It 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.
In this guide, you will find answers to commonly asked questions leading up to a competition, especially if it’s your first one! Hopefully this guide will put your mind at ease and help prepare you for the event. Questions answered:
What is a BP powerlifting competition?
What happens on the day?
What are the red and white lights for?
What are the commands?
What kit do I need?
Can I use supplements?
I am on medication – will this affect me?
What should I eat before, during or after?
What weight should I lift?
What training will I be doing in the run up/ after?
Hopefully these will answer the majority of your questions, but if you still have any, contact Shantelle, Bob or Beth!
What is a BP powerlifting competition?
Simply put, a competition with British Powerlifting is an event where you can demonstrate your strength in the Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift (in that order). In addition to your strength, it also demonstrates your control over the bar/weight at all times.
During each discipline, you are given three attempts to lift your best. Judges sit to the front and side of the lifting platform in order to assess how well you executed the lift, and if it should pass or fail. Spotters are also on hand if you are unable to complete the lift so they can ‘catch’ the bar, keeping you safe. Ideally, your first attempt should be a weight you are comfortable with, with your second a bit harder, and that will leave your third attempt open for either a challenging weight you can do or, if you are feeling confident on the day, a personal PB. Remember, these lifts will be heavier than what you presently do in a training session as you are only doing one rep, rather than five. In the weeks leading up to the event, we will figure out where this is for you.
If you a fail a first or second lift – don’t worry, you can repeat the same weight again and failing a third isn’t uncommon either, which is why you want a sensible weight choice for your first or second lift.
When you have completed all three lifts, your score will be added up, giving you a total. These are then put in order within your weight/age class to find a winner of that category, though generally everybody is celebrated for taking part! At regional level, your total may also qualify you to compete at a British level – the qualifying total varies depending on category.
When you arrive at the event, the first thing you will be asked to do is weigh in – this is to ensure you are in the correct weight category and flight order. After this, head over to the platform to have your rack height for squats set – all you need to do is pop under the bar and stand up, until it feels comfortable.
At this point you have time to relax – try and have something to eat and drink to fuel your lifts (explained later!). Don’t worry about your weight numbers, we submit these on your behalf. Before each lift, you will also be allotted time to warm up at the side of the platform, so you are going into your first lift nice and warmed up, and ready!
You will then take it in turns to do each lift. For example, if there are 7 people in the first flight, all seven will take it in turns to do Squat attempt 1, then 2, then 3. You will not be doing each attempt in one go! After squats, you will get a short rest before going through to warm up for Bench, and the process repeats until you finish on Deadlift. Then you are done to watch others (women usually go first, so you’ll be relaxing while the men compete). Hang around though so you can be awarded your certificate and medal.
Darkside tradition is we also bring and eat cake to celebrate J
What are the red and white lights for?
At the side of the stage, you may notice three square lights. These indicate to competitors and organisers if you pass or fail a lift. The judges sat around the stage have control of these lights.
What they mean is as follows: Three White Lights – pass, well done!
Two White, One Red – you have passed, but one of the judges thought they saw a reason for failure of the lift.
Three Red – fail. You missed the commands, did not complete/start the lift, did not squat to depth, hitched the deadlift, stumbled, didn’t lock out the bench evenly… etc
What are the commands?
On each lift, you have to listen out for commands. They are as follows:
Squat Get under the bar, set up, and get it off the rack. Look down at the floor, finish any other adjustments you want to make, and then look at the judge. This is their signal that you’re ready to start.
“Squat” – your permission to start. Do a full squat and stand up. Do not move!
“Rack” permission to rack the bar. Then you are done.
Bench Set up, take the bar off the spotter, and wait.
“Start” bring the bar down you your chest, wait.
“Press” push the bar back up to the starting position, wait.
“Rack” guide the bar back to the rack with the spotter. Down let go until fully racked. Done!
There is only one command. The lift begins as you start to pull it off the floor. Once you lock out, wait for the command “down” before placing it back on the floor.
What kit do I need?
You don’t actually need a whole load of kit to compete. It’s easier to break down into what’s essential, what we’d recommend, and what’s nice.
Note: please don’t buy accessory items you’ve not trained in much before competing. Not everyone gets on with knee sleeves for instance, and comp day is a bad day to realise they hinder you rather than help!
Socks up to the knee (for deadlift)
Footwear (if you train in your socks, start training in shoes – weightlifting shoes, converse, deadlift slippers or anything with a solid, flat heel!)
T-shirt for under singlet (we will sort a Darkside logo t-shirt order for this closer to the time)
Items also allowed
All this kit is available to buy in the UK online. There are is a huge range of options to suit your budget. For example, you can have an SBD singlet for £60, or a basic Strength Shop singlet for £25. Belts vary from £35-£200. The choice is yours. I say this because unfortunately you can’t just buy ANY kit from any brand, it has to be from the list of IPF approved brands.
