Olympic lifting provides strong workout
Sewar AbuNuwar of Mt. Lebanon strained to lift a weight-laden barbell, while volunteer coach Kevin Montgomery of Washington watched and advised one recent Saturday at Pittsburgh Sports Performance Center in Bridgeville.
After finishing, Abunuwa let the barbell clang loudly to the floor and asked, “Should I go up?” — meaning increase the amount of weights.
“No, because you're starting to drift forward,” Montgomery said of her lift. “Do a couple of heavy cleans.”
Men, women and children at the center participate in Olympic lifting, a sport that will be among the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero.
“The U.S. has not been terribly successful internationally” in Olympic lifting, said center owner Regis Becker.
Becker and lifters at his gym said some members began lifting as part of their training for other sports, such as football and soccer, or as part of cross training.
“This is an athletic sport,” said volunteer coach Dave Sneberger, 64, of Cecil, who also does Olympic lifting. “Strength is important, but speed, flexibility and agility are just as important.”
The Bridgeville gym, which also serves as the headquarters of the Pittsburgh Barbell Club, will host a regional competition Saturday.
Olympic lifting competitions involve two categories of lifts:
• The snatch, in which the weight lifter hoists the barbell up in one clean motion, with some variations.
• The clean and jerk, when the weight lifter elevates the barbell above the knees, then bends the knees and uses the lower body muscles to lift the barbell above their heads. Legs are straightened, and arms are used to lift the barbell straight up.
In competition, participants have three chances to do each kind of lift.
Pittsburgh Sports Performance Center's volunteer coaches are trained and certified by the national governing body of USA Weightlifting.
Becker, 60, who lives in Rosslyn Farms when he's not at his job as chief ethics and compliance officer for Penn State, bought the gym from former Steeler Craig Wolfley and his wife, Faith, in 2011.
Becker has longtime experience with Olympic lifting and was on the board of the national federation of Olympic lifting from 2008-12.
When they compete, Olympic lifters fall into gender and weight class categories.
Abunuwa, 25, a criminal legal assistant, is in the 140-kilo (310-pound) class. She got involved in Olympic lifting after playing soccer for 15 years.
Some football and soccer players participate in Olympic lifting as part of training for their primary sport. But Abunuwa has stuck with lifting, which, she said, has benefits beyond physical strength.
“A huge part of it is confidence,” she said. “Every time you can pick (the weights) up and get it over your head, the more you can take on (metaphorically). Especially for women, it's a huge confidence-booster.”
Since she began lifting, “My whole body has changed,” said Aimee Rice, 43, of Bethel Park, a chief financial officer for a distribution company. “I'm getting muscles in places I never had muscles before.”
The Harvard School of Public Health recently released results of a study of 10,000 men that found that weightlifting was better than aerobic exercise for keeping down abdominal weight gain.
Combining the two – weightlifting and aerobic exercise – led to even better results, the Harvard researchers found.
Nick Soto, 24, of South Park, a football player during his time at Edinboro University, got involved in lifting a year ago “because I wanted to keep my competitive edge after football.”
At 6 feet, 3 inches, he's the biggest lifter the gym has and is “very flexible for a big man,” Becker said.
Other lifters are more diminutive. Hannah Rossi, 15, travels to the gym from Brownsville, and got involved by doing Crossfit.
She has participated in two lifting competitions and sees herself “doing this for awhile ... My whole family lifts here,” including her parents, her sister and a cousin, Cody Rossi.
“It keeps you healthy and strong and makes you feel good,” said Cody Rossi, 21, a melt shop operator from Fredericktown, Washington County. “It's a lot of work, but it makes everything easier.”
Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.