How do you turn a rugby player into an Olympic lifter… 6 months?!

By on December 3, 2014. Posted in , , . Tagged as , , , , , , .

Firstly you find yourself an absolute specimen, Olympic lifters need the strength of a silver back gorilla, the speed of a cobra, the reactions of a fighter pilot, the balance of a gymnast, the flexibility of a ballerina and above all an iron like will. You don’t need all of these traits to succeed but it helps and if you can pick one it’s definitely the strong mind!

I first bumped into Bex Francis in January this year by pure chance. I ran a Ladies-only Strength and Conditioning workshop which she attended. Bex explained to me that she hadn’t really focused on training for a little while, she was demotivated and wanted to secure her position in the ‘T-birds’ Thurrock Ladies team. A few weeks later Bex appointed me her strength coach and we trained together religiously twice per week. Initially we focused on the basics like building up her straight line sprint speed, improving her strength lifts like the squat, bench press, deadlift and conditioning her body to be able to use this new found athleticism for the whole game.


After several months of trials and tribulations, with crazy work schedules for Bex and lots of inconsistencies with her training, brought on by external pressures we sat down in the summer for a frank chat. I had started teaching her the Olympic lifts a few months earlier (Snatch, Clean and Jerk) and felt that if she committed herself could go on to achieve really good results in Olympic lifting, maybe even qualify for the English Championships next February. She needed a clear target, a very specific goal to train for to stay focused and I felt that this was perfect.

She was very skeptical at first, but after hassling her for weeks agreed to go to a competition and see what happened. On the day in shorts and a t-shirt (most competitors wear a singlet made from lycra) she hit a 34kg Snatch, 58kg Clean and Jerk for a total of 92kg. She was fuming, I was delighted!

With less than a month’s preparation had come within 8kg of qualifying for the regional championships. I knew now that she now had the taste for weightlifting competitions and this success was enough to unleash the beast within. Bex trained like a monster for the next 6 weeks, achieving a 40kg Snatch and 61kg Clean and Jerk for a total of 101kg at her next competition and enough to qualify for the regional championships.

The next month before the big competition was difficult; juggling rugby matches, work and Olympic lifting training. Bex was very often tired when she arrived for sessions but we did what we could without pushing too much. Along came the Monday before competition when British Weightlifting released the qualifying totals for the English Championships. Bex would need 108kg, 7kg more than she had ever done in competition. As you can imagine she was not happy and I felt her full wrath that day!

Bex francis

I won’t go into the training session we had that evening, let’s just say it was the worst, best session we have ever had together! Fast forward 5 days and a noticeably more ripped Bex weighs in at 61.2kg (down from the out of shape 66kg woman who had turned up 8 months previously!)

We decided to open at 37kg, she nailed it. Then 41kg, nailed it. Finally 45kg PB, nailed it! A good start and well on the way to qualifying. She needed a 63kg Clean and Jerk to make the 108 total so I made the decision that she needed a lift in the bag first before going for it. She opened at 58kg, a lift she has done a million times in training and one I was confident would feel easy. She nailed it. Then up to 63kg PB, nailed it. Finally going for a 66kg PB, NAILED IT!

She got all 6 lifts and a 110kg total to easily qualify for the national championships!


As a rugby player Bex still has a caveman attitude to lifting ‘WEIGHT WILL MOVE OR WEIGHT GETS PUNCHED IN THE FACE’ so we are going back to working on technique up until Christmas, learning how to work with the bar to move gracefully rather than just bullying it! Then in the New Year I will be slowly turning the screw and really pushing the strength side of things to take her to new heights. We are aiming for a 130kg Total at the English championships.

I believe that Bex is capable of lifting a 55kg Snatch and a 75kg Clean and jerk with just a tweaking of technique. Now time to make her believe that too!

So going back to the first paragraph, what did I see in Bex Francis that made me believe she could do so well in this sport? To be honest she isn’t really built for it, her legs are WAY too long, arms the same and she is quite strong and quite flexible but not superhuman.

HOWEVER she has one of the strongest minds I have ever coached, she learns incredibly quickly, works ridiculously hard and once you know how to make her focus (smelling salts!) can turn her into a terminator-like character capable of anything.

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