white woman with long brown wavy hair wearing a black tank top and purple shorts does a bicep curl with a dumbbell

Strength Training & Your Relationship with Exercise

When I look back at all of the work I have done over the years, it all comes back to the lightbulb moment where strength training helped me stop focusing on using exercise solely as a tool to make my body smaller.

Strength training was the number one thing that helped me make a shift in my life to having a better relationship with exercise, and in turn, my body and mind.

Listen To Your Body podcast 331 Strength Training & Your Relationship with Exercise

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Key Takeaways for Your Relationship with Exercise

If You Want To Improve Your Relationship With Exercise Through Strength Training:

  1. Let go of the preconceived notions you have around functional fitness and strength training
  2. Try and focus on the benefits of strength training that have nothing to do with making your body smaller
  3. Stop making your worth conditional and start shifting how you

Finding the Freedom To Have Fun With Exercise

Having a free, fun, and filling relationship with movement can be a life-changing topic for some folks. I am feeling a sense in the community of people ready to get started or get started again on moving their body and improving their relationship with exercise.

While the way you relate to your body is a constantly evolving notion, strength training can help heal your dysfunctional relationship with exercise and give you the freedom to shift how you relate to exercise and your body.

By giving yourself the space to enjoy exercise, you can stop being preoccupied with the notions diet culture has been feeding you and start breaking down the walls around you.

The Many Benefits of Strength Training

Lots of people view those who are interested in strength training or functional fitness as ‘meatheads’ or bodybuilders.

This couldn’t be further from the truth, as strength training has so many benefits, including improving your bone mineral density and blood glucose control, increasing your energy and metabolism, giving your more balance and stability, and enhancing your mood while decreasing your anxiety.

In addition to those fact-based benefits, strength training can help you stop viewing your worth as conditional and help you focus on what your body can do rather than how to make it smaller.

Are you ready to have a better relationship with exercise? Have you ever considered or experienced the many benefits of strength training? Share your experience with me in the comments below.

In This Episode

  • Addressing the stereotypes that have come to surround functional fitness (4:36)
  • Why strength training was critical on my journey to improving my relationship with food (9:41)
  • The benefits of strength training and what to do if you feel called to get back to the weights (18:50)
  • How strength training can act as a stepping stone to the way you relate to yourself and your body (22:15)
  • Practical ways to improve your overall health through strength training and implement it into your daily life (26:23)


“Functional movement is not just about competing at an elite level. If that’s your jam, that’s cool with me. If it’s not your jam, you might think ‘well functional movement, functional strength training, isn’t for me’. And I am here to tell you that that could be further from the truth.” (6:17)

“For me, exercise for so long was a way to shrink my body, control the size of my body, and try to become smaller. And that was the only thing that I really got out of exercise or the only reason I approached exercise.” (11:35)

“For me, strength training, in general, was the thing, the stepping stone, that allowed me to get on a better path with how I related to exercise, and then by default, my body.” (17:13)

“When I think back to all of the work I have done over the years, it always comes back to that. To that moment or that period of time where I learned to focus for once in my fucking life, on something else other than shrinking my body.” (24:47)

“You don’t have to be a bodybuilder, you don’t need to be a competitive level lifter to get the benefits of this, and you don’t have to squat 400 pounds.” (29:47)

Featured on the Show

Made Strong Program

The 5 Main Movement Patterns of Functional Movement Reel

Shit That People Say To Women About Strength Training Reel

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Related Episodes

Ep 323: Why I’m Not Paleo Anymore

Strength Training & Your Relationship with Exercise FULL TRANSCRIPT

Steph Gaudreau

On Episode 331 of the Listen To Your Body podcast, you are going to learn the number one shift to make in your life. If you want to have a better relationship with exercise, this one hits really close to home for me. And I hope that you’re going to find so many tips and so much perspective in today’s episode that you can apply to your life and ultimately have more free fun and fulfilling relationship with movement. The listen to your body podcast has one bold mission, to help change-making women as you give themselves radical permission to listen to their bodies get free with food and fitness, and channel their energy, and be a force for good in the world. I’m a certified intuitive eating counselor, nutritional therapy practitioner, and strength coach Steph Gaudreau. This weekly show brings you discussions around dropping diet and exercise extremes, letting your inner wisdom lead and taking up space from inclusive body neutrality, health at every size, nondiet nutrition perspective, we’ll examine how diet culture and the patriarchy keep women busy and distracted by the quest for body perfection, and how we can break free to live life on our own terms. It’s bound to be fiery and ultimately, to make you think, hit subscribe on your favorite podcast app. And let’s dive in.

