If you've stopped by O2 Fitness Seaboard Station for a morning workout, chances are you've been greeted by Leigh's smiling face at the front desk. A senior at NC State University and O2 team member, Leigh sees her time in the gym as much-needed self care. Her newfound love for weightlifting has grown into a passion that she hopes will lead to a career in fitness after she graduates in May.
When did you first start your fitness journey?
I did cheerleading in high school which kept me active back then. When I got to college I realized I kind of needed to start working out on my own, so I started going to the gym with two of my roommates. None of us really knew what we were doing at first. We just followed all of these fitness accounts on Instagram and watched their videos. I bought a workout plan at one point with how-to videos so I could learn what to do.
I actually didn't start lifting weights until about 2 or 3 years ago. I always stayed small but now I've built a lot more muscle. And now I just love it.
Why do you continue to prioritize fitness in your life?
It's a huge destresser for me. The gym is my place. For one hour of my day I can destress, not think about anything else, and just sweat.
What motivates you to get out of bed and head to the gym?
I work out for both health reasons and my own personal goals for my body. I like working out because you can literally see results. That's the one thing that motivates me. Over the years I can look back at the pictures I took in the gym a few years ago and say, "Wow, I didn't have these muscles then." I want to push myself and see what else my body can do.
How important are photos for you to track progress?
It started with one of the workout plans I bought. I had to send in pictures. Now I can tell looking at the pictures I was just not happy with my body. Looking back on them now I can tell a big difference. I’m more defined. I didn’t have any back muscles or arm muscles. I can finally see little veins in my arms. I love seeing little veins. All these guys have veins in their arms and I finally have some!
After I workout I’ll go in the group fitness room and take pictures. It’s uncomfortable to do but looking back two years ago I can now see more definition in my abs. You can see the change. I want to be able to look at one from a few years ago and think, "Wow, I’ve come a long way." I don’t show them to anyone. It doesn’t matter if I’m not happy with how I look that day because no one’s going to see them. It’s just for me.
What's a typical workout for you at O2 Fitness?
I try to work out 5 times a week but that doesn't always happen. I definitely don't have a structured workout plan so I don't dedicate Mondays to chest or anything like that. I just see what I did the day before, what's not sore, and if I eat really badly I do cardio. I hate doing cardio but I still do it. If I go from doing just weights to doing high intensity cardio I feel weak and I get out of breath. I don’t like to feel weak, so I want to start doing more cardio.
Plus, it feels good to sweat so much. I don’t sweat a lot doing weights and that feeling of sweating is so satisfying. When the sweat is dripping off your face, it feels so good to know you just worked out so hard.
A big difference now is that I do more full-body workouts. I always only worked out my legs. That's it. I used to do lower body every day with my roommates and never did any upper body stuff. Now, I'm addicted to having a nice upper body and nice arms. A lot of girls are so scared to be muscular and lift weights. I used to think if I lift weights I'll become bulky, but now I'm the exact opposite. I want to be muscular. I love getting stronger. Once I got over that fear, now my arms are my favorite thing to work out. I feel like now my arms look more feminine.
What would you say to someone who wants to start a fitness journey in 2019?
It's probably really cliché but just do it. You'll thank yourself in the end. It's not easy getting started. You'll probably get frustrated a lot. Some days I wake up and I'm frustrated with my body. But you have to push yourself. Just go for it, zone out, and don't think about anything else.
What inspires you?
My dad inspires me. He farms, and that's a really hard career. He's such a hard worker. He works every day of his life. He's constantly working and doesn't take a day off. Farming is so stressful. I think that's where I got my laidback side from. With farming you have to be laidback because there's so much out of your control and you have to take things as they come. If something goes wrong, you find a way to fix it and move on.
What advice would you give to someone who hits a plateau or who needs fresh motivation?
Take a class. If I hit a point where I’m not motivating myself anymore, I take a class so that someone else motivates me. It's fun to switch things up. If you use Instagram videos like I do sometimes, try to find different ones. Everyone has a different workout style, so find someone who brings something different to you.
I just did m’bala and that was amazing. I have never been so sweaty and so sore. Sweat was dripping off of me! I don’t usually sweat that much except for when I sprint. It made me want to take up yoga in 2019. I feel like it would be really good for me.
I also like BodyPump a lot. I remember the first time I left I couldn’t even push the front door open I was so sore. I realized then that I probably should start to do some upper body! Those classes are a lot of fun since it’s a lot of reps with low weights and usually I do the opposite. I like switching it up.
When you're doing something really tough, what do you tell yourself to get through it?
When I'm working out on my own or doing m'bala, I just tell myself you can get through 30 seconds of anything. I'll just compare it to something else. If it's a minute left on the treadmill when I'm doing sprints I'll just tell myself, "You can do it, don't stop. One minute is nothing, you can do it. You'll feel so much better after." In m'bala, the instructor was telling us how much better we're going to feel after. Just hold that plank for 30 more seconds!
I love how close everyone is at O2. It really is like a family, I know it's cliché. Everyone is so friendly. On my first day all of the trainers were coming up and introducing themselves to me and the members. I thought that was so sweet. The members knew I hadn’t been there before and so many of them know my name now. They’ll come in and say, "Hey Leigh!" I've gotten to learn a lot of their names.
In the beginning at Seaboard, it was so funny when me and my boyfriend started going together because we noticed everyone knew each other and was talking to each other. We felt left out. The more we went the more we were included and we’re part of it now, we’re in the group! There are so many people I can go up to and talk to. All of the members and the employees are so nice.
What does Look Forward mean to you?
To me look forward means just forget about yesterday, don’t look back. Who cares what you did yesterday, what happened, or what struggle you had yesterday? Keep pushing forward and just try to be better the next day. Everyone fails. No one cares as long as you get back up.
What are you looking forward to in 2019?
I graduate in 2019 so I'm excited to see what I end up doing after I graduate. I love fitness and I'd love to do something in the fitness field. I've thought about getting my personal training certification to have that knowledge for myself and to know more about how the body works. If something is feeling tight I want to have the knowledge of how to work it out without having to ask a trainer.
Also I just want to see how far I can push my body. I want to look back at my pictures from 2018 to 2019 and see how differently my body has changed. My goal is to do pull-ups!