Walking into a gym can be intimidating. All the machines and weights can be overwhelming at first, and the crowded environment can be deterring. The Claremont Barbell Club aims to take that weight off newcomers’ shoulders.
Open to anyone interested in lifting weights, this 5C club values weightlifting as a group activity where each member feels equally supported, according to Kristen LeBlanc CM ’23, a leader of the club. The mission of the club is to provide a safe place to practice weightlifting without pressure or judgment.
“We’ve created a very nice, supportive environment where club members give each other tips on form, we spot each other and we cheer each other on for heavy sets,” LeBlanc said. “It doesn’t matter how much or how little weight you’re doing — if you’re pushing yourself, there will be plenty of people cheering you on.”
The Claremont Barbell Club works out together in Roberts Pavilion, with leaders providing custom lifting regimens based on members’ current skill levels.
“We start warming up with some mobility work, then we begin our main lift or compound movement of the day, which for powerlifters is squat, bench or deadlift,” LeBlanc said. “Once we’ve finished our main lift, we move onto accessories, which are any exercises other than squat, bench or deadlift. People typically do one compound lift, then 3-5 accessory exercises.”
The workouts for each skill level consist of a balance of exercises for muscle groups all over the body, so each member strengthens all muscles equally, according to club member Greg Larrabee CM ’23.
“Usually, each day employs a limited set of exercises to focus on either a single lift, such as squat, bench or deadlift, or a muscle group, like legs, chest or back,” Larrabee said.
LeBlanc emphasized that spacing out the days that a person lifts weights is important for avoiding injuries.
“Our club only meets once a week, but all the members lift on their own outside of the meeting time,” Larabee said. “The frequency varies between members, with most falling in the 3-5 days a week range. Many members of the club are on sports teams, so the practice and team lift schedules of the sport will have an impact on how often they can lift.”
It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of reaching a personal record each time, according to Larrabee. He said while it is important to push yourself, it is also important to view weightlifting as a gradual process.
“Lifting progress is made very slowly over the course of weeks, months and even years, especially for more experienced lifters,” Larabee said. “Because of this slow pace, most goals are made in that time frame, rather than per session.”
Larrabee emphasized that people don’t lift just to achieve personal records — there is a wide variety of what people look to gain.
“Someone coming back from an injury might want to simply regain full mobility and stability again, or someone trying to lose weight could strive to maintain their strength as they lose weight,” Larabee said.
Jacey Carter CM ’23 said starting to lift weights can be daunting for those who haven’t before. She said the club tries to make the transition less intimidating with pre-written programs that club leaders put together.
“Regarding our beginner athletes, we pay extra attention to detail when it comes to their lifts to make sure they have proper form and technique,” Carter said. “We provide all members of the club a beginner and intermediate weightlifting program to follow. If someone is new, we encourage them to use the program designed, and they are more than welcome to come to a team lift and ask for help on form or technique!”
LeBlanc feels passionate about integrating beginners because she can relate to the beginners’ experience in college. The benefits she gained from learning how to lift with the softball team her first year is what motivated her to reboot the Claremont Barbell Club.
While it had been an established club for a while, those that led the club graduated in 2020. Because of the effects of COVID, the club was at standstill until LeBlanc and Carter reactivated it this year.
“I am very grateful that I learned how to lift in a female-dominated, uplifting environment,” LeBlanc said. “It has done wonders for my physical and mental health, and I feel stronger and more confident in my daily life. A huge motivator to start the Barbell Club back up was to create an environment where beginners feel comfortable learning how to lift.”
Carter highlighted that maintaining a positive culture is critical in weightlifting because it can be an unaccepting, competitive environment. The club leaders reinforce positivity through consistent encouragement and finding time to spend together outside the gym.
“Whether someone is squatting for the first time or if they are going for a huge lift, we support and cheer each other through everything,” Carter said. “After our team lifts, we try to encourage everyone to join us at Collins for dinner. Spending time outside the gym together forms a stronger bond beyond the gym.”