Just before 6:30 in the morning, a group of Estancia High School girls shuffle into the weight room. It’s dark and early on the Monday after Thanksgiving, and a baker’s dozen of Lady Bears have arrived for their twice-a-week workout.

It was cold enough outside to freeze fire, but inside the weight room, things were about to heat up like a pile of sliced Russets plunging into a McDonald’s deep fryer.

“We do it a little different than the boys, we listen to music,” Eric Lucero said at the beginning of Monday’s workout. “It’s just something extra to keep them motivated.”

The Estancia boys work out in the afternoons. The girls start their workouts before sunrise.

Lucero, an assistant coach on the Bears’ football team and the head coach of the girls’ and boys’ track teams, started getting girls into weightlifting in 2013. Now he is orchestrating the girls’ morning weightlifting workouts.

He has another coach help him to maintain the New Mexico Activities Association’s required pod sizes and coach-to-athlete ratio. “We follow all the rules, we follow the guidelines,” Lucero said.

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“Before the pandemic, it was a way to better yourself as an athlete,” senior Olivia Anaya said about working out in the weight room. “But now it’s to have something to do and like, see your friends.”

Lucero said the weight room workouts are so popular that there is a waiting list to get in. He gets regular emails asking if there are openings. “I’m surprised at how many girls want to come,” he said. “It’s really cool.”

Before the workout starts, each girl answers the mandatory Covid-19 questionnaire and has their temperature taken. Then each group takes one of the sanitized power rack stations in the weight room.

Lucero taps his smartphone to start a steady stream of music. The tunes—mostly from the 1990s—are blasting through a large wireless speaker on the floor.

“Four sets of four. Ready? Go!” Lucero called out to get the workout rolling.

One by one, each girl went through a set of squats at their respective rack. Other girls bopped to the music as they waited to take their turns. It was clear they were having fun.

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But make no mistake—these girls are bona fide student-athletes pushing some serious poundage.

In one pod, Sydney Chavez and Rori Griffiths were hoisting 145 pounds before working up to 160.

“I mainly do weights to try to better myself and so I can be stronger at what I do,” Chavez said, adding, “I’ve noticed with the past four years of doing weights I’ve gotten a lot stronger in volleyball with my hits, I’ve gotten more powerful with my jumps for basketball and it pushes me more to run in track.”

As Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” thundered from the speaker, Jenna Fastnacht walked up to her rack while playing air guitar—more specifically, she was slapping her hip as an air bass guitar during the thumping riff between verses.

“Of course, you gotta go with the jam,” Fastnacht said. “Coach Lucero plays the jams, so you get pumped up while getting pumped up and it’s just a whole lot of pumping up, you know what I’m saying?”

But pumping iron is only part of the workout.

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Estancia girls in the weight room during the H.I.I.T. portion of their morning workout, Nov. 30, 2020. Photo by Ger Demarest.

After their weightlifting sets, the girls do a round of high-intensity interval training, or H.I.I.T.: a combination of fast-paced aerobic exercises done in 30-second spurts.

“Set up for your rotations. Make sure you stay in your boxes!” Lucero reminded the girls as they started the fast and furious H.I.I.T. session. He cranked up La Bouche’s “Be My Lover-Remix,” and the girls took turns in a free-for-all of crunches, lunges, and jumps.

“We try to mix it up, get their heart rates going,” Lucero said. “We’re just trying to be super creative.”

With everything that has happened since March—the shutdown, starting summer workouts only to get shut down again, having fall sports postponed until 2021—Lucero said the workouts give the girls a much-needed outlet.

“It’s been hit or miss, you know, that’s kind of the journey, the journey’s the reward,” Lucero said. “But our kids, they’re excited to be in here, they love coming, this is something they look forward to, especially in the times we’re in now.”

“It’s a pretty big outlet for me, honestly, because I have to babysit all day and they drive me crazy, so this is kind of like a stress-reliever for me,” Kaydence Sisneroz said.

“It’s like a huge outlet for me too,” Anaya said. “It’s definitely like a getaway and it feels good to like see everyone and like be around people ‘cuz I need interaction for sure.”

When the girls finished the work out, they all pitched in to clean and sanitize the racks before heading home for their remote learning.

“I just like it,” Kimber Perkins said about coming to the workouts. “I don’t know, I don’t have a real reason. It’s better than staying at home all day.”

“It makes me feel productive ‘cuz at home I’m not doing anything at all,” Anaya added.

Fastnacht said, “You feel tired but it wakes you up so you feel good that you just got up and did something, and it makes you be hopeful that sports are gonna come back because you’re out here working.”

“It definitely makes it easier to get up early in the morning,” Chavez said.

Lucero said he hopes he can keep the workouts going, at least until the Christmas break. “If we can make it to Christmas I’ll be so excited,” he said. “I think we’re all pretty shocked that we’ve made it this far.”