It seems barely a month goes by now without the launch of a brand new Fitness app, and so when the CEO of Fitssi, the new social training app which encourages women to #nevertrainalone asked me to meet her so she could explain how it works and why they are different I was intrigued. When we met and Katie Booth told me about Fitssi‘s vision to empower women who were fearful of gyms and intimidated by large group fitness classes, and discouraged by the high price tag attached to private PT sessions, I was all ears. Even more so when at our meeting she asked me if I would be one of the speakers on the panel for the Fitssi launch event – and asked me to talk about my take on the theme for the night, “Empowering Women in Fitness”. And so last night, in the Lorna Jane UK Active Living Room, myself and Melissa Weldon (Fempower and 1Rebel), Grace Fit UK (fitness influencer extraordinaire), and Leigh Fergus (founder of Be:Fit Festival) made up the panel who had the honour of sharing our stories, journeys and advice with a room full of incredible women.
It was my first ever public speaking event in the fitness world, and despite being hugely nervous beforehand, I loved being able to share my story and experience. However I know many people were unable to make the event last night, and so I thought I would add the original, full version of the speech I gave last night, because Empowering Women in Fitness is a message that is so important for us all to hear.
Whilst I didn’t want to over-rehearse my speech (and in fact a lot of it just came from the heart last night, and was also reactionary to the other incredible speakers) I did want to make a plan of all the things I wanted to cover, and the things I wanted to share. This of course was far, far too long, and on the night I didn’t get through the vast majority of this, however both for those of you who were there and enjoyed my talk (thank you for all the extremely kind comments!) and maybe wanted to recap on the message I was trying to convey, and for those of you who wanted to come but were unable to make it (the event sold out in just a few days!), here is the original and full version of my speech on Empowering Women in Fitness:
“My name is Lisa-Jane, or LJ, and you’re probably wondering why I am sat alongside these three incredible women here on the panel for tonight’s Fitssi launch. I’ll be honest – me too – given that I’m in the company of the lovely Leigh – founder of the biggest and best fitness festival in Be:Fit (which I’ve been to for the past 3 years!), the unbelievably inspiring 1Rebel master trainer Melissa – I can tell you now this woman has kicked my sorry butt in Reshape and Ride sessions – but somehow can always make me push harder, and of course the gorgeous Grace who is a social media superstar – over 100k followers on Instagram alone and owner of one of the most coveted booties in the business. All of these women are incredible in their own way – and an absolute force together, which is why I am so honoured to be up here sharing my story, my journey and my thoughts on empowering women in fitness and why this is so important.
In a nutshell, I am a Personal Trainer, Fitness Instructor, Blogger and a Brand Ambassador for Lorna Jane UK. Some of you may know who I am – I am @wildcatfit on Instagram and Twitter, and my Blog, Wildcat Fitness, won Best Fitness Blog at the Health Blog Awards earlier this year. So my “day job” is being a Personal Trainer, and owning and running Wildcat Fitness, which is a West London based all female Personal Training Business. I have been in the Fitness industry almost 8 years now and I think that’s one of the intriguing but also amazing things about being in this company, is that although I’ve been in the industry a long time and have years of experience, the whole social media, online and blogging thing is very new to me, and wasn’t a part of the fitness industry really at all when I started out back in 2008, and I truly think it is no coincidence that with the increase in users of social media and online networking that the fitness industry and quite specifically female in the fitness industry has grown so dramatically over the past few years – the last couple in particular.
So you might look at me and think okay, I’ve been doing this ages, I’ve had a lot of experience, I run a PT business, my Blog has won an award, I work as an ambassador for an activewear brand, great and what? Plenty of girls like me out there and you are right – however – I do feel like I am perfectly placed to be giving a talk on Empowering Women through Fitness, because my journey to sitting here on this panel speaking to you tonight has not been easy or straight forward and in fact in the last 10 years near enough every aspect of my life has changed – and truly fitness has been at the heart of almost all of that. I am sitting here as a woman who has quite literally been empowered through fitness and it’s a message that I feel extremely passionately about sharing.
I don’t want to sit here and bore you senseless with my life story, not least because it would take a long time because I’m so old, but I actually spent the vast majority of my teenage years suffering from both anorexia and bulimia – it wasn’t until I was about 20 that I realised that restricting, controlling and binging with food wasn’t the only way I could change my body, that actually exercise, health and fitness could have just as drastic an effect on the way I look, and most certainly improve the way I felt. The majority of my issues with my eating came from being bullied throughout school and just never feeling good enough – as a result of which I was never really able to take part in PE or sports at school so my first real taste of exercise came when I want to university and decided to go to the gym with my housemates. I actually went in the first instance because my uni gym had sunbeds (former tanning addict!) but thought I may as well hop on the treadmill and use some of the weights whilst I was there. When I graduated and moved to London I wanted to keep up this habit and so I joined a leisure centre in central London which also offered a huge list of group exercise classes.
