I first came across personal trainer, Lydia, on Instagram where I admired her lifting skills enviously. She was hashtagging her #stronggirltakeover movement about inspiring women to support each other in getting strong together, which I liked the sound of. Next thing I knew, she was on TV in the second series of the BBC’s Special Forces: Ultimate Hell Week, where recruits are put through their paces (aka battered, mentally and physically) via a series of brutal Special Forces-style exercises on barely any sleep.
Being a nosy parker, I wanted to know more. Thankfully Lydia let me ask all my questions. See below.
You’re a powerlifter and you’ve dabbled with calisthenics – were you sporty growing up?
Throughout senior school I was in the 1st lacrosse team, netball team, rounders team etc. I played club level hockey also outside of school and did ballet. Right now, I don’t do any sports which I kind of miss. I miss the team aspect to it.
How did you first get into lifting?
I originally started in martial arts when I first moved to London. There were a few free weights in the academy and one day I thought I’d have a little play with them… and the rest is history!
What is it you love about lifting?
Nothing else matters except you and the weight. Whatever is happening in your life, the gym and fitness is universal. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, how old you are or what your day job is, everyone is united when it comes to picking up weight. I’ve met so many amazing people within the fitness industry because we all have similar characteristics of determination, ambition and the want to better ourselves daily.
Do you prefer training upper or lower body?
Previously I definitely preferred training lower body, but now I’m loving benching too, however deadlift will probably always be my favourite lift because it is the ultimate compound exercise.
What’s in your training kit bag?
Iron Rebel and Serious About Lifting wrist wraps, my lifting shoes (I wear flat boxing shoes to lift), kinesiology tape, zinc tape, dark chocolate, bananas, water, resistance band, shorts, deadlift socks.
How did the Special Forces: Ultimate Hell Week programme come about?
Their casting researcher reached out to me via Instagram [laughs].
How did you physically prepare for it? Did you have to work on your cardio fitness?
Oh yeah haha, lots and lots of cardio. I didn’t lift heavy for 6 weeks. It was a lot of AMRAP style training, so run 400m, do 10 burpees, 10 push-ups, followed by weighted squats and deadlifts, then repeat over and over again with no rest. I did weighted marches/runs and 5/10km runs. Also, sauna training which involves bodyweight training such as push-ups and squats in the sauna. I was luckily one of the few that could use a compass and read a map before the show due to my Duke of Edinburgh experience, in which I received a gold award when I was 17.
What was the toughest thing you did on the show?
Probably the water torture during the South Korea cycle.
(This involved a relentless amount of water submersions where contestants were barely able to catch their breath/regulate their breathing before they were back under the water!)
You had to lift a lot of heavy things on the show. Did you feel the benefit of your lifting?
Yes, definitely for overall strength but lifting something heavy for 5 repetitions from a static position is very different to carrying something heavy for 5km. I think the mental strength is what transferred greatest.
You come across as having a very cheery disposition. Where there times on Hell Week that you thought about quitting?
The first day, when they were making us sprint straight away in 35° degree heat, I was like ‘Why am I here amongst ultra-marathon runners, triathletes, marathon runners…?’ But there was never a point where I thought about quitting. That was never an option.
You’re founder of calisthenics group Barsparta. What kind of calisthenics do you do?
When we founded Barsparta a couple of years ago, I primarily did bodyweight training as I was also doing Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and it translated well to the sport. I worked on static holds like front/back levers, exercises like skin the cat, or bar roll-overs, but now the only bodyweight training I do is the foundation movements – pull-ups, push-ups, dips – as they transfer over to powerlifting.
You have some pretty impressive lifting PRs – how long did it take you to work up to these?
Haha they’re not impressive yet! I’ve been training with my Coach (two-times British Champion powerlifter, Pierre Shillingford) for over a year now, but only trained with him once a week for fun and no strict programming. I enjoyed a variety of training: going to a pole class or doing HIIT training. It’s only been 5 months since I’ve actually stuck to just powerlifting and nothing else.
(See Lydia’s YouTube channel for videos of her lifts)
Has your lifting changed much since you started working with a coach?
For sure. He’s nicknamed ‘the technician’. His attention to detail is amazing and is a stickler for good form.
What does a standard week of training look like for you?
Right now I only powerlift. Two days upper body, two days lower.
How did your Strong Girl Takeover movement come about?
One day when we were at our friends’ Wham Bros bar park in East London, we decided to host an all-girls day to get more girls involved. It then transformed into a movement for overall fitness and to empower women to realise their strength. We’re got something in the works for the summer! (Visit www.stronggirltakeover.com)
Do you find women are still a bit self-conscious about getting in the weights room?
I think so. But I love that more and more woman are getting more confident and comfortable enough lifting some weights. I think this is down to lots of women helping each other realise the benefits and introducing each other to exercises and movements – that is what Strong Girl Takeover is about; getting stronger together.
Do you still hear women complain they’re worried about getting bulky?
Oh yeah, all the time. It’s just a case of education. Explaining to them that it is impossible to get ‘too bulky’ unless they take enhancements. Also the perception of ‘bulky’ sometimes comes about when people lose body fat and the muscles become more defined.
Are you sponsored by anyone?
Not right now.