In the world of powerlifting, male and female athletes compete to see who can lift as much weight as possible in one repetition. However, powerlifting is more than just building strength.
This is according to President of the Powerlifting Federation of Brunei Darussalam and female powerlifter Rofini Zainal.
“Powerlifting is more than just about achieving the heaviest one- rep max in squat, bench and deadlift. It teaches you a lot about your capabilities as a person and makes you become a better person overall,” shared Rofiniin an interview with the Bulletin.
Powerlifting does not only improve a person physically, but also mentally, Rofini said.
“It builds confidence; it teaches you to be patient and to be brave; it helps you to face your fears and adversity. More importantly, it teaches you a lot about how to overcome challenges. These are all essentially life skills,” she shared.
“Although your training seems to be repetitive in the type of exercises you do, but that in itself teaches you how to be disciplined, which is essentially the best way to become better at something. At the end of the day, powerlifting brings a lot more than fun; it allows you to experience all these lessons that help you to grow,” said the avid powerlifter.
Rofini shared that she was introduced to powerlifting at one of the few gyms in the Sultanate that was dedicated to supporting the powerlifting community.
She said it was when she came back from the United Kingdom (UK) after completing her studies that she spent some time at the gym with a number of friends who were involved in the sport.
“They saw me do squats and deadlifts and challenged me to try and max out in the lift.
With their encouragement, I did my first ever max-out back in 2018 and I never knew that I was capable of lifting so much weight. Since then, I have been intrigued by how far I can go and because I like challenges. I really wanted to challenge myself to getting stronger… the rest is history,” she said.
“I am thankful to my friends for encouraging me to take up the sport. I can’t thank them enough for how far I have come.”
One aspect that is unique yet surprising about powerlifting is how it should be an individual sport, yet in reality it is the opposite. There is more of a team element, thanks to the tight knit and supportive community that comes with it.
“The community plays a major part in what first attracted me to powerlifting. Albeit small, the people in the community are the most supportive and they really bring fun into powerlifting. Everyone has the same goal – to be strong, and because of this, everyone has the same mindset. While this is a sport you perform individually, it feels more like a team sport because of the encouragement between powerlifters, whether during training or in a competition,” said Rofini.
Rofini is no stranger to competition. She participated in the Malaysia Powerlifting Invitational in 2019 where she won gold in the female under 72 kilogrammes (kg) category, with her squat at 145kg, her bench at 57.5kg and deadlift at 160kg, giving a total of 362.5kg.
Asked how to take up powerlifting, Rofini believes it is currently a bit challenging as there are no gyms dedicated to the sport or provide proper powerlifting equipment. (The gym where she began powerlifting closed down during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic).
“There are not a lot of gyms that cater to the needs of powerlifters as athletes, especially those who aim to compete on an international stage. In powerlifting, we use specific barbells, plates and even benches which not a lot of the gyms in Brunei have, because, again, powerlifting is such a niche market in the country and only certain people know about it and are considered powerlifters.”
Although there are a significant number of people who lift in Brunei, Rofini explained that powerlifting is considered a niche sport.
“Many people may engage in the three main lifts, but they do not train specifically for strength; rather for general fitness. With that said, there is a community of powerlifters in Brunei which is very small and if narrowed down to female powerlifters, there are only about a handful of us.”
Rofini also shared that due to the sport being considered a niche market, there are only a handful powerlifting competitions locally, thus most lifters compete internationally.
“Prior to the Fitness Festival 2021 held between July 3-4, 2021, there were no proper powerlifting competitions in Brunei, which meant that lifters would always have to compete overseas. There were competitions, but these were mostly either for fun or done unofficially. This made it difficult for lifters here to be exposed to competitions and to compete on home soil and showcase their talent.
“The Fitness Festival 2021 however did hold the first ever powerlifting competition in Brunei and it opened a lot of people’s eyes to the sport, which I think definitely helped to grow the lifting scene a bit.
“Moreover, as the current president of the Powerlifting Federation of Brunei Darussalam, my team and I hope to grow the scene more by planning national competitions and bring athletes onto the international stage, to showcase the local talent and their capabilities,” she added.
Asked about being a female in a sport that is male-dominated and also niche in Brunei, the president of the Powerlifting Federation shared that there is a stigma as well as common misconceptions attached when it comes to women in strength sports.
“Firstly, people tend to think lifting is a man’s sport but it’s not,” she said. “There are a few people out there that don’t think women should engage in powerlifting for the simple reason that it makes us look big and bulky, or that it is just associated with men.”
Rofini highlighted that just because lifting has always been male-dominant, it does not mean that women cannot or shouldnot lift.
“A man, who works in the fitness industry, once told me that I should stop powerlifting because as a girl I should not look big and bulky. I found this offensive because I nor other women out there should have to look a certain way; we should get to choose how we want tolook like.
“I’ve been powerlifting for four years, and it has not made me look big and bulky; rather, it has toned my body and even made me lose weight,”she said.
“I think that is one of the main reasons why I want to encourage women to engage in lifting, be it powerlifting or other strength sports. I want to tell them that it is okay to lift, that lifting is not just for men. I want to tell them that we, too, are strong and capable, and that we can lift as much as men,”she added.