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

vintage split jerk

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…

Alternative Ways of Being #8: Empowering Self-Talk

sarah powell international womens day
‘That inner critic voice you hear that tells you you’re rubbish, that you’re never as good as so and so, or you’ll never be good enough to do blah, is talking bollocks. It’s lying and you should never listen to it.’ 
– Sarah Powell
Fantastic words of wisdom dished out by Sarah Powell @thisissarahpowell at our Hearst offices on International Women’s Day this year. We regularly have guest speakers and Sarah was on point!
sarah powell international womens day
@thisissarahpowell

The concept of the inner critic is very familiar to me thanks to quite a few years of therapy. I started therapy after a difficult breakup but stuck with it because it’s so valuable and you learn so much about yourself, people, relationships and psychology in general. I now see it as an ongoing investment into mental wellness.

My therapist does a psycho-dynamic and classic psychotherapy style that helps to analyse behavioural patterns, and the inner critic and the self critical voice is something we cover a lot. So it was brilliant to hear Sarah reference this, especially as recognising your critical voice is the first step to actually being free of it and living a happier life.

Sarah called it the mean voice, my therapist calls it the ‘old brain’ but what ever you call it, it is often destructive and rarely helpful.
Sarah called it the mean voice, my therapist calls it the ‘old brain’, but what ever you call it, it is often destructive and rarely helpful. It’s usually connected to past experiences – perhaps formative years, childhood or teenage years. Understanding this has helped to soften it so it has less hold and control.


A regular therapy session might involve recognising when the old brain has reared its ugly head – it might be a confrontation at work or with a friend or an argument with a sibling or parent – and digging around to hopefully identify its roots. Then I may know why I reacted so irrationally or over-emotionally and cut myself some slack. So therapy has been a great place to learn to be kinder to myself too.


From what I understand the inner critic isn’t the rational adult brain talking – that’s why Sarah says it’s talking bollocks – but it comes from an old part of you that’s triggered when confidence, ego or self-esteem, for example, has been threatened and then it jumps in to say, ‘Ha! I told you were rubbish and no good and that nobody likes you!’


I’m now pretty good at recognising the awful inner critic – usually comparing me to the other girl in the room – so when it does pipe up, I just give it a nod but then push it firmly away and try to replace it with something more positive and helpful. I really have very little time for it these days and that’s testament to the therapy work.

 

My sessions are fortnightly now and still, after several years, walk away from nearly every appointment (they are 50 mins long) having learnt a little bit more about myself and better ways of dealing with things.

 

Sarah had a whole heap of other stuff to share about self-empowerment, confidence and just managing life in general when it feels overwhelming AF. So check her out on IG where she spills more of her inspiration for positive self-talk.

Stuffocation – a new challenge for 2016

stuffocation new year resolutions 
The issue of stuff seems to be a popular one right now. Not only is it the time of year to de-clutter our cupboards and minds but two books that came out last year are still being talked about now: Stuffocation by James Wallman, about excessive consumerism, and The Life Changing Method of Tidying by Marie Kondo, Japan’s expert declutterer who everyone seems to be quoting. I haven’t read either but I feel like I’m on a similar mission of mindfulness right now.

Basically, I’ve always owned way too much stuff and it’s been bothering me for some time. I’ve always been a thrift lover, never one to miss a charity, vintage or second hand shop and always spotting a hidden treasure in a junkyard, brick a brack shop, sale or market. Between the ages of 15 and 17 I would quite often come home to tell my parents of yet another ‘amazing’ wardrobe or dressing table I’d just bought from our local charity shop and poor them, would have to make space for it in the garage.

For longer than a decade I’ve collected fabulous things from these kind of places – never junk in my eyes, but usually something unique, unusual and always one off. I’ve never been attracted to designer handbags or glitzy high heels but I do find it hard to walk away from anything circa 1950s, 60s, 70s or 80s.

But recently I decided to clear the clutter. No more 70s platforms I can’t walk in, no more 60s playsuits I can’t wear out.

 So I listened to friends tell me about Kondo’s book and the line where she tells you to ask yourself if an item ‘sparks joy’. This sounded great in theory but realised there was a flaw.

What if everything you own brings you joy? What if you love every bit of clutter you’ve collected? That’s the problem with people like me – all their stuff brings them joy!

So I’ve tweaked Kondo’s rule of ‘sparking joy’ to make it more effective for me:

My new rule: ‘Does it bring me joy AND is it useful?’. 

I’ve finally decided I no longer want to hold on to so much stuff unless it’s useful.  For example, there’s no point keeping a beautiful pair of vintage Ralph Lauren silk trousers (which bring me a lot of joy) if they’re too long and I can’t wear them. If they fail the useful test, they have to go!

Having to tick both boxes definitely helps limit accumulation and aid elimination. With this rule in mind, recent edits and clear outs have been far more ruthless and extensive than they were a few years ago.

My recent recent house move involved several harsh culls across from kitchenware to coats. I slashed everything down and it felt really really good. I’m no longer cluttered and there’s plenty of space in my new flat BUT that’s not a reason to start collecting, buying and owning again. 

I guess that’s where the mindfulness comes in – it’s being aware and connected to what’s in our lives, physically and mentally, and assessing our relationship with it. 

>> My aim this year is to get to the point where I’m not just a non-hoarder but, in an ideal world, I’d like to get to the point where I only own what I use. I want to own a curated collection of things, not everything. I realise it might be a tall order but there’s no harm in trying.

There’s something cathartic about the notion of owning less. I’m looking forward to the feeling of lightness and simplicity. Of quality not quantity. I feel like this whole experiment (and I do see this as an experiment of sorts)  could be a form of psychological and emotional release too.

I appreciate this new attitude towards stuff jars with the super-charged commercial and highly materialistic world we live in but I’ve got to the point where I actually want to be free of it all.

If I could halve what I own in the next six months I’ll consider it a success. In the meantime, I’m operating on a one-in-one-out basis which is an achievable way of keeping on top of things, especially good if you’re not quite ready for a complete cull. Let’s see if I am!