.  I even tried “Sweatin to the Oldies” (which, for the record, everyone should do, because it at least gets you laughing and moving).  But nothing stuck.

Until I was finally ready.  I can’t say what it was, but I just got up one day and said “ok, I’m going to do this now”.  I can’t tell you what it was – I didn’t set a date ahead of time, I just woke up knowing it was time. I went on weight watchers, I started running.  But as I started to feel the effects of the weight loss, I got obsessed.  I’d weigh myself every day, I got a scale that measured every ounce so I’d know what I lost.

Following this unhealthy plan, Staci went from 170 pounds all the way down to 117 pounds over the course of a year.  And then she started to open her eyes…

“I did lose the 50lbs that I needed to lose, but instead of ‘finding myself’ and becoming comfortable in my own skin, I ended up being LESS comfortable.  Everything I did was based on appearance. I couldn’t do certain things because I was afraid I’d gain an OUNCE back.  It got to the point where a friend of mine would message me all the time with just “EAT SOMETHING!!!”.  I was tired all the time, I had no energy to do anything even when I was sleeping like 10 hours a night. the bags under my eyes were insane – I simply wasn’t getting the nutrients i needed.

It was at this point that I dated a bodybuilder for a few weeks. He informed me I was doing it all wrong (but didn’t tell me what to do right, just said “youre doing it wrong).  That made me start researching nutrition and strength workouts because I was so incredibly unhealthy, tired, and weak all the time.  I got a set of 5lb dumbbells and a Jillian Michaels DVD and tried doing pushups.   I remember struggling doing chest presses with the 5lb dumbbells.  I was so weak.  And I wouldn’t use weights at the gym because I was so scared of all of the boys on the weight floor.  SO SCARED.

As I found more info on nutrition, I started questioning Weight Watchers, and finally stopped going after I asked a question on how something was healthy and he pulled the line, “we’re not trying to get healthy here, we’re just trying to lose a little weight”.    I started doing more research, read Good Calories, Bad Calories, and started my transition to eating more Paleo in April or May 2010.  I upped my calorie intake to like 1500 a day and immediately started to feel better.”

[Steve's note: I understand that this representative of Weight Watchers certainly doesn't reflect the beliefs and views of all employees at Weight Watchers.  However, I do think WHAT you eat is very important along with how much you're eating."]

Staci starts weight training, goes full Paleo, finds Nerd Fitness

On June 1st, 2010, Staci’s work office opened up a gym with free weights.  Because she was working out with coworkers rather than random strangers, she felt comfortable with strength training; she felt okay asking coworkers questions on different exercises.  Over the next few months, from June until late August, she continued to educate herself on eating better and getting stronger:

“I finished the paleo transition in August or September, and stopped counting calories.  One of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life; it’s a freedom I can’t even describe.  I just…ate when I was hungry.  I gained weight, but I stayed the same size clothes, so what the scale said didn’t matter.  I went from 117 pounds (at my lowest) to around 130 pounds and felt GREAT about it.  My scale broke in May, so I threw it away and only weigh myself probably once a month these days out of pure curiosity.”

This is Staci at 117 lbs. on the left (doing her best “deer in the headlights” impression), and 131 lbs. on the right.

It was right around this time on her search for Paleo diet information that she stumbled across Nerd Fitness and saw my latest article about the Legend of Zelda (her favorite video game series too).  She joined our community, signed up for one of the monthly challenges, continued to put her focus on strength training, and made sure she ate enough to fuel her workouts.

And then things got interesting.  After tons of encouragement from members of the Nerd Fitness community (thanks Dantes!), she began a torrid love affair in October that most women would scoff at.

Staci began barbell training.

And not wimpy barbell training either.  I’m talking old school heavy deadlifts, squats, overhead presses, and bench presses – the exercises usually reserved for strongmen in the back corner of the gym:

“When I say that the second I touched a barbell I fell in love, I’m not joking.  People say to me, “oh, its not healthy to lift that much, etc…”  Well lifting to me is like going and playing basketball is to someone else.  Its a hobby, and a passion.  I’m not doing it because I have to, I’m doing it because I want to.  I’m simply happier days that I deadlift.”

Staci gets super strong.

Beginning in October 2010, Staci jumped headfirst into the world of power lifting. Over the following six months, she strength trained like her life depended on it, keeping track of her gains and making sure she ate enough to continue getting stronger.  I honestly cannot tell you how refreshing it is to hear that from a woman!  She packed on another ten pounds of muscle and got incredibly strong.

