Many athletes dream of competing in the Olympic Games. This dream became a reality in 2016 for talented British weightlifter Sonny Webster. Only 23 years old, this determined athlete already has plenty of experience behind him and certainly has a successful future ahead of him. Read and enjoy as Sonny Webster speaks passionately about weightlifting, the Olympics and his future goals.
Hi Sonny! How are you doing?Very well thank you.
Great! OK, we’ll start out with some basics. What is your height and your present weight?
I’m 5 feet 10 inches and my current bodyweight is 94kg.
94kg is the weight class you compete in?
So, who first inspired you to get into weightlifting, what was it that made you start?
I don’t think it was someone who inspired me to take it up as such. I started school at Ivybridge Community College and I didn’t know anyone at the school so at lunchtime I used to just sit in a weightlifting gym. I didn’t have any mates to hang around with at lunchtime so I used to sit and watch the kids who were in my tutor group giving weightlifting a try.
I’d been sat there for about 2 weeks and the coach came up to me and said, “Look, you’ve been sat here for 2 weeks now watching these guys give it a go. Why don’t you try it yourself?” I said “No. I’m not really interested.” After a couple of days, the coach managed to persuade me to come along and give it a go and just because I was watching weightlifting done wrong and done right for 2 weeks, I already had a good idea of what I needed to do and what I shouldn’t be doing. That was it for me. I’d spend every lunchtime there for the rest of my time in school. I remember one of the very few sessions the coach saying “What do you want to get out of this sport? Do you want to just do it for fun or do you want to achieve?” The Olympic Games is always the end goal, the ultimate goal for weightlifting and it was a real childhood dream to achieve it just last summer!
Do you think you are naturally strong?
I wouldn’t say I was much stronger than the rest of the guys. I think I was just built slightly better for it and picked up the techniques very easily.
Who are your idols in weightlifting? Are you inspired by weightlifters from the past such as Tommy Kono and Paul Anderson or more inspired by modern day lifters such as Ilya Ilyin?
Although it is my sport. I don’t necessarily follow it too closely. When I was growing up, Tiger Woods was my childhood hero because I’ve played a lot of golf. There are loads of people you meet and you find inspiring. I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re drawn from the weightlifting world -you don’t really get to grasp too much of the personalities of the top characters.
There are a few lifters that I watch and I admire their techniques and the way they lift. There’s a couple of Russian weightlifters, Artem Okulov and Viktor Getts, I sort of grew up with those guys and they’re both doing really well on the world stage now. They’ve both got extremely good technique and I enjoy watching them. There are lots of people I take on board and admire their dedication for what they do. That for me is more what it’s about than there being an individual that inspires me.
Do you think that weightlifting is becoming more popular in the UK, for example, Crossfit seems to be getting much bigger; do you think women are getting more involved in weightlifting too?
Yeah, I think Crossfit is absolutely amazing. It has put the spotlight on the guys that are like myself that compete in the sport and I think we’ve gained a lot of respect from those that are getting into the sport and appreciate how difficult weightlifting is. A lot more people are aware of what Olympic Weightlifting is and how difficult it is. I think Crossfit has been absolutely amazing for the sport.
For me, on a personal note, without the guys that are competing in Crossfit, I wouldn’t have had the ability to travel around the country doing my seminars. A lot of my following on social media are Crossfitters. In the same breath, I’ve got ultimate respect for those guys that do Crossfit because I do appreciate how difficult it is and the fitness aspects of what they do. I use bits of their ideas for inspiration, like complexes and mix up training a little bit. It’s good fun. The whole Crossfit community are a great bunch of people. They’re friendly and enthusiastic about sport and fitness.
In terms of female participation, as you’ll be aware, the women’s weightlifting team has been funded for the last 2 years while the men’s hasn’t. In this country, if you look at it like that, women’s weightlifting is of a higher performance level than men’s. It’s become a lot more fashionable for women to be strong and involved in fitness. It’s great to see young girls and young teens get involved in sport and take more of an interest in health and keeping fit, it definitely shows how competitive women’s weightlifting has become over the last few years.
