I’ve only been weightlifting for a year but it's quickly become one of my favourite things to do, so I wanted to write a piece about it for anyone who's interested! (TL;DR - my journey through sport… from avoiding P.E. to taking part in competitions)
When I was a kid, my mum took me to all the after-school and holiday clubs going. I did swimming, gymnastics, judo, kung fu, kickboxing, horse riding, ballet, street dance, and probably some more I've forgotten. But despite all that I’ve never seen myself as a “sporty” person. I was bigger than most of the girls (and even boys) my age, and there was always someone more talented, more dedicated, more athletic. I had bags of energy and loved to run around, but I was ashamed of my size and never felt like I really belonged in any of the sporty groups.
Later on, in secondary school P.E., a recurring knee injury coupled with a growing resentment for anything forced on me by authority, I’d ask my mum to write me sick notes as often as I could get away with. I avoided most organised sports… It was much more fun to expend energy by dancing around the kitchen to music, riding my bike along the beach, and sprinting as fast as I could on the way home from the bus stop to get my heart racing. I loved movement, but I hadn’t found an outlet.
Olympic weightlifting was unknown to me before a friend introduced me to the sport. I had a few years of basic strength training under my belt from my gym days at University, but had never ventured into the depths with the barbells and weight plates. The only people I saw there were big, burly men - most of the women in the gym stuck to the treadmills, elliptical trainers, and dumbbells. I didn't know there was a difference between weightlifting, powerlifting, and bodybuilding, and I'd never heard of a Snatch or a Clean & Jerk (at least in any fitness sense!)
I’ll be honest - I was scared at first. Scared of hurting myself with the bar, scared of failing the lifts, scared of being terrible and looking stupid. It was daunting picking up a 10 kilo plate, let alone 20 or 25! The Olympic movements are complicated and take a while to click, but I learned how to break them down into smaller parts and so gained confidence and strength. I can now squat with 85 kg and lift 60 kg over my head, something I never imagined I’d be able to do. The progress I see each week is a huge motivator and keeps me going back for more.
There are still a lot of misconceptions about weightlifting (it doesn’t make you ‘bulky’ like bodybuilding does) and it's easy to think “that would break me!” or “I could never do that”. But you really could. You don't need to be strong to start with, all you need is a good coach to teach you the techniques. The numbers don’t matter unless you’re competing at a high level. And there are so many health benefits. Weightlifting has made me stronger not only physically but mentally; I'm a happier and more resilient human because I'm constantly working on myself and improving my ability.
Also weightlifters are such a friendly, inclusive bunch, they just want to help you advance and be the best you can be. You’re not competing against anyone except yourself, and we all celebrate each other’s successes. There’s no showboating like in some gyms. The club feels like a safe space, somewhere you can try new things and have fun without feeling judged. There is no “one size fits all” in weightlifting, and it’s about what your body can do, not what it looks like.
If you’re anything like me, there will always be someone more “sporty” than you - someone with a faster 100 metre sprint, someone with an amazing talent for hockey who takes it international, someone who is so good at gymnastics that all you can do is watch in amazement as they handstand walk the length of the playground like it’s nothing. But that doesn’t mean there’s no place for you in sports. If you want to live your best life and make the most of your body and your energy whilst you can, then never stop trying to find your thing.
And maybe give weightlifting a go! ;)
- Jaime Jackson, CSWLC Trainee Coach