5 Things I learned during lockdown as a lifter.

It’s early September as I am writing this in 2020. If you are reading this text 20 years in the future or if you haven’t been paying attention this year has been slightly different.  I have been meaning to write a few reflective articles on my experience during the last year from different perspectives.

I figure the 3 main perspectives I can offer are as a lifter, a business owner, and as a person.  Lockdown has been challenging for us all (some more so than others) but that isn’t to diminish the challenges of others or to begrudge the good fortune of others as neither of those avenues of thought provides a fruitful analysis.  So without further ado here are my 5 main meditations as a lifter through lockdown as much as they are

1 – I really fucking like lifting weights

I don’t like lifting. I REALLY like lifting.  The main thing that was causing me consternation at the thought of lockdown was the fact that I didn’t have access to a barbell, rack, and plates (ironic given how many racks, bars, and weights I own).  We could maybe discuss the merits or demerits of my obvious obsession and compulsion for lifting 7ft steel shafts in 3 particular planes of movement but I am not particularly interested in delving into that part of my psyche.  If I am being 100% honest the thought of the gym or business not being able to operate at full capacity did cause me stress but it wasn’t the overriding concern because we operate both online and in-person and I am pretty frugal so have plenty of rainy day funds.  My real concern was that I wasn’t going to be able to do my hobby for the foreseeable future.

I tried bodyweight workouts and running for the first 2 weeks during lockdown but all that cemented was that bodyweight training is fucking shite compared to lifting weights. Unexpectedly running was actually pretty good from an exercise standpoint it was hard and rewarding because it was had.  But 120kg+ lifters don’t make good runners especially when they try and run 6 days per week.  It really hammered home as well that you need to find an exercise or sport that speaks to you as a person.  Rugby spoke to me it was fun and I really liked the hard work and contact element but the team training schedule and having to rely on other teammates really didn’t speak to me.  As soon as I started lifting free weights I knew I had landed on the exercise that I liked.

I spent quite a lot of money, in the end, setting up a home gym in Bearsden (thankfully Laura’s parents had space and were graciously willing enough to allow me to take up quite a lot of their patio and garage for my weird hobby) and it was worth every penny.  Without the home gym set up, I would have had a way worse experience during lockdown and I am sure I would have learned some other valuable lessons but to be perfectly frank I am glad that I had the means and the space available to not learn those lessons.

2 – No matter how well or not well your training is going stop being an ungrateful cunt

We have all been there when training is flying high and your going well then it’s the best hobby in the world the ability to share in the community online is exhilarating and we love every second of it.  When it’s not going well then we question why we chose to do the hobby we do, we fixate on the negative sides of it, why is my progression stalling, why do I keep getting injured and why is EVERYONE STRONGER THAN ME MUH GAWD.

I’m not big into personal gratitude, self realisation, journaling, or any wishy-washy touchy feely nonsense generally speaking.  There is merit to these things probably more merit than we all realise and I am sure we would get a lot out of it if we took the time and effort to use those tools.  But let’s be honest if you were the sort of person who was going to use those tools regularly and successfully you would already be using those tools.  If you are more like me and more of a “this glass is overflowing, this is class and this is far too fucking easy” OR “this glass is smashed, I can’t fucking drink, and what is the point in me even drawing breath” kind of person then sitting on your arse paying attention to your own thoughts or writing down your feels on a regular basis is probably not going to be a sustainable or useful intervention.  

Having some floppy-haired fat bellend in London tell me I had to hide in my house indefinitely really struck home how much shit I take for granted.  The ability to go to the gym, lift weights and complain about it really is a fucking godsend.  Never mind the ability to own the gym and make a living off teaching people how to do the thing I probably love the most in the world that isn’t family, laura, or beer (running it close tho, apart from beer, Marry me, baby).

It is obscene the number of things in our lives that we take for granted and don’t take the time to appreciate.  As a lifter, I am just going to appreciate the fact I have the time, the means, and the physical ability to do my hobby and I am not going to invest all of my identity in how that hobby is going.  It doesn’t mean I don’t care how it’s going I’m competitive as fuck of course I care but it’s not going to be all-consuming anymore and I am going to make an effort to be happy with just showing up.

3 – A rack is a rack and a bar is a bar until it isn’t 

I had a pretty baller ass home gym set up because I was willing to pay whatever and was lucky enough to be able to get some of the last equipment in stock.  I don’t think I will ever forget that beautiful bastard who delivered the plates to my wee home gym set up once those bad boys where in the garage I was secure in the knowledge it didn’t matter how long this shite goes on for I can get in my regular training in, I can let the rest of the world wash over me.  I would have taken any fucking barbell, any fucking rack, and any weights I could get my hands on to be able to continue to do any kind of barbell training it really wouldn’t have mattered. 

