Ajanta Hilton assisting with powerlifting training
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A Commonwealth Powerlifter’s Advice on Mastering Strength Training

For those new to the exercise, the weights section of the gym can be daunting. And without the right guidance it can be difficult to know when to add more kilos or squat a little deeper.

Weight training can lower cholesterol. It’s good for heart and bone health, it also improves posture and keeps your metabolism ticking over. So why on earth aren’t we all doing it?

For those new to the exercise, the weights section of the gym can be daunting. And without the right guidance it can be difficult to know when to add more kilos or squat a little deeper.

Weight training coach Ajanta Hilton lifted her first barbell aged 35 and went on to represent England at the 2019 Commonwealth Powerlifting Championships in Canada, coming home with a Bronze medal. "I can fully understand reservations people have about timing and feeling it's too late,” she says. “It definitely isn't! You're never too old and you just don't know your potential until you give it a go.” Here Hilton, who has clients in their 80s, shares five pieces of advice on how to make weight training work for you, whatever your level.

Don’t dive in with a heavy weight

“For a complete beginner it’s essential you can move your own body weight effectively. Before picking up a dumbbell start by stretching and moving: bend over to touch your toes or do a series of deep squats. Any stiff joints and tight muscles will loosen up and then within 2-3 weeks you’ll be ready to start picking up weights without feeling creaky. When you start lifting you will feel muscle soreness afterwards. This is a good thing. It shows you’ve woken up muscles you don’t normally use and now they can move effectively.”

Feel the fear and do it anyway

“Starting out I felt nervous and self-conscious walking towards the weights section of a gym. I didn't really know what I was doing, no one really does! I think women-only sessions or gyms are absolutely fantastic. There’s a really strong women’s powerlifting community online who share lots of tips and ideas and offer a safe place to ask questions and swap notes with other strong and confident women. For men, my advice is to ignore any external pressures on how many kilos you should be lifting and focus on your own (realistic) goals. Try not to compare yourself to others. Lift what’s right for you. We’re all different.”

Hire a coach to begin or improve

“Whether you are new to this or not, it’s easy to pick up the wrong weight, or go too light and never really improve. By hiring a coach they will show you how to lift properly and all the correct techniques to avoid embarrassment and iron out bad habits. Nothing is as good as one-to-one coaching or a small group session to give you the confidence to train safely. Plus, we are busy people who don’t have time to experiment in the gym for hours. A coach will help get you on track with a training plan and all the knowledge you need to move forward.”

Be aware of the mental health benefits

“When I was dieting and exercising purely to lose weight it was always a mental battle between my goals and my willpower. With weight training I no longer look at the scales but focus on the weights on my barbell instead. There is nothing quite like the feeling of putting all your efforts into moving that weight you once thought was impossible. It’s a huge boost.

Weight training also offers an hour to focus on yourself and your own goals. As a mother of three children I know how important that is. You won’t always have a great session, but the fact that you’ve shown up for it and worked hard will make you feel fantastic.”

Lift weights for a stronger life

“I find a lot of people tend to take up running or cardio to get fit. But the problem is our body is left thinking, ‘well, you're making me go for these runs, but I don't have the muscles to support that impact and movement’. Relentless cardio will give you swollen knees and hip injuries.

Having stronger muscles will help you burn fat but it also supports your whole body. It also helps in your daily life when you’re picking up a heavy carrier bag of shopping you can do it without pulling a muscle. You’ll be the go to person in your household to open jars.”

Don’t let your age obstruct your goals

Friends often say to me: ‘I couldn’t do a deadlift, I've got a bad back,’ but I tell them that’s exactly why you should lift weights. By doing squats with dumbbells or bench presses you will build your core strength and back muscles and avoid injuries later in life. According to Age UK 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men over 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis. We start losing muscle mass after the age of 30 so we need to keep up strength training to counteract this and increase our bone density. On top of this Menopause slows a woman’s metabolism down and muscle mass helps burn energy and keep your resting metabolism high.”

What do Ajanta’s clients say?

David Parry, 64, an architect from St Albans, Hertfordshire says: “I noticed a marked improvement in my posture and a boost in my well-being purely from feeling stronger. This all came from repetitions lifting a manageable weight. Age is no barrier, particularly if someone is keeping an eye on you. Trust your body, not your mind to tell yourself what you can do.”

Tracey Baum, 56, a mindset coach from Hertfordshire says: “Turning 50 I was overweight. As a mindset coach I felt I needed to start walking the walk. I joined a gym and got fitter, but since training with Ajanta my joints are more supple and I feel stronger. Knowing that my bone density, joints and waistline are all benefiting keeps me going back.”

Visit Ajanta Hilton's website here and check out her Instagram here, @getstrongwithajanta