I joined Second Wind three years ago wanting to be fit again, but I had no idea how much I would love becoming strong. The lifting part of CrossFit – the cleans, jerks, snatches, squats, presses and deadlifts – made sense to me right away. I mean, I wasn’t fantastic at any of it right away, but I knew I loved it and wanted to be better at it.

Lifting was fun, it was cathartic, and it connected me to a community I fell in love with immediately. And now I had a goal, my first real personal goal in forever: be better at picking up barbells! It was kind of a fuzzy, vague goal, and maybe an odd one for a woman about to turn 40, but it made all the sense in the world to me.

But why? What is it about lifting that I love so much? Three years later, why does a heavy front and back squat complex or a partner snatch ladder still make me so happy?

There is the scientific answer, of course. Plenty of studies have shown that high intensity workouts like Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting and CrossFit raise the levels of our “happy hormones” dopamine and serotonin. Very literally, I am a happier person because I squat. There are also the tangible results of weightlifting.

I love, love, love my muscles and the greater physical and mental confidence that has come with knowing what kind of weight I can move.

At the core, though, the reasons I love lifting have more to do with something much less concrete, but no less real.

It’s mine. Very little in my life is mine and mine alone, and that’s fine – I love that being a mom, wife, friend, manager, employee, and everything else means that lots of other people have a say about how I spend my time. Once I started at Second Wind, though, I began slowly but surely restructuring my life so that I could honor the five or so hours a week that I claim for myself there. It’s mine, and everyone in my life who loves me knows not to get between me and the door when I’m leaving for the gym.

I can’t be anywhere else when I’m lifting. How often are we truly present during the day? We have so many distractions and pulls on our time that it’s almost impossible to be fully engaged in whatever we’re doing. I can’t even enjoy the luxury of a massage anymore without my mind wandering off to my mental to-do list. Not so with lifting. Lifting demands that you be there, completely present in the moment, mentally, emotionally and physically. When it’s just me and a loaded barbell, the world outside just melts away for a little while. That is a real luxury.

Being better at lifting makes me want to be better at everything else. I love lifting, and I love CrossFit in general. That said, I do not and likely will never love burpees or running, and three years in, I am nowhere closer to doing an unassisted pull up. Because of the physical and mental confidence I’ve gained through lifting, though, I have become more determined (and able) to master movements that seemed impossible not so long ago – and I’m also more patient with myself about how long it might take me to get there. Double-unders, 24-inch box jumps, and kicking up into a handstand against a wall are all under the “Not Always Pretty But Can Do It” column now, and I love being able to do them all the more for how hard it was – physically AND mentally – to get there.

As for the burpees and running, even if there is no love, I can now at least appreciate the place they have – alongside all the lifting that I DO love – in helping me become stronger, faster, better…at the gym and in life.