I’ve heard Olympic weightlifting described in a variety of ways. My favourite of these is that Olympic lifting is the beautiful woman in the corner that no-one dares approach. Anyone that does step up is making a statement, and for a slim chance of success they have to risk a very loud and noisy embarrassment. If they succeed though, not only will they gain an amazing and exciting partner for life, but they’ll have earned everyone else’s respect in doing so.
With this is mind it was with a good degree of both excitement and nervousness that I found myself in my first Olympic weightlifting class over at Bethnal Green. Having already been to the powerlifting session earlier in the week (click here to read about my experiences) I suspected I was in for some damn hard work. My suspicions were correct. The Coach that runs the class, Hamza Abayo, started me off with a quick warm up on a bike whilst he finished off his own workout (which mainly seemed to include cutting through 200kg squats like butter.) After that I was quickly taken through some weightlifting specific warm ups (overhead squats and snatch balances) before being present with a bar, some weights and being asked to perform a snatch. I’m not going to lie, it was tough at first, but my technique was corrected after each set of lifts and the weight kept on going up. It was old school training with minimal accessory work and plenty of the main lifts. Simple but effective, and before I knew it I’d hit PB after PB. As for the clean and jerk, copy and paste the exact same story.
Just like the powerlifting club, though, what really made the session special was the sense of camaraderie amongst lifters. I found myself partnered up with another budding lifter, typical practice for the club apparently. This way whatever you were lifting you could guarantee someone was watching ready to offer tips and advice to improve your next lift. It was a session where dropping the bar was ok, provided you learnt from it. As my fellow lifter put it, ‘it’s a judgement free zone.’ Does this mean coach Hamza won’t take the piss? Absolutely not. In fact I’m pretty sure that the more experienced lifter you are the more he’ll mock you. Bail from a lift too early and you can expect to hear chicken noises. Make silly mistakes and expect to hear that ‘it’s all gone bananas.’ Each comment, though, is made with a laugh, and you’ll still be given advice on how to sort it out. The result is one where you don’t want to fail, but you can laugh if you do. It’s serious business, but not without a sense of fun.
If you’re the kind of person that runs from a challenge, then Olympic lifting might not be your thing. But if you like training hard, focussing on technique and committing to improvement then you might just find a training style and a sport that you’ll absolutely love.
If you happen to be in London I can’t recommend Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club highly enough. And for the sake of full disclosure, after my initial sessions I’ve been with both the powerlifting and Olympic lifting clubs for the last three months.
Stay Strong Everyone
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