International Women’s Day 2019

It’s International Women’s Day.

To me today appears to have different meanings for different people.  For some today is about celebrating the achievements made towards gender equality whilst acknowledging there is still work to do and working towards changing that.

For others it’s a day where we all tag other women on Social Media in a show of solidarity.  Nothing wrong with that, it’s nice to support and acknowledge the people in your life you admire and appreciate.

But why don’t we make a choice to do that not just today but for the next 364 days of the year.  If someone deserves recognition give it, if someone needs support offer it.  ‘Strong women fix each others crowns’ and other such quotes don’t have to be confined to today (or the days following a break up).  Next week or next month when you find yourself thinking something judgmental or bitchy about someone (be honest, no matter how kind you are generally we all do it sometimes) stop yourself, re-frame your thoughts and return to the positive female empowerment expressed today.

And take a moment away from all the tagging today to consider the theme of this year’s IWD (every year there is a specific focus) #BalanceForBetter. Working towards gender balance.  What can we all do within our own ecosystems to work towards gender equality, today and everyday?

And Gender Balance – that means it requires men’s input too.

IWD used to annoy me because I viewed it as limiting the importance of half the population to one day.  Now I see it as a chance to refocus our understanding on how we interact with one another both female to female and female to male and use that understanding every day.

P.s. To all the companies who use taglines about female empowerment and strong women today whilst promoting an unrealistic and unhealthy ideal of women the rest of the year.  Shame on you.

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day.

I have mixed feelings.

On the plus side it’s a day to celebrate the women who have campaigned and fought for women like me to have opportunities and rights my mother and grandmother didn’t. This is great.

On the other hand- the fact that a group of people that make up around 50% of the population still need a ‘day’ to recognise and promote them is, in my view, a little sad. If we have International Women’s Day does that mean the other 364 days are Men’s days?

But I digress, this blog isn’t about politics or social awareness, it’s about fitness. So today in the spirit of International Women’s Day I want to write about women in the gym. Or more specifically my experience in the gym.

Five years ago, when I first started going to the gym, it was to attend Group Exercise classes. These felt ‘safe’ in comparison to the main gym space. There was someone there to tell me what to do, the moves were modified, everyone does the same thing and the space felt like a cocoon. I went into the gym areas too of course – PT sessions, occasionally training alone but always felt like a bit of a fraud. This is stupid really- my technique is OK but I lacked the confidence that I was doing the ‘right’ things.

In the last year I’ve started taking my own training, away from classes and teaching, more seriously. I’m focused. I have a plan of action. I know what I want to do and the reasons I am doing it. I’ve learnt new things. This change in training has meant getting comfortable in the gym itself and the area I struggled to enter the most was the weights room.

I always felt like the weights room was a male domain – the feeling as you appraoch a squat rack that you are encroaching on a space which is not for you. I really only felt comfortable if I was with someone else (and by that I really mean a male). From talking to other females I suspect many others have these thoughts. Some of the men who use these spaces do appear to actively discourage newcomers (it’s like the opposite of the group ex studio). However, I wanted to lift weights and so needed to get over this feeling.

Several months in and I now feel confident in the weights area of any gyms. Now I see that whilst I may be lifting less than (some of) the men in there my technique is ok – perhaps better than some and I have have just as much right to use a squat rack (even when the room is busy) as anyone else. Sometimes people will even smile at you, the other day someone asked me to spot them.

What changed to allow this to happen? Essentially nothing except my mindset. My confidence increased. Now when women ask me about training as we chat after classes, I encourage them not to be intimidated by the weights in the gym and to get in there and just have a go. Classes are a great tool for training and conditioning (and a brilliant starting point- Body Pump for instance will give you a grounding in various moves you can replicate in the gym) but I strongly believe that lifting heavy things should be an important part of all training programmes too.

How does this link to International Women’s Day? Well I guess it shows that for many women there are still barriers in all sorts of aspects of life. We don’t have equality. It’s a sad fact. BUT… It also shows that SOME of those barriers can sometimes be self imposed – my fear of the weights area was mainly in my head – so as much as there are still lots of inequalities that we need to fight against, we also need to realise that we hold the power to move forward and grow.

That applies to men as much as women to be honest. So I’ll finish as I started.

International Women’s Day.

I have mixed feelings.