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Charlie Hooson-Sykes

I'm aware that as I write this, I'm a relatively novice lifter. Despite my classification being somewhat mature (M1), I've only been powerlifting for three years – but a baby in competition terms.


The first year, I did exactly the same as I did when I was a runner, I threw myself into everything. I competed in six competitions, all federations. I tried push/pull, single lift, charity competitions and full power. It was very much a mixed bag of experiences.


Three years on, and there's one competition that always pulls me back. That I wait for. NoDumbelles.

NoDumbelles is a women-only competition, and unlike other similar women-only competitions, it's completely open. In truth, that's kind of the point, and why it works so well. Absolute novices line up against those like me, who are drawn back year after year.


NoDumbelles Women's Open was created as a platform – somewhere women can get a taster for competing. Somewhere we can safely test our 1 rep maxes. It began as a competition surrounding a class called ‘Strong Is The New Skinny’. And it started small. The first was just a push/pull because the gym didn’t have the equipment to go full power. The first was also non-affiliated, but even so, they ran it the same as any affiliated meet – full kit rules, official referees and lifting to the BPC (Now GPCGB) rules. It’s grown from fifty lifters, through to fifty lifters annually, and GPCGB affiliation. This year, it’s hoping to be the first entirely female competition – crew, referees and lifters.




It begged me to ask the question: Why? What keeps me going back, just for this one competition?

Could it be the venue? Olympic Gym is a proper gym, on an industrial estate in the suburbs of Manchester. It’s housed in an old mill building, so in the summer it retains the heat, in the winter… It gets a little chilly. The clang of metal on metal, the grunt of a lifter, even a gym dog (or two or three) present. It’s one of those places, where all are welcome, no bullshit is tolerated, and you’re probably not going to find all that many posers filming themselves in the mirror. It’s a bro-free zone.


Owners Tania and Paul George are well known in strength fields, and NoDumbelles is Tania’s brainchild. Not only do several of Tania’s clients compete (no longer ‘Strong is the New Skinny', they’re now all her Sharks), but she’s no stranger to leaping on the platform herself – last year benching just to remind herself she can still smash it in competition. Spoiler alert, she can.


Maybe it's their blend of northern matter-of-factness (no drama here please, Susan) added to their care with novice lifters. We’re given opportunity to trial with the monolift and commands ahead of the competition. And I’ve heard tales of inexperienced competitors being given extra encouragement, time and patience (and occasionally an extra empty bar lift at the end, to pull them through their anxiety). All of this with Tania’s patented no-bullshit approach.


It’s that no-bull approach that means that everyone knows what to expect, but also fosters the same support throughout the event. Whether it’s those you’re competing with, those screaming, ‘Uuuuuupppp!!!’ at every opportunity, or the spotters and loaders who are there to catch you if you fall, but are also behind you literally and figuratively. I’ve made a heap of friends every year, and it’s led to other women who’ve never competed before signing up for this competition. This year alone, I know three novice lifters from their other walks of life, other than lifting.


Maybe, just maybe, it’s all of the above. The place, the people, the atmosphere. Whatever it’s got, I’ll be back there on Sunday, to do it all again.


Wish us luck.

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