The Sunday Times: Grab 2019 by the barbells — and try powerlifting to get fit


It was the kind of terrible idea you only have in January, overenthusiastic about a new year. Some readers will recall that as 2017 ended, I underwent a 12-week transformation from fat to … slightly less fat by doing a weightlifting-based fitness course. Much to my amazement, I enjoyed it. I got fit! Even more surprisingly, I discovered an exercise I was actually OK at. “You should enter a weightlifting competition,” someone suggested one day, as I managed the rare feat of looking competent while doing a deadlift. Obviously, I should have ignored them. Instead, I resolved on a new challenge — I really would enter a weightlifting competition.

Later, crying in an Epsom salt bath, feeling like I’d been punched in the head, hit by a bus, run a marathon and then been KO’d by Conor McGregor, I realised how stupid this was. As if I could compete against actual athletes. But then, what are new years for if not to find new ways to humiliate yourself?

powerlifting 2

Week 1
Gymbox is a cross between Pacha in Ibiza and London Zoo: a dark basement with a DJ booth, flashing neon lights and wire walls dividing the space into cages, each housing a different sporting species. In one menagerie, runners pound treadmills; in others, rowers pant back and forth; in another, aerial yoga bunnies twirl through the air. Amid them is the weightlifting area, with its intimidating steel frames and giant coloured weights.

On the first trip I meet Chloe, my coach. She is 28, beautiful, deadly serious and equipped with muscles of steel. She asks if I’m good at mornings. I say “No”. She says she’ll see me tomorrow at 8am.

The first thing I learn is that I will not be entering a weightlifting competition; I will be entering a powerlifting competition. If you think this distinction is irrelevant, you have never met a competitor for either. The differences are multiple, but, basically, while weightlifting involves heaving the weights overhead (in two lifts called the snatch and the clean and jerk), powerlifting involves three lifts: the squat, the bench press and the deadlift.


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