There are plenty of gym-buffs out there that love to lift weights and show off their growing muscles, but few can actually boast being a champion lifter. For Newcastle student Hollie Johnson, lifting weights is no longer just a past time, it’s a sport.
The young bench press star has already conquered regional and national competitions and recently competed in her first international event, at the Powerlifting Commonwealth Championships in Canada. Johnson returned with a silver medal in the bench press class.
Johnson only began training for powerlifting 18 months ago and has only been competing for a year. “I started competing in February last year”, she explains. “I had a background in circus skills and parkour and that sort of thing so I had a bit of a strength base to begin with.”
"Johnson only began training for powerlifting 18 months ago and has only been competing for a year"
“It felt really slow at first and as I learned about how to train and about how to work on my own weaknesses then my level increased quite a lot faster.” Despite seemingly taking to the sport with ease, Johnson describes how there is a lot of hard work involved, “at the moment I’m training six days a week.”
Powerlifting, distinctly different from Olympic weightlifting, combines three disciplines: squat, bench press and deadlift. Johnson competes in all three lift categories as well as in bench press-only event, which she admits is definitely her strongest lift.
“I compete in all 3 lifts and benchpress. In competition the rules are a lot stricter than how you might train for those lifts in the gym, but apart from that I think why it’s quite appealing to me, is because you can just train those lifts in the gym and then go to competition and see how you fare.”
Having impressed at a regional level, Johnson moved on to national competitions and out-muscled all that England had to offer, in her class. Competing at the All-England bench press competition, Johnson managed to finish first and earned a spot on the plane to the Commonwealths in Canada.
"Having impressed at a regional level, Johnson moved on to national competitions and out-muscled all that England had to offer"
Having drummed up enough support to fund the trip to North America, Johnson jetted off to take part in her first international event. Summing up how she got on, Johnson explains, “In my three lifts I didn’t place and there was lots of really good competition there, but bench press is my stronger lift and I got silver.”
As well as bossing the bench press, Johnson also lapped up all that Canada had to offer, finding time to do some sightseeing. “We had a bit of an explore, we were in Vancouver so we spent quite a lot of time in the city there, having a look around.”
Unfortunately for Johnson, the Canadian climate wasn’t always in her favour. “We wanted to get up into the mountains but the one day I had when we could’ve done that it was absolutely throwing it down with rain.”
However, the Newcastle student relished the opportunity to mix it with some of the best powerlifters in the world. “It was amazing, we were staying in the official hotel, we had all different countries there, all the different teams were staying in the same hotel, it was really good fun.”
"the Newcastle student relished the opportunity to mix it with some of the best powerlifters in the world"
Having had a taste of international success, Johnson now has her sights firmly set on the World Bench Press Championships in South Africa in May. Johnson is already in training for Championships, “It’s going ok, I’ve got 15 or 16 weeks left until that so I’ve been programming my training leading up to that.”
Despite her success at the Commonwealths, Johnson remains humble about her chances in South Africa. “I’m going there with an open mind. It’s the first un-equipped world championships in benchpress so I’ve no idea what people are going to turn up with.”
The British bench press champ is eager to test her talents against the world’s very best in her class. “I’ve improved my benchpress a lot recently so I’m hoping it will carry on improving. I’m just excited to see what I can do really.”
Ahead of the World Championships in May, Johnson’s confidence will surely be boosted having recently achieved the personal milestone of bench-pressing 70kg. “It’s has been a target of mine for like ever. I’d been stuck on 65kg for as long as I can remember so it was a real achievement and it felt easy on the day so I’m very happy to have got that done.”
"Ahead of the World Championships in May, Johnson’s confidence will surely be boosted having recently achieved the personal milestone of bench-pressing 70kg"
Having made the transition from average gym-goer to successful powerlifter, Johnson encourages others to follow suit. “With powerlifting, just go for it. It’s easy to get started because you can go down to any gym you can and start training your movements.”
“The local and regional competitions where I started are the most friendly things, I went to the first one on my own, I didn’t have anyone with me and everyone there looked after me and it was just brilliant and no one cares what level you’re at. I’d say if you’re interested in it then go for it.”
Johnson is a member of the Newcastle Weightlifting Club, which combines the disciplines of weightlifting and powerlifting. The club, which accepts members with no prior experience of lifting, competed in the Northern Open in November, doing Olympic lifts.
Johnson was keen to express her gratitude to the Newcastle University Sports Centre, who have agreed to help fund her trip to South Africa in May.