“More Than Likes” is a series about social media celebrities trying to do positive things for their communities.
Like many other videos on Instagram, this video starts with an instructor and a barbell. But then, when instructor Casey Johnston deadlifts the barbell (a 45-pound plus 160-pound weight) to her hips, an annotation appears in the corner. “Things that weigh 25 pounds that I have to pick up regularly” + lbs. ” Then, examples such as suitcases, coolers, and furniture are listed.
Johnston, 36, has built an online community around both advocating for the functional benefits of strength training and demystifying exercise forms that can be intimidating to outsiders. For Johnston, lifting means taking ownership of your body.
She’s not promising washboard abs or waist-slimming tricks like many fitness influencers do. Instead, Johnston has provided more than $34,000 in funding. Instagram followers and nearly 25,000 subscribers she’s the beast newsletter Use tools to build a body that allows you to move through your daily life more seamlessly. And she writes sharp and incisive views on contemporary discourse around fitness, diet, and other related subjects.
“It’s often guilt, guilt, guilt. You can never try hard enough,” Johnston said of the mainstream fitness environment. For her, her gym sessions are “not about going through the most pain you can endure. It’s about building basic skills that are accessible to everyone.”
In Johnston’s experience, the difference can lead to improved emotional and mental health. “This becomes a satisfying feedback loop for her and it’s like, oh, ‘I can be stronger, my body just exists as a meat bag to hold my brain, and it doesn’t exist to look attractive to other people,'” she said.
From 2014 to 2018, Johnston, who was an editor at Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews products, began writing her articles. ask a swollen woman A column on the site Hairpin in 2016 (“bulging” means very muscular). She found her writing resonated with readers who wanted more accessible fitness writing, and after the site shut down in early 2018, her column resonated before becoming part of the newsletter’s paid version. She has also written an e-book.Liftoff: Couch to Barbellis marketed as “a weightlifting guide for the rest of us” (sold over 10,000 copies), and she has a channel on the social app Discord where she connects directly with her readers.
Before Johnston started working out, he focused on running and calorie restriction as a way to pursue the kind of body that was glorified when he was growing up in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The pursuit was fraught with negativity.
“I think people my age grew up in very difficult times with attitudes towards women in the media and ridiculing women for their minor flaws,” Johnston said. “The media had a right to monitor how women looked and behaved in public. Britney Spears was perhaps the most canonical example of this, with constant headlines as to whether her weight had fluctuated.”
In 2013, Johnston stumbled across a Reddit post featuring female bodybuilders and was intrigued. She was ready for change. She didn’t eat much and often had cold hands and feet. Through her lifting, she found she was able to balance her food intake and exercise more intelligently. But she’s not here to criticize other approaches.
“I’m totally open to whatever people want to do. I’m not here to argue with them about what they think works,” Johnston said of those who prefer other forms of exercise to weightlifting. “My only position is that I think strength training gets a bad rap.”
The first time she went to the gym, she said it was an “intimidating place,” she pushed her fears aside and performed three exercises—squats, benches, and rows—three sets of five “repeats” each.
She then said she headed straight for the bodega. “I’m getting very hungry,” Johnston said. “My body seems to want a treat after going to a fight.”
Johnston soon began building a diet around lifting, eating more protein and carbohydrates. She was delighted with her newfound strength.
“She always thinks of her body as this system,” said her partner, Seamus McKinnan. “What’s in it? What can I do with it? And how can I feel better and be able to do more?”
Her platform will provide “a place for people to find themselves with others who share their perceptions and aspire to more functioning and sustainable practices,” Johnston said.
Her friend Choile Sicha, editor-in-chief of New York Magazine and former editor of the New York Times’ style section, purchased Johnston’s e-book in 2021. After sitting at his desk for long hours during the pandemic, he found his body on the verge of “deteriorating,” as Shicha puts it, and challenged himself to do something “terribly uncomfortable.” He became a volunteer firefighter, but realized he needed to get fit.
He turned to Ms. Johnston’s lifting guide and found it resonated with the underlying philosophy of her work.
“She knows that not all of us can be weightlifting champions, and she knows that not all of us look beautiful when we achieve it,” Sicha said. “It’s a very anti-Instagram aesthetic. It’s very human.”