From overweight to lifting weights - 6 steps to get you there


Once overweight and inactive, Hanna Elliot is now a qualified personal trainer and powerlifter. Here are 6 great tips to help you start weightlifting from someone who's walked the walk to talk the talk!

Hanna Elliot has come a long way from being totally sedentary to leading an active lifestyle - read her incredible story of personal transformation here.

Once Hanna's personal trainer introduced her to powerlifting - there was no turning back. Powerlifting became more than just physical achievement for her. "When I was at school I was very athletic and I loved sport," she says. She achieved national colours in some of her chosen sports. "After high school, I allowed self-neglect and traumatic events to rob me from being active and taking part in sport."

"What I found in powerlifting was the ability to reclaim my personal power to be great. The feeling of being able to perform some amazing feats through the sheer power of my own body is exhilarating."

Making history, one press at a time

Hanna is now able to bench-press 90kg! "I kind of discovered my strength by fluke. Again, it was through the training methods of my personal trainer that we discovered the fact that I had a lot of upper body strength. We tested my maximum in gym," she says and that's when 90kg registered.

Her mighty bench-press made an impact on social media. "I mentioned my 90kg bench press on Facebook and those in the know regarded it as a very good weight for that particular exercise." Hanna says she didn't know anything about powerlifting at the time and her interest was piqued.

"More often than not, women are weaker in their upper bodies and the bench press is normally the weakest of the three powerlifting items. I seem to be a bit of an anomaly, and I quite like that," says Hanna. "It is a great feeling to be able to accomplish something I would have never tried previously when I was inactive and unhealthy."

Try Hanna's 6 steps from sedentary to strength

Of course, taking on too vigorous or taxing a regime when you’re unused to it can lead to injuries. We asked Hanna, now a qualified trainer herself, for her tops tips on how to start building body strength:

1. Begin with just body weight

Weight training involves lifting loads external to your body weight, but you must start by using your own body weight so that you learn good form and build your strength up safely. If you're totally new to any form of strength training, practice exercises like squats, lunges, planks and push-ups. From here you can progress to using equipment like barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and sandbags. Remember to always return to body weight exercises to correct and improve your form.

2. Commit to the time

If there's one thing that my journey taught me is that life is all about balance and there are a lot of other important things in my life that I don't want to neglect by spending hours at gym. But prioritising your health and fitness implies a daily commitment to move your body. The best way is to follow a structured program. Moderate to heavy strength training should take place 3 to 4 days a week based on your ability level, schedule, goals, and preferences.

3. Don't waste time doing less effective exercises

Forget about mastering all the confusing machines at gym. Muscle growth is driven by progressively increasing tension levels in the muscle fibres over time - in other words, by progressively lifting heavier and heavier weights. Achieving results with weights is all about pushing, pulling, raising and squatting barbells and dumbbells. The most effective exercises are known as compound exercises as they involve and activate multiple muscle groups at the same time. Examples of powerful compound exercises are squats, deadlifts and bench presses.

4. Get your form right

Proper form will ensure that the correct muscles are isolated and increase your strength quicker. Incorrect form with weight lifting can lead to injury, which can happen instantly as you lift a heavy weight or which can compound over time to create problems later. It's better to lift a lighter weight with good form than a heavy one where you’re unable to control the weight. To learn what good form entails, it's really worth asking a fitness professional or personal trainer.

5. Eat to match your training

Not eating well is the biggest mistake when trying to change your body composition and create lasting changes to your health and fitness. Some make the mistake of not eating enough nutritious foods and eventually develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies that impair both health and performance. A lot of people see an increase in their weight when they begin working out. That's often because they dive into exercise a little too aggressively, lifting weights several times a week and doing cardio like crazy, which kicks their appetite into overdrive.

I always recommend consulting a qualified dietician who can help ensure that you are eating enough calories and protein to acquire your desired physique, as lifestyle changes in terms of nutrition is very personal and often unique to every individual.

6. Don't overdo it

Exercise develops physical strength and mental fortitude, and offers a slew of other benefits that will serve you well for many years to come, but you don't have to give up your life in order to reap the rewards. I am a big fan of 'the minimum effective dose', which means training in a way that offers the most benefit in the least amount of time, and getting just enough of it to achieve the results that you want, without any added stress.

Training is meant to enhance and optimise your life, says Hanna. It should develop your strength and make it easier for you to engage in everyday life and enjoy everything it has to offer. Remember that the most effective training is smart training, not necessarily hard training.

For more inspiration, check out and give these tips a go to start packing muscle and making personal history. You never know - you might just surprise yourself with how quickly you can progress when you put your mind to it!

The feeling of being able to perform some amazing feats through the sheer power of my own body is exhilarating.

Start by using body weight only so that you learn good form and build your strength up safely.

Not eating well is the biggest mistake when trying to change your body composition.

Training should develop your strength and make it easier for you to engage in everyday life and enjoy everything it has to offer.

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