Gymbox member Alex Blair, 24, is a national level weightlifter, having scored the top spot at the English Championship in 2016. He also plays guitar in indie-rock-metal band, When Our Time Comes. We meet him to get some training tips and find out how he juggles work, rest and play.
Hi Alex, how was the Christmas break for you?
Christmas was great! However, training-wise I usually have to keep everything going over the break, as one of the national championships is this month. However, I've had a bit of enforced rest this time though due to a rough cold!
Do you have to stick to a strict diet?
Yes, but mainly to eat enough! People hate me at this time of year... Fuel training is important to a weightlifter. I generally eat quite well. I make sure breakfast is scrambled eggs, baked beans, toast, fruit and orange juice. I eat out at lunchtimes, usually Vietnamese cuisine – normally a rice box, pork and/or beef, pickled salad/vegetables. I also eat a lot of porridge – generally stuff that fills me up. However, I have to admit, I am rather partial to pizzas and takeaways. Plus I love sweets.
What is the one piece of training kit that you wish Santa has brought to you, but didn’t/couldn’t afford to?
A couple of new weightlifting shoes are due for release soon, so if he'd been able to magically deliver those I would have appreciated it! Maybe this year.
What are your goals for this 2017, and what steps are you undertaking to reach them?
My main aim this year is to build on the successes of 2016, and learn from my setbacks, too. Hopefully I will have another injury-free year, which makes life a lot more enjoyable and easier to manage. I also aim to add more kilos to my lifts.
Looking back at previous years, what have been your biggest achievements in sport?
Winning the English Championships in 2016 was amazing. In the lead up to the competition, a few 85 kilo lifters in my category had injuries, so I thought if there was any time I had a shot at it, it would be then. Even so, it also applied a lot of pressure on me. I pulled through on day and won – it was an incredible feeling! This year there is a lot more competition, so it will be tough. Wish me luck!
You work as an underwriter during the day, how do you manage the balance between work and training/competing?
When I started my job i was already in the routine of weightlifting, training three days a week, so I was already getting into the routine. So having to motivate myself during a work day wasn't too bad. It's now something I look forward to, even after a long day at work. It helps me shake off the day. I train longer at the weekends, so week days are more about getting the grunt work done. I also make sure I put time aside to see friends and hang out, as long as I'm in bed before midnight! Sleep is very important.
You moved from football into weightlifting – what inspired this move?
When I moved to London I pretty much stopped playing football. I enjoyed it, but never quite got into it in the same way as weightlifting. Also, I prefer individual pursuits as opposed to team sports these days. I have played a lot of team sports, but especially with what I do now it is very time consuming, and is tricky to juggle around a full time job. Team practices are difficult to get to, and by training and competing solo, I quite like being responsibility for my own wins, being the master of my own destiny.
You have suffered injuries through mistakes in your training, what advice would you give to your younger self at this time?
I'd go back and tell myself how to train properly and lift properly, and most importantly not be an idiot! We learn from our mistakes. Oh, and I'd also go back a few more years and tell myself to start training at a much younger age.
What was your rehab process?
I had some physical therapy and took a few weeks off. Even when I'm training I do make sure I take a couple of weeks off from time to time. I think it's important to chill out and rest, do some other things. Luckily I'm really into music, I play guitar in a band, When Our Time Comes, which is a mix of rock, alternative, pop and metal. I make sure I take a more sensible approach to training, overall, which means taking rest days and having breaks.
How does being a pro weightlifter help you play the guitar in a band?
Well, the strength training definitely helps with carrying musical equipment about! Not that it makes that aspect of it any more enjoyable. Plus, being strong also helps to fight off all the 0 groupies we have.
How important is correct posture?
Posture is pretty important, especially if you work an office job, like me. I always make sure to stretch hip flexors and calves, especially after a day at work, as these get tight from sitting all day.
What are the key weight training mistakes people often make?
Poor form, not using full range of motion – unless there is a specific purpose – and impatience. Also, not sticking to a training programme for enough time, and doing too many bicep curl variations.
What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses are as an athlete?
My strengths are definitely having a low centre of gravity, having handy weightlifting proportions alongside the most important thing – drive and focus. My weaknesses are back strength in comparison to leg and upper body strength.
What gives you the biggest buzz during a work out session?
Nothing beats hitting a personal best! However, even just going to the gym to chuck a bit of weight around is fun for me. There's no point competing if you don't enjoy the training and spending hours of your time in a gym. It's something I love doing, and I'm lucky enough to be lifting at a decent level now.
Weightlifting and mobility – what are the benefits?
Mobility is very important to be able to hit the positions in the lifts (snatch, clean and jerk). Inevitably, the actual lifting makes you stiff, so you have to keep on top of your stretching.
For the heavier lifters out there, do you have any tips as to how to lift a bit heavier?
It's pretty straightforward. Slap yourself in the face, shout a bit, and try harder!