Classes felt like a very “safe place” for me as I used to go to them with my Mum when I lived at home. She herself had been overweight in her 20s and 30s and after she had my younger sister decided she wanted to lose weight – so I remember seeing her going out jogging and also going to our local gym to do aerobics and step classes. She invited me with her one day and I was amazed at how friendly and accepting everyone was – bear in mind I was used to having to physically hide during PE sessions to avoid the taunts and name calling from my bullies. So for me, all these years ago. I had already had a taste of what empowering women through fitness meant – I was an awkward skinny teenager going to the local leisure centre in Cornwall with my Mum – yet the women there and the female instructor didn’t care – I was just one of them and I loved it. We all laughed and sweated and moaned together and that to me became something I could do without being laughed at, and actually something I enjoyed, as well as something that made me stop thinking about food. So really the first woman who empowered me to see fitness as such a good, positive and social thing was my Mum back in the 90s – if she had never taken me to those classes and if everyone hadn’t been so welcoming maybe I would never have thought to start going to classes on my own once I moved to London.
To fast forward to right here and right now, if you do follow me on social media you’ll know that I am a fitness instructor as well – I have been teaching since 2008 and I teach Body Pump, Body Attack, my very own Body Burn class here at Lorna Jane and at various pop up events and bootcamps across London. Maybe none of this would ever had happened had I not had those first positive experiences of fitness classes back with my Mum. It sounds like such a small thing – but I think it’s important that we all remember that fitness is such a personal thing and that a positive first experience can be all it takes to get someone hooked for life and indeed to change their life for the better. We all here have the chance to empower each other and indeed our friends, family and colleagues every time we workout – maybe you offer to go with your friend to a class they want to try but are too scared to go alone, maybe someone at work wants a gym buddy to stop them getting bored, or maybe that girl on the bike next to you in your spinning class just really needs a high five or an encouraging smile from you to get her through her workout – we can all support and encourage and back each other in this world of fitness and as I’ve just spoken about – sometimes all it takes is one great experience to start someone’s personal journey and fitness story.
So to go back to my story, once I moved to London I started working, and as my degree is actually in Journalism I actually started working in the media – first in TV and then in PR and I was lucky enough to have some incredible jobs and work for some amazing companies. I travelled, I went to great events, I met VIPs – and with this came lots of socialising, lots of eating out, lots of drinking, lots of quick sandwiches at lunchtime because I was so busy, which, after putting my binging and starving past behind me, meant that in just a couple of years I piled on weight. I was sporadically going to the gym and to classes but it wasn’t enough to combat everything that I was eating and the fact that I was constantly stressed. On the surface my life was fun, but I was tired, burnt out and starting to become embarrassed of my body. So I decided to try to do something about it. It was really hard to start with – I tried various diets and I tried to motivate myself in the gym but because I felt so ashamed of how much weight I’d put on I used to flit from one thing to another so that no-one would really see me. I tried every class going but didn’t stick to anything, I would lose a bit of weight, then put it back on and got caught in an unhappy cycle. Then one day I just thought enough is enough. I hate always feeling tired. I hate that I just don’t enjoy food any more and am always eating rubbish. And most of all I hate the way I look. So, I hired a Personal Trainer. I did everything they told me. I started lifting weights. I changed my diet. I stopped eating out and started cooking. I cut down my drinking. I totally overhauled my life, and as a result, I totally changed my body. Not overnight I might add – I worked with my PT for about 6 months, until I felt like I could actually do it by myself. Sometimes I could, sometimes I couldn’t, but I knew I never wanted to go back to the way I was before, and steadily my weight dropped and my fitness improved. Turning my life around really changed my outlook on so many things, and I couldn’t forget how that Personal Trainer I hired really did change my life. It was always in the back of my mind, and suddenly my high powered, glamorous and social job just didn’t seem as appealing any more. I really felt like I wanted to make a difference to people the way he had made a difference to me, I just genuinely didn’t know how or what.
Pictured above with my beautiful friend and fellow fitness Blogger Hannah Rose Fit.
