When I first started weightlifting aged 19, it was part of my training programme for athletics. I hated everything about it. I hated the aches and pains, the way it caused my body to change shape and size and I hated the fact it was seen as masculine. Not only that, the gym I was lifting in was a miserable environment. There were never any girls in the weights bay, and all of the other girls in the gym were doing cardio with full faces of makeup and pristine hair. My coach of the time was, looking back on it, pretty unpleasant as a person and had no understanding of developing a young athlete safely. I was lifting 2 hours a day, 5 times a week, often as late as 10pm at night when it was just me and my coach in the gym. It’s no wonder then, that as soon as I parted ways with that coach I stopped weightlifting – and I was much happier for it.
I joined a new Throwing Squad, got a new training programme and although I was tentative at first, I started lifting again on my own. I was still training in the same gym as before, and still wouldn’t say I enjoyed this part of my training – but I was much happier lifting on my own than with a horrible coach! I got my head down and got on with it as I knew it would help my athletics. A couple of years after I joined the throws group, we changed training location and all started lifting together at Rhino’s Gym, in Stamford. And this time, it turned out everything was totally different. I developed a real passion for lifting and I now look forward to my sessions in the weights bay. So what changed? How did I go from sneaking off half way through a lifting session to have a quick cry in the changing rooms, to laughing until I cry during some of my sessions as they are such good fun?
Firstly, my training group was a breath of fresh air. A few of them were – and still are – international athletes who have represented GB for athletics. They were supportive, knowledgeable, reassuring and, most of all, fun. I went from being intimidated to lift my little light weights (affectionately known as my “jammy dodgers” or “polos”) around them, to realising I could soak up years of combined weightlifting knowledge to improve my technique before progressing on to heavier weights. As I got to know the squad better, any self-consciousness I had disappeared, my confidence in the gym grew and, when I realised that I am actually pretty good at lifting, I began to really enjoy it. To this day – 6 years later – I still train with the same group of people. I’ve progressed from my jammy dodgers to being able to bench press 90k. I don’t care about the fact I’m sometimes the only girl at lifting sessions – the guys are supportive, encouraging and make excellent spotters!
The second thing that changed was my environment. I went from lifting in a gym owned by a Corporate company to lifting in a family owned gym, where all the members of staff know your name and you’re met by the family dog (called Arnie, of course) at the door. From a gym where the vast majority of customers were lifting purely to make themselves look better with no real understanding of what they were doing to a gym where many of the customers are training at a high level for sport, bodybuilding and powerlifting. From a gym where girls in the weights bay were given funny looks or ignored, to a gym where the girls train with the boys and lift everything they do. The music is always blaring, there is always one of the family walking round checking how people are doing, and almost every week a new piece of equipment appears that has been requested by one of the customers. No one cares if you look a state; in fact I think the guys in there would keel over laughing if I walked in with a full face of make up after becoming accustomed to my bright red and sweaty face!
So, what is the point of my waffling? Well, if you have tried your hand at weightlifting and aren’t sure it’s for you, or if you’re an experienced weightlifter and aren’t enjoying it as much as you used to, change your experience. Find some friends with an interest in lifting and train together. If you haven’t got any friends with similar interests, then please don’t be put off by gyms that are focussed on lifting. They may not be as fancy and shiny as the big Corporate fitness gyms; but I can guarantee they will be well equipped, the atmosphere will be supportive and you will find a strong sense of community. If you’re not sure about chucking weights around with the men, there are female-only lifting gyms popping up all over the place nowadays. I can almost guarantee that the people you meet there will become your friends, and you will be able to form your own mini training group!
Rhino’s Gym is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RhinosGymnasium/
Or find them here: http://www.rhinosgymnasium.co.uk/