Happy New Year!!

lauren 60kg dead

As you may have noticed by now, Darkside isn’t a part of the standard weight lifting culture.  We are neither the extreme bootcampesque idolisation of vomit and never giving up, nor the hardcore back slapping masculinity of old school powerlifting.  We are something else entirely, an almost unique presentation within the typical societal perceptions of weight training.

Led by women, for women, without the trappings of our modern preoccupation with sexualisation, the ‘thin ideal’ and distorted, internalised, media representations of ‘health’ at any cost.

Darkside’s inception, three years ago, was a turning point for my own interests in female health and the accessibility of weight training for the female population and as we expanded into our own space, only 19 months ago, I began to think very carefully of what Darkside might become.

Drawing influences from and working with our Darkside coaches has been a wonderful exploration of how we can best meet the needs of the women in our community.  From specialist coaches in pre/post-natal training and physiotherapy to the development of an entirely Darkside approach to methodology, programming and the coach-lifter relationship.

It is essential that Darkside continues to provide an environment for women that is both accessible and effective in its training methods – the foundation of which is attracting women who have never lifted before and helping to develop within them a sustainable base of safe technique, progression and healthful behaviours.  This involves the plentiful application of cake, coffee and sweets along with an open and honest dialogue that includes plenty of laughing.

And some actual weight training, of course.

You guessed correctly, we’re quite serious about not taking ourselves too seriously.

So, to the vision.

There is a dearth of research into the female weight training population, particularly with regard to beginning females, and what little there is tends to focus purely on technical programming and physiological effect.  Not on how to get women lifting in the first place, not how to make them feel better about themselves (without resorting to punishing behaviours and food morality) or even just how to help them progress within their busy lives.

This is, quite frankly, a disgrace.

No wonder so few women partake in an activity that could play such a huge role in their health, wellbeing and overall confidence.

Darkside is, and forever will be, here for the average woman, who needs the space and time to carve something for herself.  There’s no short term, unsustainable ‘body transformations’ here because we have a much greater interest in helping you to change your life than your level of body fat.

We seek to be provocative.  To change the landscape of women’s health and participation in weight training through our own published research, practical applications and meaningful reflections.  To help women achieve their full potential through innovative methods of coaching pain perception and proprioception (feeling  where your body is in space and moving it correctly), management of eating disordered behaviours and mental health conditions and approaching food mindfully, without moralisation or guilt.

Therein lies our uniqueness


Darkside is 2 years old!!!

20160712_212229_005_01It is Darkside’s second anniversary this month and it’s been an absolutely brilliant year.  In April we signed the contract to our brand new premises, trained new coaches, expanded our timetable and we now have 35 ladies competing at the next divisional powerlifting competition in November!

The majority of the women who train here were beginners when they first stepped through the doors.  Bored with commercial gyms, intimidated by testosterone-filled weights areas and bombarded with weight loss adverts and programmes they sought a safe space where they could learn to lift and appreciated their bodies.


Early in our development, we knew that we wanted to be almost the antithesis of the standard gym model.   No mirrors, no dance music, no emphasis on the ‘bikini model’ look and no endless rows of weight and cardio machines.  We purposely avoid any sense of elitism or cliques and everyone is equal – lift 10kg or 100kg and all are worthy of the same attention, respect and support.

Darkside is just 2 years old and we are a growing community.  A group of amazing women who challenge societal values and achieve successes that they never thought possible.  Together, we are creating a culture of female empowerment and all women are welcome here.

The coffee and cake is good too ;).

Big News and a Little Reflection

20160518_111617It’s been quiet on this blog for a while, but it’s all been go at Darkside.  After working from the Pacific Gym for 18 months, we now have our very own gym in Lincoln!!  We opened at the start of the month and have already added 7 new strength classes, trained two of our ladies as coaches and welcomed on board a sports therapist and rehab specialist.

It’s been busy.

None of this would have been possible without the trust and support of the Darkside ladies, who are a joy to coach and make the long hours and caffeine addiction completely worth it.  Love you all!20160510_190413

It’s at times of expansion that it’s always good to take a moment.  A moment to take stock and realise the complex relationships and encounters that have culminated to this point.  Success is never about one person, in fact, you could say that this gym actually had its birth when I was seventeen and saw a poster for Aikido in the window of the High Street papershop.  A random birth maybe, but the poster was actually designed by Phyllis Mahon, our artist and designer, and Bob Willmington, our co-founder.

