The Cost of Lifting

Photo credit: 3dman_eu, CC0 Public Domain.

In January 2009 I was 22 years old and my life was kind of like Piper’s from Orange Is The New Black. I was dating a stripper who pushed product for a coast-to-coast dealer, and all we ever did was a whole bunch of drugs: cocaine, ecstasy, meth, Oxy. By June of that year, three years deep in debauchery and two years after losing custody of my baby girl, I was over it.

I reenlisted in the Army Reserve as a way to force myself to get my shit together. It worked. But four years and two more babies later, my new and total sham of a marriage began to unravel. Three thousand miles away from home, I was lonely and unhappy. For most of my adult life drugs had been the only coping mechanism I’d known, and I felt the illusion of my old lifestyle luring me back. The temptation to give in was fierce. But more than wanting to give in, I didn’t want to screw up being a mom again. So instead of walking back into the past, I walked into CrossFit.

Through CrossFit I found Olympic weightlifting. I started becoming more serious about weightlifting in mid-2015, and at the start of 2017, after weightlifting helped keep me sane and sober through a breakup with my long-time girlfriend and then a breakup with my best friend, I started training in it exclusively.

Because I don’t compete I call myself a hobby weightlifter, but that’s mostly just semantics and self-deprecation. I may not compete, but I train like it. Mostly. I’m not as strict about my nutrition or my training schedule as a competitive or professional weightlifter, but I’m more serious than the casual gym-goer. Not competing also means I don’t have competition-related expenses: singlet, competition entry, travel and accommodation. Still, even as a hobby weightlifter I spend a significant amount of time and money on my training. But to me, the payoff is worth it.

(A quick note for context: I have a full-time Monday-through-Friday job, am a single parent, and make $60,000/year.)

Monthly financial commitment

Training: $50/month

For $50/month I get full access to the gym and its equipment, custom programming and in-person coaching. Coming from CrossFit, which runs closer to $200/month in my area and doesn’t come with custom programming or one-on-one coaching built into the monthly membership price, $50/month for an all-inclusive barbell membership is a deal. Plus, my gym has some pretty bougie perks for its basic price:

Accessibility. Open seven days a week, virtually all day. In my experience, CrossFit gyms are usually only open during limited class hours and never on Sundays. (Yes, I know many “regular” globo gyms are literally open 24/7 but I can’t do what I need to do at a Gold’s or LA Fitness. Those gyms often lack the necessary equipment, and even when they have it they don’t allow actual weightlifting movements—the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk—to be performed properly.)

Top-of-the-line, name brand equipment. Eleiko bars, Eleiko and Pendlay plates, and Eleiko calibrated change plates. #spoiled (If Eleiko and Pendlay mean nothing to you, that’s okay. Think of something that means a lot to you. Now think of the best possible brand of that thing you could buy. That is what Eleiko and Pendlay barbells and plates are to weightlifting: the absolute best.)

Programming/coaching. My coaching team is made up of two nationally ranked Olympic weightlifters and a CrossFit Games-level athlete (the CrossFit Games is basically the Super Bowl of CrossFit, which itself is billed as “The Sport of Fitness”). My workouts are custom programmed just for me, based on my goals and current skill/technique level, and every single one of my training sessions is observed in person by at least one of my coaches. Nothing against remote coaching, but there’s nothing like having a coach live in the flesh to give you real-time critique, corrections and, well, coaching. If you do the math, I pay $1.25/hour for personal coaching by a team of elite, highly-qualified coaches.

Nutrition: $399/month 

I’m not incredibly strict about my nutrition. I don’t diet or eat gluten free or organic, or count calories or macros. I’m a naturally picky eater and most of the stuff I like happens to be the stuff I need to eat, which is a bonus when it comes to eating to perform. Being picky also helps keep my grocery bill, and dining out, in check, without any real effort from me.

Groceries, $300/month. Lots of chicken, rice, and broccoli, but also lots (lots) of fresh fruit, eggs, and ice cream.

Whey protein, $32/month. One scoop mixed with milk in the morning, and another mixed with water during the end of my workout.

Casein protein, $37/month. One scoop mixed with milk before bed each night for recovery. Casein is basically an extended release protein that feeds your muscles a slow and steady stream of amino acids, and prevents excessive protein breakdown. I’ve also found casein helps reduce muscle fatigue and soreness.

Fish oil, $5/month. One gel cap every morning for my hyper-stressed joints.

Glutamine, $21/month. Two scoops a day for recovery. On training days: before and after my workout. On rest days: Upon waking and before bed. Glutamine is naturally found in the body (it’s the most abundant amino acid naturally created by the body), but during intense exercise it’s often depleted. Ingesting it immediately before and/or after a workout re-ups your body’s glutamine levels, which helps stop the breakdown of muscle and can even help stimulate new muscle growth.

