If I can teach someone to make a place for themselves, and further, teach them to claim their space and be proud in their body through strength, then I’m doing my job.
Halston is an ameture competitive powerlifter, strength coach, and body positive personal trainer. She holds space at the gym as well as in the art world, and works as a freelance curator and event producer. She is also a documentary filmmaker and just finished the final edit on a film in Iceland about the commercial fishing industry and its cross section with Icelandic cultural history titled, Blood Memory.
I grew up dancing ballet, but have never considered myself athletic. I came into fitness by way of cycling, and started teaching indoor cycling in local Brooklyn gyms 7 years ago, and really enjoyed leading a team of people. Cycling brought me to HiiT, then on to all things Kettlebell, and now to primarily barbell and strength focused training. I’ve been competing in powerlifting for almost 4 years, and it has been a life changing and perspective altering journey to say the least.
I definitely remember carrying some of my emotional baggage to the gym from numerous boyfriends, lovers, friends, and step-dads that body shamed me, told me I was fat, that I wouldn’t be loved with the body I had… and sadly this always gave me a form of negative motivation to hit the gym.
My journey into strength training specifically started after a back injury from a cycling accident. I spent most of my late 20’s in pain, laid out on the floor, and often not able to fully stand up. I was 24 years old, riding my bike to work when I was hit by a dump truck, which caused a chain of small injuries coupled with two slipped discs in my lower spine and a lawsuit that went on unresolved for 6 years. I was told by two specialists that I’d need back surgery immediately. My PT informed me that not only do hundreds of Olympic athletes have my exact same injury and are still able to perform, but that pain will often manifest in the mind and exacerbate the problem. I was experiencing severe back pain because my glutes were consistently shutting down, which brought me to rehab exercises like donkey kicks, RDLs without weight, and bodyweight box squats. I eventually outgrew these exercises, which brought me to squats with light weight, then more weight, then a barbell, then a bodyweight back squat, and now I’m almost to a double bodyweight squat, and happily pain free. I credited my newfound strength for helping me out of a spiral. I now believe that by maintaining my strength, I am able to stay out of pain. I feel that my physical strength has translated to mental strength as well, and I am now capable of anything life throws at me. Try me.
I am able to make space for myself at the gym, and know that it is always a place I can go to improve my well being no matter what that looks like – my physical or mental strength. I believe lifting is a lot about faith in yourself to perform the movement efficiently, as well as a slow meditative process of mastering one’s own self. With strength training, one is committed to slowly changing the body over a long period of time through discipline and hard work. These are very good life lessons and skills for one to harness and master. There is no magic wand or secret weapon.
My capacity for human empathy has improved, too. I’m able to understand the body outside of the beautiful working machine that it is, and have found that I need to meet my clients and peers where they are emotionally. I have no idea what they’re bringing in to the gym with them, or what struggles have brought them to me, or how hard it might have been to even leave the house. The gym is a scary weird machismo place to most people, and often some gyms are so laden with testosterone and thus an unwelcoming environment to many. If I can teach someone to make a place for themselves within that environment, and further, teach them to claim their space and be proud in their body through strength, then I’m doing my job.
Negative gender dynamics play a part in a lot of fitness spaces, and limits to what a female body can do. I don’t want anyone to tell me what my limits are. Especially when I was told I’d be suffering a lifetime because of my accident.
Women’s Strength Coalition is super important because it is important for women and non cis men to hold space in those that are traditionally cis-male dominated. Female strength has been a great equalizer in my own understanding of feminism. As a committed strength athlete, I honor each individual’s journey to find their strength and harness their own individual power, no matter how many plates are on the bar. I may not be breaking world records with my lifts, but I am changing lives. I literally do this every time I walk into work. I get feedback consistently about how my work has influenced my peers and clients, and this is truly a gift.
What started as a self-serving practice of rehabilitating my body from an accident, and exorcising negative body image thoughts from my mind, has turned into a place of power and responsibility. With Women’s Strength Coalition, my work is crafting an army of body-positive, open minded, patient, disciplined, and not to mention strong, individuals. I fucking love my job.