Hello, my friend. Welcome back to the podcast. I am so thrilled that you’re joining me this week. If you’re new, and you haven’t been here before, hello, welcome. I’m so glad to have you. And if you’re a returning listener, my sincere gratitude for continuing to tune into the show means so much to me. And we are now almost six years into this podcast which blows my mind. Here we are six years later, we’ve changed. You’ve changed, I’ve changed this industry has changed. And yet we are continuing to meet weekly and explore the edges of so many of these conversations. today’s podcast is no different. And this one is really near and dear to my heart, on a very personal level. And also, I’ve had the very amazing opportunity to work with 1000s of you over the years and talk to even more folks on this podcast and hear from you on social media and in my emails. And time and time again, I hear from folks how this topic today was super impactful in opening a new door for you as you look to improve your relationship with exercise. and dare I say without it sounding cliche, even life-changing for some folks. And so I know that this topic is really important. I’m going to be sharing some tips with you today. And I know this is on a lot of people’s minds because it’s spring, the weather has changed. A lot more people are getting vaccinated and are able to get out and maybe going back to the gym or thinking about moving your body again because it feels like the right time. And so I’ve been hearing a lot of questions about strength training specifically and what it’s good for. And recently, I did a reel on my Instagram that just popped into my mind one day and I thought, Okay, I’m going to do this. And it got so much response from people who thought and said, Oh my gosh, I never considered this. And this makes so much sense. Thank you for breaking it down like this.

So I want to start just by telling you about that really really quickly. Then I want to talk about my personal story and share some benefits of strength training, of course, and then end with some tips for you. So the reel that I made was about the five main movement patterns of functional movement. Now, the term of functional fitness over the years has come to be you know, a lot of people think CrossFit when they think of functional fitness and functional movement. And for a lot of people, there’s a really negative association with that they think, okay, these are a bunch of, you know, like, really aerobically fit meatheads, you know, we tend to like have stereotypes. Okay, what is, uh, what is it, somebody who lifts weights looks like, oh, they’re a meathead, you know, they’re these bodybuilders, or cross-fitters are these, you know, beat heads who are really good at running around. And it’s really unfortunate that we have these stereotypes. And though CrossFit may not be for everybody, I spent a lot of time in that community, myself. And what I can tell you is, is that at its very core, the idea of functional fitness is not to be some elite athlete.

Now, elite, there’s nothing wrong with being an elite athlete. But we’ve somehow mixed up these two things. And so the world at large thinks, well, functional fitness is only for people who want to go to the CrossFit Games. That’s the conclusion. And I’m here to tell you, and this is what I was communicating on that Reel, is that functional movement is not just about competing at an elite level if that’s your jam, right? You know, that can be your jam, that’s cool with me, if it’s not your jam, you might think, well, functional movement, functional strength training isn’t for me. And I’m here to tell you that that could be further from the truth. And that was what my reel was about. So in my reel, which I’ll link to, I talked about the five basic movement patterns, and how they apply to everyday life. And I showed him as best we can in 30 seconds or fewer examples of me doing a functional movement pattern in my house, and then what a corresponding exercise might look like for that movement pattern. So I talked about squatting, I talked about hinting, I talked about pressing, you know, upper body pressing, I talked about polling, and then I talked about caries. And this part, this really got so much feedback, like I said, from people who just thought, whoa, I never thought about it this way, this makes so much sense, I can directly see the application of why this movement so that you might do like me on your front porch, with some dumbbells or in a gym or whatever, is really beneficial. For not just, yeah, all the benefits that we know about movement and exercise, but for my life for my movement in my everyday life. Now, just to make a disclaimer here, and just to be mindful of the fact that you may be at a different place right now, with your health and your well being, you may have challenges or just differences and how you’re able to move your body. And so I just want to acknowledge that not everybody is going to have the same amount of access, whether its space, its equipment, its functionality in their own body at the current time. So I’m speaking from a very general point of view in today’s podcast about this.

