So April 22nd (today!) is 5 years since I walked through the door of Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club, thinking I was going to a taught weightlifting class (I didn’t even know what powerlifting was). I was a devoted LiveJournal-er back then, so luckily I can look back and tell you all exactly what I did and what I thought of it.
So the class last night was not what I was expecting. It turns out that “class” is a bit of a misnomer – bascially, there is a weightlifting club at Bethnal Green adult education centre, and the only way you can join is by signing up to a “class” with the centre. But there is no class, really – you just end up effectively joining the club.
There are two instructors – one who does powerlifting and one who does weightlifting. I’m still not 100% sure of the difference, but I think it’s mainly down to the different sets of competitive moves. All of the people at the gym last night were old hands & were just doing their own workouts, so it wasn’t a “class”, IYSWIM.
Because I was new, the instructors asked me what I did at the moment, exercise-wise, and what I wanted to achieve. They decided that powerlifting might be better for me. So! I did:
– Box squats, 5 sets of 5 reps with 20kg bar. Box squats are where you sit down on a box & then power up again (with the bar on your shoulders). Much harder than the barbell squats I do with my trainer.
– Bench press, 5 sets of 5 reps with 20kg bar. Much more weight than I’ve used before, but I found them surprisingly easy.
– Deadlift, 3 sets of 5 reps with a 40kg bar. I was meant to go 5 sets but had to give up after 3. My technique is terrible, apparently. I really liked doing them, though, as hello, 40kg!!!
– Barbell curls, 5 sets of 5 reps with a 12kg bar. I can definitely do more weight next time. Again, my technique is not great: my shoulders tend to curl forward too much, I need to remember to stick my chest out & shoulders back.
– Weighted crunches. Jesus christ. I have new muscles in my abdomen I’ve never felt before.
I also did 10 minutes on a stationary bike at the beginning & end. And something called good morning – where you hold a light wooden bar over your shoulders and bow as far as you can go.
The instructor was initially dismissive of my personal trainer, which was a bit weird. I guess there is competition between spit & sawdust trainers like him, and the idea of a more “polished” trainer like my personal one. But…in the end he was very impressed at how strong I am. At one point he said to the one other lady powerlifter in the room that maybe they’d found another lady powerlifter for their team. Hmmm.
He wants me to go more often than just once a week, which I’m considering. It’s definitely a possibility after I stop seeing my PT (I can’t afford to keep going to her forever).
Today, my legs are really quite sore, but more than that – they feel ENORMOUS. that’s just my perception, I’m sure, but it does feel very weird.
“Traditionally”, a post like this would involve before and after photos; you know, “I took up weight lifting and went from being an obese slob who drowned her sorrows in food to a GODDESS!” or whatever. Thing is, those posts always – inevitably feature a deliberately unflattering before photo, and an artifically flattering after photo. Sorry guys, but we know you’ve chosen a terrible photo for your before, and you’ve got your tummy sucked in/hair done/tan applied for that after photo. I’m not fooled.
And besides – for me personally, taking up
weightpowerlifting wasn’t about getting thin (or slim, or “normal size”). So here’s your “before” photo – my 32nd birthday party, drunk as a skunk, at one of my favourite restaurants (Hot Stuff in Vauxhall), having an absolute blast:
And here’s me now (or at least, recently) – in Orlando for my 37th birthday treat, drunk as a skunk, at the House of Blues (in Downtown Disney), having an absolute blast:
PLUS CA CHANGE, BITCHES!!
No huge noticeable differences? Aw, that’s a shame. Honestly, the main differences between the two are that in the last 5 years, I’ve exchanged my then-boyfriend for a vastly superior model.
Of course, I’ve also swapped by 20kg box squats for 75kg ones (well, 75kg is my best box squat; I’m not sure I could do it now in my untrained state), 20kg bench presses for 50kg, and 40kg deadlifts for 115kg (although I couldn’t do those for sets of 5). Plus I got hench, as demonstrated in the previous post.
And what I’ve learned goes far beyond the lifts: I’ve made loads of new (non-developer!!) friends; got involved in a community project I really believe in; been utterly baffled that white Western humans have evolved to eat coconuts but not dairy (huh); and found that nobody, and I mean nobody, looks good in that stupid singlet.
And confidence. Seriously, confidence. Confidence for me doesn’t come from being able to fit into size 12 jeans, or “looking good” in a bikini (“looking good” is COMPLETELY SUBJECTIVE anyhow, fuck your white Western beauty standards). Confidence comes from being able to put on that stupid singlet and pull a face like “something in one of those David Attenborough programs when he’s at the bottom of the sea” [© my coach] in front of 200 strangers and not care. In fact, you care so little that you put the photos on Facebook. Confidence is deciding to do a talk at a conference about powerlifting, even though you’ve been to hardly any conferences, let alone talked at one (Jebus Christ though, I still can’t quite believe I signed up for that). Confidence is enjoying your body for what it does, not just what it looks like (although it’s nice to be henchfat).
I won’t deny there have been dark times, too. Irritating my rotator cuff; injuring my back; peeing myself on the platform at the British Classic (oh yeah, I went there); loads and loads of self-doubt around whether I was “good enough” to go to the British at all. The money – oh god the money – spent on physio and sports psych and hotel rooms and those SBD knee sleeves, which cost me £54 and my cat peed on. The know-it-all wankers on social media, telling me my squat “wasn’t in line with” my deadlift, just after I qualified for the British; or the usual boneheaded sexist garbage (not too dissimilar from being in tech, really). Pressure to look a certain way; pressure to lift a certain amount. Not forgetting the people who assume that just because you’re not a very strong lifter, that you must be inexperienced/a newbie. I’ve been very liberal with the block function on Twitter, I tell you now.
Probably the worst thing about having lifted for so long is the plateaus. Sure, if you’ve been lifting for a few months or a year, you’re probably breaking those PRs all over the place; but mark my words, one day – one day! – you’ll plateau so hard it’ll make you weep. And then the true test of your mettle is whether you keep plugging away at the gym, or you give up & do something else. Maybe some people would regard me as a loser, but I’m going to keep trying to better my deadlift if it kills me (or my spine pops out). 2 flippin’ years, you bastard lift.
I don’t know if I’ll still be lifting in another 5 years. I like to think I will be – I’ll be 42, and maybe (if I’m lucky & don’t get injured) I might be a vaguely competitive Masters lifter. Or my knees might have exploded by then, and I’ll maybe just be watching (or refereeing) and being all sage & knowledgeable. Seriously, who knows.
In the meantime I’m going to carry on pulling faces like this in public.
Who loves ya, baby?