Seriously, how many 5’4″ females who weigh 140 pounds do you know that can deadlift 315 pounds?

Here are her weight training stats for those six months:

Over those six months, Staci put on ANOTHER 10 pounds of muscle while strength training like a World’s Strongest Man contestant and eating A TON of food to make sure she could continue to get stronger. She raised her deadlift from 135 pounds to 315 pounds, added 50 pounds to her overhead press and 50 pounds to her bench press.

You’re probably wondering what happens to a woman’s figure when she goes through this transformation.

Prepare to be shocked.

Staci Now

Believe it or not, she’s 11 pounds HEAVIER (142 pounds) in the picture on the right (May 2011) compared to the picture on the left (131 pounds, October 2010).

So what the hell happened?  How the heck does she look like she weighs less even though she weighs more?

She packed on the right kind of weight while getting rid of the wrong kind.

When you strength train with very heavy weights for low numbers of repetitions, you build incredibly DENSE, tight muscle.  It’s funny, but if you really want that toned look in your legs, stomach, and arms – picking up small weights and doing lots of repetitions isn’t doing anything – it’s really heavy weights with low repetition that will sculpt the body you’re after.

On top of super heavy strength training, Staci had to eat between 3000-4000 calories per day (all healthy calories, mind you) to put on the extra weight.  Had she not overloaded her system with calories, she wouldn’t have gained an ounce.

As we’ve learned from Mark Twight, trainer for the actors from 300, “appearance is a consequence of fitness.” Rather than worrying about every calorie, every ounce of food, and every pound on the scale, Staci put her focus into getting stronger – she ate to get stronger, she exercised to get stronger, she lived to get stronger.:

“The thing that I really gained the most in all of this is that I’m now comfortable with who I am.  I’m comfortable in my skin, I’m not nearly as shy and awkward as I used to be, I’m not afraid to try new things.  I stand up for myself.  I learned about failure and success, and I’m not afraid to try something (and fail) over and over again even if people are watching.  My attitude for life pretty much just changed.  I still remember the day I looked at my legs and said “you know what, these are the legs that help me deadlift, so who cares what they look like.

So the whole point in all of this is really that yeah, appearance is one thing, but it’s not the main goal.  I would gain ten pounds tomorrow if it meant I could add 50lbs to my deadlift.”

Staci is now a machine that can’t be stopped. She joined a Crossfit gym back in March and now does crazy things like “1000 burpees on the 4th of July” for fun.  Yeah, she’s nuts…in the best way possible :)

What Staci eats

Want to know what you need to do to pack on a lot of weight as a female while lifting very heavy weights?  Here’s a look at Staci’s weekly routine for eating:

  • Every Sunday (or whatever works, but usually its Sunday) I cook a few pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast.  I then portion it out and keep them in ziploc bags.  If I don’t have time for that, you can get all natural precooked sausage (both chicken and pork) that works just as well as a “bring to work” meat.
  • 5AM: pre-workout: (first thing in the morning) - protein shake. (nothing special).  Its not paleo, and i love every sip of it.  Then I go and work out.  If I go to the gym with a full stomach, I will not leave with a full stomach.  :)
  • 7:30AM: on my way to work: apple or pear.
  • 9:30AM: sweet potato with cinnamon. I keep them at work, and cut them up, throw it in the microwave for 5 minutes with cinnamon.  Comes out amazing.
  • Another protein shake somewhere in here between breakfast and lunch.
  • 11:45AM-12PM: lunch: two of the bags of chicken I precooked and a bag of the steamfresh vegetables.  The entire bag, its like 3.5 servings of vegetables.  My favorite is broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots.
  • Lunch 2: spinach salad with shrimp, red peppers, green peppers, red onion, lemon juice.
  • 2-3 snacks in the afternoon. Could be one of these: Apple with almond butter, bell pepper (I eat them like apples… I’m weird), carrots (they even make carrots cut like chips), bags of chicken (yes, those bags of chicken I consider a snack as well, not just a meal), a zucchini (yes, plain, raw, uncooked), celery with almond butter and raisins, strawberries, frozen mixed berries.
  • 7-8PM: dinners: 95% of the time it’s meat (steak, sausage, shrimp, salmon, or chicken) with one of the following: red peppers, green peppers, red onions, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower (steamfresh bags!), and/or summer squash and zucchini
  • Every once in a while i make something awesome, like this (but really, that takes a lot of time).  When i DO make something like that, i make it in mass bulk and will eat it for the week.
  • In the winter, I’ll usually make a beef shank stew on Sundays that I can eat for a lunch or two as well.

