How weightlifting complements my autism

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Weightlifting has become my favourite thing in the world. It is the best sport for “an autistic” person. I like it because it is solitary. It is not really a team sport, although it can be if you choose it to be, the contribution from other people are not necessary. When I am lifting weights, it is just me and the barbell. The whole world disappears. Because it is not dependent on other people, it is totally within my control when I want to do it. I can do it at any time of the day, which suits my routine-driven lifestyle. If I have an unusually busy day I can easily reschedule weightlifting in order to fit it in. For example, once I even did weightlifting at 3am because I was going to be out the whole day.

Weightlifting is an inexpensive sport. You can do it in a gym (a 24 hour gym would be ideal for those who want to do it at a time to suit them with no restrictions) but I like to train at home. Once you have bought the barbell and the weight plates, in theory you are good to go. You can buy a barbell and set of weight plates for as little as £700 and they will last you a lifetime.

I like weightlifting because it is my way of meditating. It has become as essential for my daily wellbeing as someone else might prioritise meditation or going to church. The movements are very specific and controlled and breathing is carried out carefully so you could say it was relaxing.

Weightlifting is as technical as it is strength-based, which is good for someone like me or the many autistic people who have technical and mathematical minds. Even if you are very strong, you might not be able to do a Snatch or a Clean and Jerk, simply because you haven’t got the technique. You are limited or challenged as much by your ability to focus and learn the movements, as you are by your strength, if not more so.

For someone with autism who enjoys repetitive behaviours and movements, weightlifting is ideal. There are only two movements. You can study endlessly on the internet how to improve your technique. Even the Olympic athletes are continually working on their technique. Technique is never perfect.

Weightlifting is my way of relieving anxiety. I can let go of all my inhibitions and stress when I am with my barbell. It is a way of releasing excess energy, which for me is often manifested as anxiety. It’s exercise which means you get a rush of endorphins during and after, which makes you feel wonderful for the rest of the day (one reason why I like exercising in the morning!). As somebody who lives in a constant state of anxiety, it is very important for me that I have found a way to get rid of some of that. Weightlifting definitely does that.

I like how easy it is to monitor and track progress with weightlifting. Because it’s mostly numbers based, it is easy to observe how the weight on the bar changes as the days pass. Like anything, practise makes perfect, so if I’m struggling on a particular lift I will train it over and over and sure enough, if you compare the weights lifted before and after, you’d see an increase. That’s really motivating. The creative part of lifting lies not only in the execution of the lifts, but also the tailoring of the programme to meet individual goals. It is very creative deciding which exercises are to go on each day and why.

Weightlifting is typically performed in sets and reps. So, for those who enjoy repetitive movements, it is ideal. For example, if you’re performing a 5 repetition set, that means you get to do the same movement five times. And this happens day in and day out. For this reason weightlifting is not for everybody. I have even heard professional lifters say that sessions can sometimes be “same-y” and “boring.” But I like it. It’s never boring for me. And seeing progress over time makes it the most exciting thing in the world.

Having strength or a fit appearance can also do wonders for an individual’s self esteem. Not only have I got some nice muscles, it’s also pretty cool to be able to do daring things such as squat whilst holding a barbell with straight arms above my head. And not many adults I know can do handstands. Weightlifting is impressive and good for self-esteem.

I track my progress on a whiteboard. I have a long list of exercises and each has a “1 rep max” “5 rep max” and “3 rep max.” Because there is such a long list of exercises and each exercise has three potential opportunities for maxing, it is likely that every session gets a record. This is very rewarding and motivating and is good for people who are goal-orientated. You can come out of the gym feeling as though you have accomplished something every single time.

Although weightlifting is technical, I’d be inclined to say that it is both a creative art and a science. The scientist is drawn to it as though it were an experiment. It has a beginning, middle and end and it is the middle that is the experiment. The middle can be manipulated in order to achieve the end (the goals). The artist is enthralled by its elegance. If you ever watch an Olympic weightlifter move, you will see how elegantly smooth it looks.

In summary, weightlifting is my special interest. It keeps me relaxed and helps keep structure to the day. It keeps me healthy. “A healthy body is a healthy mind.” It keeps burning that fire within me to achieve by focussing on that whiteboard and getting records every session. It is a good sport to train discipline and consistency. For someone like me who likes doing the same things every day, it is the perfect opportunity to get really good at something. And to be really good at something, just one thing, gives me so much more confidence when I go outside into the big wide world.