20160517_182457Through Aikido, I not only met Bob and Phyllis who are now, 10 years later, integral to Darkside, but started to develop the social, physical and coaching skills necessary for this business.  Sensei Paul Chambers and everyone at the dojo who taught or trained with me have had a massive influence in who I am and if I hadn’t walked through those doors, I honestly don’t think Darkside would exist today.

20160517_184601I initially went to the Pacific to ‘get fit and lose weight.’  It was there that I fell in love with weight lifting and through one of its members, discovered my powerlifting coach Marc Giles.  His skills and knowledge developed me into a competitive powerlifter and inspired the concept of a female sanctuary of strength.

There are many instances like these and not all were great at the time, but they each had their part to play.

So thank you.  Thank you to everyone who has been a presence in my life, for whatever reason, because ultimately a part of that presence resides within Darkside.

Darkside isn’t just a gym, it is a community of women who are dedicated to getting STRONG, together.  No frills, no fuss and no bitching.

Now, where are the chocolate-covered coffee beans?20160510_191102

Darkside’s One Year Anniversary!!

This month is Darkside’s first anniversary and what a year it’s been!

Along with our main site in Lincoln we have opened a secondary site near Horncastle, run mainly by the excellent Bob Willmington, and between us we have over 60 women training and getting strong!

A phenomenal 12 women have taken the plunge and decided to do their very first powerlifting competition in November, joined by the awesome Michelle who did her first comp in July. We are so proud of the courage and determination shown by Darkside’s trainees and the profound physical and psychological health benefits that they have achieved.

So to celebrate, here are some of our lifters in their own words :).

IMG_20150816_142807Miriam has been with me since the end of May, she had some previous experience lifting and started with a 35kg squat, 30kg bench press, 20kg overhead press and 52.5kg deadlift. In just 13 weeks she has hit a brilliant 61kg squat, 34kg bench press, 25kg overhead press and 68.5kg deadlift, all for five reps. She will be competing in November and I foresee some big numbers!

‘I have always been fit and going to the gym has always been a part of my routine but the weight lifting with you just took me to another level. Even for someone quite used to weights like me, being able to achieve the right posture and the right technique is hard. Our Sundays are the best part of my week and I try to build it up during the week when I train by myself. And I feel really proud of myself when I take my shoes off and I am able to rack that Olympic bar and squat my ass right to the grass!’  Miriam, 39.

11745854_720827744687754_8066707129806422814_nMichelle started back in February, also experienced, with a 45kg squat, 30kg overhead press, 37.5kg bench press and 85kg deadlift. She competed for the first time in July and hit an absolutely fantastic 90kg squat, 55kg bench press and 132.5kg deadlift, you can see her comp video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhGDqx_4zJU

‘Pictures tell lots of stories but the most rewarding part of my fitness journey was finding Shantelle Svarc at Darkside Training – Lincoln who not only inspired me but coached me to competiton level something I never thought I would ever do. Powerlifting rocks my socks ;)’   Michelle, 49.

11738127_10153403476653376_6407458469263067037_nSarah had her very first session, alongside Miriam, at the end of May. Despite a long period of illness previously, she started strong with a 20kg squat, 17kg overhead press, 20kg bench press and 42.5kg deadlift. Over the next 8 weeks she added 11kg to her squat and 13.5kg to her deadlift, along with a 20kg press and 22kg bench, I look forward to seeing her again after the summer hols!

‘I bit the bullet and contacted Shantelle to kick start my fitness following a long period of illness. I used to run 4 x a week and do kettle bells 3 x week, then went to nothing. I joined Shantelle and I regained my confidence and my ability to push myself to limits I didn’t know I had. Powerlifting has made my confidence rise and has boosted my health so much its surprised even me, I feel SO FIT !!!! THANK YOU SHANTELLE ….. See you after the summer holidays…. Don’t hurt me too much lol.’  Sarah, 46.

