Earlier this year, distance runner and running coach Emma Abrahamson shared four different photos of herself throughout her high school running career on Instagram. The photos depicted the changes her body went through during that time, including a 50-pound weight gain. She felt it is important to normalize how your body grows and changes during a time when girls are influenced by outside sources including media, coaches, and parents. She also used it as an opportunity to advocate for healthy fueling.
“I have a lot of young female runners who follow me, and also, I think with social media and TikTok, they see a lot of unhealthy practices being put out into the world in terms of running,” Abrahamson told Runner’s World. “A lot of those posts don’t depict how much you should be eating and how much your body should change, so when I saw those old pictures of my own body changing, I decided to post.”
This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.
Her photos, which she posted to the Instagram page for her podcast Convos Over Cold Brew, and subsequent podcast episode gained a lot of traction, even though it was not shared to her personal page. Many commenters said they were so glad to see someone else is going through it, and body changes being normalized.
“I definitely wish I’d seen something like this when I was growing up, I wanted young girls to be reassured that it’s important for them to let their bodies change and that fueling those changes is essential,” Abrahamson said.
Accepting your body as it changes can be hard for anyone. Couple that with “ideal” body type young women are supposed to have—based on stereotypes on social media, in the tabloids, and touted by fitness blogs—and acceptance can be that much harder.
Giving yourself enough fuel for and allowing your body to change in a healthy way during puberty is very important, Elizabeth Barchi, M.D., sports medicine specialist at NYU Langone’s Center for Women’s Sports Health told Runner’s World.
“These changes are not only natural, but they are also necessary for optimal female health,” Barchi said.
When going through puberty, your body experiences a number of significant changes—such as increased percentage of body fat, wider hips, fuller chest, and a growth spurt—which can lead to gradual weight gain. And, most of the bone density for a female’s lifetime is developed during puberty, which is why proper fuel (and allowing yourself to gain healthy weight) is key. During puberty and beyond, it’s essential to have a well-balanced diet with enough protein, fats, and carbohydrates, Barchi said.
But, you can’t write yourself off because your body is changing, Abrahamson said. “I was worried this was going to happen to me, and yes running did feel different, but I grew eight inches and gained 50 pounds.”
As your body grows and changes, you may notice that running feels different. Longer legs and naturally increased weight can lead to both a shift in the center of gravity and a change in gait mechanics. Sometimes this change in mechanics can lead to muscle imbalances and overuse injuries, according to Barchi.
And, Barchi added there is no one “runner’s body.” It’s easy to focus on weight when, in reality, many “skinnier” runners never make it to the starting line due to injuries.
During Abrahamson’s junior year, her 3200 got slower, but her mile got faster. She says that she focused on shifting her mindset toward her strength, and not doing anything harmful to change her body or stop herself from putting on extra pounds as she grew.
“I never had any bone injuries, and I credit that to fueling adequately,” Abrahamson said. “Your running career is such a long-term thing, it’s important to listen to your body and fuel properly.”
Abrahamson said her body changed in college, too. Overall, she says it’s important to remember that you don’t have to fit a certain mold or look like someone else to be a good runner.
“It’s so normal to grow during those years, be gentle with yourself. Get rid of clothes that don’t fit and get clothes for your new woman body, don’t try to reverse anything,” Abrahamson suggested.
Abrahamson also recommends unfollowing any accounts on social media that make you feel bad about yourself or suggest you should look a certain way.
“Be gentle with yourself and allow your body to change during puberty years. It’s doing what it needs to do,” Abrahamson said. “I never weighed myself in high school, I knew I needed to grow, so I made sure to give my body the fuel it needed.”
And while everyone’s body changes, each woman has a different experience with their journey to accepting their body. Sometimes these changes happen early in life, and other times it takes growth and strength to face them head on. And no matter what, it’s important to remember there’s no “ideal runner’s body,” no matter what you might see in highlight reels online.
Surround yourself with positivity
Ultra trail runner Lucy Bartholomew ran her first 100K when she was 15 years old, but instead of being celebrated, she was told it was dangerous for an adolescent. She received rude comments about her size, including that she had an eating disorder and an exercise addiction, when really she just loved spending time running with her dad.