Seems like an absurd amount of food right?

That’s because it IS an absurd amount of food.  This is what Staci does, day in, day out in order to gain weight so that she can lift heavier weights.

And I think you’ll agree with me that despite all of this extra work to pack on a lot of weight, the last word you would use to describe Staci’s physique these days is “bulky.”

Why was Staci successful?

Yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty solid transition, how about you?

So let’s do a quick recap why Staci was so damn successful:

She educated herself. When Staci started her weight loss journey, she didn’t really know any better and didn’t know where to turn…so she did what she thought was right: she starved herself and spent hours and hours on treadmills and elliptical machines.  After that, she started doing her research and learned how to eat properly.  She did the research on strength training and started learning how to get stronger.

She focused on strength, not her weight. We know that “appearance is a consequence of fitness.”  Rather than worry about her weight and how it fluctuated on a daily basis, Staci focused on getting stronger.  She tailored her meal plan (which is quite extensive) around her getting stronger.  She understood that it is ALMOST F***ING IMPOSSIBLE FOR WOMEN TO GET TOO BULKY FROM LIFTING WEIGHTS.  Unless you are eating 5,000 calories a day, doing a workout program specifically designed to pack on lots of big muscle, and taking performance enhancing drugs, you will not get bulky.

If you strength train while eating a normal amount of calories, you will lose the fat on top of your muscle, and leave behind the muscle you already have – giving you that toned look.  Make the mistake of just eating less and running more, you’ll burn through both fat and any muscle you have as you lose weight.

She had a community of support. Staci jumped headfirst into the Nerd Fitness community, asking questions about strength training, participating in our monthly challenges, and asking for support in her quest to live a healthier life.  She now also has a community of Crossfit folks at her gym that help support and push her to be stronger and faster.  She knows that she has 2,000+ people on our message boards who encourage and support her every single day she’s in that gym. 

She ate right! What you eat will be 80% of your success or failure when it comes to fitness and health.  Staci tried the “eat way less food” method of weight loss, and it turned her into a weak twig that couldn’t lift 5 pound dumbbells.  She educated herself, started focusing on eating the right food, and now no longer cares how many calories she eats.  She has boundless energy, way more confidence

She tracked her workouts. You can go back through Staci’s old posts on the message boards and see exactly how much she was lifting and how she was training over the past year.  On weeks where she didn’t see enough success in the gym, she adjusted her diet.  On weeks when she didn’t feel as healthy, she could figure out what needed fixing and how to fix it.  As long as the amount of weight on the ends of the bar kept going up, she knew she was progressing in the right direction.

Be strong like Spezzy

I love Staci’s story because she tried different methods, educated herself, and learned how to get healthy the right way. She focused on getting stronger and eating healthier, and as a result her appearance followed suit.

She doesn’t bother stepping on a scale anymore, and she doesn’t count calories.  She eats when she’s hungry, she eats to get stronger, and as a result she’s healthier and happier than she’s ever been in the past.  She is now full of confidence and feels comfortable in her own skin, something that she’s never had in the past.

I’ve highlighted a number of successful success stories over the past few weeks (like Saint, Tony, and these 6-week success stories): ordinary people, with ordinary desk jobs, who have had tremendous success in radically leveling up their lives.  Although everybody’s story is unique, they all have common themes that helped them succeed:

Do you have any questions for Staci? She’s more than happy to hang out in the comments or on the boards and answer any questions you have relating to weight training, her mental or physical transformation, and anything in between.  I’m just excited that I now have an article to reference anytime a female reader tells me “I don’t want to get too bulky.”

Leave a comment or question and she’ll answer it!  She’s nice like that.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go work out!

-Steve

PS – Staci is now a full time team member of Nerd Fitness.  Her official title? Master of Deadlifts. We did a follow up story with her hereShe’s also the lead instructor for Women’s Fitness 101 over in the Nerd Fitness Academy.  We’d love for you to join us!

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  • Issac

    Probably not a question you usually get, but what if a (teenage) guy wants to get toned, not bulky? Should he/I avoid lifting really heavy free weights and mainly stick with body-weight exercises?

  • maria

    Hello Stacy! For about a month now i go to the gym and lift weights. I just wanted to ask if it is not healthy to do it every day.

