As I read and learned more about strength training, my fascination of lifting kept on growing. I initially followed a typical bodybuilding-style split routine programme and built some good size and strength over the first two years, otherwise known as “newbie gains”. I read about the importance of building a good strength base, particularly from squatting and deadlifting. But not many people in the gym were doing these at the time, and I had to video and coach myself.
During 2011, I remember seeing one of my colleagues at the time, lift an 85kg bar from the floor to the shoulders. How could someone do that with close to my max deadlift?! I messed around on my own with 40kg when the gym was empty at the end of the day and really found it very difficult and frustrating, but enjoyable, and I was determined to get better! The challenge of being able to do something that relatively few people can perform well was a massive motivation for me. I needed to find a weightlifting coach in Hull, as I was really struggling on my own, even by researching the techniques online and watching videos!
In 2012, I set out to find the coach for the job in the local area, and this is when I first met Phil Marshall. Phil is an experienced strength and conditioning coach and he was the man who introduced me to the basic technique of the Olympic lifts. It was at this point, I first realised just how demanding the sport is, but Phil coached me the importance of movement quality, foam rolling and mobilisation work in particular. I started out struggling to overhead squat an empty bar and unable to hold the bar in the front rack position due to poor mobility, but due to Phil’s coaching and advice, I’ve been able to improve these areas drastically over the years, which has helped my lifting massively.
Over the following two years, I practiced on my own and learned more about weightlifting by taking my British Weightlifting qualifications. It was on my Level 2 course in 2014 where I first met Cyril Martin, one of the most experienced and respected weightlifting coaches in Britain. Part of the course, of which Cyril was the course tutor, involved lifting in a mock weightlifting competition. This gave me my first experience of lifting where all eyes were on the lifter on the platform. I felt nervous, but excited and ended up hitting a new clean and jerk PB (I think it was 120 or 125kg at the time)! I was buzzing, and from this point, I really wanted to get involved in a proper competition! But, I had a lot of work to do, especially on improving my technique!
Since the course, Cyril asked me to send him videos of my lifts so that he could help me; and I ended up travelling down to have coaching from him at Atlas gym in Alfreton, which is owned by GB weightlifting coach, Dave Sawyer. Before I knew it, I was training amongst some of the top lifters in the country and trying not to make a fool of myself! I still continue to travel down to Alfreton in Derbyshire, whenever I can, to have Cyril coach me and tell me what I need to be doing to improve!
Having a good coach and mentor is really important, in my opinion. I spend most of my time being the coach to others, but I believe that every coach can learn from another coach who has more experience and knowledge than yourself. A lot of the things that I’ve learned from Cyril and other coaches and lifters who are at the highest level in the country, I am now passing on to my own lifters and clients. This is the effect that a top coach like Cyril can have. An empowering and rippling effect across a much bigger scale than is immediately obvious.
Training to compete in weightlifting competitions, including two national championships, has given me so much beneficial knowledge and experience that I am also able to pass on to future generations of lifters. You learn a lot about yourself when training with heavy weights six days per week! I competed in team sports whilst growing up, but in weightlifting it’s all down to you when you step on the platform. There’s no hiding place, and the barbell can humiliate you if you’re not prepared. However, weightlifting develops not just physical strength, but mental courage and positive thinking in abundance and these are the situations we train for and relish!
So why do I, and others, continue to batter ourselves with heavy weights every day? For me, it’s to test my physical capacity as a human being and to not have any regrets. I’ve lifted, what many people in the general population would call, “ very heavy” weights. In certain weightlifting circles, however, the weights I’ve lifted can be considered pretty light. At 32, I perhaps don’t have as much time as many of the other lifters out there, to perform at a high level, but knowledge of this pushes me to train hard and not skip training sessions. But, I believe that I have a lot more to achieve and can still make a push to be closer to the top of the British rankings. Qualifying to compete at the British Championships, which is now harder than it has been in a while, will be the first step towards this.
Greek philosopher, Socrates, perhaps summed it up best:
“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable”.