You can find the approved kit list here: http://www.powerlifting-ipf.com/rulescodes/approved-list.html
If you are unsure about an item, please ask! We will organise a group order closer to competition time to save on postage and ensure that everyone has the right kit.
If you are really struggling for kit, we try to bring as many spare items and sizes as possible, but ideally you should have these for yourself. Almost all of it will come in useful for training, so isn’t a waste of money! J
Just a little word on weight classes and your weight really.
As with many sports, to make it fair, everything is divided in gender, age, and weight categories. There really is a weight category for everyone. Senior and master categories start from under 47kg, working up to 84kg and above.
To pick your weight class, just stand on a pair of scales, and then pick the appropriate class. It’s that simple.
Please do not use your first, second, or even third competition as a reason to lose weight!
The only time I would personally ever recommend some join a lighter weight category is if they were extremely borderline – less than a kilo – into getting into the next category down. Even then, it really does not matter as this stage what category you are competing in. We want you to have fun and get some experience. It will help you understand why we are so passionate about the sport to teach it.
Here are my personal reasons (from experience), as to why:
You are there to have fun, first and foremost. Trying to frantically cut down before competition is a lot of added pressure, and will take away the fun of the day
You are meant to be demonstrating you at your very strongest. When you are losing weight, you are probably doing so mostly through your calorie consumption and for many, this will most result in a loss of strength. You NEED fuel to lift. You need carbs and fats to fuel good lifts. You may achieve being in a lighter category, but at what cost? So eat, enjoy eating, train hard, and watch the kilos pile on the bar! There are nutritionists out there which may be able to achieve some kind of equilibrium between diet and strength, but for now, keep it easy for yourself
If you are the lightest in the category, and you draw with someone who is heavier, you will win due to being the lightest person throwing that much weight around. So really, it’s a win-win situation.
The categories are purely for fairness, you will see all kinds of body shapes splattered across each one. That’s the beauty of powerlifting, it invites ANYBODY to come have fun.
If you are currently taking part in a weight loss or gain programme, that is fine, apply for the competition a little bit closer to the closing date with a realistic category in mind. If you weigh 70kg in September, it might be a little unrealistic to enter the under 57kg category for instance.
If your weight class is incorrect on the day, don’t worry, it can generally be adjusted at regional level on the day. British level and above, you must weigh in at the weight class that you have entered.
Also, if you enjoy it, there are plenty of other competitions in future for you to play around with what category you feel best in.
Can I use supplements?
If you train with supplements then by all means you are free to use them when you compete. That is, provided there are of the legal variety and the ingredients are not controlled by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). The BP is a drug-free federation, and as such needs to ensure there’s nothing nasty in what you are using. Some pre-workouts contain banned substances for instance, or there’s a rule to how much caffeine you can consume (don’t panic – it’s a lot!).
This is similar to the above question about supplements. If you are on medication (not including contraceptive) either long or short term, please check the banned or limited substance list.
If you are medicated with a drug which would usually be banned, such as steroids, you will need to complete at TUE (therapeutic use exemption) form with your doctor and send it to the BP anti-doping officer.
You can run your medication through this database to see if it is controlled or not: http://globaldro.com/Home
What should I eat?
Ideally you want to have something to eat before you start lifting. At this point, carbs are your best friend. This will give you the fuel required for a good lift.
Best things you can reach for are energy drinks, sweets such as Haribo, porridge, flapjack, fruit/ dried fruit, bananas. Also try and get some protein in there such as greek yoghurt, protein shakes, meat (make yourself up a nice salad or sandwiches), beans and pulses, high protein snacks (there’s plenty out there beyond the stuff in supermarkets).
Don’t forget to have some fats too, especially helpful for the protein to work effectively. Snack on nuts, throw in some avocado to your lunch, home bake snacks with real butter etc.
Do not get hungry! Keep snacking as you need to throughout the event. Personally, you may need a decent refuel just before deadlifts, as that is when the carbs of the morning are likely to wear off and cause a bit of a crash.
What weight should I lift?
As previously mentioned, we will look at this during your training in the run up to the competition. We will give you a weight we think you should aim for at competition on the board, and from there work towards it. Just before comp we will look at what your first, second and third should be, and adjust on the day if needed. Don’t stress about it – we do all this for you. Just focus on lifting to pass.
What training will I be doing in the run up/ after?
A few weeks before the competition you will stop doing the training you currently do with us (working sets of five reps) and undergo “one rep max” (1rm) training. This is fun! We will only ask you to do one rep, on command, and slowly inch up the weight until we find your top point. We can also assess your weak points and improve them.
We will hold comp days where we focus solely on out competition ladies and give you all an excuse to meet and network with each other, so you have lots of friendly faces on the day!
It’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!
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.
Through 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.
I 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?
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 :).
Miriam 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.
Michelle 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.
Sarah 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 the 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.
Carla 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.
Danielle 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 the 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 naturally 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 too 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!
We’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 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 person 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.
Scrolling down my Facebook 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?
So 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.