‘No citizen has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a citizen to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.’ (Socrates, adapted)

Deadlifting 257 kilograms feels a bit like this: You step up to the weight. It is an imposing set-up, just above a quarter of a ton of remorseless steel, sitting defiantly on the lifting platform. Your focus intensifies. Your vision tunnels. Every breath is taken deeply, knowing that very soon, the next breath will be the one that will be held to brace. You take hold of the bar and clench it until the metal knurling sinks into the skin of your palms. You adopt the starting lifting position and inhale deeply, until your body braces against the 10mm thick leather belt, bolted together with a clunky metal lever. Then the real magic begins.

Like spark plugs, your neurons fire the order down to your body to lift. Upon command, the largest muscles in your body – your legs, glutes, back and core – explode with energy, creating a shockwave of force, which almost feels like you will drive your legs into the ground. The colossal weight, 115kgs’ worth of plates either side a 27kg bar, at first resists. However, after initial reluctance, it moves upwards seamlessly through time and space. You lock out and that huge breath that had braced your body through this ordeal is exhaled with a mighty war-cry. Once you have stood victorious with that weight, you then release and let it smash back onto the platform. Your senses return. You have completed the deadlift, known as one of the most primal movements since humans first lifted heavy objects off the ground.

One may wonder why a barrister would wish to fit the above in an already hectic lifestyle. After all, after a long day at court, the last activity one would think of is to drink heavily caffeinated beverages, listen to extreme music, wear an uncomfortable leather belt and knee sleeves, and lift heavy objects, where there is simply no need to. However, science and mental wellbeing supports us in doing exactly this.

We tend to spend our days either sitting or standing. In a high-drive profession such as the Bar, our bodies are flooded with cortisol and adrenaline, among other hormones. If we remain non-kinetic, these ‘fight or flight’ hormones are not used to their full potential and over time can damage our system (see: www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax). Exercise is one safe manner in which we can allow these hormones to fulfil their purpose. Exercise also releases endorphins, known as the ‘runner’s high’, which is the sudden euphoria after exercise. Many lifters have cited the post-exercise endorphins as highly addictive. There is also that great elation when a huge, intimidating weight suddenly appears to defy gravity and move to the final lifting position.

On a more personal level, lifting has enabled me to persevere through difficult times as well. Alone in the gym, after a long day of work, lifting weights can help me get rid of the negativity that has accrued through the day, but in a positive manner. It soon becomes apparent why so many people adopt this kind of lifestyle and how, at times, it is not about lifting or exercise, but it is simply just therapy. I also quickly realised why people often label their gyms with names such as ‘iron paradise’ and other peaceful metaphors. It really is an immensely rewarding sport.

However, lifting does not come without its safety labels. It places stresses on your body, which require adequate nutrition, rest and recovery. If your body does not get these three inputs, then it is unable to repair the damaged tissue, which in turn provides the strength. This is also difficult to achieve as a barrister, especially with long days at court, and recourse to poor quality food. (I await the day that court vending machines/cafeterias dispense protein shakes.)

This is where organisation and supplementation – in my case, convenient and incredible tasting protein bars – step in. I recall quite a few times where I have popped out of court to gobble down a bar. There were also times, especially during pupillage, where I would stuff Chambers’ fridge with meals for the week, compromising on my popularity.

However, with the disadvantages, come advantages. You learn more about food, rest and recovery than ever before, as you strive to improve your health. This knowledge then overflows to other willing (and unwilling) friends and family members, who I would like to think benefit, even if they do not appear to be too pleased about it at the time.

There are also schools of thought (ie my parents) that advise against excessive lifting, citing that the human body was not created to lift weight in such a manner, especially when it goes into hundreds of kilograms. However, with the right technique, and progression, this can be done safely. Throughout history, humans have lifted weight, heavy weight, in sports, employment or more unfortunately, emergencies. Would it not be better to learn and practise how to do so, safely? Form, which is often overlooked by beginners, is a huge aspect of this game. Sometimes, ego and drive can get the weight from A to B. However, with poor form, the price can be heavy, as after two surgeries and multiple back problems, I have learnt the hard way. But as they say: a ship will be safe in its harbour, but that is not the purpose of a ship!

I would strongly recommend readers to try this sport, or a variation of it. There are many gyms that offer a beginner’s workshop to powerlifting, Olympic lifting or a strongman session. The feeling of such a workout, the progression and, more importantly, the benefits to the body and mind, are immense. It may seem daunting at first, and everyone starts ‘light’, but with the right motivation, instruction (including self-teaching) and time, this can develop into a highly beneficial pastime. 

Pictured above: Ahmad completes a trap bar deadlift (227 kgs).