vintage split jerk

My journey into weightlifting and what it’s like to be a beginner weightlifter

I never set out to do weightlifting. A few years ago I didn’t even know what Olympic lifting was, but I’d started CrossFit and a whole new world of fitness had opened up. The killer combinations of Olympic lifts (snatch, clean & jerk, power clean, etc), gymnastic / bodyweight moves and functional training challenged me physically and mentally.

I was hooked on the adrenaline and intensity of the workouts – heavy weights, fast paced and fierce. Plus, I was learning all these new barbell and gymnastic skills so the journey didn’t stop there…

 

The prequel

During the first few years of CrossFit training I was still running marathons.

The deadlifts, back squats and cleans and functional training such as box jumps and kettle bell swings, all helped me to develop more strength and more power through my hips, glutes and core, which translated really well to stronger running. I could run faster and for longer, and without any sight of injury.

I ran Snowdon Marathon in July 2018, coming in the top half of women (I’m usually trailing at the bottom of the pack) and felt elated not be defeated by a mountain.

However, I decided to park marathon running for a while and spend the next 12 months focusing on bodyweight and barbell skills, particularly pull-ups, toes-to-bar and the snatch, as I was still lagging behind in these. And you know how the saying goes, work your weaknesses, so now was the time.

I found a great weightlifting coach – John McComish, an ex-national champion (for England and Ireland) in Olympic lifting – at Peacock’s boxing and weightlifting gym, which is a local community place but known for its competition training, and I immediately felt in good company.

 

Being a newbie all over again

When I started having weekly one-to-one session with John, in October 2018, all I wanted was to improve my snatch and gain more confidence getting under the bar. At that point, I hadn’t even heard of a weightlifting competition, but by February 2019 my numbers were all going up and John started seeding the idea of entering one ‘some time this year’, which of course, sounded ridiculous to me.

Entering a comp was a bit like how running a marathon feels like something impossibly out of reach for a new runner. The distance feels enormous and you have no concept of what the training or the event is like.

Because I still remember those days, all those years ago as a beginner runner, and also as a beginner CrossFitter, I can recall that feeling of being new to something and how it can feel a bit intimidating at times.

That’s why I always like to remember my journey and where I’ve come from – from super slim, no-upper body strength, serial runner in my 20s and early 30s, to now being able to deadlift 100kg and clean and jerk 55kg (my body weight). It makes me feel super proud.

So I try to cut myself some slack when I’m frustrated that I’m not performing or improving, as I’d like to. It takes a while to build strength and technical skill and I respect that I’ve only been focusing on this for six months.

 

When it sparks joy (and when it doesn’t)

There’s no better feeling than hitting PBs (or PRs if you’re reading from the US). I felt mighty high and floated around with a new confidence when I hit a 40kg snatch (which I used to think was a far-off distant goal) followed unexpectedly by a 42.5kg snatch the following week, and felt totally euphoric for hours that evening.

I’d never experienced the bar riding up so smoothly before, and then catching the weight within seconds and standing up with it strong above my head, and I just wanted to do it again and again.

But of course those big weight PBs don’t come all the time so with the highs there are also lows. I’m currently missing a lot of lifts and it’s hard not to feel like I’m doing something wrong or that maybe, I’m just not right for this. Imposter syndrome definitely springs to mind!

My inner critic might occasionally try and whisper that I’m not a natural lifter and that I’m forcing myself into this sport but I just have to gently shut that voice down and get on with my training. At the end of the day, even if I don’t make huge gains, I’m doing it because it’s fun and hugely rewarding.

Learning something tough that pushes your limits toughens you up, and the confidence and strength I’ve gained has carried over into other parts of my life, so the joy it all ‘sparks’ as had a domino effect.

 

Sharpening the tools

In my mind, I regularly visualise each lift and each part of it and sometimes fall asleep replaying the sequence over and over. It’s great to have something so positive to focus on but it’s also frustrating when the lifts don’t happen in reality.

Powerlifting, which is made up of the deadlift, back squat and bench, is different as the bar doesn’t have to travel overhead or fast so the skillset needed is quite different.

Olympic lifting, particularly the snatch, is highly technical – you need mobility, strength and speed, as well as the mental focus to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. I think the combination of mental and physical skill really appeals to me.

The snatch is performed fairly fast but to make it happen several tiny adjustments have to come together perfectly, and if or when, one tiny element is out of synch then the lift just doesn’t happen. Failing lifts is part of the practice, which is why training can be really frustrating.

I surround myself with a gang of super positive fitness friends who motivate me to work hard and stick to it. And, for all its faults, Instagram can be a motivating place too – I follow small but mighty women, such as 55kg weightlifter Allie Rose (@livlaflift58) and CrossFit queen Jamie Greene (@jgreenewod) as well as CrossFit athlete turned weightlifter Jocelyn Forest (@jocelynforest).

 

What next

I absolutely love spending time, effort (and money) on this new fitness goal. While it can take over your life (in the same way CrossFit or any other sports training can), I’m trying to see it as just a very healthy hobby. I love seeing myself get stronger, not just physically but mentally too, and love learning and drilling the skills.

I still run – little and often, although no long distance this year – and I still do one or two CrossFit classes a week as I have a lot of friends there, and I enjoy it, so I haven’t given up the fast and furious workouts just yet.

I have no idea where this weightlifting journey will take me – just like how I had no idea that starting CrossFit four years ago would lead me here – so I’m excited by that unknown too. I trust I’m on a road that’s positive and empowering so I have no worries of what may come.

 


 

Are you a beginner, or experienced weightlifter? Have you nuggets of experience or wisdom to share? Have you also transitioned from CrossFit or maybe you just want to give it a go? If so, let me know! Keen to hear more on this topic…

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