The Pretty Little Lifters: How Tiffany Ragozzino is Changing the PE Game

June 19, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Marcella Bastos @marcellabphotography
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If you stumble upon Tiffany Ragozzino’s Instagram page – entitled The Pretty Little Lifters – you will see a brightly colored feed full of inspiration and positivity, an intentional step away from the negative diet culture that has infiltrated social media in recent years. A middle school Physical Education (PE) teacher, Ragozzino wakes up every day with a goal – to teach teens and women the things she wished she had learned in PE and Health classes growing up.

Pretty Little Lifters, or PLL as she refers to it, had a simple beginning. Tiffany found CrossFit after she moved to Los Angeles from Orange County, and started attending BRICK Los Angeles, a gym in West Hollywood. She found a friend there who was petite, like Tiffany, and wanted to be strong.

And just like that, the PLL Instagram page was born. 

At first, she would just post her workouts. But Ragozzino’s experience as a teacher took hold, and she started to post healthy habits and tips to teach others how to live a better life. Bridging the gap between being a strong, healthy woman and feeling feminine was essential for Ragozzino. It was 2014, and CrossFit was growing in popularity on a mass scale.

  • “I’m here to show you that you can do both – you don’t have to choose. You can still feel feminine and wear cute pink workout outfits,” she said, adding, “I think sometimes, especially around that time, (CrossFit) was a little grittier. Some people like metal music and gritty garage workouts, but that’s not everyone’s vibe. That’s scary to some people.”

Bringing Strength to the Next Generation

The concept of being strong and taking up space became the goal for Tiffany in 2018 when she became a full-time PE teacher at an all-girls school. She went into that interview clear that she wanted to make significant changes in the world of PE—she wanted to teach girls how to build strength through weightlifting. 

But equipment costs money—a lot of it.

  • “So basically, it’s been a five-year process,” she said. “The first year, I think we only had like $200. So I went to the community, and I just started reaching out.”
  • “I knew the manager at BRICK, and I asked them if they had any equipment they wanted to get rid of and to please send it my way.”
  • Lift Society also helped – they saw what I was doing since I’m constantly posting about everyone on my PLL social media. The owner, who was an ambassador with Lululemon, reached out to me to do a joint fundraiser.”

Ragozzino was on her way. She teamed up with Lift Society and Lululemon in West Hollywood and took off running. Their fundraiser workout raised over $1,000, allowing Ragozzino to purchase all of the barbells and plates she needed, and Lift Society pitched in benches for the program as well.

  • “I also did Donors Choose. That was all networking, talking to people, and getting the community involved. People from (BRICK and Lift Society) donated, and we also got a lot of funding from (the school’s) parent group.”

The support from the parents has helped Ragozzino take the program to the next level, and her students’ buy-in helped form the inclusivity that Ragozzino was after from the get-go.

  • “Getting the parents to buy in was important. And we’ve had a lot of parent’s support; I’ve had so many positive interactions with parents saying, ‘We love what you’re doing. We wish we learned this when we were in school.’ 
  • “I found that the students were more open to participating when I was teaching them about weightlifting than if I was just teaching a sport. Sometimes kids would be doing a sport, and not everyone wanted to do it. With weightlifting, when we have our groups, everyone involved will get a lift. If you’re not lifting, you’re spotting; if you’re not spotting, you’re cheering them on or counting reps – everyone’s doing something.”

More than PRs

Building physical strength was not the only goal of the program. Having a school full of just girls, Ragozzino knew how much lifting weights could influence the development of these young women in a classroom away from boys.

  • “I know what weightlifting did for me personally and my confidence and self-esteem. And I think it does the same thing here.”
  • “One of my favorite stories is when a high school student was at a hotel with her parents, and there was a hotel gym. She went to go use the gym, and while working out, this creepy older guy approached her and asked if she knew what she was doing and if she needed him to show her. The student said, ‘No, I know exactly what I’m doing’ and turned around. And I said ‘Yes! You did not need any man to come over and explain anything to you. You didn’t ask for help.’”

Tiffany does not take her responsibility as a positive role model lightly. Outside of her PE classes, she also started a lifting club after school for girls in 6th-12th grade. The girls can come lift together once a week after school, and Ragozzino gets extra time to help her students, both physically and emotionally.

  • “One of my students told me, ‘I’m having so much fun at lifting club. But my dad told me the other day that I’m getting too buff.’”
  • “I asked her how it made her feel when he said that, and what she could say to her dad about how she feels when she’s lifting. She said, ‘I can tell him I feel really strong. And I love doing this. And it makes me feel good.’”
  • “I said, ‘Then that’s what you go back and tell him.’”

Changing the verbiage and communication tactic around diet culture and the scrutiny of women’s bodies is all but easy. Still, it’s an important thing to take on, especially for girls. Tiffany holds it as one of the most important parts of her teaching curriculum.

  • “I have this thought when I see people posting ridiculous things online or just spreading scare tactics or fear tactics about being skinny or losing weight: They were a kid once, too, dealing with this!”
  • “I wish they would work with a group of teens for a week. I think people don’t think about what the other generations are like, and how they leave their mark on them with this stuff.”
  • “We have to deal with this…What can we do to change our language about this to help this next generation out a little more.”

Go Deeper

Tiffany’s next goal is to instruct other teachers on how to implement this new wave of modern PE, and hopefully get a barbell into the hands of every student in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Ultimately, she says, she doesn’t want this message to end with her.

Here are four ways to learn more about Pretty Little Lifters, and help Ragozzino bring her classes to the masses:

  • Donate to the program to help fund equipment and lifting workshops
  • Listen to the Pretty Little Lifters Podcast
  • Check out the Pretty Little Lifters Website
  • Follow the Pretty Little Lifters Instagram

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