Once you have some kit then you start to look at other kit and think, wish I had that kit.  It’s the old comparison being the thief of joy coming back from point 2 and joining us in point 3.  Just having something however and being able to do some kind of training has an effect on a lot of us I don’t think we take the time to acknowledge or to recognise.  As much as when I had my bar, rack and plates I was constantly looking to improve or to buy more stuff for it, it also centered me in one of the most bequiliar points of my life.

As much as I have said journaling, meditating, and gratefulness are probably helpful for some I now believe strongly we don’t take the time to appreciate how helpful exercise is and not just exercise but exercise you vibe with.  Being able to lift grounds me in a way I never really appreciated.  It’s my time, it’s alone time and it’s me against the barbell time.  There is something perspective-shifting about trying to consistently overcome gravity and steel.  The unrelenting nature of those two things gives lifting a soul and context that is hard to grasp or understand unless you get it.  For those who get it, a barbell and weights are so much more than just a barbell or weights.

4 – Training shouldn’t be complicated.

This is something I already believed but it is something that really got cemented in my head during the lockdown.  I had a barbell, enough weight to make up 210kg, and a cheap squat rack.  I still managed to set PBs in Floor press, overhead press, and deadlift.  I also managed to get close to PB levels in the squat which was pretty good considering I was lifting on a pair of Reebok trainers with a super spongy sole on uneven cobblestones.  My super-secret lockdown program looked something like this

Monday – 

Squat – 6 sets 4-6 reps, try go heavier than last time.

Front Squat or walking lunge for 2-3 sets of 8

Some core


Overhead press – 3-6 sets 3-10 reps, try do more than last time

Floor press – 3-6 sets 3-10 reps, try do more than last time

Pull up – try do more than last time

Some kind of row (inverted or barbell)

Wednesday –

Deadlift – 6 sets 4-6 reps, try go heavier than last time

Pause deadlift or RDL – 2-3 sets.



Floor press – 3-6 sets 3-10 reps, try do more than last time

Overhead press – 3-6 sets 3-10 reps, try do more than last time

Pull up – try do more than last time

Some kind of row (inverted or barbell)

Friday – 

Squat – 6 sets 4-6 reps, try go heavier than last time.

Floor press – 3-6 sets 3-10 reps, try do more than last time

Deadlift – 3 sets 4-6 reps, try go heavier than last time 

The structure changed slightly, exercises changed slightly (like I did bench press instead of floor press when I luckily managed to get my hands on a bench but that was more or less it.  I managed to get up to 

110kg x 8 military press

240kg x 4 squat

260kg x 5 deadlift

170kg x 11 floor press

180kg x 8 bench press

From a starting point where I could barely walk due to back pain from running 6x per week during the first two weeks of lockdown.  The main aspects of the program that where in place where that 

1 – I did the lifts I wanted to get better at as many times during the week as I thought was useful or I could recover from

2 – I tried to progress those lifts

3 – I used assistance to help where the training wasn’t (rehab for shoulder for example) and to try and complement the lifts I was doing and progress them.

That was pretty much it in all of its rocket science and glory.  Now I didn’t manage to push onto new 1 rep maxes (I think I would have if given more time in lockdown) but I did progress and I did manage to set personal bests and I have been lifting weights trying to get stronger since 2002 so setting personal bests isn’t the easiest thing to do.

5 – Training environment is more important than we realise

With all of the above being said I think at best during the lockdown the training I did moved me sideways in my long term training (sideways is way better than backward).  I had done a mock meet and managed a 305kg squat and didn’t have a great result in either my bench press or deadlift but I had learned quite a lot. I was planning to put these new learnings to use in the upcoming blocks.  None of this information had left me during the lockdown. I still knew where I needed to work and what I needed to do however I never executed the plan as well as I no doubt would have if I had been training in our facility.  

It’s not just the equipment and space that makes an environment you could even argue with a fair bit of success that the kit and space is pretty much irrelevant (it’s not).  It is the people that make the environment and that is one thing I think you can take for granted when you are training in a good space.  Some environments can actually be detrimental to your progress if you want to train in a certain manner; some gyms or spaces will actively discourage it.  No music over the speakers, no chalk, trainers who don’t really get it and punters who are just doing their own wee bit and aren’t motivated or driven towards a certain goal or target.

The environment you train in can really help augment your training.  If you have like-minded people who you can bounce ideas off, people who will spot in the correct manner without even needing to be asked, a whole gym that stops to shout encouragement whenever you are going for a big lift or struggling through a rep regardless of the weight on the bar.  Gyms can be a lot like the bar in Cheers, where “everyone knows your name” they really are community hubs something I think those of us who experience it find envigorating but might take for granted.  I run one and I know I took it for granted a bit before we were forced to shut for 24 weeks.  If you train in a gym or a venue like that, make the most of it. 

In the next two articles I will reflect on what I have learned as a business owner and as a person. 


Leave a Reply