IWD 2019: Women work in at the gym

8 March 2019

Photograph: Danielle Cerullo

“It’s 2019 and we are in the UK. There is no reason whatsoever for any woman to feel like she can’t or shouldn’t be in the gym.”

In 2018, there were 13,770 registered personal trainers in the UK. Once a luxury reserved for celebrities, the exercise experts are now fairly accessible to all. For International Women’s Day 2019, I caught up with Bonnie Bruce, 24, and Pamela Thomson, 36, two female PTs based in Glasgow. We chatted about the effects of Instagram, periods, and everything in between.

Video: Taylor Robertson

Firstly, what are your thoughts on International Women’s Day?

Bonnie

I think it’s important that we mark days like this, not only to create awareness about women’s rights and equality, but to celebrate all that it is to be a woman and to encourage that feeling of sisterhood amongst women, which I sometimes feel is lacking.

Pamela

For me, this is about women coming together and supporting each other rather than trying to be better than someone else. We are all on our own journey and at different stages of this and have different goals and outlooks, so it is important to remember this, give support and guidance where needed and let people do what makes them happy. I personally do not think that any gender is better and I think it’s important to get the message across for us all to be equal.

Photograph: Bonnie Bruce

Why did you become a personal trainer?

Pamela

There are a few reasons I wanted to become a PT – although I was in a very well-paid job, I hated it and all I thought about was my next gym session. People in my work always kept coming to me for advice on nutrition and exercise and being a single mum, I relied so much on my parents helping me with my son that I wanted to have a job more flexible that I could spend more time with him too. So, I finally decided to start working towards being able to do my dream job and it has been the best decision I have made.

Bonnie

I originally went to university and studied languages but fell in love with fitness and weight training halfway through my degree. I saw the amazing change it made in my life and realised I wanted to encourage other people to find that same self-love, strength and confidence that I got from it. It’s the absolute dream job and I am over the moon to finally be doing it.

Having never been sporty or involved in fitness until a few years ago, I never would have believed that this would be my dream job and that I would actually end up doing it. To look back on my own journey and see how far I’ve come from that very first day of setting foot in the gym (terrified!) to now is the most wonderful thing.

Photograph: Pamela Thomson

Do you think Instagram has had a positive impact on women’s fitness and confidence at the gym in recent years?

Pamela

I would say this is a difficult one to answer as it has positives and negatives – there is a lot of bullshit out there on Instagram and images of women that are completely unrealistic, especially to women who don’t have all day, every day to be spending hours in the gym. There are also lots of celebrities trying to make some extra cash by promoting so-called diet aids that are going to have you spending half the day on the toilet with the shits and then the following week you put all the weight back on! But there are women out there showing off their fat rolls when they sit down, their stretch marks and cellulite showing women that these are just a normal part of their body, and that is the type of message that is more positive. With the fitness/gym videos that women are showing, again a lot of these are unrealistic and most of those women are actually lifting heavy weights and not doing the silly little exercises they are showing you with a resistance band.

Bonnie

I think yes and no. Yes in that the sheer volume of fitness Instagram pages has made it far more normal to see women in the gym and lifting weights. This does however come at the expense of promoting yet another image of women to aspire to. While it’s great that we’ve moved away from the very dangerous “supermodel” standard, I still think it’s hugely damaging to promote any kind of body shape/size as an “ideal”, and I often feel that the Instagram fitness trend is leaning in that direction.

Photograph: Bonnie Bruce

Do you feel like the gym is a male-dominated space?

Pamela

I would say that certain parts of the gym are dominated by different genders – the weights area more male-dominated and classes are female-dominated. The reason for this though is that many women think that lifting weights is going to make them bulky when they just want to get ‘toned’. If we flipped it around, how many men do you think would feel comfortable going to a legs, bums and tums class that is female-dominated? It’s rare to get men in these classes and I personally love it when a guy does come along in the same way that I love to see a women stepping into the weights room full of men. And I would say male PTs help just as much as female PTs to get women into the male-dominated weights room. The only way I think to change this is to educate women more on the benefits of weight training and as PTs that is what we are trying to do.

Bonnie

Just like Pamela said, there are different areas of the gym which are usually dominated by males or females. Yes, the weights area tends to have more men in it than women, but this should never mean that women feel unwelcome. I find it funny that we don’t tend to notice gender as being something intimidating until we’re in a gym environment and suddenly find ourselves surrounded by lots of members of the opposite sex. Would that make you uncomfortable if you were at the cinema or in a restaurant? Probably not. So I think it’s just that old mindset of “the gym is for men” that we need to move away from, but we’re slowly getting there.

It’s 2019 and we are in the UK. There is no reason whatsoever for any woman to feel like she can’t or shouldn’t be in the gym. We don’t often hear about it because they don’t say it out loud, but a lot of males feel just as intimidated as women do in the gym and I think it’s important to point this out. Not only will it help other men feel less alone in that feeling, it will also show women that it’s not this horrible male-dominated place where they are not welcome and that it’s totally normal to feel a bit intimidated at first.

I would say the increase in female PTs is really helping. Even if they’re not your clients, I think other female members of the gym who are working out alone find it quite reassuring to see female PTs around them. I know I used to feel that way when I worked out. But I also really want to highlight the fact that the male PTs on my team are utterly fantastic with their female clients and get them all working out in the weights area, so it’s not just female PTs that are helping to make the change.

Photograph: Pamela Thomson

Bonnie, I’m a huge fan of your Instagram chats about training on your period. Do you think having more female PTs will normalise this?

Bonnie

I love to chat about periods in general because I find it ridiculous that we’re still treating it like a taboo topic. I don’t know if more female PTs will necessarily normalise this if people still aren’t talking openly about it and having those conversations. That’s why I open up the space on my social media to talk about topics like this because I get so many people coming to me saying they never feel they can talk about their periods. I don’t know how my male colleagues handle this topic but it’s something I’d encourage all coaches to do. As a personal trainer you need to know exactly what is going on with your clients at all times so you can give them the appropriate service and advice, and I think it’s extremely important that the menstrual cycle be included in the conversation.

Pamela

I think that the messages Bonnie chats about are very important and great to get out in the open to discuss. Like Bonnie has mentioned though, every woman is different and gets different symptoms so you really need to get to know your clients individually and would need to work with them for a while to be able to incorporate this in their training plans. My male colleagues too are aware of the differences of men and women and again, it comes from experience and getting to know each individual client.

To keep up-to-date with Bonnie and Pamela, you can find them on Instagram at @bonnie_bfit and @pt_squared2.

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