the joy of strength training


March 16th, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Show up, lift things

Gubernatrix flipping a tyre at a strongman competition

It’s funny how competitions, whether local, national or (occasionally) international have quickly become part of my life and my annual schedule. I still get nervous but it seems natural to be competing and, conversely, it feels weird when I haven’t got a meet to train for.

But due to the very low level of female participation in strength sports, I often find myself competing against very few other women – and in local competitions often against no-one. It’s not unique to women either. Juniors or the upper echelons of the Masters categories can also be in this situation with regularity.

I enjoy getting up and lifting at any occasion (I’m available for birthdays, weddings and barmitzvahs), but I used to feel odd about ‘winning’ a medal in situations where the competition was small or non-existent. I suppose I felt like I hadn’t ‘won’ unless I’d defeated a large number of people.

But even if there is no-one else in your category, in order to win a medal at a meet you have to:

  • learn the lifts
  • do the training
  • get your entry form and payment in on time
  • turn up on the day
  • make your weight class
  • wear the right kit
  • get out there on the platform in front of a crowd
  • put in at least one good attempt on each lift

There are many points of failure in that list, and over the year or two I have been competing – in other words, not very long – I have seen people fail at every single stage.

At competitions, I have seen people bomb (not get a single good lift) or not be allowed to lift because they haven’t got the correct kit. Plenty of people don’t make their weight – remember the young UK boxer Frankie Gavin who had to go home from the 2008 Olympics without competing because he didn’t make weight?

I’ve known many people who have entered competitions and not managed to turn up on the day. Then there are those who train but get injured and have to pull out. Or those who sit around saying they’d like to do it – but somehow never commit themselves to it.

When I think about all that, I don’t feel so bad about getting a medal in a small field. I trained, I showed up, I lifted. I deserve my medal.

Showing up

My friend Dan John has written recently about showing up. It’s something he talks about often, another example of those simple pieces of wisdom that bear repeating. He wrote on his blog the other day,

“If you want to be a national champion, you really need to get to the stadium on time. If you decide to get married, the ceremony starts at 11. Be there. Showing up is underrated as a life skills success clue.”

He then goes on to say, “Of course, showing up is only step one. Step two is to do something.” He’s right, but in the context of competitions, the fact that you show up on the day, on time, usually indicates that you’ve done a hell of a lot already.

Do you have to be brilliant before you enter your first competition? Of course not. Even the greatest athletes start competing way before they have reached their potential. Competing often helps you to improve overall (although it’s not the only way to improve). Just as you need to practise in the gym to get good at the lifts, you have to practise competing. From controlling your nerves to warming up effectively or getting in the zone, there are circumstances that are unique to the competitive environment and very difficult to reproduce in the gym. So practise them by going to lots of meets and just getting on with it.

Ultimately, who knows what can happen in competition? In the 2002 winter olympics the gold medal in the 1000m short track speed skating was won by the man in last place, Steven Bradbury. Everyone else in the race fell over at the final corner and he was literally the last man standing!

Was he the lame duck who was handed the gold medal on a plate? Or was he the guy who trained hard for years, got selected, showed up, got through to the final and managed to stay on his feet when everyone else fell over?

Being a champion

The other day at the gym, I had abandoned my usual weightlifting training in the snatch and the clean & jerk in order to work on one of the odd lifts. My weightlifting coach, who likes a bit of banter, said, “Wouldn’t you rather get good at something that lots of people do?” I said, “Nah, I want to be champion of being me.”

At the time I meant it as a joke but afterwards I thought that this probably is my overriding aim: to be champion of being me. To be as good as I can be, to ‘win’ over those inner demons and life demands.

If I manage to win at anything else, that’s a bonus.

More from gubernatrix

Scenes from a powerlifting year
Strength revelations: what I’ve learned from strongman

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  • 1

    “When I think about all that, I don’t feel so bad about getting a medal in a small field. I trained, I showed up, I lifted. I deserve my medal.”

    Absolutely! You do deserve it! I ran a fell race 18 months ago. I almost finished last — 57th out of 59 runners. But I am immensely proud of myself for training, turning up, and taking part. Particularly as I ran the race on my own, not knowing any other entrants. I was absolutely terrified, especially after my husband and I went to do a recce the day before and realised how steep the mountain was! I could have chosen to run an easier race, or one with huge numbers of participants where I could have hidden and would have been less afraid of coming in ages after everyone else…. which was a distinct possibility! I don’t particularly want to ‘win’ against others — I’m quite realistic about what I am currently capable of — but like you, I want to do as well as I can.

    I am also proud of myself for considering entering a strongman competition. Something which, as you point out, very few other women even contemplate. Most of my friends, men and women, think that I’m completely mad. Maybe they are right, but I am so excited about it. I love having a goal to focus on and a challenge to overcome. I am doing my best to get as strong as I can…. hopefully strong enough to enter. I hope that my determination, and the support of some fantastic friends can see me through showing up and actually competing. At the moment training feels like the easy bit.

