Why did you get involved in Olympic weight lifting?

“I did my first competition after two months of training and went home as Midlands Champion!”

I have always loved being involved in sport from a young age and I’ve tried many in the past. Having a competitive nature I feel the need to put my all into everything I do. I’m also very competitive and I want to win! I went to the Sutton & Epsom Weightlifting Club, with the thought that my physical attributes could make a good weightlifter.

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I’m strong, fast and powerful, as an ex pole-vault athlete and I just didn’t want to do weights in the gym, although I enjoyed weights – so I thought Olympic weightlifting. After my first training session I couldn’t wait to go back and I quickly developed a passion for it. I did my first competition after two months of training and went home as Midlands Champion! It was from then on that I knew that not only did I want to continue weight lifting but I wanted to compete at the highest level.

You did pole-vault were you always sporty?

I have always done sports from as young as I can remember. At Loughborough University and prior to attending I did pole-vault. Before that I was doing gymnastics, hurdles, netball… I still do the odd back-flip or two every now and again!

What type of training do you do?

A typical week’s training is as follows:

Mon Front squats, shoulder press and abs

Tues Rest day

Wed Clea & Jerk (75kg), snatch pulls (70kg), dead-lifts, front squats (85kg)

Fri Front squats (85kg), shoulder press (42.5kg) & abs

Sat Rest day

Sun Snatch (61kg), clean pulls (85kg), overhead squats (70kg)

Weightlifting is a unique sport in that the work you do in the gym is directly transferable to what you do in competition. When I was competing in gymnastics and pole-vault the work I did in the gym was clearly important, but it was focussed on enhancing my ability to perform the pole-vault or gymnastic movements. In weightlifting what I do in the gym is directly preparing me for competition our conditioning is our sport.

So that throws up lots of interesting questions regarding sports specificity. The Russians traditionally used many variants of the clean, jerk, snatch and squat and would cycle these throughout the Olympic cycle, saving the most closely related movements until the last cycles before major championships. The Bulgarians took a different approach and instead stuck with just the clean and jerk, snatch and front squat, basically a pure sports specific approach.

Both nations were equally successful, yet Bulgaria had a far smaller population, so generally they are seen as the more successful nation. The approach I use is based more on the Bulgarian approach, but is not quite that rigid. More specifically my training is based around the actual classic lifts of the clean, jerk and snatch with fluctuations in terms of reps, sets and weight more than exercise.

That said I do use other exercises to build strength, such as clean and snatch pulls and squats. These build the strength required to ‘stand up’ with the weight following the clean or snatch. From time to time my coach may evaluate a particular aspect of my lifting which is holding me back and we may work certain drills for a period of time in order to perfect technique or address a strength issue somewhere.

Often I feel variety for the sake of variety is over emphasised – our philosophy is that changes made to the programme must be for a specific reason. For example, if I’m making the clean but missing the jerk, then clearly I need to spend more time working on the jerk that the clean, I can just maintain my cleaning ability until my jerk catches up.

“Weightlifting is a unique sport in that the work you do in the gym is directly transferable to what you do in competition”

Sunny Brar_ Learn from an Olympian_2

“I think my biggest strength is courage – you need that to lift a heavy weight, a weight that you have never lifted before”

What are the key elements of your training?

Power is the predominant physical ability in weightlifting are some of the most powerful athletes of all. Strength is important, but only is as much as it contributes to power. There’s no point in me being ‘strong but slow’. I don’t for example, use heavy dead-lifts, yet do use pulls which are almost like a quick dead-lift. Deadlifts would be considered a pure strength exercise, whereas pulls are considered a ‘strength-speed’ one.

We might use weights in the pulls around 10% greater than in the full clean or snatch, but no greater. With pulls we’re still looking to train strength-speed, but perhaps fractionally more towards a strength dominant version of strength-speed. At the moment this approach is working really well for me and I shall continue with it all the time I’m making good advances. If they begin to dry up then we’ll look to make well considered changes to my programme in certain areas.

 Who are your sporting (and other role models) and why?

I don’t have any role models. I just try to be the best that I can possibly be. Reading and hearing about what athletes have had to sacrifice and do to achieve their dreams is truly inspiring and makes me push myself harder. It also helps me keep my head up if a session doesn’t go so well.

What have been your career highs and lows?

I have only been doing Olympic Weightlifting for less than a year, but so far my career high has been finishing 3rd at the English Championships in Feb 2010 and being ranked No. 2 in England for my 63kg weight category. I have not had any lows and will try my very best to keep it that way!

What do you enjoy about the sport and what don’t you?

I love how technical weightlifting is and the explosiveness of the lifts. I always feel good after doing training. Olympic lifting combines speed, explosiveness and technical elements which I enjoy executing. There is nothing I don’t enjoy!

How do you fit your training in around your work?

I balance working a 12-hour day with training which is difficult. But I have to pay the bills at the end of the day and cover the cost of travelling from where I live in South Buckinghamshire to Sutton (London) where I train. One thing that I am trying to do at the moment is get some sponsorship to support my training and development as a weightlifter.

I have recently gained support from the ‘StrengthShop’ (www.strengthshop.co.uk) a company who will be supplying me with weights discs, which will allow me to fit in more training sessions during the week by training from home.

 What type of diet do you follow and do you take any supplements?

My diet consists of a high level of protein and a low level of carbohydrates. I take whey protein and protein bars, which taste great and are a good source of protein throughout the day and after training. Most of my meals consist of chicken, I try to get protein from other sources, but nothing beats chicken – jerk, grilled, anything!

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I think my biggest strength is courage – you need that to lift a heavy weight, a weight that you have never lifted before. My weakness is probably my impatience – I’m getting better at it though!

What are your aims for the season?

There isn’t an actual ‘season’ for the sport of Olympic lifting – it’s an all year round sport. However, I am targeting the British Championships in Scotland this month (June) and achieving the Commonwealth qualifying total for my weight category, which is 162kg.

A couple of women have already been selected to go to India, but if I get the qualifying total at the British Champs I could be selected, which would be brilliant considering I’ve been in the sport for less than a year. I would love to train full-time so I can give myself the best possible chance in international competitions.

What do you family and friends think of your involvement in the sport?

My family have always supported me, especially my mum, who used to drive me from Essex to Thames Valley 3-4 times/week when I used to do pole-vault. They all believe in what I want to achieve in sport, which is so important to have. You need people around you that believe in you and that want to see you succeed.

What tips do you have for women who are afraid of weight training, let alone Olympic weight lifting?

So many more women should try weightlifting. I know that most don’t because they fear that they will become ‘butch’, or develop a bulky physique, but this is not the case. So many women ask me how they can tone up their legs, arms and abs and my recommendation would be to take up weightlifting because it works your entire body. There are so many benefits to training with weights that I could talk for hours!

There’s wellness and self-esteem, just feeling better about yourself and then there’s all the exercise and health related benefits, such as resistance to osteoporosis. As you gain strength from using weights, your joints and muscles work more efficiently together, improving your balance and reducing injury potential.

Weight training is also great for weight management because it speeds up your metabolism. If you are new to weight training I would suggest speaking to someone who can show you how to use weights correctly so that you get the results you are looking for. Maybe ask a qualified fitness instructor strength and conditioning expert or athlete/coach.

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