So the reason I brought this up is I wanted to sort of break down some of those walls that I see coming up with people where they think, you know, functional strength training, like what I have in my main strong program, you know, it’s just not for me, right? strength training isn’t for me. And I also did a Reel not too long ago about some of the shit that people say specifically to women or people who identify as a woman, about when they express interest in lifting weights. This is where you’re spicy. The reaction of people is to just say, don’t get hurt, you’re, you’re gonna hurt yourself. Don’t get hurt, and you know, even to go so far as to say, you are going to hurt your ovaries legit. That was what somebody told my friend Sarah. And I made another real about some of the shit that people say when a woman expresses interest in getting stronger, right? So we have to bust through all of that crap sometimes, and it does stand in our way. Suffice to say, there’s a lot more interest right now going on. I’m sensing in the community about strength training, and about getting going or getting going again, and I wanted to talk about this today for that reason.

And now a personal story. And I’ve told variations of this story on this podcast on other podcasts before, even though I touched on it recently in my podcast about why I’m not paleo anymore, which I haven’t been since 2018. So if you missed that podcast, probably go back and listen to it for some backstory. But to give you the quick and dirty into sort of sum up why strength training for me was so critical in my journey to improve my relationship with food and exercise. Now there are some people right now in the world that are like, you can’t have a relationship with something that can’t relate back to you. I mean, are we being pedantic or what? In my opinion, anything that you interact with, you can have thoughts, emotions, feelings, and then corresponding actions that you take that account for how you relate to that thing in your life. So in my opinion, personally and professionally, your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, etc, about exercise about food, do constitute how you relate to that thing. Suffice to say, there’s a lot there, when I go back, and I think about my relationship with food and movement, and my body and they’re all kind of intertwined. But for me, exercise for so long was a way to shrink my body, control the size of my body, and try to become smaller. And that was the only way that was like, the only thing that I really got out of exercise are the only reason I approached exercise. And you might have a similar story, a similar experience where you exercised, but even the word exercise for a lot of people kind of makes them shudder because it has that connotation of punishment of something that we hate or something that we just have to get through it. And we don’t derive any enjoyment out of it. Because we are trying to control our body size. Specifically, for the majority of people listening to this podcast, it’s likely to make their bodies much smaller. And I had that too. So if you can relate, I would love to hear it, send me a DM on Instagram, and just let me know, hey, I really related to what you were talking about on the podcast.

Bring it in for a minute, if you are ready to get free with food and fitness, and I mean, true freedom, not just going back on another reset. If you fall off the wagon, if you’re ready to explore radical permission to listen to your body, and to live life on your terms, the Tune In Membership is ready for you. Inside of this monthly membership, we learn how to drop extremes when it comes to diet and exercise. You’ll learn how to let your inner wisdom lead, how to take up more space, and ultimately to take the energy that you were spending on the endless quest for body perfection, thanks to the patriarchy, and channel that into being a force for good. All of that happens in a supportive judgment-free community via mobile app, not on Facebook, and the doors are open for you. So if this sounds like you, please head over to StephGaudreau.com/Insider, we would love to welcome you to the Tune In Membership.

Suffice to say that relationship was really dysfunctional. And it led me to over-exercising and when I started racing in the endurance world, which I’ve talked about a little bit recently on this podcast. Yes, I was trying to get better at bike racing. So you could make the argument that I was focusing on what my body could do however, there it was conditional because yes, in endurance sports is still to this day is extremely prevalent. The belief in the attitude that in order to become better at your sport, you have to be smaller, whether it’s I don’t care running, triathlons, biking. I was more in the biking world and a little bit of Ex-Terra triathlons off road, but yes, there was a premium put on smallness. So sure, I was pushing myself to go faster and race better and get better times. But underlying all of that was a continual and never-ending desire to make myself smaller to lose as much weight as possible. And I succeeded at The end of eight years of racing bikes and endurance sports and running and triathlons, I succeeded in getting to this very low weight for me. And feeling completely and utterly fucking miserable and thinking, it’s not enough. And that was kind of the low point for me.

