I don’t come from a particularly athletic family. Sure, my father played cricket and competed in a few table tennis championships in his day, but for the most part, my mother closes her eyes and says a few quick prayers every time she watches my lifting videos, “you’re exercising too much” seems to be a constant refrain in the household and my relatives make a big deal if I even so much as bring a skipping rope with me on holiday.
Academic prowess always seems to have eclipsed sports performance in our household.
But now, well into my twenties, I’ve decided to take up weightlifting. That’s right, olympic weightlifting of all things. And it’s a lot harder than it looks.
You don’t just throw a barbell overhead and hope to catch it.
There’s countless hours of training involved, honing your power, speed, mobility and agility — all of which make it a supremely vexing sport yet extremely rewarding at the same time.
Maybe New Zealanders with their glorious bodies and naturally athletic demeanour, who seem to have participated in everything from rowing to lawn bowls in their childhood, pick up new sports naturally — but for me, my three month olympic lifting journey has been particularly frustrating. A few weeks into training I managed to stuff up my hip (it still hasn’t come right), I’ve had to re-learn how to squat and most days I’m working on technique at 20kg (or below!).
For a sport that’s all about your totals this isn’t really great for my ego — but moving from exercising obsessively at the gym to training for Olympic lifting is probably one of the best decisions I’ve made. And nothing worth doing is ever easy, right?
Reasons to consider olympic lifting:
1 — It’s not superficial or vain
You know when you walk into a gym and see those buff dudes bicep curling in front of the mirror, or swarms of girls taking selfies right in front of the machines you want to use? There’s none of that in weightlifting. I’ve seen great athletes of all shapes and sizes and ages moving some incredible weights — and at the end of the day if you can make the lift, that’s all that matters.
2 — You’ll train safer
Ironically I’m writing this with a bung hip, but this kind of training has made me super aware of my body, how I’m moving and what corrective exercises I need to be doing. Working with a small group and a dedicated coach means you can reinforce technique rather than bashing out reps quickly. Best of all your programme is tailored to you so you can work on your weaknesses and turn them into strengths!
Overhead squat issues – left hip and right lat problems are causing the bar to slant 😱
Banded couch stretch for hip flexors
Banded pigeon stretch for hip flexors and glutes
3 — It’s a heck of a lot of fun
Training in a small group environment is heaps of fun, if you remember to not take yourself seriously, or worry about people watching your lifts. For me, meeting people who’ve been drawn to the sport for all kinds of reasons is especially inspiring. Everyone’s just trying to get a little better every day. It’s humbling.
4 — There are LOTS of squats
Quite apart from learning how to squat right, break parallel and keep your torso vertical, accessory work for Olympic lifting generally has a high squat volume which means you’ll be building lower body strength and growing that booty!
5 — You can measure progress easily
Recording your weights for the various lifts means you can track progress from week to week, month to month. My coach uses Google Sheets to write the programme, which is easily available from anywhere as long as you have data or a WiFi connection.
6 — It’s kind of badass
That feeling of landing a snatch or jerk solidly is one of the best feelings!
Tips on getting started:
Fun and games with Coach Dan!
Inov8 weightlifting shoes and Lorna Jane tights 💜
Filming my lifts with my gorilla pod and GoPro!
Find a good coach and listen to them!
As the sport picks up in popularity, there are probably dozens of olympic lifting coaches in your area. Try to get recommendations from other people or attend a few sessions at various weightlifting gyms before you commit. And in terms of listening — there will be days you’ll want to push past the prescribed weights in your programme — and while you should definitely challenge yourself — just remember your coach has put those numbers down for a reason — so have faith in him!
Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.
You might get funny looks when you bring your meal-prepped lunch to work, have to deal with constant ‘Ooh, that looks healthy’ comments, or receive a raised eyebrow when you leave on Friday night, forsaking work drinks to go lift… but people always question what they can’t understand.
Understand your sporting background doesn’t matter.
It’s taken me a long time (writing this was particularly cathartic) but I’m starting to accept — instead of regret — that I didn’t play soccer or netball growing up, I don’t have that repository of information to draw from and maybe I’m not as gifted at weightlifting as some people —but I do it because I love it and enjoy it tremendously.
Get some decent weightlifting shoes.
A lot of things will fall into place once you have the right shoes. You’ll be able to squat deeper, land your lifts more solidly and be more stable in every position.
Take videos of your lifts!
We have a handy gorilla pod we bring in sometimes but you can just as easily use your shoe to hold your phone! Upload your videos to cloud storage with a good naming convention. Something like “Name of lift-weight-date” i.e. Sn-25kg-07–08–17.
Follow some great athletes on instagram. Some of my favourite female lifters are @mattiecakesssss, @celia_gabbiani and @tiawright06. Another great way to get inspired is head over to a weightlifting competition — most are free entry and it’s an awesome opportunity to see athletes in action, up close and personal.
Have fun in the gym.
One day I even brought my GoPro to the gym, set it up in the corner and recorded my lifts.
Talk to someone about your goals.
For me, it helps to talk to my sister who doesn’t practice this sport at all so can be objective and @oreilly.barry who always has an encouraging word or a quirky smile to offer that picks me right up.
Remember where you want to be and more importantly — where you’ve come from.
Your journey isn’t the same as everyone else. Always look back and see how far you’ve come. Every little bit of progress counts — for example you may have improved tremendously in terms of mobility, or overhead stability or aggression under the bar.
Don’t get hung up on the numbers.
On the hard days I come back to this blog post by powerlifter Katey Black and I hope it inspires you as much as it has me.