Amit Bhabra is a slim teenager who can lift nearly anyone reading this over his head.
The 17-year-old weighs just 133-pounds himself, but recently back squatted 300 pounds.
“You can be the strongest guy out there but if you’re not getting under the bar properly you’re not going to make the lifts,” he said after a workout Thursday at VO2 Performance Training in Nelson.
The lifts are getting easier and easier for Bhabra. He made his debut at the Canadian junior weightlifting championship in Regina on Jan. 16 with a fifth-place finish. That result is all the more remarkable for the fact Bhabra has only been committed to Olympic weightlifting as a sport for three months.
Training for the event meant Bhabra was in the gym six times a week and sometimes twice a day. He was pleased with the payoff.
“It was a good experience overall,” said Bhabra. “I wasn’t too concerned about what I was going to place. I was just happy to be there and see some great lifters.”
Bhabra has weightlifting in his blood. His father, Hardial, won the Canadian senior weightlifting championship in 1988 and ’89. But it was hockey that sent the younger Bhabra to the gym when he was 13. He wanted to bulk up in order to compete with stronger kids on the ice.
Cody Abbey, who has been Bhabra’s trainer since day one, recalled a quiet kid who was more focused than his other young students.
“I never had to re-teach him something once I taught it to him twice,” said Abbey, who trains kids as young as 11 for Maverick Fitness. “Some kids it kind of goes in one ear out the other. … Amit, he just picked up on it.”
Abbey concedes strength and conditioning is, on the surface, an odd activity for kids to participate in. Many enter the gym looking to improve on another sport as Bhabra did, but soon find there are more benefits to training including a self-confidence boost.
“I have kids in here who they’re not the best at whatever sport they’re playing, but they come in here and they feel strong,” said Abbey.
Hockey, Bhabra has come to realize, is a sport he enjoys that won’t take him very far. Until recently, Bhabra’s training wasn’t focused on the tricky movements that make it possible for people to put 300 pounds on their shoulders.
That changed last year when Bhabra decided to participate in a local competition. Olympic weightlifting, he discovered, offers something he can’t get on the rink.
“It’s great playing on a team, you are around lots of guys, the bonding is great, but then sometimes you just need to train by yourself and see your own results,” said Bhabra. “You get out what you put in. Feels really good.”
Abbey has plenty of clients but he takes a special interest in Bhabra. He’s the first full-time student of Abbey’s to go to the juniors, and the pair are now aiming for a national title.
“His brute strength, his speed and his athleticism is there from hockey,” said Abbey, a former Nelson Leafs player.
“Hockey promotes quick twitch muscle fibers. So he’s very explosive, he’s very fast, he’s got the bloodline, the potential, the focus to go to nationals. That’s a sport he’s naturally suited for. You’re always going to enjoy a sport you’re naturally suited for.”
Bhabra’s father, meanwhile, is doing his best to watch his son at arm’s length. Hardial Bhabra, who was 21 when he won his first national title, said he doesn’t his want his own success as a lifter to weigh on Amit.
“It’s really exciting to watch your son doing something you did and did well,” said Hardial Bhabra. “You just want to see them excel, you want to see them do better than you.”
That doesn’t mean his dad’s records aren’t on Amit Bhabra’s horizon.
“One day we’ll get him,” he said with a grin.