I am a weightlifter. My whole sport consists of numbers. Numbers of kilos. Snatch, Clean and Jerk, Total.

It asks you; How much are YOU capable of? This is what has always drawn my interest. I want to find and test my limits.

Numerical values are a way to measure sporting prowess whether it be a time, a distance, a score, or a number of goals. It’s very easy to become transfixed.

However to think about elite sport as a competitor when your performance is judged by the concreteness of a number, you have to be able to step back.

Numbers are a construct. They are a concept constructed by humans. They are a unit of measurement, and in that sense they’re comforting. 100kg is always 100kg. But that same reality can be soul crushing.  

As a novice weightlifter it was new and exciting to get my head around these values. I remember trying to snatch the unloaded barbell and feeling the dead weight of it, foreign and strange I couldn’t grasp how I was supposed to send this up above my head with any efficiency.

Kiana Elliott

With practice I began to understand how to move myself to propel the barbell. Very rapidly I was facing these inconceivable values.

Numbers that had never had much meaning to me in this context before. I had no previous conceptions about 50kg, except that in the beginning, squatting the 20kg bar was heavy!

However, with repetition and my body’s adaption 20kg became easier.

It took a relatively brief period of time for me to face the big 50kg, I remember thinking 50kg was a lot, trying to wrap my head around that concept relative to things I was familiar with. 50kg, that’s half of 100kg I remember thinking – at that stage, 100kg definitely seemed insurmountable.

Now, it is imperative that I wrap my head around the number 100 and face it with confidence, before I can even hope to Snatch 100kg. I very quickly found myself attaching emotions and a sense of achievement to specific numbers.

Kiana Elliott

There’s a notion not dissimilar to the strength training world’s concept of ‘newbie gains’. Yes, I see you nodding.

This idea also applies to weightlifting in that the novel stimulus of weight training will see strength improving rapidly in the beginning with relatively minimal effort.

The dead weight of the unloaded bar becomes familiar, manageable and then it becomes ‘light’. The same happens with 45kg, 60kg… Then, gradually, over time, it starts to get harder.

This is the point where I believe you really start to get friendly with the nitty gritty of the sport.

The same number that was once lifted with ease now feels heavy.

Did someone turn up the dial of gravity? Imagine pushing with all your might against a tonne of concrete, it’s not budging. Weightlifting will humble you.

Any ego intertwined with a weight you will have to untangle, methodically, piece by piece. Backtrack to square one and rebuild.

Focusing on the number on the bar bootstraps the athlete.

Weightlifting forces you to repeatedly face the unknown of something heavier than you’ve ever touched before.

Kiana Elliott

Taunting you, any fear or doubt will bring a lift back down to the ground with the smashing speed and force of gravity.

After all, this sport is just a simple race: you against gravity. Pull the bar so high and she who dares to wedge herself under the barbell may attempt to secure it overhead and stand, triumphant.

Only when the realisation that a number centric focus is distracting from the daily process of training hits does one really become a weightlifter in my opinion.

You have to take a step back, zoom out and add in some perspective. Focusing on the end result is not adequate fuel throughout the daily mental battles of fighting to be your best.

I’ve found that I need to keep my standards high and keep striving to be better but I MUST frequently take a step back and add some perspective in there.

The great Soviet Weightlifter Vasily Alekseyev sums it up really well in this quote;

“If I want something, I will definitely achieve it. No matter what I have to sacrifice.

The more complex the situation, the more threatening my rivals, the more I spread my wings in defiance of something.”

There’s something awe inspiring about one person attempting to muster up every ounce of energy they possess within into a momentous and colossal outburst of controlled, and technically directed strength.

The numbers game of this sport compels its players to try and find their limit – to one day hope to discover their potential – and to be able to feel like they’ve done all they could, to be their best and to call it a day.