Before we get started with this post, let me state I am in no way qualified to write this as some scientific study on how lifting heavy weights will affect everybody. I am just a girl who has discovered something she loves, that has helped me immeasurably and would like to share my experiences with you.
At 5’ 1” and weighing well over 100kg I have always struggled with my weight, my body image and my motivation in the gym. I regularly suffered from lower back pain, especially when walking and exercising, so often used this as an excuse not to train. I had started signing up to short transformation challenges in order to give myself some accountability and try and keep myself on track, not that it always worked.
Now I know a lot of you are probably thinking with a husband as a personal trainer why didn’t I use him as a resource? Firstly, he’s my husband and when does a wife ever listened to her husband? Secondly, he is great at his job and because of this he is in high demand, especially at times when I would be free to train.
Just over a year ago, as part of one of these challenges, I had to carry out one rep max testing in order to calculate what weight I should be training at. I was supposed to carry these out over the course of a week one lift each day, but with motivation at a bit of a low to get to the gym this didn’t happen. So my amazing husband set aside a day just for me and we both went off to the gym to see what I was capable of. Honestly, I hadn’t been as excited in a long time to get to the gym.
Before that day I had lifted weights on a regular basis, but my deadlift had not gone over 80kg, my back squat was about 75kg and I had never really bench pressed at all. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was excited to find out. I didn’t manage to get all of the testing done that day but spent a good 2-3 hours in the gym picking out what we though was most important to do first before I got too worn out.
For those that have never done one rep max testing, the amount of time taken for each lift can be extensive, especially if you are just guessing at you starting point. But I would definitely recommend it if you are wanting to lift weights. It gives you so much information, not only as a measure of progress but also when training, it will help you to know what percentage of your one rep max you are working to. Your training percentage will depend on what you are working towards and what you want to achieve.
With these results in hand, Craig exclamation of “You do realise you are pretty strong” went a long way to boost my confidence in my own abilities. There was a bit of discussion between him and one of the guys in the gym and he began his quest in trying to persuade me to enter a powerlifting competition to give me a bit more of a goal.
I started to look into it, looking at previous results and records, and almost talked myself out of it. Little did I know at the time but I was comparing myself to the current British Champion. After a bit more talking and persuasion, I realised I would never know how I would do unless I tried. Let the training commence… or not! After deciding to enter I came down with man flu, and this wiped me out. So because of my lack of training and poor diet, when I get a cold it can take weeks for me to finally shift it. So after six weeks (an illness and a holiday later) I was in the gym training for a competition I had not entered yet.
Now, I wasn’t really taking this seriously, although it had got me in the gym a couple of times a week, my main training consisted of one of the three lifts each session, let’s see how heavy I can go today! There was no real focus to my training other than how much heavier can I go, and at this point although I had OK technique, it wasn’t really something I was focusing on.
Six weeks later I was signed up to British Powerlifting and my first rookie competition, but still motivation to get in the gym was not great. I often have the mind set of, if I give it a go but I’m not very good at least I can say it was because I didn’t really try. Don’t get me wrong I did train but not consistently or with a clear focus.
That first competition went well, even though I felt physically sick throughout most of it (damn anxiety), I won my weight category and came second best lifter overall based on Wilks points (A formula developed compare lifters no matter what weigh category they are in). So I decided to try again, this time entering the South East Bench Press and South East Open Championships. Once again my body decided to let me down, only this time worse than before.
What started as a cold with a hacking cough turned into me not being able to walk to the end of the road without stopping for breath. I had never felt less fit or less capable and was seriously starting to worry about my health. Luckily, 3 doctors’ visits, 3 different courses of treatment and 1 popped rib later I was finally on the mend. Turned out I was suffering from silent reflux which was treatable either by medication or a change in lifestyle.
Because of the popped rib, I decided to pull out of the South East Bench Press competition but after a few Osteo visits I felt ready to compete again. So after a couple of training sessions I headed to Dover for my first competition against fully fledged powerlifters! Turns out I had nothing to worry about, even though I still hadn’t got over my anxiety from the last competition and still felt physically sick throughout every lift, once again I won my weight category and although I didn’t fare as well on Wilks points I did have the best total of all the female lifters.
Later that week, when looking back at the competition with Craig I wondered what I would need to do to qualify for the British Championships. So after a bit of digging I found the qualifying totals and discovered I had unknowingly qualified comfortably during my rookie competition. As you can imagine I was ecstatic, and decided now was probably a time to start taking this a little more seriously.
So January this year the serious training started, we found time to fit around Craig’s existing clients, so I could train twice a week with him and once a week on my own even if it meant not starting training until 20:30 and Craig wrote me a structured training plan with a little more volume work, not just seeing how heavy I could go each session. In the lead up to British Championships I hardly ever skipped a training session, I definitely became more focused on my technique and even made a few tweaks here and there to my diet in order to fuel my workouts better (not too many mind you!). I even set myself a few long term goals to work towards after the competition.
Now, I’m not entirely sure what exactly happened to me on the day of the British Championships, but all of the anxiety I feel on competition day seemed to evaporate and I really began to enjoy what I was doing. The ladies I was competing against were absolutely amazing, a good laugh in the warm up area and truly supportive of each other. I just went there to see how I got on, and ended up exceeding any goal I could have set myself, including meeting one of the long term goals I had set myself and placing 5th overall.
So, here I am 1 year after my first ever one rep max testing, South East England squat record holder and currently ranked in the top 10 in Britain for my weight category. I am training 3-4 times a week, looking forward to what I can achieve in the future and actively looking at what I can do to help me reach my goals. I have a structured periodised programme based on my upcoming competitions, and although I don’t always do all of my accessories or mobility work and rarely do any of my cardio it is something that is now on my radar and will be being added in to my workout gradually.
I’m not sure when during the process it happened, but my lower back pain has all but disappeared. I can only attribute this to the heavy lifts strengthening my core and making me more conscious of my body positioning and posture. In fact sometimes when deadlifting at lighter weight I still find my back aching as I haven’t had to concentrate on what I am doing but once the weights start to go up everything clicks back into place and the pain almost always disappears. Also as a side effect of training more, not necessarily the heavy weight, I now also find that I very rarely get ill and when I do it now only takes a matter of days to shake it off rather than weeks.
Don’t get me wrong I still suffer most days, but these are minor aches in my muscles from a good hard work out and they let me know that I am going in the right direction. However, I am no longer in physical pain every day, and I now know the difference between an ache and a pain (the husband makes sure I am very careful with my wording at the end of the day “does it hurt or does it just ache!”).
It is not only physical changes that I have seen, my biggest change has been mental! Although I can still be my own biggest critic, I am amazed by what my body has achieved and what it does for me on a daily basis. I can happily train in a commercial gym in my skin tight lifting suit and my body confidence has increased significantly (at my last competition I even stripped down to my bra and pant at weigh in without batting an eyelid). Although I would still like to lose weight, I now realise that there is no quick fix and I need to make sure I to do this gradually and healthily in order to not lose any strength I have, but even if I don’t lose weight I am still happy with the skin that I am in.
At the end of the day lifting heavy weights may not be for everyone, but unless you try it you will never know the effects it can have on both your mind and body. I cannot stress enough though that if you do decide you want to train at a heavier weight, please spend a little bit of time doing one rep max testing to get your starting point, ensure you are using the correct techniques for each lift, and do not try to push too hard too soon, this will only lead to injury.