Di started training with me (Bob) in early June of this year and from her first session I could see a strength and determination which showed through last week when she lifted a PB 100kg deadlift.  She goes from strength to strength and will be competing in Dithe GBPF powerlifting comp in Nov and I’m sure she will do well.

‘I’ve been enjoying regular gym sessions for over two years and joined Darkside as I was interested to see how much weight I could lift and was I hooked after the first session! Shortly after joining I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and to my relief I was told to continue at the gym and also with the weight training as it helps increase bone density and keeps joints strong. I keep amazing myself how much I can lift and it’s such a confidence boost when you’ve done more than you ever thought possible. I am absolutely loving being part of Darkside, I’ve met some lovely people, and a big thanks to Bob for his expert training and patience!’  Di, 41.

IMG_20150809_143616Carla started with Darkside in June, lifting a 20kg squat, huge 27.5kg bench press, 20kg overhead press and 50kg deadlift. She has since added an impressive 26kg to her squat, making 46kg for five reps and 25kg to her deadlift, taking it to 75kg for 5. Her bench press has increased to 33.5kg and her overhead press to 24kg. Great progress.

‘I am fairly new to this but really enjoying training and feeling strong again after having a baby a year ago (and totally giving up on exercise although I intended to carry on during pregnancy, but didn’t!). Each increment of extra weight added to the bar makes you feel great and looking forward to seeing what more my body can do. All the ladies are lovely too which is a bonus!’  Carla, 36.

IMG_20150727_213806Danielle was one of my more challenging trainees, in that she had a number of physical health problems which necessitated a slow and steady approach to training. She started with a 20kg squat, 20kg overhead press, 25kg bench press and 45kg deadlift. She had her final session with us in July, before leaving to pursue her judo goals in Manchester and hit some massive numbers – 120kg squat and 50kg overhead press. Seriously impressed.

At the start of the year I was looking for something new and I took up aikido to help with my judo, which is where I met Shantelle.

After six months filled with a lot of downs, including finding out I had a muscularskeletal disease, two lots of osteoarthritis, having a shoulder operation, heartbreak and redundancy, I was at a bit of a loss. My physios were telling me that on the nhs they couldn’t help me any further. That it was a long journey but I had the movement in my joints and just needed some more muscle to support where my ligaments don’t do their jobs.

So I start with Shantelle, a month and a half later suddenly my knee doesn’t collapse when I jump! The shock on my face when I realised this needed photographing. I look forward to my weekly sessions and when my health stopped me doing my main sport as much as I wanted to, these sessions kept me mentally strong and gave me something to look forward to. Watching my numbers progress each week made me jump for joy inside….even if I still moaned on the outside!

Six months down the line and I found my light at the end of a very long dark tunnel, mostly due to Shantelle kicking my arse along the way. My joints are so much more stable. I’m not scared of the gym and now love theIMG_20150727_213935 weights session. Though sometimes I still need someone to shout at me.

And now I am starting my journey in Manchester, with a career boost, but most of all, training under a two time Olympian for Judo. Suddenly my dream of top ten then British squad has become an actual possibility!   I am much better prepared to deal with my bodies array of issues. Keeping me strong physically and mentally. Giving me the strength to sort myself out and put myself first.  I am sad to have left and am still figuring out how to convince Shantelle to move to Manchester or figure out how to run sessions over Skype!  Danielle, 24.

Eve joined Bob’s Monday crew in June and fitted in immediately, her first squat was arse to grass no problem. She’s strong and capable and like all our ladies a pleasure to train.  As with Di, she will be competing in Nov, her lifting has steadily gained momentum and I look forward to seeing her on the platform.

‘I joined in mid June having never done any weight training before but always been quite Evenaturally strong. I had the aim of getting toned and shaped up, especially my arms as I’m due to get married next year and don’t like my wobbly bingo wings! I saw about the gym on Facebook and really liked the sound of it. I can’t believe how much has changed in just 2 months, I’m so much stronger and toned already, I’m buzzing after each session and look forward to it all week and now after such a short time I’ve decided I want to try out competing and see how I get on! I never thought I’d come so far in such a short time and can’t thank Darkside and Bob enough for the boost in my confidence, energy and well being.’  Eve, 31.