    I hate saying this sort of thing — I’m not really one for outbursts of emotion in public! — but here goes…. Thanks for all you do to support women strength training. You are inspirational. This article has given me confirmation, if I needed it, that I am doing the right thing.

    Louisa on March 17th, 2010
  • 2

    i’m a male 🙂 dunno if that disqualifies me from posting…thanks for this article, very inspirational. i still have not competed in anything, dont even have a coach- have been self learning everything and trying it out in my puny home gym, too busy with work to join one- but this is very insparational to me as well.

    keep em posts comin!

    hunter on March 17th, 2010
  • 3

    @ Louisa: Thank you but I’m truly inspired by you and all the other women out there purusing strength.

    @ hunter: This isn’t a women’s site, mate, it’s for everyone, so post away!

    gubernatrix on March 17th, 2010
  • 4

    Great site, very inspirational stuff.
    I’m interested in starting powerlifting and strongman, do you know of any powerlifting/strongman gyms in East London?

    Jamie on March 17th, 2010
  • 5

    Now I feel guilt-tripped into entering the FK:UK strongman thingy in June! Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll get over it before then… 😉

    nickyhusky on March 17th, 2010
  • 6

    Hi Jamie,

    Check this thread on powerlifting uk:

    You should be able to find something not too far away. I go to Bethnal Green Club in E2 which I can recommend for unequipped lifting, especially if you are into Westside Barbell methodology. They also do olympic weightlifting there if that is of interest.

    gubernatrix on March 17th, 2010
  • 7

    @ nicky: ha! that was the idea!

    gubernatrix on March 17th, 2010
  • 8

    @ Jamie again: here’s the link for Bethnal Green as it is not on the UK powerlifting list:

    gubernatrix on March 17th, 2010
  • 9

    Thanks for those links.

    Jamie on March 18th, 2010
  • 10

    Hi Gubes.

    Another great article. There is a lot to be said for just turning up. For male competitors the situation is often reversed in that you turn up knowing you’re unlikely to win a medal. Last year I rowed in the British Indoor Rowing Champs in the open age category. I came last but one but knocked 30 seconds of my personal best. A lot of the time for non-elite athletes, like me, the only time we are going to “win” is when we do the best we can do or beat what we’ve done before.

    Dogstar on March 19th, 2010
  • 11

    Again, a big thanks for writing about women’s training, it is indeed inspirational. I have yet to compete, and am nowhere near ready yet, but when I am ready I will definitely give competitions a try!


    birmingham gym bunny on March 19th, 2010
  • 12

    @ Dogstar: excellent point – and I had that experience a lot when I was running. I’m not a good runner so it was never about placing but just about doing my best.

    @ Ros: glad to hear it Ros!

    gubernatrix on March 19th, 2010
  • 13

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  • 14

    Having finally had the chance to participate in strongman training (atlas stones! awesome!), I’m now looking forward to the chance to compete someday soon.

    lelak on March 28th, 2010
  • 15

    Ooo lucky you! I would love to have a go at the atlas stones but I have not come across any light enough for me (lightest I have seen is 90kg).

    gubernatrix on March 28th, 2010
  • 16

    Make yourself a kiddy version of an atlas stone!

    Justin_P on March 29th, 2010
  • 17

    I forgot to add to my comment…

    …simply use a smaller ball than what they’re talking about. I was thinking about making an Atlas stone using one of the larger kid balls that we have at department stores here.

    Justin_P on March 29th, 2010
  • 18

    At last years world masters, in the M/55 hammer we had a guy entering for what many may think are the right reasons. As the promoters of the meet said he was in there “having a go”, …good on him. The winner an ex olympian (actually got third in the 77 World Cup) threw mid 40s, I in seventh snuck in with mid 36, and this guy threw less than 10ms with a very interesting side sling.

    Problem was he was a leftie. Only one in comp. Every time he came up, we had to change the cage door.

    Every one there but one, knew the rules, had actually trained. At first we all did the, encouragement bit, but by the time of the third round, we had very quiet moans and groans when he came up to throw.

    If you want to get out there and compete, more power to you, but please respect some of the others who may be taking it a little more seriously, and the best expression of that is to actually learn the event and try to train for it. Don’t care how you go, but at least train for it.

    Terry Gibbs on June 15th, 2010
  • 19

    It’s a very fair point Terry. You should find the right competition for your level if you can.

    This is a particular issue with masters comps I think, where the barriers to entry are often quite low (in the UK there’s no qualifying total for women masters in weightlifting). Other competitions have qualifying standards at national/international level that prevent this scenario from occurring.

    gubernatrix on June 15th, 2010
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