Oxy Barbell Club plans to come back strong

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Oxy Barbell Club board members Tzu Kit Chan (junior), Kathy Liu (junior), Maahir Utaam (senior) and Ramit Shukla (senior) pose on the steps of the fountain at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 5, 2021. Lila Hempel-Edgers/The Occidental

Oxy Barbell Club was founded in Spring 2020 by Tzu Kit Chan (junior) and Maahir Utaam (senior), two students who began lifting at Occidental as underclassmen and discovered their passion for the sport. Utaam said the club’s training sessions were put on hold earlier in the pandemic due to remote learning and health concerns, but with the reopening of Alumni Gymnasium, the club is looking to restart them.

Chan said he wanted to help other students improve their fitness and become less intimidated by the gym.

“We started this club because we wanted people to get into strength, athletics, and I think for them that the goal has been to get people to have a better relationship with their bodies, get into fitness, learn how to move here and just be happier and healthier in general,” Chan said. “We realized that there’s a lot of intimidation, there’s a lot of resistance.”

Chan said the club wants to make the gym a more welcoming and inclusive space for all, especially women and non-binary students. Captain Kathy Liu (junior) said she offered to help out other women because she understands how it can feel to be a woman who is new to the gym. She said the club can help provide structure for those looking for a place to start.

“I think the structure of the club — knowing that you have a designated person to go to that’s more knowledgeable, and you can trust what they say — can really help,” Liu said. “I think one of the ways that the gym and working out can be really intimidating is that it feels like there’s an information overload, so you don’t know where to start or who to trust.”

Jordan Fang (junior), one of the captains of the Oxy Barbell Club, lifting in the Alumni Gymnasium at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 15, 2021. Lila Hempel-Edgers/The Occidental

New gym-goers, or mentees, are guided by barbell captains, who are more experienced lifters. According to Chan and Utaam, barbell captains work one-on-one with mentees to help them achieve their fitness goals.

“We want to take their goals into account. And then, I think all our captains are knowledgeable enough to be able to develop a personalized plan for each month based on their goals,” Utaam said. “So that’s what we’re going to help them with, and then guide them through that. So it’s going to be regularly, like, more than once a week, so the captain can see your progress and adapt.”

Occidental strength and conditioning coach Tyler Yamaguchi, who is not affiliated with the club, said he sees the value in having more experienced lifters assist new lifters and give them motivation to start.

“New lifters need help with programming, like knowing how much to lift, when to lift and what lifts to do. And I think just in general, again for novices, it just makes them feel more comfortable that somebody is kind of guiding them along,” Yamaguchi said. “I think people avoid the gym often because they don’t even know where to start. They don’t know what they’re doing and they’re afraid of looking bad.”

While barbell captains are eager to help mentees, captain Jordan Fang (junior) said it is important for students to know that barbell captains are not certified personal trainers.

A warning that I have to put out for the barbell clubs is that not everyone who was a captain is a certified personal trainer,” Fang said. “These are just people who are passionate about lifting, have done so for a long period of time and basically know everything but don’t have this certification to go along with it. So, that disclaimer is something that’s important.”

Jordan Fang (junior), one of the captains of the Oxy Barbell Club, lifting in the Alumni Gymnasium at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 15, 2021. Lila Hempel-Edgers/The Occidental

Captains do not get paid to coach — Chan said their compensation comes in the happiness they get from working with mentees and helping them achieve their goals.

“Research has shown and suggested that we can increase our happiness just by helping others, so if we can see that we’ve impacted someone’s lives in a small or big way in the fitness industry, that is amazing,” Chan said.

Utaam also said he has enjoyed helping people reap the benefits of getting more fit, including his sibling and grandmother.

“I really enjoy coaching people. It’s really rewarding to see people enjoy the process and get better and get fitter and have it impact other areas of their life,” Utaam said.

Yamaguchi said he understands the initial hesitancy that new lifters go through, but encourages those who are apprehensive to just begin.

“No matter where you start, I believe everyone can improve. I think getting a start is the hardest part, but once you clear that initial hurdle, it’s going to be all uphill from there,” Yamaguchi said.