What can I (Bob) say about Nikky?  Well on her first training  session she was almost convinced she couldn’t lift and then promptly proved herself wrong.  It’s gratifying to see how strong she’s become in such a short time and she tells me her golf has improved since starting training which is brilliant. The one thing I can be sure of is, if Nikki’s in the workshop and especially if she’s with her friend Jenny, it’s going to be a fun session.

‘I’m new to this toNikkio but am loving it. I had resolved to do something about my fitness after realising with horror while playing golf that my legs wobble when I walk. Not just a little bit but a whole lot of wobble! Plus I want to be able to hit the golf ball further and the pro has told me the only way to do this is to get to the gym. Shame that I’m ‘allergic’ to gyms!!

I’ve never been particularly sporty, more enthusiastic than talented, and always thought of myself as a ‘weakling’. I really want to feel stronger and see what my body can do. After a couple of weeks I found myself messaging Bob to see if there was a second session I could do each week.

I’ve only been visiting Bob and Darkside for about six weeks but already I’m amazed at how much stronger and confident in my body I feel. My legs are still wobbling but I’ve discovered an obsession with technique, I’m hitting the ball further, my shape is starting to change and I’m loving it. I have no particular aspirations, I’m just enjoying the ride and will see where it takes me. One day I might even learn to love squats.’  Nikki, 43.

And finally, in Bob’s own words:

‘On a personal note I am so proud of our lifters, the physical strength of women never ceases to surprise me but more than that, the capacity of sisterhood that surfaces when training is inspirational.  We often use the word courage when talking about strength training and the word is defined as someone with who is bold and brave, unafraid to face tough challenges, I think that sums up Darkside women.’

Darkside is a community of women, supporting eachother and training together in the persuit of strength.  It’s been a brilliant year and I look forward to all that we can achieve next!


The Meaning of Darkside

IMG_20150618_213756We’ve been asked on the number of occasions what ‘Darkside’ means, and no, it’s nothing to do with Star Wars or Pink Floyd!

I was at a wedding a few years ago where a group of children were getting bored and running around after the ceremony. The mother ignored the actions of the boys but told the young girl to stop playing about as her hair was getting messy. This is just one example of many where there is a specific gendered approach to the raising of children and it has quite harmful effects, on both genders.

Girls are traditionally raised to be caregivers, they’re given dolls to look after, mini-prams to push IMG_20150622_182909[1]and toy kitchens to play with. Just look around a toy store to see the differences in marketing and the generally accepted divisions of play activity. Of course not all children are raised in this way, and there is an increasing acceptance of girls playing with ‘boys’ toys, however, there is a social conditioning that is very difficult to break from, as a child and as a parent.

Interestingly, there is not such an acceptance of boys playing with ‘girls’ toys, implying a societal glorification of masculine traits and a condemnation of the feminine, further supported through phrases such as ‘hitting like a girl’ or ‘take it like a man.’ These phrases are so ingrained into our culture that it takes a lot of effort to mentally step back and really think through their connotations.

My own upbringing was very ‘tomboy’ in nature and though I took ballet and tap I also helped my dad maintain and repair instruments and trained in martial arts. When I cut my hair really short however, they didn’t seem too impressed and when I started lifting weights, they didn’t really get that either.

Each IMG_20150619_211731person in this world is a unique mix of the feminine and the masculine, but so often we are pushed into boxes, told to behave in certain ways in order to fit the expectations of others. The tides are shifting and there is a greater acceptance of differences but as always, the changes are slow and hard to come by. And we hold onto some really ingrained values.

Darkside celebrates the feminine and masculine. It recognises the uniqueness of each individual and provides a safe space for people to come together and find their inner strength. We are changing the perceptions of femininity and masculinity and recognising the multi-faceted aspects of female physical and psychological health.

That’s why Darkside has its name. It is a space for women to express their deeper, primal natures without judgement and without recrimination. For women to embrace their innate power, strength and physical presence.IMG_20150705_145720[1]

The Simplicity of Strength

DSC_0103Read any newspaper today and you will find a sensational article regarding fitness or nutrition – fat used to be the enemy, now it’s sugar and for god’s sake do not touch the evil that is fruit juice.  Most of the time, they also seem to forget that they were advocating the exact opposite just a few weeks ago, based upon a different piece of research with equally dubious methodology.