  • Margaret

    Just discovered this story – SO EXCITING!
    I love hearing about other ladies who love to lift heavy things. My family (all women) likes to joke and call me “the strong one” when there’s something heavy-duty that needs doing.
    But hell yes, being the strong one is awesome!
    40+ to inspiration :)

  • Jim

    I love paleo

  • laural

    Hey :) I’m really interested in starting strength training to help me lose weight (you’re my inspiration!), but not sure where to start (as a woman). I just really need a good source of information, about different exercises and weights to use, most efficient number of reps, rotation of muscle groups, increasing weight, etc. Is there a really good place to find most (hopefully all) of this info? :)

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com/ Steve Kamb

    Step 1) stop using the word “toned” – it’s marketing buzz word :) http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2013/04/19/5-fitness-buzzwords/

    Step 2) the same rules apply to men and women – lifting heavy is the best way to get that ‘toned’ look *(ugh), the ONLY way you get bulky is if you are specfically eating to get bigger. diet is 90% of the battle. eat right and lift heavy = the look you want.

    Bodyweight training can work too, but again it’s all diet.

    -Steve

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com/ Steve Kamb

    Hey Laural! Have you checked out our Women’s Fitness 101 course? it’s pretty much exactly what you’re looking for :)

    http://www.nerdfitness.com/the-nerd-fitness-academy-rebel-women/

    If you’re not interested in that, we have tons of free resources and articles (over 600!) built around strength training and routines :)

    -Steve

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  • Karen

    I love her story…I have had a few personal trainers that would use the same old boring, to me anyway, weight equipment. It wasn’t until two years ago that I met a trainer, and former Marine, who had me barbell training and power lifting. It made me actually want to go to the gym. Two years later and a new trainer, we’re still power lifting and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

  • Tom Christian

    Staci was already a babe in the before pic. Curves are sexy. Just had to say it.

  • Diane

    Hi – hopefully you can help with advise on this. I’m 50 abt 40lbs overweight and have started CrossFit which I love – and doing paleo 80-85% of the time had made me feel better physically, mentally, emotionally. BUT just found out I have a meniscus tear in my right knee – surgery has been recommended by 2 Ortho’s and since I can not control the swelling/pain I’ll probably go ahead and do the surgery. Looking for advise on this – especially on my recovery time and diet.

  • Tiana

    Staci,

    I’m looking to tone and strengthen while incorporating better eating habits (hoping to be able to follow Paleo) as well as exercise. I’m just not sure where to get started. I weigh about 125 and am 19. Height 5’5. I realize I outwardly appear to be fine but I’m flabby and have a lot of body fat in unflattering places. I want to mainly get healthier and fit. If you have suggestions on how to get started I’m all ears :) mainly with suggested workouts and meal plans. Thanks! :)

  • http://www.sarahcooksthebooks.com/ Sarah

    Why so negative?

  • http://www.sarahcooksthebooks.com/ Sarah

    Good thing she cares about her own health and happiness, and not what random Internet commenters think!

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  • Kanifer

    Holy crap. This girl is stronger than me? 310 lbs deadlift? I only got a 175 lbs deadlift. I better get my butt into shape. Awesome job, Staci. I am officially jealous.

    I’m doing deadlifts for the first time in my life and wanted to see how far I could take it without messing up form too much and went up to approx. 175 lbs (80 kg).

    I also ate my most healthy meal of the year today. A steak with butter and a huge salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. (1300 calories, 52 grams of carbs 75 protein 95 fat 15 fiber) After reading Jack LaLanne’s book, Live Young Forever and reading this blog, I am quite motivated. Thanks.

  • Deborah Valentine

    I was 224lbs and one day I stood up and started walking. It was like OUCH! then I did it again and again and now I am 188 and losing.I walk 8 miles per day… I do need some nutrition advice.

  • D-Mc

    I literally just found this site…. #1 I’m a dude and weight 170 lbs (but none of it is muscle).

    I’m going to start strength training ASAP…Anyone have a good starter routine?

  • Kelley Kristine Fisher

    I read this back in January and it motivated me to really get into weight lifting, I had been involved in sports in High School and stayed relatively active in college, but was always pretty out of shape. After moving to a new state and gaining 25 lbs (despite going to the gym 4-5 times a day religiously), I knew I had to do something different. I started deadlifting 65 lbs at the end of January, and hit 150 yesterday. I feel way better, have lost 10 lbs, have been told I look like I’ve lost 30, and have way more energy than I used to. I’ve definitely found a new passion and can only guess where I will be by the end of the year.

  • Spencer

    Awesome job!
    And who said us nerd can’t be cute ;)