Now, I want to tell you about what happened. About a month after that last race that I did in Lake Tahoe in 2010. In the summer, I was doing an X-Terra. I got home and a couple of weeks later, a friend of mine challenged me to do kind of a functional strength training workout in my garage. And I was like, well, this is fine. And because it was something different from my usual swim, bike run, right. And so I made a decision in August of that year, to go down to my local CrossFit gym, shout out cross the Chula Vista and Rick, Santa Maria, and all the good folks down there. But I went to CrossFit and I asked a lot of questions. And I just thought, How can I do this. And for me, it was the first time I really had approached, and Ben taught me how to strength train in a more systematic way with free weights. And I had done some machines at the y. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that. But I really wanted to learn how to lift free weights, that I learned a lot of other stuff that goes along with functional fitness in the sport of CrossFit, which again, we could debate its utility and functionality and whether it’s appropriate for some people and not others. But for me, strength training, in general, was a V. thing, the stepping stone that allowed me to get on a better path with how I related to exercise. And then yes, by default my body. And then yes, related to that, how I related to food. So I want to continue to bring this up for you. Because over the years I’ve talked about a lot of things on this podcast, I’ve focused on some different things in my business and on my website. And recently, I was thinking about this and doing some work with a coach and just kept coming back to a decade, over 10 years that strength training has been important in my life. And I’ve gone in various intensities with it. I’ve competed in different aspects of it. I’ve gotten certifications in different things. powerlifting, for example, and Olympic weightlifting, for example. And it’s changed and morphed and shifted. And I’ve been way stronger than I am now. And that’s fine. Right? We all change.

But in general strength training has been consistent for me over that decade. And here’s why I think that is and this is what I want to impress upon you today. If you’re thinking okay, well, I’ve been curious about it. And I want to know more, or I want to get back to doing it in a way that really works for my body. Maybe you did CrossFit or some kind of other high-intensity, strength training in the past orange theory. I mean, I can think of a few off the top of my head. And you’re like, that didn’t work for me, or it doesn’t work for me now for whatever reason. But I keep feeling called to go back to weights. So here’s the thing, here’s the reason why it was so powerful. And it opened a door for me that I never anticipated it opening. Because for the first time, pretty much in my life, I was focusing on what my body could do without tying it to my weight specifically to getting smaller.

So for again, for the first time in my life, I was focusing on what my body could do without it being about also getting as small as I possibly could. And that it took a little while it wasn’t like overnight, boop, you know, things have changed. But over a few months. I definitely noticed a shift and how I was relating to working out to exercising. And what I noticed was this freedom in my mind, of freedom from the preoccupation of the thoughts, and the beliefs, the thoughts being, I just need to get smaller, the beliefs that I would only be worthy when I was smaller. And that brain space that began to get freed up was I mean, I almost don’t have words for it is, and was at the time, so powerful that I could have this experience of moving my body and interacting with my body. And I’m a really kinesthetic kind of learner. I’ve been active since I was really little in sports, you know, organized sports. And perhaps for the first time in many, many years, probably decades, because even when I was on the high school, soccer team at Cathedral, I was well aware that I was bigger than a lot of the other girls on my soccer team. Right. So going back pretty far, I had this conception, this belief, this awareness that I was different, or I wasn’t the stereotypical player, I wasn’t the stereotypical person in those sports when I was racing bikes, my goodness, I remember seeing photos of me standing next to my teammates. And again, I’ve said this many times on this show, I am in a body that has thin privilege, I am in a straight size body where I can go into a store and buy something off the rack. So that’s my experience.