I realise that probably many of you guys are in the same situation now. We can all see that fitness is growing in popularity and visibility and it does seem nowadays that anyone can be a PT or an online coach, and to a degree that’s true. But I know it is hard to make that leap from full time, steady employment to making a successful and profitable career from fitness. This is what I struggled with all those years ago – knowing I had actually, after all these years of trying the things I thought I wanted to do – being a journalist, being a TV presenter, being an events manager – found my true calling which was helping others improve their life through fitness. But I had no qualifications, no idea what qualifications I needed and was terrified that I’d never be able to pay my mortgage by working in the fitness industry. I know this is something a lot of people struggle with – both the confidence to make the leap and the support in place to actually make it happen. But I am sitting here as someone who has done it, and I am passionate about not only passing on my knowledge and my experience but also genuinely letting women know that if you want a career in fitness you can make it happen. And the most important thing you need is passion. There are more opportunities now than ever, and as the global obesity problem just grows and grows (pun not intended!) the world needs strong, positive and real role models to inspire people to lead a fitter and healthier life. Not to look a certain way or fit a certain mould, but to be the best version of themselves.
So to link those last two parts of the story, and so you know – I took my first step in the industry by qualifying as an instructor and teaching group fitness classes around my day job, but my passion to work in fitness only got stronger once I was in that environment and spending my evenings and weekends coaching and motivating people, and in 2011 I quit my office job to work full time in a gym, where I became the manager and in that time studied for my PT and nutrition qualifications and started working as a PT. From there I decided I wanted to launch my own bespoke Personal Training business, providing fitness services quite literally tailored to individuals rather than a one size fits all approach as employed by many commercial health clubs. In the past 3.5 years that business has grown and we are now a team of three female PT’s who are passionate about helping people realise that with the right knowledge and support, they can be anything they can achieve anything they want. From this platform came my social media, then my Blog, and earlier this year my role here with Lorna Jane UK.
To touch on my work with Lorna Jane UK, it was a brand I was introduced to by an Australian friend several years ago and I was instantly drawn to it because of the LJ connection. Once I started delving deeper I couldn’t believe what an incredible brand it was – not least because of the gorgeous kit, but because it was founded by such an inspirational woman, herself in her second career and who wanted to create activewear to not only perform but to help women look their best whilst working out because at that time the activewear market was so limited. And now look where we are – in this beautiful UK store surrounded by covetable kit and reaching an even greater audience of women who we, both as individuals, as a community and in a wider sense with Lorna Jane as a brand to inspire people to live their best active life. I identify as a Lorna Jane girl because it’s not about looking a certain way, it’s about being your best self.
And so to tie this all together – I started my personal journey in fitness almost 10 years ago. I started it overweight, unhappy, unconfident and to be honest alone. I was lost – but when I found fitness, I genuinely felt like I had found my missing piece. There is no better word to sum up my journey than empowerment. I went to classes and hid at the back because I was so ashamed of the way I looked, and now here I am tonight sitting here alongside some of the most incredible and influential women in the fitness industry and considered one of their peers. I am sharing my experience as a fitness professional and as someone who has worked hard, every day, to be the best version of myself. It doesn’t matter that I’m 10, 15 maybe even 20 years older than some of you guys here tonight, it doesn’t matter that I spent years abusing my body with an eating disorder, it doesn’t matter that I used to be overweight and it doesn’t matter that I don’t have hundreds of thousands of followers. What matters is that we are all here together because of fitness. That we all, no matter in what scale, have a chance to inspire someone by our fitness and by our passion for fitness. I never did this to be popular, to be famous, to be the skinniest – I started off doing this for me and only me, and over the years I have had the huge huge privilege of being able to give back and help other people achieve what they couldn’t alone.
So firstly I want to say thank you – to everyone here – because to me now, this is fitness. Supporting each other, encouraging each other, appreciating everyone’s story and journey. We all have a part to play in each others’ journey and success. As I said at the start of this talk, if my Mum had never taken me along to workout with her all those years ago maybe none of this would ever have happened. And lastly I want to say do not ever underestimate the power we have to change someone’s life and indeed the power we have to empower. We are all influencers in our own right, as we can influence everyone around us with our passion for fitness. Fitness can help make us stronger alone but truly, even stronger together.”
Thank you again to Fitssi for inviting me to be a part of their launch event last night, it truly was a privilege. Fitssi as an app will launch in a few weeks, at first in the North London area, and next year expanding to the rest of London and then beyond. It will work almost like an Uber for PTs – people in small groups (3 to 5 people) can search via a map to find a PT with availability local to them, and then choose when and where they train, as well as book and pay via the App. It splits the cost of a training session, it enables groups of women to train in a more intimate environment with people they know, helping to take the fear and intimation out of busy gyms and packed fitness studios. They also want to build a wider community who can support each other in their fitness journey – truly something special to be a part of, and I for one am honoured to be in at the beginning.
So thank you Fitssi, thank you Lorna Jane UK for hosting us, thank you to my amazing fellow panellists, and thank you to everyone who not only came along last night, but who has left lovely comments or tagged me in their posts to say how much they enjoyed the evening. You all have now idea how much you empowered me – and what an honour it is!