After high school, Bartholomew spent a gap year enjoying a mock-professional athlete lifestyle, traveling the world to race. But at 18, she stood on the starting line and started to compare herself to the fast girls. She grew up as a sporty kid with little ideology as to what she needed to look like for particular sports, but always an idea of what “fit” looked like and the social standard of an athlete.
“Keep in mind in mountain and trail running the body shapes differ far more than in road and track running,” she told Runner’s World. “Thus, I started to fight my own body which was still growing and developing. Yes, I started to run faster. Yes, I finished that year and fell into a full-time sponsorship, but no, it wasn’t healthy and no, it didn’t last.”
Bartholomew said she’s lucky to be surrounded by people who only raise her up, and openly talk about negative comments. She reminds herself, Why do I care what someone who doesn’t know me think, why am I letting that bother me.
“When I am running and I feel shitty about myself or I have negative thoughts, I usually make an effort to run in my sports bra—feeling empowered and find reasons to smile that have nothing to do with the way I look, such as gratitude for the sun, the birds,” Bartholomew said. “When I get home I choose to perform acts of self-love by taking the time to make a nourishing meal, a bath, read, or other mindful activities and remind myself to breathe through this time. If there is anything I have learned in this sport it’s that everything passes.”
She believes in making good choices for your body, being educated on what fuel means, and that it’s especially important for athletes to understand that with the stress of training, your body needs rest and nourishment. Bartholomew has been in this sport for eight years and hasn’t had a stress fracture or any bone related injuries, which she credits in part to proper fueling.
“I think seeking help and understanding and researching these days is the key to success but understanding that we need to filter the good and the bad because it all starts to blur when you really get into it,” Bartholomew said. “For me, I choose home-cooked over take out and big meals after training, and listen to my body and eat the cake. Otherwise, what’s the point? It’s still hard, but I am more thankful for what my body can do than what it looks like.”
To young girls—or anyone—who feels or has been told they have to look a certain way to be a good runner, Bartholomew said she would say, “F— that. Be the change you want to see in the world. Be proud of who you are, the legs that you stand on the, the arms that swing to propel you forward, the hear on you that beats to your own drum, the lungs that fill and release to breath in every moment and the head on your shoulders that you have the choice to decide what you allow in and what you don’t.”
Negative influences don’t go away when you’re an adult
Kelly Roberts, a runner and the creator of Badass Lady Gang and #SportsBraSquad, said she never a skinny body type. As a teen in the early 2000s, seeing an “idealized” skinny body type in the tabloids wreaked havoc on her physical and mental health.
“I had horrible body dysmorphia, I tried everything to be smaller, from diet pills to bulimia,” Roberts said. “And that’s how it’s sold in health and fitness space. Many instructors have a certain body type. But no one tells you that everyone builds muscle differently, even if they’re doing the same workouts and eating the same food. And, that it’s not normal to work out three to six times a day, but that’s the bar we compare ourselves to.”
But she didn’t like working out because it didn’t feel good, it was hard and embarrassing, and she didn’t feel like she fit in at the gym. When her brother died when she was 19, she gained more than 75 pounds in the months after he passed. The following year, she decided to try to lose weight and started going to the gym and started a diet service.
“We all have been indoctrinated to the idea that working out is to lose weight and to be smaller,” Roberts said. “Body weight is a way to know if we have good or bad bodies, and the fitness industry relies on consumerism, like selling a gym membership or supplements, or saying run and lose weight. But that’s actually the most unhealthy way to take on an active lifestyle.”
It wasn’t until she graduated college two years later that she started running because she was so depressed and lonely. Running helped her avoid those feelings and ultimately helped her get the courage to start to work through what she’d gone through, and she began to fall in love with it.
But even to this day, Roberts still struggles to convince people that she’s healthy, because she doesn’t have a certain body type. For example, often when she goes to the doctor, they never asked her about what she is eating or how she is exercising, and instead immediately suggest she needs to lose weight.
