I Worked Out Like Ashley Graham — & Here's What Happened

It's not a secret that the gym can be an intimidating place (for anyone), but it takes an especially brave soul to exercise as a plus-size person. You have to ignore the trolls on your workout selfies and the awful people who come up to you mid-push-up to tell you to stop trying (a real thing that happened to me). And you have to be able to ignore the incredulous voice of our culture at large, continually asking: How can someone be happy with their fat body and still work out?

Until we as a society shift our thinking towards fat acceptance and body positivity for all bodies, these will remain obstacles for plus-size people. But something we can do about it right now, individually, is to simply keep loving our bodies the way they are — and keep exercising. For inspiration, I look to none other than plus-size model and fitness enthusiast Ashley Graham.

Graham's Instagram account is a major workout resource. Every few days, she posts a picture or video of her training. And these are not the photos or videos of a woman who's taking it easy at the gym. They’re sweaty. They’re hardcore. They depict routines that probably warrant a doctor’s note if you’re working out for the first time. And they're also an inspirational example for those of us who don't care to work out out to lose weight, but instead do it to feel good, energized, and healthy.

So, partly because I just freaking love Ashley Graham, but mostly because I want to follow her good example, I decided to copy her workout routine for two weeks.

Let's get this out of the way: I’ve seen so many exercise challenges and read so many fitness advice articles that claim doing a celebrity's workout is all you need to do to get you a body like theirs — and I hate those articles. Aside from the fact that those types of stories don’t take into account health conditions, genetics, abilities, or even resources, why is the assumption always that we need (or even want) a body like someone else's? So before you keep reading, know that this is not a story about my quest to get the same body as Ashley Graham. Instead, this is a story about a woman who works out (me), gaining workout inspiration from a famous woman who also likes to work out.

So with all that said, this is what I learned about my body — and fitness in general — after working out like Ashley Graham.

Week One
I'll admit, I was a little intimidated to take on this challenge. I’ve been open about my workout history and have been a consistent athlete for most of my life. Even so, Graham is the #CurvyFitClub Queen, and I had recently been in a sort of fitness rut. For this week, I chose to pair cardio with one-legged dumbbell squats, burpees, kettlebell swings, and TRX bands, all inspired by AG's Instagrams. The workout is more intense than what I normally do, but I was up for it.

I alternated between a running workout and a strength-training workout each day of the first week. The cardio days involved a 40-minute treadmill run consisting of: a 10-minute warm-up jog, then running on an incline for one minute, followed by two minutes of recovery time during which I slowed (and flattened) things down a bit. Graham doesn't specify that she does this exact thing, but according to this running 'gram, she is intensely doing cardio. So I looked up a cardio workout and found one that was more intense (within reason) than what I normally do.

For the strength training, I completed four sets of 10 reps of one-legged dumbbell squats with a 10-pound weight in each hand, three sets of 10 reps of kettlebell swings with a 15-pound kettlebell, and 20 TRX band push-ups and chest presses — I got these numbers based on what I could reasonably do. And, to be clear, I could barely do it: I wanted to die on day one, but I promise you it did get much easier, very soon.

By the end of the week, I went up in weight on the one-legged dumbbell squats — going from 10 pounds in each hand to 20 pounds. Even though I was doing a whopping four sets of 10 reps on each leg, the amount wasn’t what was killing me. I realized every time my leg bent that I have the worst balance on the planet, which forced me to go a lot slower than I normally would when using weights (and slower means harder). The kettlebell stayed a consistent 15 pounds, as I was trying to be conscious of keeping my core and back stable to avoid causing an injury.

This is a lot more full-body movement than I’m used to doing, and as such it required a bit more thought on my part in terms of wardrobe. Yeah, sure, I can squat with the best of them, but when you're doing as much dynamic movement as I was doing this week, you have to be very aware of the outfits you wear to the gym; everything has to be supported. (I lived my life in Rainbeau Curves tops and bras for this challenge, and man did they come through!)

A photo posted by laura (@lauradelarato) on

Week Two
I focused on my upper body this second week, and for cardio I took the exact same bike ride as Graham did when she rode from Brooklyn to Harlem.

I went to the gym this week knowing I'd need to focus on form; I tend to have difficulty keeping my back straight and knees slightly bent when doing upper-body moves, so I tried to be mindful. I did three sets of 10 reps for each move of this arms-and-core workout each day, and threw in some crunches for good measure. I definitely left the weight room with a hardcore layer of sweat and shine every single morning. By the end of the week, I felt like I could lift a house — okay, not really. But I do have this crazy cut in my arm just begging for someone to notice and ask, “Do you lift, bro?”

A photo posted by laura (@lauradelarato) on

My dear, sweet gym-goers: You’re in for a real ass-kicking if you're going to try to work out with Ashley Graham from afar. The biggest difference I noticed from these past two weeks was that my mood was much brighter during the day and I fell asleep much faster each night. It also totally helped that I went on an arm-wrestling kick for a good week afterwards and slaughtered my competition.

Did I magically transform into a Lane Bryant model after two weeks? Nope. (Remember? Not the goal!) But I did learn that I could push myself and work a lot harder than I normally do.

Thankfully, I didn't have a run-in with any gym trolls during my time doing this challenge, but when I spoke about the fact that I was trying to work out like Ashley Graham, many people asked me why I would take my fitness advice from another plus-size person. This represents a major problem: We have trouble considering a person with a plus-size body capable of even sharing how they stay healthy. (Another example: the Youtube comments on this video of Ashley Graham working out.)

Largely, this is because the link between weight and health has been oversimplified to a point that should be considered criminal. We just assume that everyone works out so we can finally let the skinny inside of us free, and this ultimately sets people of all sizes up to hate working out.

I just want to work out so I can be the best version of myself. That version of myself is always going to be plus-size, and I feel amazing about that. Thankfully, there are women like Ashley Graham out there to help inspire me to reach new heights.

And of course, no Ashley Graham workout is ever fully finished without a sexy mirror selfie.

✌🏽out #SanFrancisco, it's been real! #beautybeyondsize

A photo posted by A S H L E Y G R A H A M (@theashleygraham) on

A photo posted by laura (@lauradelarato) on


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