Quick: Think of three adjectives to describe a weightlifter.
Chances are if you're like me, you thought of things like strong, beefy and muscular.
And probably male.
But according to Stephanie Vincent, President of Bridgeport Barbell Club, more appropriate descriptors would be words like fast, powerful, flexible and accurate.
Oh, and female.
According to statistics from USA Weightlifting, more than half of the competitors today are women.
That trend became immediately obvious to me during a recent visit to Vincent's Bridgeport facility, where CrossFit is also driving the trend of female weightlifters. "Gymnasts make great weightlifters," Vincent told me. "The muscularity and the grace come together really well."
She sketched out the history of the sport for me, saying that its fundamentals go back to contests in ancient Greece, China and Egypt. "It probably started out as guys saying, ‘I can lift a heavier rock than you can,'" she laughed.
Today's competitions comprise two styles of lift - the snatch and the clean and jerk - with three attempts at each. The total score equals the best of both rounds.
Vincent said that the best way for me to explore these techniques is to try them myself. So she and I took to the floor.
We started with a few warmups to get my blood pumping and my joints loose.
Vincent then took out a series of barbells. "The snatch is harder," Vincent said. "So we'll start with the clean and jerk."
She coached me on things like grip and stance and, with no plates on them, we explored the basics of the maneuver.
Much in the same way a piano teacher will instruct on playing a piece of music, Vincent took her time to coach me on the individual moves, step-by-step.
"Get those knees back," she reminded. "Make sure your shoulders are over the barbell. And keep that back and those shoulders in place."
I popped the barbell from my knees to my neck, spreading my feet out as I jumped. As directed, I absorbed the weight by bending my knees and sticking my hips out behind. It was awkward and clunky, but Vincent liked what she saw.
Again. And again. I could feel muscle memory starting to kick in.
"It's weird having the bar on my neck," I said. "It's like it's resting on my Adam's apple."
"That's good! That's just where it belongs. Some lifters describe it as choking them a little," she grinned.
We moved onto the jerk. Vincent defined it as one more burst of strength, taking the barbell overhead and landing in a lunge position.
"The right foot has to come out a lot," Vincent said. "Otherwise, you're not going to be stable."
I executed. Not bad.
We drilled more and then I had to face the final test: Put it all together.
After a few misses (the clean ends with legs parallel; the jerk ends in the lunge), I started getting the hang of it.
I'm not quite ready for competition, but as an introduction to the sport, it was enjoyable.
It was also a heck of a cardio workout. As we finished, I was sweaty and winded.
To witness this sport at its best, visit the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center the weekend of February 19-21. The USA Weightlifting 2016 National Junior Championships muscles into town for a three-day display of talent and skill. What's more, the competition is an Olympic qualifier, so it's very possible to see a rising star who may earn gold in Rio this August.
Tickets are available for $10 per day; for $25, spectators can enjoy a three-day pass and not miss any of the weighty competition.
Give your weekend a lift and go.