Once, a week after she ran the Chicago Marathon in three hours and 41 minutes, a doctor wanted her to get a heart scan because he thought her low resting heart rate of 37 was a heart condition, not the result of training. She immediately left the appointment and got a new doctor.
“If you have a bigger body, you’re constantly being told you’re not enough, something is wrong with you,” Roberts said. “No one’s really taught how to let their bodies adapt or that it’s okay to have cellulite.
At one point in her running career, she decided to take a VO2 max test to get more insight about her fitness. She also didn’t realize how much healthy fat she was supposed to be taking in, and when she adjusted her diet, it helped her perform in ways she wasn’t before. Which in turn, helped her improve her self-confidence.
“For the longest time, I had never run in shorts, I was too embarrassed. I have cellulite, my thighs touched, I was convinced everyone thought I didn’t belong. It was my own self-sabotaging dialogue.” Roberts said.
One hot summer day in New York City, that changed.
She missed her 7 a.m. group run, so she had to run later than normal. When her usual outfit of capris and a tank got too hot, she decided to take her shirt off and run in just her sports bra. Later, she posted about it on Instagram. She got so many comments of people saying, “I could never, I’m afraid of what my neighbors will say.”
And that sparked the idea to start the #sportsbrasquad, which encourages and empowers women of all shapes and sizes to run in their sports bras, and show it off.
She said that she also wants to show others what strong looks like—that it doesn’t have to look like typical images we’re presented with. Which is also the message of Badass Lady Gang, a running group open to anyone—it doesn’t matter how fast or far you run. It’s about making a connection, making new friends, and really being brave.
“We’re already doing the work and showing up, and it’s not okay so many of us use our shirts or something as a coat of armor,” Roberts said.
Outfit Your Body to Perform at Its Best
Alexandria Williams, runner and FitHair expert told Runner’s World that during puberty, her body went through all the normal changes, and the growth of her breasts kept her from participating in a lot of activities. She was very self-conscious, and exercise just wasn’t comfortable.
Those problems she encountered in high school led her to become a sports bra expert and embrace being a curvy runner. When she started running, she sometimes found it hard to breathe, but it turned out she was actually in the wrong size of sports bra. And, studies have found that having larger breasts may deter women from participating in exercise, especially high-intensity exercise or running, which may be perceived as uncomfortable.
This was true for Williams. She found she’d either be too strapped down, or not supported enough, and knew she was not the only woman with this issue.
“I’m short, curvy, and have boobs. I’ve lost some weight through running, but that’s not my huge focus.” Williams said.
Now, she’s all about educating other women on how to find the proper sports bra. And as a self-proclaimed middle-of-the-pack runner, and feels she speaks to the everyday woman.
“I am big on removing barriers, and one of the biggest barriers for me and many other women is not having the right sports bra,” Williams said.
In addition, for a long time she struggled with accepting her body as it continues to change. But finally one day before a run in the Texas heat she decided she couldn’t go out in a shirt any more.
“It was the most freeing moment. And from then on, I began to be really comfortable in being uncomfortable,” she said. “I made myself do that because it was more important to be active than it was to be worried about what somebody might be thinking looking at me for five seconds.”
Since then, Williams hasn’t looked back. She typically runs in only a sports bra or crop top, and doesn’t care what anyone has to say.
For other women thinking about going shirtless, Williams says first make sure you get into a sports bra with a good fit, and she has resources that can help you. She suggests looking for adjustable straps and also figuring out what material, style, and fit you prefer. For example, she like bras with straps that come over her shoulder for running, but cross-back bras for HIIT workouts. She said to find bras that you like for each activity that will help you feel better both mentally and physically, and won’t hinder you.
She also picked out a cute bra, one that makes her excited and looks like a complete “’fit” rather than something she just threw on.
Once you have a good fitting bra, next it’s time to ask yourself who told you “insert fear here”?
“More than likely, no one has really said to us, Oh my gosh we see all of your rolls, you should put a shirt on.’ Most of that is just in our minds and since it’s nobody but ourselves judging it, try and enjoy your runs.”
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io