Raising the bar for women’s weightlifting
More and more women are finding out that weightlifting does wonders for mind, body and spirit
Alex Craig weightlifting at her club in Dolphin’s Barn. Photograph: Dave Meehan
If you think weightlifting’s for tough guys, the entrance to Dublin’s newest weightlifting club, nestled between a funeral parlour and Dolphin House flats, does little to disprove the myth. But step through its blue metal door and you’ll find women taking to it in their droves.
With benefits including improved physical strength, core muscles of steel, better flexibility and stronger bones, not to mention fat loss, muscle tone and a tight bum, it’s no wonder women are waking up to weightlifting. New club Capital Strength Weightlifting is showing them how it’s done.
“All it comes down to is you and the bar,” says Alex Craig, co-founder of the club. A few weeks ago, she became the first woman in Irish history to qualify for the European Weightlifting Championships. A trained physical therapist, she’s passionate about weightlifting for women.
“It’s this little world of just you and the bar,” says Craig. “That’s an amazing feeling and it’s very empowering for women. All that societal stuff of what you look like, what you weigh, what you wear, all that just drops away. Weightlifting can bring you to this amazing, calm, centred, meditative state.”
The Dubliner discovered the sport when injury forced her to retire as a professional acrobat. She is now the top-ranked female weightlifter in Irish history.
And if the image you have of a female weightlifter is “Olga from Uzbekistan”, with big shoulders, a deep voice and an Adam’s apple, you couldn’t be more wrong. Top ranked in Ireland, Craig is a petite 5ft 1in, weighs 51.7kg and is lean as a greyhound. Today, she even has ribbons in her hair.
While their club caters for both sexes, from absolute beginners to Olympic hopefuls, female members are on the up and include mothers, office workers and health professionals. “There’s been a lot of focus in recent years on cardiovascular fitness, but when it comes down to things people do in their everyday lives such as carrying shopping or changing a wheel, those things are easier when you’re stronger,” says Leech.
And for those who spend their days at a desk, weightlifting puts back, shoulder and arm muscles through a full range of movement. There are aesthetic benefits too.
“By building muscle mass, you burn more calories at rest,” says Leech. “Almost every single person who comes in here as an absolute beginner will end up losing body fat. If you are stressing your body in a very efficient and healthful way, you will end up burning an awful lot more.”
Olympic weightlifting, which the club teaches everyone from beginners to elite sports people, comprises two key moves. The “clean and jerk” entails lifting a barbell off the floor to a racked position across the chest and then “jerking” it above the head until the arms are straight. The second movement, the “snatch”, means lifting it overhead in a smooth continuous movement.