As this is my first ever blog post I thought I would start with my story. Starting from the very beginning before I joined the gym, right through to my first job in a gym. I think/hope it will benefit some of you from hearing what I have been through, and the choices I made; as I have met so many of you in my job that have been through similar scenarios, and I just want you to know that I understand the struggles that arise in the first years of training.
I am going to talk about things that I have not been comfortable telling people before, but I think it is a good thing to be open and honest about the things that make you the person you are today!
I started dancing at age 3 and I cannot remember a time when dance was not a massive part of my life. I am a very competitive person, and I thrived in competitions.
I was still actively competing in Irish dance when I started college and no matter what I ate (and I ate poorly), I was always lean. But during this time I went from dancing about 8 hours a week, to dancing 6-8 hours a day 5 days a week. And at first I felt amazing as it was something that I loved doing, but after a while my body and mind couldn’t handle it anymore.
I was going straight from a full day of dancing at college, to my dance school for 2-3 hours, and then home where I would fall asleep in the bath I was that shattered. It was not only the physical strain but also mentally. As with competing you have to have a really tough skin, and be able to take hits. Before then, this wouldn’t bother me, but as I got older I let it affect me. I ended up losing a lot of self-confidence, and quit competitive dance.
So now I had given up on one of the most important things of my life, I had a big hole that needed filling. I was not in a good place mentally and I needed something to occupy my mind. So I decided to join my local gym (an overcrowded and huge exercise4less). I chose the gym because I wanted to improve the way I looked, to build my confidence back up. Looking back, I am grateful that I decided to join the gym, but my reasons for joining at that time were not healthy ones. Being in front of a mirror each day in college, wearing sports bras, leotards, little shorts, and constantly being surrounded by other people to compare yourself to; was the reason I joined the gym. I did not see how tiny my body was, and that I did not need to lose any weight. (p.s. I had no periods, and did not understand the importance of that, but I will be discussing that in another post).
My gym routine for a long time was; go to a class, then go on a piece of cardio equipment for an hour or so during the break in the timetable, then do another class, then finish off with abs. Each gym session would be about 3 hours long, and it’s hard even for me to believe that I did that, but I did! After a while my confidence in the gym skyrocketed and I booked a session with a personal trainer. At Exercise4less you could just put your name down for pt and then a trainer would contact you; I ended up with an ex-army sergeant who was very scary and big :0. He is someone that I would’ve never picked myself, but he showed me around the weights area where I had never been, and taught me some weighted exercises.
I changed my routine around and instead of going on the cardio equipment in between classes, I started to do just 1 class and then the exercises he taught me. This snowballed into me falling in love with weight training! I started talking to all the other people in the weights area and made friends (even though I was the only girl), and I don’t think I have ever loved the gym so much. I looked forward to going every day (yes 7 days a week), and it became my life.
Even though I was training and dancing every day, and burning a lot of calories, I believed (like a lot of girls), that I should eat less to maintain a small figure. Now that I was at a point of being comfortable in the gym I thought I would focus my attention on my diet, so I downloaded Myfitnesspal and started to track my food. I had not yet learned about calorie deficits or surplus’, so I just tried to eat as little as possible. It might be a shock to you all that know me now, as I love my food! But as a 16/17-year-old girl I really put my body through it. At one point my mum became concerned and took me to the doctors to get weighed and measured, and it makes me cringe writing this now, but I was quite happy when it measured me underweight. The doctor told us both that if I lost any more weight, then I would be getting referred. But I 100% did not want that label in college, and I avoided losing any more weight. It took a lot of years for me to become comfortable with eating and not feeling guilty or fat, and that is why now I am such an advocate of enjoying food guilt-free!
Being the only girl in the gym meant I would attract a lot of attention, good and bad (which is why I probably don’t bat an eyelid at men in the gym now). And part of this attention was being told that I should be entering bikini bodybuilding competitions. From what I know now, back then I should’ve never been considering competing in physique. I was not ready physically or mentally, but the encouragement spurred me on and I looked into it. This was only a few months before I was due to leave for university, and it came down to either going to uni in London or staying home and starting with a prep coach for a competition.
Now we all know what decision I made, and thank god I did. I wrestled with the idea of prepping for a show whilst studying my degree but decided that it would be too much of a commitment. During 1st year I battled again with over-exercising in the gym and dancing, and this time I BURNT out. So I made a decision to take some time off the gym during my 2nd year of uni, which demonstrates just how far I came from that 16-year-old who was addicted to the gym.
By the time I was comfortable in the gym again was just before 3rd year when I decided to do my first exercise qualification. Becoming qualified to teach people to train felt amazing, and I was hired by the university gym to run classes. In 3rd year I taught exercise classes and also decided to extend my knowledge in dance science and anatomy by writing my dissertation on something I felt passionate about, weight training. My dissertation title was “The effects of strength training and static stretching on passive and active hip range of motion in pre-professional contemporary dancers.” And I aimed to call b******t any dancer that said strength training had a negative effect on the body, and I did it. I received an almost perfect mark and my dissertation is what got me a first overall in my degree.
So after training all my life to become a professional dancer, I decided that my passion was elsewhere and I graduated straight into a job in the gym. Fast forward to now and I truly love my job. It’s been crazy writing this as I can remember my first few years in the gym, and I thought what I was doing was healthy and normal. But knowing what I know now, I was living with body dis-morphia and disordered eating, and I would have benefited from educated support.
However, everything in my life has led me to be the trainer/person I am today. I have been through good and bad times with the gym, and everything has been a lesson to help me develop. If you have resonated with anything in my story, or you know anyone that may be going/ gone through something like I have discussed, then please let me know, as I would love to chat with them.
If you stuck with it… thanks for reading!