Gatorade, $4/month. One scoop a day, mixed with water and sipped on throughout my workout. Sometimes I substitute with lemonade or a few handfuls of gummy bears, using the sugar in any of these three things as intra-workout carbs. Intra-workout carbs are simple carbs that the body breaks down quickly instead of storing as fat. When ingested during an intense workout (usually defined as a session lasting longer than 90 minutes) they serve as a rapid source of energy to help keep you performing as optimally as possible.

Recovery: $64/month

Any athlete will tell you: recovery is part of training. The older I get, and the more dedicated to weightlifting I become, the more my joints and muscles confirm how true this sentiment is.

ROMWOD, $14/month. ROMWOD is basically guided static stretching marketed to CrossFitters and weightlifters. It’s quasi-Beginner Yoga Lite, if you will. Except ROMWOD is meant to be supplemental to training, not its own practice or workout. The poses don’t flow, they’re supposed to be passive (not active), and they’re held for one to a torturous four minutes at a time.

Honestly, ROMWOD is kind of a waste of money since it really is just stretching, but I pay for it because I’ve proven to myself three times now that I can’t count on myself to stretch without the incentive of doing it because I pay for it. When I stick with daily ROMWOD sessions I notice a huge difference in my general level of comfort outside the gym (less creakiness and stiffness), and improved mobility and range of motion inside the gym, so it’s definitely worth the $14/month to me.

Chiropractor, $50/month. No explanation needed, right? Necessary to keep everything aligned and, as my chiro says, situated.

Once I move (in the fall), I’ll be getting a raise at the same time my monthly expenses decrease (yay!) so I’ll finally be able to add monthly sports massage and twice-weekly yoga sessions into my training. Sports massage will cost me $75/month and yoga will run me $44/month.

Total monthly financial commitment: $513*
*this amount will increase to $632/month when I incorporate sports massage and yoga into my training.

Monthly time commitment

Inside the gym: 10–15 hours/week, which adds up to 40–60 hours/month. I train at least 2.5 hours/day, 4 days/week. Some days my training sessions hit 3 hours, and some weeks I train 5 days.

Outside the gym: At least 9 hours/month: about 2 hours/week on ROMWOD, and 1 hour/month at the chiropractor. Once I add in monthly sports massage and twice-weekly yoga classes, the time I spend on my training outside the gym will double to 18 hours/month.

Total monthly time commitment: 49–69 hours*
*This will increase to 58–78 hours/month when I incorporate sports massage and yoga into my training.

Special apparel & accessories

At a minimum, Olympic weightlifting requires special shoes. Most weightlifters also invest in a few other stock accessories that help keep the body safe and supple: wraps, belts, tape, foam rollers, etc. These are things that only need to be replaced once they wear or run out. Tape can run out quickly but the other stuff lasts for years. (I’ve had my weightlifting shoes for almost four years and they’re  still in near-perfect condition. I’ve had my belt for longer and it still works like new.)

Here are the extras I keep in my gym bag (in four years, I’ve only ever had to replace tape):

Weightlifting shoes: $180
Knee wraps: $19
Wrist wraps: $12
Tape: $5/roll
Belt: $20
VooDoo floss: $24
Lacrosse ball: $3
Foam roller: $10

I wear the shoes, wraps, tape and belt during workouts. I use the VooDoo floss, lacrosse ball, and foam roller before and after workouts. Eventually I’ll invest in a pair of lifting straps. A decent pair will run me about $20 and will last for at least a few years.

Total every-so-often financial commitment: $273–$293

ROI

Between time and money, I put a lot into lifting. But I also get a lot out of it. As pathetically cliché as it sounds, lifting really is my life. Aside from all the regular health benefits of exercise — safeguarding against disease and illness, a boost in mood and energy levels, better sleep, blah blah blah — weightlifting has also helped me stay sober by being a healthy and positive outlet; it has given me a thriving social life full of people who share the same passion for lifting and the lifestyle it demands; and it gives me enough stamina and endurance to play with my young and very active kids. It’s also made me strong AF (I loaded and unloaded an entire moving truck full with the contents of my three-story townhouse completely by myself), and given me a body that I genuinely love and am confident in.

And if you’re looking for strictly a numbers breakdown: When you add up all the money and time I spend on my training, both inside and outside of the gym, I’m only spending $7.50/hour–$10.50/hour on weightlifting.

Kelsey McEvoy is a future award-winning and/or best-selling writer based just outside of Washington, D.C. She’s good at carbs, cussing, and burning English muffins, and can be followed on Twitter @thekelseymcevoy

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