A month into his semester studying abroad in Auckland, New Zealand, Andrew Morse ’15 was lifting weights in the gym when members of the Auckland Powerlifting Association approached him. The Association fosters a community of lifters throughout New Zealand, and Morse soon began training harder than ever before.

“We became friends, started hanging out, and talked about lifting and everything related to it,” Morse said. “It increased my knowledge drastically.”

Upon returning from Auckland, Morse, who had already been planning on a career related to what he calls “strength and the human body” after graduation, noticed a hole in the University’s extracurricular options: a community of lifters and nutrition enthusiasts such as the one he had discovered in New Zealand. Morse decided to fill that gap himself. Fast forward a month or two, and WesGAINS was born.

“WesGAINS isn’t an attempt at making Wesleyan have a weight lifting team, but strength training is a very big part of it,” Morse said.

One of Morse’s first converts was WesGAINS co-founder Maurice Hurd ’15, who began lifting seriously in the fall.

“[Morse] put me on a program and suggested some things, and I saw a huge difference,” Hurd said. “I said, ‘This is amazing. We should start a club.’ Over winter break we talked, and it started from there.”

Perhaps it’s telling of the club’s mission that until Hurd met Morse, he was a total novice at lifting. Even now, he considers himself to be far from an expert.

“I’m an amateur weight lifter,” Hurd said. “I just got into it for health reasons and found it beneficial.”

GAINS—an acronym for “getting active and incorporating nutritional science”—has attracted the interest of 42 students; actual meetings, though, have hovered at around 8 to 10 people.

“It’s still very new, so not that many people know about it,” Morse said.

Demographically, the group includes mostly women, much to Morse and Hurd’s surprise. Although most are athletic, few have lifting experience. But that’s just fine with Morse and Hurd, who are committed to helping everyone, especially novices, improve. To that end, Morse invented “form-check Fridays,” a period from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. during which members can stop by and request miniature lessons in any given area. Morse is in the gym for all those hours, anyway.

“If you stop by and have a list of things you want to learn to do, just ask me, and I’ll show you,” Morse said.

In Hurd’s experience, knowing what to do in the gym—that is, what equipment to use and how to use it—makes all the difference, not only in getting results but also in working up the motivation to exercise.

“Not knowing what to do in the gym was definitely a big part of my taking so long to get into the gym,” Hurd said. “I’d always wanted to get stronger, but it wasn’t until I had the resources that I was able to begin doing that.”

Knowledge has proved powerful for Morse, too.

“In Auckland, all of the concepts I previously had got shattered,” he said. “I would like to help people get rid of preconceptions about how to train, and tell them the truth.”

In order to target specific areas of confusion, Morse has devoted group meetings to educating members about the various issues that concern them.

“At our first meeting, we had people write out their backgrounds and goals, and I went through all the papers and wrote out what I considered a good starting point to get them on the right track,” Morse said. “They’ll have a good idea of what to do rather than going into the gym and doing useless exercises. We’ve put them on a functional path.”

Nutrition, which goes hand-in-hand with lifting, is also a key component of WesGAINS.

“I have a legitimate background in nutrition, because I’ve lost a lot of weight and put on muscle,” Morse said. “It’s different for everyone, though. I’d like to enlighten people as to how protein, fat, and carbohydrates work, and how your body uses the stuff you put in it. I also want to bust a lot of myths, like that saturated fat is bad, and that too much protein is bad.”

Looking forward, Hurd is hopeful that the members of WesGAINS will increase their fitness and accomplish what they have set out to do.

“We provide incentive for achieving goals,” Hurd said. “We have a T-shirt with our logo on it. It says, ‘We want you…to lift,’ just like Uncle Sam. If you achieve what is considered as the general respectable strength limit, you get a shirt.”

Morse looks forward in particular to watching the community grow.

“It would be fun to have a Sunday dinner tradition called Sunday Mass, just a community of people who like lifting,” he said. “We can support each other with our progress, achievements, and struggles.”

Moreover, Morse says, it is important to establish a space where participants can safely and openly talk about their health.

“People should be in an environment where they’re not afraid to talk about their bodies or their lifting,” he said. “It’s important that you have a knowledge of what you’re doing and what you want to do. People who have never lifted weights before are accepted. Everyone wants you to get better.”

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