In 2009, I signed up for Cardiff half marathon (more was coerced into it when I had had a few vodkas!) and I loved the feeling of seeing my body change, as well as becoming visibly fitter. I loved doing the half marathon and completed 2 more in Cardiff subsequently. In 2011, my boyfriend of the time persuaded me to join this new low cost gym. I gave him my debit card details and told him to sign me up, as I am guilty of ‘bookmarking’ such things and then never following through! We signed up for a Friday evening class, with a very enthusiastic but friendly trainer and we loved it! I became a bit of a class attending-aholic, and loved the atmosphere and the friendliness of the personal trainers and the post workout endorphins.
After several months, I decided to approach the personal trainer I had met on my first day for private training sessions. When he first took me into the weights room, I thought he was nuts and I refused to go in there unless personally escorted! I can’t pretend I enjoyed my first few experiences of using real weights as opposed to lurid coloured dumbbells that look like cat toys. I didn’t like the feeling that I was stepping into testosterone territory and the looks that I received from men about being there. I also am a neat freak and seeing weights littering the floor was incredibly off putting.
Seeing my body change and becoming noticeably stronger was empowering and eventually I plucked up the courage to follow a training plan that involved me entering the weights room 4 – 5 times a week. I still felt uncomfortable within the weights room as manners and gym etiquette were often non-existent. Being an average height female, I felt incredibly little and lacked confidence to ask people how many sets they had left, so would often spend many minutes waiting for various pieces of equipment. Despite this, I became friendly with some of the other personal trainers in the gym – I think they enjoyed interacting with a ‘girl who lifts’ – and they would always help me out in getting squat racks!
By the time I left the UK (July, 2015), the proportion of women lifting weights in the gym was significantly higher than when I started. It was so much more comforting to see more females in the weights room and I made some great friendships with these girls too!
My first time walking into the weights room at the gym in Florida I am a member of, I was instantly both inspired and intimidated. For a gym that is not overly large, it was pretty busy, exceptionally tidy and the ratio of personal trainers to gym-goers was high! All around me were people working out of all ages, with both men and women lifting weights and working out hard. There is a 55-year-old woman in my gym that can do 3 sets of 6 reps weighted dips; a 70-year-old man who can do 5 pull ups and a 10-year-old child who can do 10 banded pull ups.
After about two weeks of working out there, personal trainers began to approach me – not with the ulterior motive of trying to persuade me to pay for their services – but because they were interested in who I was. With it being a relatively small gym, it was evident that having a sense of community was important to them and I soon realised that this was important to the other members too. The emphasis on fitness where I live is incredibly high. It is not only the norm to work-out, it is expected. Whenever I go into the gym, I see the same people day in, day out. Over the year, I have developed some lovely friendships with personal trainers and gym goers alike. People think nothing of coming over to me whilst I am exercising to chat about their day; correct my form or spot me. They shout at me for encouragement, ask me to demonstrate certain exercises, give me a kick up the backside when I need it and generally bring a smile to my face.
I recently visited the UK for a couple of weeks and trained in my old gym. I think of it as ‘home’ and it will always bring back such lovely memories as that was the place that I fell in love with lifting weights. But, similarly to moving away from home, I was incredibly excited to get back to my Floridian gym. Whilst perceptions of women lifting weights has undeniably changed in the UK; training in Florida is about so much more than that. It has been my safe place, my source of inspiration, friendship and has a massive place in my heart.