Clare Dane is an inspiration. As a 49kg weightlifter, she’s competed in the GB squad and podiumed at international meets. As a coach, she’s helped neurodivergent athletes become some of the best age-groupers in GB history. And all of that against a backdrop of health issues that once meant she was unable to walk.
Issy Striive: Hey Clare! I’d love to know what inspired you to become a PT?
Clare: I’ll start with how I got into training, as that’s what started it all. Before I started this career, I was a primary school teacher and I became very sick with chronic autoimmune disease health conditions. I was signed off and needed full time care, which turned into five years. Despite the treatment, I was maintaining a poor level of life. I was suffering with arthritis, kidney failure and fibromyalgia epilepsy.
Through my own research, I found that exercise would be very useful. So I started doing some exercise every day – and my life completely transformed.
Issy Striive: What changes did you notice when you started exercising?
Clare: I went from not being able to walk, to being able to lift weights. My mood improved, my blood levels improved. The combination of that and the treatment worked. That left me feeling very keen to help people fall in love with fitness, and not necessarily just those were ill like myself.
Issy Striive: So that was your initial motivation?
Clare: Absolutely, I didn’t go into this thinking “I want to be a professional weightlifter” or “I want to train top level athletes”. I just wanted to help everyday people, because I knew a lot of people were suffering with poor health and other effects of their modern lifestyle.
Issy Striive: I love that. You offer PT and you coach Olympic lifting. Why did you add that as a specialism?
Clare: There was a weightlifting club at the gym I was PTing at, it was run by Benedict who’s now my best friend and business partner. I was doing lots of yoga and was very flexible, so someone suggested I give it a go as it requires good mobility. I was also weight training a little at the time, but we're talking endless squats and hip thrusts with no direction.
At the time I was socially anxious - not someone who would go to a class by myself! And this was 5 years ago when people weren't putting all their workouts on instagram like they do these day, so I wasn’t seeing much or really any weightlifting content. But anyway, I went to the class and I fell in love with it. It became my favourite thing to do. Some people like going to a pub but I wanted to be with the barbell, perfecting these crazy Oly lifts that I'd learned.
'This sport helped me through a really difficult time and showed me that actually, I could be an athlete. I love it, and representing my country is incredible.'
Issy Striive: Thank you to the person who said you should go and well done to you for sticking with it!
Clare: It wasn't always easy but it was addictive! After about a year, I started to take it more seriously. I found the repetitive nature and the concentration really worked as an outlet for mental health conditions. I liked that the training was by myself, but with other people around.
When we went into lockdown and that's when my commitment to olympic lifting was solidified. I lifted on a piece of wood in my spare bedroom, it was miserable but I carried on. A year later I got my coaching licence and started coaching alongside Benedict, which lead to the inception of our club: Adapt Athletics.
Issy Striive: Fantastic! Tell us about the ethos of your club.
Clare: We want it to be a safe space for people to build their confidence and social skills. Of course we want to build great lifters, but we’re mindful that the people that come into this sport are often neurodivergent, like me. We’ve managed to create some of the best weightlifters in British history in their age groups. These people are on the spectrum, they came to us very shy and now they are the big 'I am' in the gym. It’s amazing to see.
Issy Striive: It just goes to show that so much more goes on inside a gym than just “working out”.
Clare: Oh, totally. I started to think more about my own training and started looking at the numbers that were required for national level teams. I have trained consistently since the day I started, I haven't taken time off, which puts me at an advantage to my competitors. With Olympic Lifting it's not always the strongest person in the room hitting the biggest lifts, it requires so much skill and practice you just cannot rely on brute strength. I got selected for the GB squad last year as a Masters lifter, and came second in the Europeans and fourth at Worlds.
Issy Striive: You’ve been selected for the GB team again this year – what does that mean to you?
Clare: I can't put it into words. This sport helped me through a really difficult time and showed me that actually, I could be an athlete. I love it, and representing my country is incredible.
'What you'll start to learn is that training doesn’t have to be 100% for enjoyment all the time. Do things that will pay off later, and learn to enjoy them for that reason.'
Issy Striive: You’re training athletes who are setting records at international level and setting records, and people who just want to get through day to day life without aches and pains. Do you change your approach across clients?
Clare: I see everybody the same. For example, I train a woman who suffers with a lot of the illnesses that I have, but on an elevated level because she has lived with them her whole life and hasn't always had access to treatment. She can’t walk some days. I think it's absolutely incredible that she comes to my sessions twice a week. To me, that’s just as amazing as one of my competing athletes hitting a clean and jerk PB. They have both worked incredibly hard and deserve equal respect.
When it comes to training competitive athletes, my approach has always been to not make it about the numbers. There are too many variables. This is a very demanding, injury-prone sport. So I take a holistic approach to coaching. We’re a safe place for you and we believe in you. That ethos has trickled down to my lifters, everybody gets behind every lifter.
Issy Striive: That's a great thing for someone thinking about starting weightlifting to hear: you deserve just as much hype as someone hitting big numbers.
Clare: I'm very honest and real - this is going to take work and effort. Our main aim is to make a better life for you. So you can move through the world better, be able to play with your kids better, and enjoy better physical and mental health.
What you'll start to learn is that training doesn’t have to be 100% for enjoyment all the time. Do things that will pay off later, and learn to enjoy the process.
Issy Striive: Such a brilliant point for PTs. The way you like to be coached might not be the way you should coach or the way your coaching will be best received.
Clare: Yes, you need to get a feel for that, to take time and see how clients respond. There's nothing wrong with asking people 'do you like this?'
If somebody really wants to – say - deadlift a silly amount of weight, I say OK, this is what it's going to take. Are you prepared to do this?' It's about having open and honest conversations, instead of promising people things in 6 or 8 weeks. Think about where clients are coming from when they arrive at the gym, what other stresses are going on in their lives, and work with a more holistic approach.
Wise words from Clare. To learn more about Clare and Adapt Athletics check out @Adapt_athletics on Instagram.