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 ;).

Darkside Guide for competing in British Powerlifting (formerly GBPF) competitions

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?
  • Weight classes?
  • 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?

Photo Credit: Jess Shillitto

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.

cropped krys
Photo Credit: Jess Shillitto

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.

Please note: in order to compete, you will need to become a member of the BP. Membership lasts for one year at a time, and you can sign up here:https://www.britishpowerlifting.org/buy-membership

What happens on the day?

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?

Photo Credit: Jess Shillitto

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:

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.

Photo Credit: Jess Shillitto

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!


  • Singlet
  • 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)


  • Lifting belt

Items also allowed

  • Knee sleeves
  • Wrist wraps
Photo Credit: Jess Shillitto

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

Weight classes

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
Photo Credit: Jess Shillitto

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!).

The list of banned or limited substances can be found here: http://www.powerlifting-ipf.com/fileadmin/ipf/data/anti-doping/wada-2016-prohibited-list-en.pdf (PDF download)

I am on medication – will this affect me?

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:

What should I eat?

Photo Credit: Jess Shillitto

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!


Any questions, contact Shantelle, Bob or Beth!

Photo Credit: Jess Shillitto

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

North Midlands Championships, 15th Nov 2015


Wow, wHolly deadlifthat a day!!  11 ladies competed at the North Midlands Championships in Horncastle, Lincolnshire, on Sunday 15th Nov.  For Michelle it was her third competition (her second being the day before!!) and for the rest of them it was their very first.  An excellent performance from all of them.

Holly was our first lifter out, in the 52kg class she opened with a great 50kg squat, moved onto 52.5kg and finished on 55kg!  Her bench press started well with 27.5kg, 30kg was solid but 32.5kg proved to be just a little too much on the day.  Despite some pain in her leg, she opened her deadlifts with 67.5kg, 72.5kg was fast so a fantastic 77.5kg was her final lift of the day!  A total of 162.5kg and taking 1st place :).

Second up was Di, lifting in the Masters 1 63kg class. Di squat Squats went well with a 50kg opener, moving onto the 52.5kg and finishing on a smooth 55kg.  Her bench was so fast on 32.5kg that we moved up to 37.5kg and then she hit a brilliant 40kg!  Deadlifts were also impressive with an opener of 90kg, moving into 95kg and finishing with a solid 97.5kg.  192.5kg total and 2nd place!

Sarah L. deadliftSarah L. was in the 57kg class and very strong for her size.  55kg squat opener just flew up so we went up to 60kg and ended with 62.5kg, still easy.  Strong bench as well with 32.5kg to open, 37.5kg as her second attempt and 40kg to finish.  Deadlifts started with 85kg, 90kg was her second attempt and an excellent 92.5kg her final lift of the day.  195kg total and 1st place.

Miriam has been struggling with a leg injury for the lastMiriam squat few weeks and it still wasn’t healed for competition day so we dropped her squat and deadlift openers just a little to compensate.  In the 63kg class she opened with a 65kg squat, went onto 70kg and a fast 75kg was her final squat.  Her first attempt on the bench went well with 37.5kg but unfortunately, 40kg just wasn’t happening.  Her 75kg deadlift was easy, 80kg was a breeze and her final lift of 85kg was awesome.  2nd place with a 197.5kg total.

Michelle deadliftMichelle was last lifter in the first flight, Masters 1 63kg,  she competed the day before at the All Midlands Masters Cup but actually totalled more today.  After her 87.5kg in the previous comp (a North Midlands Record!!!), we dropped her opener just slightly to 75kg, went to 80kg and finished on 85kg, all very fast.  47.5kg was her first bench press, moving into 52.5kg and ending on 55kg (2.5kg more than the day before and an improved North Midlands Record).  She opened with an 117.5kg deadlift, 125kg looked great as her second attempt and then she hit 127.5kg (2.5kg more than the day before and an improved North Midlands Record!).  267.5kg total (North Midlands Record) and 1st place with a qualifying total for both the Senior and Masters British next year.Eve deadlift

In the second flight, Eve started us off in the 84kg class with a cool 50kg squat, moved onto 55kg and ended with 57.5kg.  We raised her opening bench press as her warm ups were just too easy so she started on 27.5kg, went to 30kg and 32.5kg was fast!  Deadlifts opened on 65kg, moved into 70kg and her last lift of the day was a fantastic 72.5kg.  162.5kg total and 5th place.

Stacey deadliftStacey and Laura C. battled it out for 1st and 2nd place in the 84kg class.  Laura C. opened her squats with 90kg, went to 97.5kg and hit a new PB of 102.5kg on her final lift.  Stacey opened on 97.5kg, failed her second attempt of 105kg due to losing tension in hole but rallied brilliantly and hit it on her final go!  Laura C’s bench started with 47.5kg and 52.5kg was great Laura C. squatas her second attempt, 55kg was just a little too much on the day.  Stacey also opened with 47.5kg and moved to 52.5kg as her second, but that was so fast her final attempt was 57.5kg and it was brilliant!  For the deadlift they both opened with 117.5kg, moved to 125kg and finished with a great 130kg.  Laura C. totalled 285kg and Stacey hit 292.5kg.  Both qualified for the British next year!

Ali squatIn the 84+kg class we had Ali, Sarah B. and Kirsty, in 3rd, 2nd and 1st place.  Ali and Sarah B. both squatted 90kg to open, moved to 97.5kg and hit excellent PBs of 102.5kg.  Ali benched 50kg to start, with 55kg as her second attempt, still really fast so she went for a PB milestone of 60kg and got it!  Sarah B. benchSarah B. opened her bench with an impressive 57.5kg, went to 62.5kg and hit a PB at a superb 67.5kg.  For the deadlifts Ali started with 135kg, moved into 142.5kg but that was still easy so we went for a huge PB of 150kg.  Sarah B. opened with 132.5kg, moved to 140kg and also hit a big PB with 145kg!  Both qualified for the British next year.

Kirsty benchKirsty finished the day with some truely incredible lifts.  She opened her squat with 117.5kg, took 125kg as her second lift and then took my divisional record with a 130kg final lift.  Bench started with 67.5kg, 72.5kg was her second attempt and 77.5kg her final.  I get to hold my bench record for a few months longer ;).  She opened her deadlifts with 152.5kg, moved to 160kg and then to 167.5kg as her final, all very fast and taking my record!  375kg total and first place with a qualifyng total for the British, very well done!

The official results can be found here:

And here’s the video:

Thank you to Marc and Sue Giles and Paul Hammond for organising such a brilliant comp.  Thank you to the loaders/spotters/refs and desk staff for doing such a tremendous job.  Thank you to Emma H. and Beth for taking the videos and G.L.S Photography for being our official photographer on the day.  Special thanks to Orla and Ellie from Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club who ran the warm ups for us!

Thank you to all those who came to support us and to the other lifters who cheered us on.  And finally, thank you to everyone who took part, it takes a lot of courage to step on the that platform and you have done yourselves, and everyone at Darkside, proud!!


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]

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.