Women indeed have gotten way more into sports lately, absolutely agree Sonny! OK, which countries do you think weightlifting is most popular in?
It’s popular in the Eastern European countries and America and Russia. Obviously, it’s massive in China.
For sure. You put in a solid performance at your first Olympics in summer. What was your personal highlight Sonny?
The Olympic Games to me is the pinnacle of the sport. It was like the first time I competed in the Commonwealth Games to be honest. I went to Glasgow and I was absolutely ecstatic just to be on the team and competing in the Commonwealth Games whereas going into Gold Coast I was going there to win gold.
Being in my first Olympics it was very different from every other competition you’d imagine, so I took a lot from that. My performance was okay but the qualification was so close to the actual event which made it very difficult to peak at the British Championships and then peak again at the Olympic Games. You can’t beat that feeling of walking out through the opening ceremony in the Olympics!
Were you nervous?
Nerves don’t really come into it. For me, it was making sure that I really enjoyed the experience and making sure it was an admirable one.
What was the atmosphere like and how did it feel to represent Team GB?
Yeah, it was an incredible atmosphere. The crowd for my group was actually really, really good. I’d say for me personally on a competition level there’s nothing quite like the Olympic Games just for the occasion. The Olympics felt like my reward for qualifying (in the British Championship) and having the opportunity to represent Team GB at the the highest level and also be part of a team. Weightlifting is an individual sport and in the Olympic Games make you feel part of a much bigger team, which is a real pleasure!
Something to be proud of for sure!
It’s a real pleasure to now be part of one of the most exclusive groups in the world, to call myself an Olympian.
What modifications will you make in your training in preparation for the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020?
The build up for the Olympic Games was so long that by the time I got there my body was struggling a little bit. I had little niggles here and there. I’m trying to reduce the amount of Olympic lifts that I’ve been doing and not worrying about competition. I’m spending a lot more time squatting, a lot more time pulling and doing a lot more conditioning than I was doing before. I’m trying to build a nice big base now and trying to think a bit more long term and making sure I’m in best shape for the Gold Coast. The thought is about that gold medal, so I’m trying to think long term, stretch out the training phases a little bit more and focus on the weaknesses. You can’t have any weaknesses if you want to start snatching over 160kg and clean and jerk above 200kg.
You’ve got to be physically and mentally prepared for it.
Of course. I’ve been working with my psychologist now for 2 or 3 years. Determination has never been an issue for me. I’ve always had that. At the end of the day, it’s you and the bar. no one else is going to lift it for you.
We’ve been watching some of your lifts on Facebook; for example, squats with 230kg for 4 sets of 3 reps, a 180kg snatch balance and a 150kg hang snatch. Could you tell us some of your best gym lifts in terms of squats, deadlifts and standing press?
My best squat is 262kg. My front squat is 220kg, Strict press 100kg. My best deadlift is only 230kg but I did that for 3 reps the other day so that was a PB. My best clean is 195kg but I’ve done 200kg off blocks. I’ve snatched 165kg off blocks.
Not bad at all. So what is your favourite lift Sonny?
Probably a snatch balance. I’ve snatch balanced 190kg!
Great! Chinese Weightlifters are well known for using bodybuilding exercises (eg. side laterals, curls etc) in their programmes. Do you think these exercises are necessary or beneficial for training?
Yes, definitely. At the highest level, you can’t have any weaknesses. You’ve got to have muscles surrounding all the joints. Any extra muscle conditioning is important.
What are your top 3 strength building exercises?
You can’t beat the back squat, it’s absolutely paramount for building strength. Pulls and squats are your bread and butter for weightlifting in terms of building strength. I also do a lot of pulls from blocks as well. I do a lot of front squats. Push presses is another good one.
Front squats are very important for weightlifting!
Yeah! Good mornings is a good one and stiff legged deadlifts from a deficit for hamstrings.
What are your views on bodybuilding, do you think it has grown in popularity?
I think there are so many variations of bodybuilding. There’s physique modelling, beachbody modelling, fitness modelling, natural bodybuilding and drug oriented bodybuilding. There are so many different aspects to bodybuilding now that it’s hard to keep up. Regardless of what my personal opinion is of the sport of bodybuilding, it’s just great to see that more people are going to the gym with a goal. People are going in there with the intention to train, they’re learning more about themselves and take care of their appearance.
