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!


Why I Started Darkside

Artwork by Phyllis Mahon

Whilst the concept of women training with weights is gradually starting to become normalised within mainstream media and culture, it is mostly polarized into two extremes.  Fitspo, with its sexy and tanned models with breast implants, posing in a sexually suggestive manner, or hardcore powerlifting and bodybuilding advocates.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of information out there for people who are just, dare I say it, ‘normal,’ those who have never really considered weight training and simply want to enjoy good health.

Neither of the above representations are particularly appealing to someone just starting out, they certainly weren’t for me.  The former is often damaging and holds the implication that a woman’s worth lies within her attractiveness to the male viewer and that they have failed if they cannot achieve the unattainable physical or training ideals portrayed (though there are some decent examples of fitspo, occasionally).  The latter can be intimidating and imply an end point (competing) that the beginning lifter may not foresee for themselves.

It is with this in mind that when I started to seriously think about what Darkside could be, its ethos and purpose, I knew that it had to appeal to those who didn’t really think that weights were for them.  Women face enough barriers, in life as well asDSC_0153 in the gym.

Darkside’s purpose is to dispel some of the long-term myths surrounding women and weight training and to encourage anyone and everyone to give it a go.  Strength is too important for a woman’s health, physically and psychologically, to ignore.  So, I shall sign off with what is essentially my mission statement:

Darkside Training – Changing Perceptions of Femininity, Masculinity and Health.

For details of our next seminars and how to join, message me on Facebook, shantelle.darkside@gmail.com or phone 07717 202065