But and it was something I was always aware of, that I was never small enough, never small enough. And for the first time, when I started strength training in 2010, and learning how to do so many different things like back squatting without a Smith machine, or deadlifting, I don’t think I’d ever learned how to deadlift in my life, and how to do Olympic weightlifting, and do power cleans and all these really fun things. It was a game-changer for me, it opened a door. And now why I say it was a stepping stone and not the be-all-end-all is this look, like I said earlier, your body might change, you might change, your goals might change, pretty much guaranteed, all of those things will change. And at some point, I do believe that your way of relating to yourself in your body will continue to evolve, hopefully past the point where you’re just focusing on what your body can do. Because that’s never a guarantee. And as I said, it can change over your lifetime for so many different reasons. So for me, strength training wasn’t the be-all-end-all in the way that I defined myself. And my self-worth, I think we have to be very aware of that trap. Because it’s easy to say, Well, I will only be worthy when my body is this size. And then if we swap it for Well, my I will be worthy when I can do fill in the blank, a bodyweight back squat or, I don’t know 10 pull-ups or whatever it is, we’re still making our worth conditional.

So eventually, there’s an evolution that for a lot of people continues to happen, but focusing on what they can do without being tied to the specific size of their body. And what I mean by that is shrinking their body is so powerful, it is a powerful stepping stone to get on that journey to unconditional self-worth. And I share that story with you because it is it underlies everything that I do. I did a talk and I shared this recently, I did a talk in New Zealand in 2015. About strength training and about why so many women are reluctant to strength train and it was one of those hashtags it’s a complicated type of talk. But when I think back to all of the work that I’ve done over the years, it has it always comes back to that moment or that period of time where I learned to focus for once in my fucking life on something else other than shrinking my body. And like your body also allows you to experience life. So when we’re talking about focusing on what your body can do, it’s not just saying like that it can do squats and deadlifts. But your body is the vessel of the physical vessel, the meat suit, through which you experience the world. Your body also allows you to give hugs and see a sunset and create things and eat delicious food, right. So it goes beyond just physical pursuits, like strength training.

But I can’t shake the fact when I think about my own journey. And when I’ve talked to so many of you about and worked with so many of you about work with so many of you on whether it’s the core for a program, or you’ve bought my book, and read it and implemented those things, or you have made strong and you continue to do that program. I just can’t shake how powerful that was, and how much I love talking about it. And I love sharing about it with all of you. So if you’re listening to this, and you’re thinking, Okay, you got me convinced, for the most part, what are some of the actual benefits of strength training besides this potential to shift my life in a really cool way. And I just want to give you a quick rundown, because here’s the deal, none of us are getting any younger. And once we get to about the age of 30, our bodies really begin to change in terms of things like muscle mass, and bone density, bone mineral density. And that goes across all people. And then obviously, women because we have a decline in estrogen as we go through perimenopause and menopause. It’s impacting us even more in terms of things like bone mineral density, and we used to talk a lot about the female athlete triad. Now that has been expanded to something called Red s, which is an acronym that stands for relative energy deficiency in sport, which is, in a nutshell, insufficient energy intake, which means you’re not eating enough food for the kind of energy that you’re expending in your sport. And it doesn’t just affect high-level elite athletes. But if you have experienced something like a female athlete, triad or red s, especially in younger life, you are more at risk for things like bone mineral density issues, all this to say is that there are so many benefits of strength training just a couple of times a week, okay, two, three times a week. And really focusing on a lot of the functional movement patterns I talked about at the beginning of this episode. This is one of the reasons why I made the made strong program in 2018. And it’s back now if you want to check it out.

But suffice to say there are so many benefits of strength training, there are lots of benefits of cardiovascular exercise as well. not hating on that on this podcast. There are so many benefits to things that are more balanced and stability and coordination oriented, for example, in Pilates, there are benefits to movement or benefits to lots of other exercises. But specifically when it comes to strength training, here are a few of the benefits. And these are evidence-based. So better bone mineral density, better coordination, balance, and stability. So as we age, of course, these things tend to decline, better blood glucose control, specifically because of the effect of lifting weights on improving insulin sensitivity, lifting weights or strength training and resistance training, whatever you want to call it gives you more energy. It can improve your metabolism. And yes, metabolism is smart, your metabolism shifts depending upon things like your energy intake and your energy expenditure. But generally, when we build muscle mass, that means that we then need to manage your energy in different ways. And even better mood and less anxiety. Strength training has been studied for its anti-anxiety effects. So there are so many benefits to lifting weights a few times a week in a somewhat moderate way. Not you don’t have to be a bodybuilder. If you want to be a badass bodybuilder, that’s great, but you don’t need to be a bodybuilder. You don’t need to be a competitive level lifter to get the benefits of this and you don’t have to squat 400 pounds. So I hope that you can see that if you’ve been a little bit on the fence and you’re like, Oh no, like is this gonna do anything for me?

