FEATURE: How Sheffield weightlifting club Hallam Barbell is aiming to change the perception of strength training
Mention the word weightlifting and what's the first thing that springs to mind?
Chances are, it's probably an image of a muscle-bound group of blokes pumping iron incessantly.
It's exactly this kind of preconceived idea that one particular club in Sheffield is aiming to banish to the past as they aim to make the sport more inclusive.
Hallam Barbell Weightlifting was formed back in 2009 in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) and it's aim is simple - provide a socially-inclusive space that does more than just provide weights.
Club founder and head coach Dave Hembrough wanted to create an environment that lets people try out the sport but also deliver psychological benefits, as well as the obvious health boosts.
"The corner in the gym with the weights isn't often the space where people feel welcome," Dave tells the Star during a tour of their facilities on Clarkehouse Road.
"We want to promote the benefits of strength conditioning - this is about strength for life, whatever age you are.
"When you're 35 or older you lose muscle mass and you can become frail.
"If you become frail, you fall over easily and you can break easily.
"There's a great saying that strength training makes you resistant to death - that's not to say you won't die of course, it's just that you are less likely to die early.
"We want to capitalise upon best-in-class coaching to drive social change. But more than that, we wanted to develop and deliver innovative programmes which have the power to connect people and communities."
The club runs various classes with people of all shapes, sizes and ages involved.
Just two of the sessions that run are Enable, which focuses on working with disadvantaged/disabled groups, and MindfullySTRONG, which promotes good mental health alongside weightlifting.
Dave says the latter is proving to be one of the club's most popular.
"We talk but also exercise in a mindful way - it's quite self-reflective," he said.
"You can go to a gym and smash it and leave crawling.
"But instead, we ask people to ask themselves "What do you need to get out of this session today?"
"You can leave the gym feeling like you've just had a warm bath - feeling great, happy and a bit sweaty.
"The principles are about health - it's about strengthening bones and, ultimately, staying healthy."
One of its club members, Jenny Tong, is perhaps the best example of how the club caters for all kinds of people - even those who aren't initially interested in lifting weights.
Jenny was a student at the University of Sheffield who just happened to stumble upon the club after a course-mate suggested she join.
She enrolled in a beginners course and thanks to the coaching of Dave and his colleagues, she was soon competing on the national stage.
It was a far cry from her previous life, when she had brushes with the law, developed a drug habit and suffered the loss of her mother all by the age of just 18.
But after focusing on her studies and combining this with a newfound love of weightlifting, she is now in contention to represent GB at the senior European Championships in Moscow next year.
And she even has ambitions of competing for her country at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Dave says that Jenny's success story provides plenty of inspiration to people who find themselves in a similar situation
"We employ students as coaches - and Jenny is just one example of that," he said.
"Jenny is inspirational, ferocious and challenging and we think people will be inspired by her."
With the new year around the corner and gyms prepared for their annual onslaught of new memberships, Dave says that Hallam Barbell offers a suitable alternative for those wanting a more tailored fitness programme.
He added; "People are very social when it comes to social media nowadays, but less so when it comes to when it comes to being personally social.
"Our model uses students and university facilities to deliver worthwhile services to people that are perhaps more deserving and it makes a bigger difference too than elite athletes.
"Parents can send their kids here and they know that they will be well looked after.
"We do have competitors at international level, but we've got a bigger social purpose.
"As a club we're delivering more programmes to more people.
"We want to do things differently - to create an everlasting impact and make a difference."
To find out more about the club and to see when introductory classes are held, visit hallambarbell.com.