Abs Are Overrated: Kelsey Kiel Finds Beauty and Acceptance In Performance

December 14, 2020 by
Photo credit: Linette Messina Kielinski
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If you were to run into Kelsey Kiel in your local grocery store. You might not think much of her. To most people, she’s just an ordinary person shopping the produce section at Whole Foods and browsing the clearance section at Target. 

But put Kiel in a gym and something different happens. Her powerful legs give her the strength to move over 200 pounds with ease and her sheer athleticism is enough to outjump, and outlift nearly anyone who challenges her. Her confidence radiates and she takes pride in her body and what it can do, but it hasn’t always been like that.

One big thing: Earlier in 2020, Kiel moved to Lake Placid to train with USA bobsled after spending the better half of the previous decade training to be an elite CrossFit athlete. After moving to Lake Placid, Kiel found her body going through changes that began to make her question her identity as an athlete.

  • “I think because I was so used to my body looking a certain way for the last four years, I’ve been transitioning into this new sport and it’s different,” she said.
  • “My training is not the same anymore. I am focusing 70% on sprinting and learning sprint mechanics and getting those kinds of workouts in and maybe 30% lifting weights,” she added.
  • “But your body is going to reflect that when your training changes. Your body is going to reflect what you’re doing,” Kiel concluded.

Honor your body:As Kelsey transitions towards being a bobsled athlete, she has learned that the most important thing to do is to honor what your body can do, and get away from focusing on just what it looks like.

  • “I’m really working on embracing what my body can do and what it’s adapting to be able to do,” Kiel said.
  • “I am not a CrossFitter anymore. I am a bobsledder, so I need my body to do things that it needs to do,” she added.
  • “From a mental standpoint, it can be hard when society pushes what our bodies should look like,” she continued.
  • “For me, it’s important that I am not only honoring changes my body is going through, but also reminding myself that these changes are good. They’re helping me do the things that are more sports specific [to bobsledding],” she concluded.

It’s not easy: Kiel also acknowledged that this journey wasn’t easy for her or anyone.

  • “I think that with females and with body image stuff, it will always be a constant work in progress for the rest of our lives,” she said.
  • “We go through the ups and downs of taking our bodies for what they are at whatever given moment,” Kiel added.

“Abs are overrated” is a phrase Kiel often uses to remind her clients to fight against the pressure to look a certain way.

  • “What you look like on the outside is no reflection of who you are on the inside,” she said.
  • “When I first started CrossFit, I used to joke about wanting ‘one ab’,” Kiel joked,, commenting that many of her clients she trains often just want abs.
  • “But if you think about it, those top CrossFitters, they’re not sitting there doing crunches. Abs are just a result of what you do on a daily basis as a CrossFitter,” Kiel added, noting that we as a community need to stop focusing on what these athletes look like, and more on what they can do.
  • “If you’re working hard and focused solely on performance, it shouldn’t matter what your core looks like,” she concluded.

The support of the community: For Kiel, being able to honor her body as it transitions has come easier, because of the support of her fellow athletes in the bobsled world.

  • “I personally have only been immersed in this sport for not even three months. I’ve been bobsledding on ice for 3 weeks,” Kiel said.
  • “I still don’t even know what I don’t know, but I have heard almost zero conversation about appearance,” she added.
  • “It doesn’t matter if you weigh 225 pounds or 160 pounds if you can push a bobsled fast, that’s all that matters,” she said.

Focus on performance, not appearance: The takeaway that Kiel has gathered from all this, has really been that her focus on performance over appearance has made a huge difference.

  • “We get lost in comparing ourselves image-wise to everyone and anyone. If we can focus on the performance side of things, it doesn’t matter how much you weigh or if you have an eight pack,” Kiel said.
  • “If you really genuinely love CrossFitting or weightlifting, or whatever, and you can get away from what the scale says or the inches around your waist, in the long run, you’re going to perform better,” she continued.
  • “Happiness is the journey you’re on in life. I think too often, we base happiness outside of what we look like or a number,” Kiel added.
  • “I just think it’s so much more internal and about enjoying the journey than it is this final destination point of a six pack or a certain body fat percentage,” she said.
  • “And that’s hard. Like I said at the very beginning, this is a journey that everyone’s going to be going through their entire lives. I sure am,” she concluded.

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