Five Unexpected Side Effects of My Love Affair With Iron

By Neghar Fonooni

It's been ten years since I began my love affair with iron, and I find myself looking back on our affair, reminiscing about how much I’ve grown and the lessons I’ve learned.

neghar-overheadsquat-450x338As with all love affairs, we’ve had our ups and downs. There have been times when I hated the iron, and times when it seemed to hate me. And there have been more times still when iron loved me in a way I never knew was possible—and I loved it right back.

Iron and me—we have a very deep, meaningful relationship.

The relationship has been going on so long that I sometimes forget that there was ever time when I didn’t absolutely love the feeling of cold iron in my hands, the feel of it hoisted on my back or over my head, the thrill of picking it up from the ground in a seemingly impossible fashion.

The truth is, however, that we didn’t start this love affair with these feelings. We didn’t embark on our tryst with the idea that we would come to expect each other’s regular presence with enthusiasm and warmth.

It started off as just a fling. A little curious and misguided hanky-panky, if you will.

In fact, when we first met, there wasn’t much love, affection, or even respect; instead, there was quite a bit of frustration, unworthiness, and desperation.

There were feelings of comparison and jealousy, based on what iron had done for other women. And of course, there was that ever-lingering thought that if I could only change my body, maybe, just maybe, I could finally feel free in my body and happy in my skin.

I had just given birth to my son, Isaac—a pregnancy during which I had gained 50 pounds. For the first time in my life, I felt like a complete stranger in my own body. I wanted to feel in control again—and more than anything, I wanted that ever-elusive “pre-baby body” back.

I didn’t know where else to turn, so I turned, in desperation, to iron.

What happened next was a combination of satisfaction and surprise. I indeed lost weight. In fact, my post-baby body became stronger and more athletic than my pre-baby body had ever been. But I gained more than I lost—and that’s what this story is really about.

A love affair with iron bears many tangible gifts.

There’s the whole metabolism thing— lifting weights promotes the growth of lean mass (muscle), which helps cultivate a healthier metabolism. The more muscle your body has, the more calories it will burn at rest, which means more fat loss and a more athletic physique.

Then there’s bone density and physiological health. Lifting weights promotes healthier bones and insides. It’s common knowledge that exercise is important for a healthy body—this isn’t news to us, right?

But I don’t want to talk about those things today. Instead, I want to talk to you about the unexpected side effects of a love affair such as this one—the things that we don’t think about when we seek out this relationship, but that surprise us, inspire us, and ultimately keep us coming back for more.

Protecting Your Time

You can maximize your time by weight training for 20, 15, or even just 10 minutes, by speeding up the rate at which you lift, or by ramping up the intensity. Training methods such as Metabolic Resistance Training, Complexes, Density Training, and what my good friend Jen Sinkler calls “Lifting Weights Faster” can help you burn fat and build strength, even when time is of the essence.

You don’t have to spend an hour doing cardio, 30 minutes on machines, and another 30 minutes stretching. Weight training is efficient. You will never again utter the words “I don’t have time to exercise.” Whether it’s 30 minutes or 10 minutes, set a timer and do as much as possible in that time frame.

Using the right training program, you can build a strong, athletic, lean physique—provided that your nutrition is on par with your fitness intentions. You’ll want a good mix of strength training and metabolic resistance, paired with a nourishing diet packed with protein, fresh produce, and healthy fats. When done correctly, lifting weights will help turn your body into a strong, fat-burning machine—making the weight room one of the most important stops on your fitness journey.


I remember the first time I performed an unassisted pull-up.

It was early 2008, and I was (unfortunately) awaiting knee surgery for an old sports injury. The extent of my injury kept me from doing any lower body training, which, although frustrating, encouraged me to focus on strengthening my upper body. So, strengthen my upper body I did, paying special attention to pull-ups, pushups, and overhead pressing.

One day I had an “I wonder if I can do that” moment. I decided to forgo the resistance band, and try my hand (or my lats) at an unassisted, neutral grip pull-up. Astonished at my body’s ability to get my chin over the bar, I hopped down and looked around the crowded gym. “Did anyone see that?!” I wondered. To this day, it remains one of my proudest moments.

Every single time I work out, I get better. I lift heavier, or faster, or even more efficiently. I might be able to stick a handstand more easily, manage a heavier squat, or do one extra pull-up. Sometimes it’s not a matter of more, but simply better. Other times, my progress is more intrinsic, lying in my ability to give my body a break when it needs one. Regardless of the exactitudes, I find myself consistently improving in some way, shape, or form. This is what my friends at The Movement Minneapolis have termed “PR every day.”

