The 40+ body in the fitness business

I am, apparently, recognisable by my shoulders. This is according to the film crew at Troy TV who drove up behind me on the way to a shoot and spotted me by this rather well developed part of my anatomy. People usually recognise me by my bum but, hey, things change…

As a personal trainer, I’ve realised that people comment on my body more than they used to. I wasn’t offended by the point about my shoulders: in fact, even my clients are becoming recognisable by their unique shoulder definition! However, in an age where body comparison and paranoia  is rife thanks to social media – see my earlier post on this one – I feel even more under scrutiny being a fitness professional, especially being over 40. I guess people see the body of a trainer as a useful point of comparison for their own development, although I do occasionally get people asking how the ‘bodybuilding’ is going, with a bit of a smirk,  or men telling me that having muscles is ‘unfeminine’. I thought we were beyond all of that, but apparently not.

It’s my job to be fit and have a body that looks that way; I have to be a good advertisement for my job. Instagram is full of photos of young trainers baring their six packs, vascular thighs and bulging biceps, but are they the appropriate criteria on which to judge how well they can train a client, and not just themselves? Can they adapt their training to suit someone with far less ambitious body goals? I don’t have a six pack but am in good shape for a 45 year old. However, part of me still remains a little pressured by the fitness industry norms to get leaner so that I ‘look like a trainer’.

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With the right lighting and from a good angle, I can Insta with the best of them but I have to remind myself of two things when I start all the negative comparisons: one, I’m 45 not 25, and two, being a good personal trainer is more about being a good coach than having a great body (and who decides what a great body looks like?) and that coaching is what I do best.

Personal trainers and fitness models are not the same thing, although social media may convince you otherwise. My body helps to sell my business but what keeps my clients with me is my ability to build a strong working relationship with them. My goals are not your goals. Training myself is not an indicator that I can also train you.

My job is to help you identify your fitness targets and motivate you to achieve them with my skills and knowledge base. My formerly unhealthy past of being chronically ill and a bit chubby actually helps me work more effectively with my clients, as I know how hard it is to make a change. And being older? I’ve been around the block many times so when clients need to unload about their personal life (if you’re thinking about becoming a trainer, sharpen up your counselling skills because it’s not all about reps and sets) I’m sympathetic and pretty unshockable.

I’m already planning ahead for my future career as I have a limited time frame as to how long my body will be able to work at such physical intensity. I have an appointment with my physio this week to sort out a range of aches and pains. Switching to a more coaching-led practice is one way forward, as is specialising in working with an older age group. I’ve also just started a course that will qualify me as a specialist in corrective exercise, as I want to deepen my anatomical knowledge and I enjoy the challenge of working with clients with postural issues and injuries – that would be most of you!

For now, I’m working on myself to stay healthy and fit so that I can enjoy my job, and to make progress with my own strength goals. We have to look inside and focus on what we want to achieve for ourselves, not to fit other people’s conceptions of how our bodies should look. So for anyone who has been called unfeminine, too muscly, too skinny, too big or too much of anything – screw ’em. Do the best for you, right now, to get yourself one step closer to whatever you are trying to achieve: a pull up, a Parkrun, a walk around the block without getting out of breath. And, if you need a motivational trainer with a sympathetic ear who’s already been there, you know where to come…

www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk

www.befitbristolfit.com

 

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The dangers of comparison & how to love where you’re at right now

When I flick through social media feeds like Instagram, something that brings me up short a lot of the time is how young a lot of fitness and diet gurus are these days. I know – patronising, much? Not at all. I’m not out to denigrate young people – they can’t help being in their 20s as much as I can help being middle aged, apparently – but it’s easy to forget that even as a personal trainer I’m not going to look like the youthful Clean Eating Alice or Madeleine Shaw, lovely as they are, so comparing my abs to theirs is really a pointless exercise, especially if it makes me feel dissatisfied with my body.  By the time you’re over 40, your hormones not only encourage your body to lay down abdominal fat but they also increase your appetite to make weight control even harder. Bastards.

Comparing ourselves to what we see on social media is endemic and also useless. We all know very well that what we post is the result of many attempts at getting the perfect angle on a selfie (I have a short body and long legs so I angle carefully rather than go straight on and look like a dumpy midget in yoga pants) and, while I may feel 25 in my head, there’s no getting away from the fact that the bod is genuinely 45. Like most women my age, I am far from cellulite free, have surgery scars, visible veins… I could go on. And it gets really hard to keep things in perspective if you spend as much time on social media as I have to while promoting my business. Because I have such a young face, I’m convinced people will think I’ve let myself go rather than than realise I’m doing bloody well for 45!

The thing is, though, I wouldn’t go back to my 20s if you paid me. I was focused on my burgeoning academic career, ate crap, hardly moved except to get more food or to walk to the pub because I was sat on my ass writing my PhD, suffered from depression, was stressed to all hell with frequent anxiety attacks and had all the energy of a sloth. I was about a size 12-14, far too big for my small frame and looked pretty dead behind the eyes.

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When I look at this photo (taken when I was around 28) all I remember is how unhappy I was with pretty much everything in my life at that time. I lacked any self-confidence and had zero drive to change. I wouldn’t mind the thicker hair back, but that’s about it!

So while I might admire the bodies of the twenty-something Insta-pundits, I am happy to wear the literal and figurative scars of the 40+ fittie because I have the confidence, spirit and independence that only comes with age. Older women are still so undervalued in our culture that no one really shouts about how ageing might make staying fit that much more of a challenge but that it absolutely equips you not to give a f**k. I have become much better over the years at saying ‘no’, challenging unfairness and inequality, and simply going my own sweet way.

This photo was only taken a few weeks ago but I love the energy and sass I have in my life right now:

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And do you know what else I like about my age? That it makes me better at my job. Whatever coaching work I’m doing, whether it’s fitness, nutrition or helping someone making a career change, I can empathise better with my clients because I’ve been there. I’m not a young trainer who has always been lean, fit and untroubled by major life challenges.

So, if you’re browsing online and feeling like you’re over the hill and in a slow decline, stop it! You can only appreciate where you are now when you stop and look back at how far you’ve come.  This is why I look at old chubster photos when I’m being picky about my abs/legs/whatever and am hugely grateful that I made a change, got my life together and am old enough to appreciate what I learned from the process.