For the past four weeks I’ve been spending two hours each Sunday in a gym in Shoreditch on the Strength Ambassadors Ladies Who Lift Beginners programme.
I wouldn’t really call myself a complete beginner to strength training. I’ve been lifting weights for the last year and have built a reasonable level of strength with a set of dumbbells in my own home. I can do full press ups off my toes and bicep curl 10kg with relative ease, but put me in a gym with barbells, squat racks and benches and then I’d feel like a complete beginner. In fact I’d probably be quite intimidated. Or should I say I *would* have been.
Thanks to the four week course I now feel pretty confident about going into a gym and not looking like a novice in the weights area. Not only do I know how to do the ‘big lifts’ – squat, bench press and deadlift but I also know how to set up a squat rack or bench and how to spot someone safely.
Ladies Who Lift is the brainchild of Sally Moss, who is also the founder of Strength Ambassadors. Sally is recognised as the most influential female strength coach in the UK, with a global reputation as a champion of women’s lifting. That’s her in the picture below pulling a truck – she’s really quite strong.
When I found out about the course late last year I was really keen to do it. I mentioned it to Mr J and luckily for me he mentioned it to Santa and it appeared under the Christmas tree for me. I was pretty excited!
Although I’ve done a fair bit of strength work I was still a little nervous when I went to the first session but I was soon put at ease by Sally and Jess, the co-trainer on the course. There was a really friendly atmosphere among the group of women who were on the course with me. We came from a range of backgrounds in terms of fitness and strength training but there was an instant camaraderie within the group – we were there to learn and encourage each other.
Before we had too much time to chat we were into what would become a standard warm up routine each week. Mobility moves including walking lunges and the dreaded burpees – I can’t escape them! Each week then followed a similar format – a circuit or superset session of what I now know to be called ‘assistance moves’ before moving on to concentrate on one of the ‘big lifts’.
The first week was squats. We were taught how to set up the rack safely, how to load up the bar and how to spot someone. We then went through a set of drills to help with our technique before finally being let loose on the bar itself. Placing a 20kg barbell on your back for the first time is a bit of an experience, but we were soon adding more weight and challenging ourselves.
The second week was all about deadlifts. Again we learned some drills and then how to do Romanian deadlifts before moving onto the full version. It was here that I realised that I’ve got a few issues with my form. I find it hard to arch my lower back and to keep my shoulders pinched back – years of hunching over a desk probably hasn’t helped. I found it hard to get into the correct starting position, but with some helpful cues from Sally, including thinking about mooning at the ceiling I made some progress.
Week three was a split between pull ups and bench press. I was pleased to be able to make a bit of progress with my pull ups with the aid of the giant elastic bands in the gym. And learning how to bench press was brilliant – I felt really strong.
The final week brought it all together in a tough superset session followed by testing out our max reps. I was really pleased to better my weights from all the previous weeks and particularly chuffed with my 1 rep max of 40kg bench press and 75kg deadlift. Rarrrrgh!
One of the things that I liked the most about the course was that there was no judgement on how much or little people were lifting. Sally and Jess encouraged us to challenge ourselves, but people were complimented more about their form than they ever were about how much they were lifting. On the other hand I know many of the women there surprised themselves at just how much they could lift when they really challenged themselves. And there were no girly push ups going on either!
Sally and Jess were excellent coaches. The right mix of a no nonsense, get on with it approach and friendly encouragement. When we looked hesitant about starting something Sally would give us 60 seconds to sort ourselves out and get on with it. But if ever we had questions or concerns they were always addressed.
I was particularly impressed with the way that Sally dealt with an issue that happened in the second week. Due to unforeseen circumstances she was quite late for our session. We made up for that lost time on weeks 3 and 4 but to compensate us additionally she gave us each a free personal training session with her. For me that was above and beyond what I expected and the mark of someone that really cares about her clients. I had my session with her last week and took the opportunity to pick her brain about strength training for runners, but that’s a story for another blog post.
I absolutely loved Ladies Who Lift. It’s given me the confidence to get into a gym and walk into the weights area without worrying about knowing what to do. It’s also confirmed to me that I absolutely love lifting weights and made me wonder about exactly what I could achieve with time with consistent training.
If you’re unsure about weight training, or have been working out at home for a while or go to the gym and are just a bit intimidated by the weights area then this course is for you. As well as the four week option there’s also an Intensive version held over a weekend – perfect for those who live outside of London. There’s one this coming weekend with spaces available so get in there quick if you want to build your confidence in the gym. I really can’t recommend it highly enough and I’m pretty sure that this awesome bunch would agree!