Add to this a fitness industry that is more interested in making millions than effecting healthful change and it’s no surprise that we are so confusWP_20150310_001[2]ed.

I am grateful, however, that the benefits of weight training for women and older people have become a topic of conversation in the media.  So often seen as the perview of men, we are gradually realising just how important this type of training is for a woman’s physical and psychological health, particularly with regard to bone density, muscle mass and the ability to function in old age.

Common feedback from my lifters is that they are surprised at how fast their body adapts to training and that the little things in life – carrying groceries, getting up off the sofa – are suddenly so much easier.  Add to that an increased confidence and determination due to meeting goals, mastering complex movements and being part of a community of female lifters, and weight training becomes an invaluable tool for improving your life.

And the beaWP_20150305_002[1]uty is that strength training for health is so simple.  Squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press.  Chin ups and power cleans if you want.  Eat plenty of vegetables and protein, a decent amount of fat and moderate amounts of minimally processed carbohydrate.  Include some conditioning and HIIT (high intensity interval training).  Get plenty of sleep.  That’s it.

Seriously, that is it.WP_20141017_001[1]

There’s no expensive supplements or meal replacements to buy, no pitting of one food group against another, no fancy equipment or everchanging, new, products to buy.  Just add a little more weight each time you train, your body will do the rest.

It is this simplicity that I adore, that the body’s amazing ability to adapt is at the forefront of this methodology.  It is all about bringing people together, celebrating your achievements and realising that we are so much more capable than we believe.

If you think thaWP_20150221_005[1]t this type of training might be for you, then  send me a message on Facebook, shantelle.darkside@gmail.com or 07717 202065.  1:1 sessions are £25 per hour and groups of up to four women are £10 per class for 75 minutes.  I work from the Pacific Gym in Lincoln.WP_20150216_001[1]

Fear of Success

DSC_0150 Fear of failure is an often used rationale for choosing not to partake in certain activities – weight lifting, proper nutrition, sport in general. I find this a rather simplistic explanation however, what interests me rather more is fear of success.

Success is an unknown quantity.DSC_0103

For those who has been overweight for most of their lives, being a healthy weight brings a whole new set of dynamics to contend with from clothes shopping and new relationships to holding a completely different mindset about oneself. This is one of the reasons why we are so likely to self-sabotage our efforts. Things are going well, results can be seen and suddenly we get scared as to what this all means. What will be expected of us when we reach our goal?

I honestly believe that people are predisposed to self harm, whether it be compulsive over-eating, alcoholism, over-exercise or physical cutting it lies so often in simply not cultivating a sense of our own self worth. If we feel that we are not worthy of success, consciously or not, then we will not allow success to happen.

We need to get over thDSC_0132is.

My mantra these days is ‘fuck it.’

It may not solve all my problems, but it’s pretty damn helpful.

Now it’s not a ‘fuck it’ of giving up, aggression or a pseudonym for sex, it’s a ‘fuck it’ of get over yourself. You are strong, you are capable and you are powerful, any other voice in your head is just noise. Anyone else’s opinion is insignificant. Take control of what you want in life and learn to love yourself. You deserve it.

New Year’s Eve

After losinDSC_0103g the initial 10kg back in August, I’ve really struggled with eating well and a lot of nutritionally poor food items have found their way back into my diet. I think reaching a goal, which was the first weight loss goal I’ve managed to reach in my lifetime, really messed with my head and I felt like I deserved to ‘treat’ myself which led to an inevitable slide in food choices.

With this in mind, the Starting Strength camps arrived at the perfect time, giving me the kick up the arse that I needed to get back on track. My lifts are a fair bit weaker than they used to be, partly due to the weight loss and mostly due to work.  I don’t want to be this weak again; shame is a great motivator.

I’ve upped my hours in my day job to 4.5 days per week, mainly because I would like to get on the housing ladder at some point in my life, and so it will be easy for me let my training and nutrition go even slacker. I’ve made the decision that I’m better than that. It’s really not all that hard to prep some simple and nutritious meals for work and to get off the couch and actually go to the gym. I’m single and childless, I have no excuses. If Jordan and Tom come back next year, I want them to see a better version of me.DSC_0133

So that’s the camps’ influence on me, committing to dropping a final 9kg and getting my strength levels back to where they were at my peak – 127.5kg squat, 80kg bench and 145kg deadlift.

