Finding friends and building a community – the success of Swansea University’s Barbell Society

Our MA student Howard Qi tells us about the rise of Swansea University’s powerlifting club that boasts over 50 members and a number of UK record holders.

In the UK, Powerlifting is considered an amateur sport but its growing popularity is telling as according to the Open Powerlifting Project, there are currently over 13,000 competitive members. 189 of those being members of the Welsh Powerlifting Association (WPA). To put this in perspective, Swansea University’s Barbell Society (AKA SUBS) has around 50 members which makes up 27% of the entirety of the WPA. It’s also the reason why Swansea could be considered a Welsh Powerlifting hotspot.

This articles tells the story of the rise of SUBS, and how it has become a thriving community at Swansea University.

The very first group photo of Swansea University Barbell Society

SUBS was established in December 2017 from a series of Instagram exchanges between a small group of friends who all enjoyed strength training and wanted to come together to create a new Swansea University sports society.

Varsity Competitions

Varsity was the first formal event that SUBS co-hosted alongside Cardiff University Barbell Club (CUBC). The atmosphere on the day was electric thanks to the plethora of spectators who came to support us. Being part of this event spurred on members to train hard, and no doubt was one of the most significant events in helping SUBS take off as a society.

SUBS first ever Varsity competition in April 2018

By the time Varsity 2019 arrived, SUBS had almost doubled its membership and this time the society were able to beat Cardiff University’s CUBC and take home the trophy.

As well as its sporting success, what really stands out is the growth and diversity of SUBS membership. There are PhD students, Undergraduates and MA students who have all become part of this growing community of Powerlifters.

SUBS take home best lifter, overall winner and the all female categories at Varsity!

Fresh from the success of Varisty, SUBS held its second mock meet in December 2019. This saw an influx of 10 new members competing for the first time ever, as well as guest lifter, Sam Kuti almost breaking his very own British Deadlift record with 325kg.

The Power of Friendship and Community

Friendship is an important component to any succesful and happy community and it has played a huge part in the SUBS success story. In an interview with one of the original SUBS members, Thomas Evans, he mentioned that without the club his university experience would be “weaker” and he would have enjoyed university a “whole lot less”. Sam Kuti also described the friendship within the community as making the “gym become more of a social event”.

The changing nature of Powerlifting training into a social event is perhaps at the heart of SUBS growth. As old and new members train together, friendships are built making the whole experience far more enjoyable. It also show cases a level of camaraderie that other gym goers may wish to be part of.

When talking about friendship, I must include my own experience. Connor Beckenkrager became my housemate in 2019. After training together at the beginning of 2018 and both competing in the first Varsity competiton, we developed a friendship based on our love of Powerlifting, cars and Asian cuisine. It is difficult to say if we would have become friends if it wasn’t for the SUBS community. But there are plenty of other examples of deep friendships within the community, since several team members became housemates in 2019. It is easy to build a light-hearted relationship with people you go to the gym with. However, to build a strong enough friendship where you become housemates shows the impact this community has had on our personal lives and university experience.

SUBS Future

At the time of writing, SUBS is in the process of applying for official society status. If approved, this will allow SUBS to secure funding that can contribute to a bigger and better Varsity competition in May 2021. It will also enable further investment in Powerlifting equipment and help promote SUBS to the wider student community.

I hope this story reminds everyone the importance of community. A community of people from sports, hobbies and any other common interest can be a great support system, especially for university students trying to find their footing in the ‘real’ world for the first time.

A community like SUBS introduces new students from all disciplines to train and socialise together, giving it a real big family atmosphere. When Covid 19 lockdown is finally over and social distancing is a thing of the past, be sure to come and work out with us at the Singleton gym, where there is always a hearty welcome!