There are so many incredible benefits. To lifting weights and getting some resistance training, and no, it doesn’t have to be with a barbell. It really the opportunities here are pretty endless depending on your creativity and budget. But for a really long time, this is true when I developed the main strong program, I had one kettlebell at home. So I did everything with one kettlebell, I just did things where I could switch sides. And it was totally amazing. And so now we have a few more weights. You can do it with dumbbells, odd objects, and implements like our weighted backpack or sandbag or I know people who have done the maids drug program, even with gallons full of water or sand. I mean, people, y’all have been incredibly creative over the years and how you’ve just decided to get moving and use what you have at the moment. I wanted to end this podcast episode by really tying all this together and giving you a few tips that you can begin to implement in your life. All right, the first is when it comes to strength training is to start small, yes, start small. That could mean that you begin with bodyweight-only movements, and then you progress up, it can mean starting with one strength training, workout a week, and then building over time. But just like any other changes you want to make in your life. If you try to do everything and do it too hard, too fast, it’s generally a recipe for overwhelm.

And especially if you’re unfamiliar with moving your body in these ways, your tissues need time to adapt. The second tip that I have for you is to learn from someone credible. And I know this is hard out in the world to know who’s credible and who is not. But y’all, I’m gonna call out the Healthline here on this podcast, Healthline, you need to fix your workout videos. Because you would think Okay, hello finds really credible they are dominant on on the internet in terms of health and wellness and exercise articles. I’ll tell you what, they have videos of people swinging kettlebells. And they’re just wrong. Yes, you can find some amazing people on YouTube, demonstrating exercises and doing it really well. And you’re also going to come along and find a lot of hot trash on YouTube as well. So if you want to learn how to strength train, do it from somebody who knows what they’re talking about and can support you in at least having videos that demonstrate proper form and technique, I will put a plugin here for the made strong program, I do just that. And then you don’t have to spend three hours looking on YouTube and finding really crappy movement videos. And then the third tip that I have for you is to set a goal, set a goal for yourself with exercise that has nothing to do with the size of your body, or your body measurements. Because there is no faster way to get d motivated to exercise by tying it to weight loss changes or body size measurement changes. Now, you know my stance on this, I’m not hating on you if this is important to you. But I will encourage you that if those things are important to you, and you are tracking them because you’re your own autonomous person, and you can make your own decisions, that you include something else that you can focus on. Hopefully, even something that’s a process. So for example, if you want to learn how to do a push up from the full plank position, which is like doing a plank, and lowering down and pushing back up, that you spend a little bit of time each week working on pressing, doing pressing in your strength workouts, practicing your pushups from different positions and gradually lowering it down until you get to the floor.

Those types of skill-based goals are going to be far more motivating. And there’s still things that you can track and keep tabs on. Then focusing on shifting your body fat percentage by X percent or just getting your body weight to come down when we know that those things are affected by so many other factors and they themselves are not behaviors right so why not focus on the behaviors that we want. Maybe that’s a little bit more walking, maybe it is getting into a strength training routine or trying it out et cetera, et cetera. So again, three tips start small. Learn from someone reputable and set a goal, preferably a process-oriented goal that focuses on a skill that you want to develop. That does it for this episode. You can of course grab the show notes on my website, send me a DM, or post this on Instagram Stories this episode. Tell me what resonated for you, tell me if you related, tell me what you loved about it. I would love to know that and potentially share it out so that we can share the love. I’m at Steph_Gaudreau on Instagram, of course. Thanks so much for listening today. I hope you have an amazing kick ass week ahead and you’ll hear me back next week with another new episode. Until then, be awesome.

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Hi, I'm Steph!

Nutrition and fitness coach for women, Lord of the Rings nerd, and depending on who you ask, crazy cat lady. My mission is to help you fuel for more, not less: bigger muscles, strength, energy, and possibilities. We’ll do it with my signature blend of science, strategy…and a little bit of sass.


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