As for my clients’ training, it will largely remain the same. There are some slight technique adjustments that need to be made, and I really ought to teach the powerclean more, but by and large I am doing that right – linear progression and a simple stable of compound exercises are all a novice needs to progress.

Darkside is now 5 months old, I am so proud of all of my lifters, whether they are training for health or competition, and I can’t wait to see what 2015 will bring!

Happy New Year!


The Purpose Of Lifting

Scrolling down my FaceDSC_0209book newsfeed I found a sponsored ad from a gym chain stating that the sole purpose of ‘working out’ was to ‘transform your body’ and an article stating that men now find women who train with weights ‘desirable.’

This really annoyed me. Granted, I’d just come back from working my day job and wasn’t in the most forgiving of moods but the media’s perception of women and what they want from exercise really needs to change.

I actually thought that society has gotten past the whole ‘women want to be desirable to men so that they can find a husband and bear his children and please him in all ways’ mentality. Who gives a flying fuck if men find women who lift attractive and there are many more reasons to exercise and lift weights than transforming your body into a ‘new, sexier you.’ To be constantly bombarded with this message is damaging to all women and potentially quite dangerous to young women who are just starting to develop an understanding of relationship dynamics and the role of self esteem and respect for oneself.

Lifting heavy things builds confidence, mental fortitude and physical health and it promotes a value system that is based on performance rather than vanity. Compression of morbidity has to be the single most important aspect of lifting weights – essentially increasing your quality of life. Picking up your grandkids when you’re sixty, not falling over and breaking a hip when you’re seventy and wiping your own arse when you’re eighty. And for the younger generation, who doesn’t want to feel better, prevent a number of dangerous medical conditions and show off when moving house or arm wrestling in the pub?

SHands - Chalko fuck the media’s propagation of damaging values and fuck the gyms that buy into that mentality. I am a woman and I lift because I love lifting, for my own personal gratification and my own personal health. Conventionally attractive or not, my body is capable of great things and my mind holds a focus it never had before. The curve of my arse is secondary to these simple facts.

What is Strength Training?

Strength training is simple.  Perform the big 4 compound exercises – squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press – using a barbell, and add a small amount of weight as often as possible.  For the novice lifter, you can add weight each session.  For intermediates, each week.  For advanced lifters it gets a little more complicated and is only really applicable for those who want to become highly competitive.

A barbell and compound lifts are the preferred training method as the the body is designed to work as a complete system.  When we squat or deadlift, all of the body’s muscles, bones and nerves are utilised in a balanced and anatomically and functionally correct manner.  The balance and co-ordination that must be developed when using a barbell is noteably absent in machine-based training whilst the weight on the bar can easily be adjusted by as little as 0.25kg and heavy weights can easily be held by the hands or the body.

DSC_0074At Darkside, you will learn how to squat first, starting at the very beginning.  Only when you can comfortably air squat (using only your own bodyweight) will you be introduced to the joy that is the squat rack, here, you will learn how to correctly place the bar on your back using first a broomstick, then a 7kg training bar.  With each session your technique will improve, you will become increasingly more confident under the bar and the weight can be increased, a small amount at a time.

The deadlift, bench press and overhead press will all follow a similar teaching progression.

At the end of each session, on the cardio machine of your choice, you will perform around 15 minutes of HIIT – high intensity interval training – using 20 seconds of all out effort paired with 100 seconds of recovery.  This training technique is all you need for cardiovascular health and is an excellent complement to strength training.

Gemma showing her crazy side!

To get started we are running a special Introduction to Strength course, 8 sessions (75 minutes each) over four weeks, in a group of 4.  Women only.  Here, we will cover everything you need to know about strength training and it’s only £60 for the whole course (£50 for members of the Pacific Gym).  That’s £7.50 (£6.25) per session.

Training has major implications for health, from increased bone density and muscle mass to greater mobility and independence in old age.  Not to mention the confidence and self esteem that can be developed.  These effects are profound and real.  These effects, in part, arise from the enjoyment of training, the sense of fun that arises when a group of women come together to support eachother.

Group training sessions start mid-August 2014, register you interest now!