When you first start lifting weights in the gym, being able to squat your own bodyweight on a barbell is a great target to work towards. After a few months of lifting regularly you might be able to do a set of bodyweight squats.
What you probably won’t be able to do is perform 42 bodyweight squats in a minute, which is exactly what powerlifter Karenjeet Kaur Bains did to set a new Guinness World Record. Bains is the first Sikh female to represent Great Britain in powerlifting and is a five-time British champion, but attempting the record took her well beyond her normal approach to training.
We spoke to Bains about the record, and also got her advice on how to squat.
Why did you decide to attempt the record?
I was approached by Guinness to attempt the record. I never thought I’d be attempting a record – whenever I used to get the book when I was younger, I’d be in awe of the strength records.
I was deciding between the records I could attempt and they dropped in the fact that I only had two weeks to do it because of the publishing deadline. So I didn’t really have any training time. As a powerlifter I normally only do five to eight reps, so to do 42 reps was very different!
What was the previous record?
They set me a standard of 30 reps I had to beat. The record had been attempted previously by a male lifter, but never a female one. The male one did 34 reps I think, so I’m really happy I beat him! I remember when I was training for it I did about 20 reps in 30 seconds as a first go, but I was starting to get very tired. There was a lot of zoning out and not thinking about the huge amount of lactic acid in my legs.
How did you get into powerlifting?
I started aged 17. My dad is my coach – he’s a former bodybuilder and powerlifter himself. I grew up watching him train and I was really intrigued by strength. I have two older brothers who were 400m hurdlers at a national level and I started in athletics. I used to do the 100m, 200m, long jump, hammer. I transitioned to powerlifting at 17 just to get more fit for running and found I loved it. I picked up the squat, bench and deadlift quite quickly – years of watching it helped me. Within three months of starting my dad entered me into a competition and I won that. Since then it lit a fire in me – it feels good to be strong.
Did you change your training for the record?
I was training for an All-England bench press competition around the same time, so I was gearing my training towards that, and then doing stuff for the record as well. I would almost say I wish I’d trained for it more, because I had to do my training sessions and then do the attempts after my sessions, so I only attempted it four or five times before the record attempt. I had two weeks of stressing out to get it done before the publishing deadline. They said, “you can do it afterwards, we’ll put you in the following year’s book,” and I was like, “I don’t want that, I want this year!”
What tips do you have for people who squat?
I also coach, so I can help people with the basics of powerlifting. Basically, get good coaching, focus on good technique and progress slowly. A lot of people want to get to the big weights straight away, but it takes time. I suggest starting off with unweighted squats.
If you’re not very good at squatting low you can squat to a bench or something else you can aim for. Remember to keep your back straight. Lots of people have their heels elevated when they squat – you can stand on a mat or something.
What advice do you have for people who find the idea of powerlifting daunting?
It is daunting, especially if you’re female. I’ve been lifting weights for nine years now and I still think I look feminine. I think a lot of girls are scared of lifting heavy weights because they think they’re going to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger with a wig on! It’s not possible, unless you’re taking testosterone, to get that bulky! I’m always encouraging ladies to lift heavy and break norms. On the world stage I see tiny girls deadlift 200kg. I think it’s a really empowering feeling. Plus, there’s the benefits of muscle for your metabolism, and the benefits of being stronger later in life.
- This Man Is Attempting To Do More Than 10,110 Burpees In A Day
- Strength Training For Women: A Beginner’s Home Workout Plan
- Weights Workout From Women’s Rugby World Cup Winner Vicky Fleetwood
- How To Master The Barbell Back Squat
Get the Coach Newsletter
Sign up for workout ideas, training advice, reviews of the latest gear and more.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.