Breaking records, or setting PRs, is incredibly mentally rewarding. It keeps you coming back for more, and creates a sense of purpose in the weight room. While aesthetic goals, such as losing a few inches on your waist, are certainly worth pursuing, performance goals are notably more sustainable. It really wasn’t until I shifted my intentions towards performance, and away from aesthetics, that I was actually able to change my physique significantly.

What I didn’t realize completely the moment I performed my first pull-up, was how profoundly that simple act would affect the rest of my life.

That single pull-up, as benign as it seems, sparked a great sense of self worth, an escape from feeling defined by what my body looked like, and instead taking pride in what it could do. If I can pull myself up over a bar, without any assistance, what else can I do? Feats of strength in the gym began to translate to strength outside of the gym—the intrinsic strength needed to thrive and excel. When I crushed it at the gym, I felt more capable of crushing it at life; and without stressing out over my weight or my body composition, my body changed as a result.

Lifting weights helps boost confidence like nothing else I have ever seen. I’ve helped women who were initially timid, overweight, and unsure of themselves go on to crush feats of strength and then start their own personal training businesses. I’ve seen beginners afraid of lifting a kettlebell break out of their comfort zones and move on to chasing a double-bodyweight deadlift. Physical strength contributes to strength of character, which in turn, boosts confidence—and there’s just no downside to that.


Moving furniture? Carrying multiple bags of groceries? Hoisting a heavy carry-on into an overhead compartment? Keeping up with your kids? All of these things are not a problem when you’ve got strength on your side.

When my son was in kindergarten, I visited his class to speak about the importance of exercise and proper nutrition. I’ll never forget an adorable little kindergartener named Lizzie, with her long locks and her matter of fact demeanor. I asked the class why they thought exercise and strength were important, and Lizzie said, “because it makes everything easier.”

Lizzie was one smart little six-year-old. Exercising to be strong, mobile, and fast makes everyday tasks less cumbersome.

I spent many years as a single mom, unable to rely on another adult in the house to accomplish household tasks. Thanks to the strength I’ve gained from lifting, I was able to carry a sleeping child from the car with minimal effort, and move a twin sized bed into the apartment with no help whatsoever.


It's no coincidence that some of my closest friends are people I've met through fitness.

Lifting weights promotes a sense of camaraderie that, prior to becoming a meathead in my own right, I'd only ever experienced during my time in the Air Force. Whether it's in person or online, women all over the world are bonding over their mutual love of iron and creating a safe and supportive community.

The best part about the community-building aspect of lifting weights? It brings strong, empowered women together, which is something this world really needs more of.


Greater strength of character is one of the most surprising side effects of lifting weights. Your body gets stronger, of course, but with that you find that you're more committed, responsible, aware, and understanding. Your work ethic is significantly elevated, as is your willingness to step beyond your comfort zone.

Learning new lifts and skills and dealing with the inevitable failures that often come with this process teach us how to navigate challenges—which directly impacts how we live our lives, day to day.

When I think of how lifting weights and building character are intertwined, the old adage, "how you do one thing is how you do everything" comes to mind.

Get in the best shape of your life—for good.

With Girls Gone Strong Coaching, you’ll get the support, accountability, and expert coaching to eat and exercise in a sustainable way — without restrictive diets or spending your life in the gym.

Whether your health and fitness goals are to…

  • Get stronger
  • Gain muscle
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  • Improve your pull-ups
  • Have a safe and healthy pregnancy
  • Return to exercise safely postpartum
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  • Increase your confidence

... or anything else, we’ll help you achieve them. You can experience life-changing results while eating and exercising in a way that actually fits into your life — instead of controlling it.

Throughout our 12-month program, you’ll get a simple, step-by-step plan for developing nutrition, fitness, and mindset habits that will lead the way in reaching your goal.

Your coach is available 5 days a week to answer questions and help you navigate situations — like eating while you’re on vacation, exercise substitutions so you don’t aggravate your knee pain, or planning a workout with limited equipment options — so you always have support when you need it. And together, you'll find the best path toward long-term results in a way that works for you.

You’ll learn how to:

  • Improve your nutrition without giving up the foods you love
  • Exercise safely and effectively so you’re getting maximum results from your workouts without burning yourself out
  • Increase your confidence, love the way your body looks, feels, and performs — and enjoy your life more than you ever thought possible

And you’ll become the happiest, fittest, strongest version of yourself, one step at a time.

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About the author:  Neghar Fonooni

Girls Gone Strong co-founder Neghar Fonooni is a fitness and lifestyle coach, writer, entrepreneur, veteran, wife, and mom. Neghar’s mission is to help women all over the world live fit, happy, empowered lives without stress and shame. Learn more about Neghar on her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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