Yes, it’s a really positive sign! What types of food do you prefer to eat for gaining strength and do you use supplements as well?
Yeah, supplements is a big one. There’s so much stuff out there, so many different brands that it’s very easy to get lost in the marketing side of stuff. There’s a few odd ones that I take that are beneficial. Obviously, creatine is one of the only ones to have a positive effect on training output. Creatine is a must! I take Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin E. Then you’ve got your Omega-3s and another one I’m really big on is pre and probiotics which I’ve started using now. Another I take is colostrum.
Thanks for sharing that. Many athletes are turning toward a vegan diet these days, what are your thoughts on that and do you personally know any vegan weightlifters?
It’s very difficult to take on a complete vegan diet. I know of a lot of people that will opt for a vegetarian diet. There’s a lot of really tasty vegetarian food out there now so it’s not necessarily that I’m against the taste of vegetarian food, just personally for me red meat at least once or twice a week is good for the iron. I can see why people opt for vegetarian or vegan whether it’s for the health option or for ethical reasons. I do think having meat in the diet is important but I don’t think it’s the be all and end all.
Do you have a favourite movie or documentary that relates to weight training or bodybuilding, for example, “Pumping Iron”?
“Pumping Iron” is a great one! I’ve watched a couple of Crossfit ones recently, following Rich Froning and Matt Fraser. It’s really interesting to see a modern day version of how those sorts of athletes are training. There’s a lot you can take away from that. In terms of the stuff that’s been on over the last few years, they’re kind of tied in with a lot of the talk of drugs etc in sport. For out and out enjoyment to watch, “Pumping Iron” is great fun and these new ones with the Crossfit guys are really good.
These movies are pretty inspiring, motivating and timeless!
Yeah, it’s always good to watch a bit of motivational training or movies before you get training – get you pumped up before you go!
Brilliant! OK, to wrap up, want to ask you a few fun questions if we may?
What would you do if you won the lottery?
If I won the lottery, I would start funding the Men’s again! I’d sort out all my family, buy a few nice flash cars, buy some property, buy a high performance centre and bring all my training partners and guys together. I’d probably have a lot of fun with it!
Definitely! If you could jump into a time machine where would you go?
I would probably go backwards either for a round of golf with Tiger Woods or for a bodybuilding session with Arnie!
(Laughs) Which superheroes can you relate to for having more than normal strength and having more than normal confidence?
I’m not massively clued up on all my superheroes but I love all the Batman movies!
How long do you spend on social media each day?
A lot of time! I’d like to spend a lot more time on it and start doing my Youtube videos again. It’s difficult when I’ve got so much other stuff going on, I’m trying to develop my website, seminars and stuff like that. I probably spend 3 hours a day on social media.
Totally get it!
I try to do a lot of stuff with my Snapchat. It’s very hard with social media because I can post a video of me cleaning and jerking 190kg and everyone says, “Wow, that’s amazing!” but they can’t relate to it. If I posted getting up and having breakfast, everyone gets up and has breakfast everyday, it enables everyone to relate to that scenario. So I try to use my Snapchat to give people a little bit more of an insight as to what I do, day to day. It’s nice because it might be easier to get your personality across as a person without actually meeting the person with that as opposed to a YouTube video or a 15 second video on Instagram.
What message would you like to share with Keep Fit Kingdom readers and your growing number of fans around the world right now?
More than anything, keep enjoying what you’re doing. It’s really easy to get into sport and fitness and to lose sight of why you started it. The main thing is to just enjoy what you’re doing! Thank you.
Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experiences with us Sonny. We wish you the very best of luck for the future and hope you win the gold medal in the Commonwealth Games in Australia!
Love the sport of weightlifting as much as we do? Keep up to date with Sonny via his brilliant Instagram and Facebook pages where he regularly posts videos of his workouts, feats of strength, skill technique, seminar info and more! He also has a YouTube channel, is on Twitter and featured on the British Weightlifting main site.