On a cold rainy Sunday morning I arrived at West Ham station; shuddering as I entered East London Rugby Club. Confronted by the mysterious grey door which read: Skorpion Fitness, I immediately thought of bulging steroid-infused men grunting as they lifted heavy sets of iron.
Fortunately, this image was dismissed as soon as I walked in. I was introduced to Sarah and Caoileann- two weightlifting competitors and their professional trainer Sally Moss. They were all lively and extremely talkative despite the cold weather, which did not discourage them, as they were already warming up as I arrived.
I was able to join in with a structured warm-up which was exhausting even for me as someone who is considerably fit and has been weightlifting for over a year; a series of ab-tightening and leg warming exercises well and truly put me through my paces. Straight away I knew these women were on another level.
We begin with squats. I watched as the girls manoeuvred heavy 25kg weights on each side of the bar- an impressive weight, squatted right to the floor and then continued to add more and more…
Sarah described her reason for starting weightlifting: “There was that whole big section of the gym that I never used. I’d used the weight machines but there were all those free weights that I never went near. I came to learn how to lift a barbell with Sally and the first time I touched the barbell it was love- I enjoyed it from then onwards and just wanted to see how far I could take it.”
Caoileann said: “I wanted to be fitter and I didn’t want to spend all my time at the treadmill and I heard that weight training was a good way to get fitter without running- I hate running. It wasn’t until I had been training for a while that I was actually able to run more than 10 minutes.”
The strength and determination of the girls as they powered through set after set was remarkable. I felt inspired not just by the sheer strength of these girls but also their positive attitude and pride; you could see how comfortable they were in themselves.
Caoileann admitted her initial dislike of sport when she was younger transformed when she started weight-lifting: “I was never sporty as a kid. I was always the one writing myself notes to get out of P.E., didn’t enjoy team sports, didn’t enjoy running or anything and I really like this. So, I want to see how far I can go.”
We then moved onto Bench Press- an area that I admittedly struggle with. The girls were so efficient and go right into it straight away. Coach Sally offered a guiding hand by keeping a watchful eye on every position and move they would make; correcting them on even the slightest change of form. I was pleasantly surprised to walk away from the training session with a few pointers on my own technique and also brand new exercises for me to try out.
Caoileann gave advice to women who are nervous about starting weight- training: “Give it a go it’s not as scary as you think it is, you don’t need to be super strong, you don’t need to have huge muscles.”
She went on to talk about the major benefits she has gained from lifting: “Everything’s easier when you are strong, not only just physically lifting things and getting fitter, but obviously mentally- knowing you can do something tough. Developing the habit of going to the gym and pushing through even though you don’t feel like it- mentally it is really good.”
We ended the session with more interesting exercises including one I hadn’t heard of before; ‘Good Mornings.’ These exercises were brutal on the abs but a vital core exercise to maintaining full body strength.
Caoileann said she was stunned at other people’s attitude when she started lifting: “When I first went home after I started properly lifting, I got loads of confidence and people said: ‘Be careful not to get too bulky!’ That’s not going to happen unless you deliberately want it to happen- it takes a lot of grit. People are worried about that and it puzzles me.”
We wound down the session with a few core exercises to further train the core and ab muscles before Sally took the girls through an overview of their accomplishments and goals in preparation for their upcoming Greater London Powerlifting divisional competition in Benthal Green on the 25th February.
The insight I gained from seeing the two brilliant ladies, Sarah and Caoileann by lifting so much and so confidently was truly an inspiration to me as a female weightlifter. Seeing the passion and determination to take up what has in the past been conceived as an unconventional sport for women was fantastic and I wish them all the best in their competitive future.
To read an interview with Sally Moss who is recognised as the most influential female strength-coach trainer in the UK, click here: Interview with Sally Moss.