Powerlifter Karenjeet Kaur Bains has described the moment she wowed onlookers in her local gym with a heavy deadlifting session while was still a teenager. The Team GB athlete is keen to see more young women follow in her footsteps and pursue a sport which is still broadly male-dominated.
Bains is the first female Sikh powerlifter to represent Team GB and is using her platform to encourage women from different backgrounds to get into weightlifting. She also proposed the idea of it being introduced in schools, mixed in with some interesting stories when speaking live to Express Sport’s Women In Sport series, hosted by the Express’ assistant head of social Pandora Forsyth.
“When I was 18 my dad took me to his old gym,” she said. “Back when he used to train it was a really friendly environment in the 1970s but not many females. He took me almost as a life lesson to see what I might expect sometimes.
“I walked into the gym with men peacocking around and it was almost like they’d never seen a woman before. They were almost like, ‘How do we behave now? A female has just walked in.’
“The owner of the gym was an elderly man so I forgive him for his comment. But I was warming up and he walked over to my dad and little did anyone know I was British champion already at the time. They saw this petite little female and he said, ‘I’m not sure we’ve got dumbbells small enough for your daughter.’ And my dad said, laughing: ‘I’m not sure you’ve got dumbbells big enough for her if I’m honest.’
“I just always let my weights do the talking, I did a heavy deadlifting session and pound for pound I was one of the strongest people there compared to all the other men and their jaws were dropping. They were shocked. It was a bit of humble pie for them. That was to teach them never to assume anything about females and it was a bit of a ‘ha!’ moment.”
Bains’ patronising gym experience came when she was just a teenager, and she went on to suggest that introducing women from different backgrounds to weightlifting at a younger age could be a great way to re-shuffle the current make-up of the male-dominated sport.
“There’s absolutely no harm in teaching somebody how to lift and squad properly, even with an empty bar or a stick,” she said, “I always find especially for girls and girls from a South Asian background, it’s really sad to see that the last time they did any physical activity is when they did PE at school.
“If they taught them how to do these body weight things, even just the technique, they’d feel more confident to carry these practices into the gym and carry on and live a healthier life. I think that’s maybe a change that’s needed.”
That approach could see more young women head into the gym with the aim of competing at a high level and reaching the same heights Bains has. Even the Team GB star did not have such a direct route into the field, however, instead claiming that she stumbled into powerlifting as a means to improve her performance in another sport.
“I got into the gym initially to get more explosive with my sprinting,” she admitted, “My parents were thinking, ‘She’s 17, she’s not going to grow any taller, she’s probably fully developed, gone through puberty, it’s a good time to get her into weights.’
“They didn’t want to pressure me but at 17 it was a switch for me. Within three months of having never picked up a weight, my dad taught me all the basics, squat, bench and deadlift and to be honest it came quite naturally to me the form.
“I seemed to have quite good form and I entered my first competition, I was doing it in like my PE kit and trainers, I didn’t have a belt or anything fancy. But I won that competition and I loved the feeling of lifting a heavy deadlift and the crowd are encouraging you and the adrenaline rush. That was a pivotal moment for me.”
Watch the full Facebook live chat with Bains by clicking here