"This is what it feels like to be the first female Sikh powerlifter to represent Great Britain"

Be inspired by 25-year-old Karenjeet Kaur Bains' story.

Be inspired by 25-year-old Karenjeet Kaur Bains' story.

Ever heard of powerlifting? In short, it's a sport consisting of three disciplines - a squat, a bench press, and a deadlift. Each competition consists of completing nine successful lifts - that's three attempts at each move.

While powerlifting isn't yet identified as an official Olympic sport - it’s a three-discipline sport, versus weightlifting’s two disciplines, plus it's only been around since the 60's, making it young, as sports go - there are several national and global powerlifting competitions where athletes compete in age and weight categories.

As the first Sikh powerlifting female to represent Great Britain, 25-year-old Karenjeet Kaur Bains competes in the under 63kg/69kg Senior Women’s class.

She's not only an athlete, but a qualified accountant, and both a Commonwealth and British Champion. She's currently working with Brawn, an app looking to bring the lifting community together all the way from novice to elite level.

The athlete is keen to spread the word that you can study and be an athlete, plus shares her vision - of leaving a legacy that allows more athletes from diverse and minority backgrounds, like herself, to compete for Team GB.

Read her story.

"How I feel to be a powerlifting female and GB's first female Sikh powerlifter"

How did you first get into powerlifting?

"I first got into powerlifting aged 17 having been a former sprinter competing in the 100m, 200m, 300m, and hammer-throwing events."

"As a teenager, I was the fastest girl at school holding seven consecutive school records as well as being the three times 300m sprint champion and hammer-throwing record holder. That being said, I was also very academic."

"I'd never picked up a weight before then. I initially weight trained with the intention of improving my sprinting - strength training can make you a more explosive and powerful runner. With the help of my father as my coach, a former bodybuilder and powerlifter, I quickly found a passion for feeling strong."

"I picked up the moves quickly and entered my first competition as a powerlifting female after only three months of training. I won."

"Ever since then, I knew this was the sport for me. I've never looked back since."

What are you most proud of overcoming in your life?

"At 19 years old, I sustained a major injury to my left piriformis muscle - basically a nerve pain and tear. It knocked me out of competitive powerlifting for two years."

"The injury was so bad I wasn’t even able to lift the bar without feeling excruciating pain, coming from being capable of squatting two and a half times my bodyweight. It took several years of intense rehab, rehabilitation, recovering, and re-triggering my injury in a continuous fashion until I was able to overcome it - hopefully for good."

"Looking back, I see it as a blessing because setbacks only make for better comebacks. I came back to powerlifting as a much more determined and refined athlete. My never-give-up attitude and the constant support and belief of my coach (and father) led me to my biggest achievement: winning my first international title in 2019, becoming the Commonwealth Powerlifting Champion."

"There were times in my career where I considered giving up as my injury had taken me to such a dark place mentally, so I'm proud of myself for persevering. The outcome was better than I could've ever imagined."

Powerlifting female: Karenjeet

Why has it taken so long for there to be a Sikh powerlifting female representing team GB?

"Because girls in my position who might have been equally as talented have not been given the opportunity to pursue sport as I have."

"I'm lucky to have been born into a very sporty family - my Dad, brothers, and Mum are all athletes in their own right. I've always been surrounded by sport and it taught me from a young age how important it is to have the discipline and drive to succeed in life – a mindset I applied to both academics and sport."

"Unfortunately, girls from my background often don’t have this support and sometimes those with parents of a more traditional mindset aren’t given the same opportunities as boys, particularly in pursuing passions outside of academics such as sport."

"In the South Asian community, there is always an emphasis on focusing on your education to avoid any distractions, but I'm a well-rounded individual who's proven you can excel in both sports and a profession. I'm the Commonwealth Powerlifting Champion and First British Sikh Female to represent GB at the World and European Championships as well as a recently qualified ACA Chartered Accountant. Dreams are possible - if you put your mind to them."

Did you face any societal difficulties growing up and powerlifting? 

"Thankfully my family have always been supportive of my pursuits, being sportsmen and women themselves."

"The response from the Sikh community has also been overwhelmingly positive as they often see me as a role model breaking any perceived barriers, especially as a female.

"Sikhs are often described as the "warrior race" who aim to serve and protect the community, and I think it's been refreshing for them to see a leading female face."

"If you're doing something good in life, there will always be some negativity. I often get comments about lifting heavy weights making me bulky, but as factually, as females, we don't have enough natural testosterone for this to be possible."

"Others have found my strength - and my aggressive focus on the sport - quite intimidating. It's never phased me, rather, only fuelled my drive to carry on."

A photo posted by on

Tell us more about The Sikh Games – what are they and why are they important to you?

"The Sikh Games are a charitable, not-for-profit organisation for which I am both a powerlifting coach as well as the UK and Global Ambassador. It encourages more young people from ethnic and minority backgrounds such as myself into the sport, while bringing communities together, worldwide. Sports included in the initiative span football, hockey, cricket, and athletics, including powerlifting and kabaddi (a form of wrestling).

"I am proud to say I am the only female coach on the Strength and Conditioning Team."

"My aim? To inspire and champion the next generation of Sikh athletes, and truly give them an insight into what it takes to get to the pinnacle of sport. I'm especially passionate about encouraging female representation within strength sports; the values of Guru Nanak Dev Ji (the founder of Sikhism) on gender equality are something I hold close to my heart. She had a famous quote about women stating that women should not be considered inferior against man as “from her, kings are born.”"

A photo posted by on

How does it feel to be the first Sikh female powerlifter to represent GB?

"It's a huge honour. I'm proud to be able to represent my culture and identity, especially as a female in a predominantly male-dominated sport."

"I'm especially humbled when people - especially those that are younger - reach out to me saying they see me as a role model, or that it's inspired them to follow in my footsteps."

"My dream is to create a legacy where there are increased number of athletes from diverse and minority backgrounds like myself competing for Team GB."

"Representation is key, and it's amazing to be in a position to not only share my story but also pull people up to competing on the international level alongside me."

Female powerflifter: Karenjeet deadlift - credit White Lights Media

What would your advice be for any younger Sikh girls who have big dreams but don't know how to achieve them?

"Don’t be afraid to dream big and always have a plan."

"In order to achieve your dreams, you need to have a plan. Break down this dream into shorter-term, measurable goals that you can continually achieve. Each small win will give you the confidence to continue pushing in the right direction."

"Also - don’t be afraid to fail. Often the most successful people in life have tried something many times but not succeeded. The champion is the one that never gives up and continues to persist until they reach their goal. Understand in life you need to work on developing your mind - a strong mind will stand you in good stead in life - and believe in yourself, too."

"And finally, remember to enjoy the journey and give back. Life is a rollercoaster you need to embrace and appreciate both the ups and downs to reach your end goal. Once you reach that goal, there will be a younger version of yourself looking for guidance. Always look to be a role model and be selfless in helping - the happiness this brings is like no other."

Karenjeet is a Brawn athlete - check out their upcoming events here. 

Ally Head
Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, eight-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She regularly hosts panels and presents for things like the MC Sustainability Awards, has an Optimum Nutrition qualification, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw, with health page views up 98% year on year, too. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.