fitness

'I’ve trained over 100 women this past year. Here’s the 3 things they all have in common.'

Taking a seat in the gym reception area, I started chatting with my newest client Charlotte*.

“So, tell me a bit about why you joined the gym?” I asked, excited to find out how I could help her kickstart her fitness journey.

“I just really want to get toned, and get rid of this,” Charlotte confessed - grabbing her stomach and pointing at it in disgust.

“All I want is a flat stomach, to get rid of my cellulite and look good in a bikini - if I can achieve that then I’ll be happy,” Charlotte sighed. “I just feel so miserable about myself!”

Watch: Celeste Barber's everyday exercise tips. Post continues after video.


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A lump formed in my throat as I continued our consultation, heartbroken that Charlotte had placed so much value on her physical appearance and believed that if she looked a different way that she would finally be happy.

I couldn’t wait to help Charlotte discover that there is so much more to her health and happiness than how she looks.

As a personal trainer, I work with numerous women on a daily basis with ages ranging from 20 to 60 years old. I’ve never been surrounded by such a diverse group of females and have come to realise that regardless of their age or background, there are certain beliefs these women have about their bodies, exercise and food that aren’t too dissimilar. 

Having trained over 100 women in the past year, here are the top 3 things they all have in common. 

1. They all have something they think needs 'fixing.'

If there’s one sentence I’ve heard more times than I can count, it’s when a client says “I’ll be happy when I can change X.”

Many women I see who are already within a healthy weight range will tie an expectation of ‘future happiness’ to an arbitrary scale weight, dress size or other physical change. Some will send me photos of Instagram models who have worked with professional photographers to curate picture perfect images and request to look exactly like them. 

Likewise, their inspiration to train often comes from high-level female bodybuilders with the expectation that if they train every day, they will look like that. What they aren’t aware of though, is the restriction and sacrifice these athletes go through to reach that kind of body fat level.

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Terms like ‘hip dips’, cellulite and lower belly fat are often among the things clients want to get rid of through exercise in order to achieve ‘happiness’ and sadly, the rise of social media has only fueled the desire for many girls to look like someone else.

As a trainer, my job is to educate these women as best as I can around the long-term benefits of exercise and healthy eating - like reduced risk of developing chronic diseases and being able to run around after their kids when they get older.

I’m also a huge advocate of helping women realise that their happiness isn’t a destination or a dress size and that they don’t have to change their bodies in order to be happy. 

2. The idea of weight training makes them cringe. 

Whenever I get a new client to do weights, they often hesitate before saying, “But won’t weights make me big and bulky? Isn’t cardio better for women?”

I always explain that resistance training is important for women to reduce our risk of osteoporosis and future proof our bodies from injury as we get older. I also add that thanks to our lack of testosterone compared to men, it’s very unlikely they will bulk up with muscle by accident!

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In fact, the Australian Government Department of Health actually recommends that all adults between the ages of 18 and 64 undertake some form of strength training “at least two days a week” for our general wellbeing. During pregnancy, the recommendation remains the same.

What most people don’t realise is that strength training isn’t just bicep curls or lifting heavy metal in a gym. Different forms of resistance training like weights, bands, pilates, aqua aerobics and even bodyweight movements are all ways to strengthen our bodies and improve our wellbeing. 

3. Food is either 'good' or 'bad.'

If you attended primary school in Australia or grew up watching free-to-air television, chances are you’re familiar with the ‘5 veg and 2 fruit’ a day health campaign. As children, we were taught that food was important for us to grow and develop and to support our daily activities.

And, if you were lucky enough to have Healthy Harold visit your school as a child, he no doubt taught you about the importance of eating for energy and thinking about foods as either ‘everyday’ or ‘sometimes’ foods.

Unfortunately, as many girls got older and were exposed to the promotion of popular ‘fat loss’ diets in magazines and on the runway, they began to associate certain foods with either being ‘good’ or ‘bad’. At one point, a popular diet cut out an entire food group. 

For many women I work with, this was their first of many restrictive dieting experiences.

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Of the 100+ women I’ve worked with, many of them still believe they need to constantly be on some kind of ‘diet’ or only eat packaged foods that are marketed as ‘high protein’ or ‘healthy’. 

Because of this mentality, so many women simply aren’t meeting their daily nutritional recommendations from the Australian Dietary Guidelines. 

And, according to Cancer Australia, “Less than 1 in 10 adults meet the dietary guidelines for vegetable intake.”

The issue with all of the above is that at some point, ‘health’ became more about looking a certain way than actually being ‘healthy’, which can do more harm than good both physically and mentally. 

By encouraging women to move regularly in a way that they enjoy, fuel their bodies with a variety of wholefoods and nutrients that make them feel good, we can begin to repair the damage done by years of advertisements telling us that ‘thinner is better’.

Because every woman deserves to feel happy in her own skin.

Feature image: Lauren Irvine. 

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