Building muscle with the Penn Barbell Club

Open to beginners, intermediates, and experts, the Club features powerlifting, bodybuilding, and general fitness.

From left, third-year Adrienna Davis, third-year Isabella Pargiolas, and fourth-year Bryan Yan, co-presidents of the Penn Barbell Club, at the Pottruck Health & Fitness Center.
From left, third-year Adrienna Davis, third-year Isabella Pargiolas, and fourth-year Bryan Yan, co-presidents of the Penn Barbell Club, at the Pottruck Health & Fitness Center.

Founded in 2018 and reestablished in 2020 by alumna Odette Yang, the Penn Barbell Club is a physical fitness group open to undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in strength training. The organization has around 500 members—primarily undergraduate students but also master’s students and Ph.Ds.—and provides a judge-free, inclusive, and welcoming environment for all skill levels, from beginners to intermediates to hardcore pros. It features powerlifting, bodybuilding, and general fitness.

Bimonthly, the Club holds group lifts at the Pottruck Health & Fitness Center where members can socialize, learn the correct lifting techniques, receive nutritional guidance and mentorship, and work out with a group or buddy.

Grab your water bottle and your protein (and your headphones, if you so desire), and get ready to pump, pump, pump, pump it up with the Penn Barbell Club.

Bryan Yan, a fourth-year finance major in the Wharton School, performs an incline barbell bench press while spotted by Adrienna Davis and two other students.
Bryan Yan, a fourth-year finance major in the Wharton School, performs an incline barbell bench press while spotted by Adrienna Davis and two other students. Student Hao Yu, behind Davis, observes. Yan began lifting in 2017 when he was in high school, partly, he says, to counteract the stereotype that Asian males are less masculine than their counterparts. He also took up lifting for self-improvement, a desire to be well-rounded, and because, “It’s just fun.” Yan lifts six days a week, usually around 9 p.m. when the gym is less crowded. “Although I prefer an emptier gym, I do enjoy Penn’s gym community and meeting new people interested in working out,” he says. “The gym is often my ‘social hour’ as well.” At the Pottruck Center’s 20th anniversary celebration in January of 2023, Yan won the bench press competition by putting up 345 pounds.
Adrienna Davis, a third-year economics major in the School of Arts & Sciences (SAS), racks a 45-pound plate onto a bar.
Adrienna Davis, a third-year economics major in the School of Arts & Sciences (SAS), racks a 45-pound plate onto a bar. Davis began powerlifting in high school and lifts five days a week. A competitive powerlifter, she placed first in the Collegiate Nationals powerlifting competition in March of 2022 and first at the 2022 USA Powerlifting Ivy League Cup in November of 2022. “It’s a really inclusive space,” Davis says of the Penn Barbell Club. “It’s more like a community than just being bodybuilders or just powerlifters. It’s more a community of people who are into lifting and also general fitness.” Her personal records are 347 pounds on the squat, 391 pounds on the deadlift, and 210 pounds on the bench press.
A student performs a barbell squat, which works your glutes, quads, and other leg muscles.
A student performs a barbell squat, which works your glutes, quads, and other leg muscles. Shreyash Khatiwada (not pictured), a fourth-year neuroscience major in SAS and co-president of the Penn Barbell Club, began weightlifting in 2020 during the COVID-19 quarantine. He lifts four or five times a week. He has been a member of the Club since he was a first-year and says he sought it out because he was looking for a “community of people with similar interests to ease my transition into college.” After being in the Club for a few years and serving on its executive board, he says it has been “an extremely rewarding experience watching the Club grow and seeing members learn from each other.”
Student Hao Yu performs a barbell squat near the Smith machine. The gym, especially the weight room, can be an intimidating place for novices. Yan says he can empathize with beginners who are nervous about going to the gym because he was once one of those people. During his first year of working out, he only lifted at home because he weighted just 100 pounds and was too scared of the gym environment. What helped him overcome his gym anxiety, he says, was the realization that people at the gym are not focused on what other people are doing. “People aren’t eyeing you if you do something wrong,” Yan says. “They just don’t care.” After he started noticing improvements in his physique, he began to work out more and more, and weightlifting eventually became a part of his day-to-day routine. 
Adrienna Davis prepares to do the barbell bench press, which works your chest, shoulders, and arms.
Adrienna Davis prepares to do the barbell bench press, which works your chest, shoulders, and arms. One of the reasons people often give for their lack of exercise is a lack of time. Davis says any sort of fitness is great, even if it’s one or two days a week. “Even if it’s just a 10-minute home workout, 10 minutes is better than nothing,” she says. “The key is to get your body moving.” Yan, very bluntly, says exercise is not something you have time for, it’s something you make time for. “I think if something is important to you, you will make time for it,” he says. Khatiwada recommends committing to a schedule and sticking with it. “Lots of students at Penn are busy due to academics, clubs, recruiting, etc., but these students are at the gym, too,” he says. “Being healthy should be everyone’s No. 1 priority.”
Christopher Spletzer (back left), a third-year mechanical engineering major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, balances himself on a weight, while Davis prepares to do the bench press, and another student performs a deadlift.
Christopher Spletzer (back left), a third-year mechanical engineering major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, balances himself on a plate while Davis prepares to do the bench press and another student performs a deadlift. Yan, Davis, and Khatiwada all say weightlifting has helped improve their mental health as well as their physical being. “It’s definitely a cathartic reprieve throughout the day,” Yan says. “A weekly workout regime has a plethora of cognitive benefits in addition to its physical benefits.” Davis says powerlifting is a personal passion and helps her escape “all the craziness of life.” Khatiwada says weightlifting “provides a sense of clarity and enhances my mood and mental health, which helps me perform well in school. It has shown to release endorphins, reduce cortisol, and improve sleep quality, which help in all aspects of daily life.”

Students interested in joining the Penn Barbell Club can email Bryan Yan at bryanyan@wharton.upenn.edu, Adrienna Davis at acrd1613@gmail.com, or Shreyash Khatiwada at shreyk@sas.upenn.edu, or visit the Club’s Instagram page.