Meet the Women’s Health Collective experts, your PTs in your pocket

At Women’s Health, we’ve been championing women in fitness for over a decade – and right now feels like a moment. Our particular health needs – and how they affect our fitness regimens – have never been so in the spotlight. Whether that’s exercising with endometriosis, returning to fitness post-baby or future-proofing your body during menopause. Chief among those spearheading change are our Women’s Health Collective experts. While their approaches differ, they share a common goal: to change the way you sweat. As the Women’s Health app lands on iPhone and Android, let’s meet the women set to transform your workouts…India Morse India is a deaf PT who runs the inclusive fitness account @youleanmeup. Her mission? To ensure that everyone feels welcome in fitness spaces. Fair warning, her workoutsaren’t for the faint of heart… I’ve always been sporty. At school, I played defence in the football team and loved taking part in races on sports day. Stepping into the adult world, there were too many distractions, so exercise took a back seat in my life. In the end, I came back to it after experiencing heartbreak. I knew I needed to channel my energy somewhere, so I signed up to the gym. I fell in love with exercise, but my journey went the same way as many other women’s. I focused too much on cardio – overtraining and under- eating. At one point, I was doing two classes a day and refusing to eat out with friends, as I was worried it would ruin my progress. Before long, the people close to me stopped inviting me to plans; they knew I’d always choose the gym over them. The repercussions were significant; I lost my period for six years – my body’s extreme response to an equally extreme routine. I realised things had gone too far when a man approached me in the gym to ask what I was training for. I realised the answer was… nothing. I had no reason to be pushing my body so hard. I was spending my life in the gym and missing out on time with the people I loved. Since then, I’ve scaled back on HIIT, started lifting heavy and prioritised my health; for me, that looks like eating and resting more. And I feel amazing for it. I trained as a PT to share this message, but also because the deaf community needs better access to fitness. As a deaf woman, I used to hide in the corner of the gym, unable to talk to anyone. I didn’twant to use my voice because I worried about what people would think. Because there are so few deaf personal trainers to help educate the deaf community, a lot of us struggle in classes and lack the confidence to go to sessions alone. Now, I sign away and don’t care who watches me – but having been through it myself, I’d never want that for someone else. WORDS OF WISDOM: To achieve anything, you have to be challenged – and that’s what my workouts are designed for. You can only grow from a place of discomfort and pushing yourself is the only way to improve your performance. Amanda Ngonyama Amanda competed in national netball competitions with her school before studying sports science, becoming a PE teacher, then an athlete-turned- ambassador for Under Armour. You’ll find her teaching punchy HIIT circuits where all levels are welcome.When my netball team unexpectedly started soaring up the league, we decided to start training properly so we’d be more capable on the court. I was 14 and didn’t know what I was doing in the gym. But those sessions spent rowing and lifting dumbbells ignited a spark in me that’s been there ever since. Because of that school netball club, I went on to train as a PE teacher and personal trainer. I loved seeing people become new versions of themselves – and knowing it was me who helped them get there. And because I love learning about the body, I also studied sports science. It was during this time that I took my own training to the next level. With my head in the research, I became my own guinea pig – and learning that adaptations come from pushing your body past its limit, I started to do just that. Most of us stop as soon as something gets hard. But as long as you’re not in physical pain, pushing yourself outside your comfort zone is where the real magic happens. Being able to do that is as much about mindset as it is physical strength, which is why both are important ingredients in my training. But, crucially, pushing myself is never about physique; you won’t catch me telling you to train in a certain way to make your abs ‘pop’. Instead, my approach is rooted in building the functionality, mobility, strength and fitness you need to perform tasks well – and withstand challenges. Sharing that approach with the people I train is what makes this work worth it. Movement is my first love – and I want everyone to experience the exhilarating feeling of building a stronger body. WORDS OF WISDOM: Your body will follow your mind’s instructions. That’s why positive self- talk matters. I tell myself, ‘You don’t stop when you’re tired, you can stop when you’re finished.’ Michelle Griffith-RobinsonMichelle is an Olympian, PT and ambassador for charities including Diabetes UK – and your new motivation master.I’m an Olympian, so it’s no surprise that I found sport from a young age. I was 12 when I went down to the running track for the first time. There, I discovered a love of athletics, along with running, jumping and throwing. In the years that followed, I became the first woman in the Commonwealth to jump over 14m and, 12 years after turning up to that running track, I was part of Team GB at the 1996 Olympic Games. I had an illustrious career as a triple jumper, but when my funding was stopped three years after the games, I was forced to change tack. When I re-evaluated my life, the only thing that made sense to me was encouraging other people to move. I did a personal training diploma and started to establish my coaching business alongside my training before retiring from sport in 2006. Even when I was an Olympian out training on the track, I couldn’t wait to get into the gym and lift some weights. I loved feeling my body grow stronger, but it’s the sheer range of health benefits that strength training delivers that makes it the focus of my approach in both my own training and with my clients. As a perimenopausal woman, I encourage everyone to build muscle to protect againstthe physiological effects of declining oestrogen. But I know that’s easier said than done: when I hit midlife, my energy levels and motivation for training dipped. It was only having training as part of my routine already that helped me show up to sessions on days when moving my body was the last thing I wanted to do. Around the same time, I learned that I had pre- diabetes – a diagnosis that meant I was more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, which runs in my family. In the years since, I’ve managed to reverse the condition through diet and exercise, but having regular health checks has become more important to me than ever. This, more than anything, is what I want women in midlife to know: it might rail against your instincts to put yourself first, but when it comes to your health, you have to. WORDS OF WISDOM: Switch things up. People lose motivation because they do the same thing for years. Adding something new to your training every six weeks keeps things fresh. I add Pilates exercises to challenge my body. Sanchia Legister Sanchia is the force behind Yogahood – an organisation using yoga to create community and connection. Her classes run the gamut from dynamic flows to restorative practices.I dipped a tentative toe into yoga in my teenage years, but I didn’t connect with it. It wasn’t until I started running in my twenties, when I felt like something was missing from my routine – not just physically, but spiritually – that I found my way back to yoga. I trained to become an instructor myself because I was frustrated with the lack of diversity in the yoga world. A lot of the disconnect I felt was because my instructor lacked rapport – and it’s a lesson that’s informed my own approach. I went on to create my community, Yogahood, as a way to welcome more people into the practice. It’s so important for me to bring some warmth and connection to the mat. Yoga is a serious practice, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Lots of people turn up to yoga feeling like they lack something: they’re not flexible enough, athletic enough, spiritual enough. I believe you should be able to turn up to your mat as you are and the practice and instructor should meet you there. (A banging playlist helps, too). There’s a lot I’m still trying to change about the way yoga is packaged. I work with runners who don’t want to stretch, then end up with an injury. That’s where yoga can be invaluable: it can help you better perform the things you love. Things are changing for the better; I love that wellbeing practices are being more widely adopted. I hope I’m playing a part in that shift. WORDS OF WISDOM: Know that just laying out your mat and showing up is huge, especially when life is busy. In my classes, I try to create a supportive, welcoming environment where you can feel grounded and present.Izy George Izy was a dancer before becoming a PT and co-founding the fitness platform Grndhouse. She’s passionate about guiding women into the weights room. Expect classes to help you build progressive strength.Growing up, I played a lot of sport – netball, football, swimming – but dance was the thing that stuck. I even went on to train as a dancer, before realising stage life wasn’t for me. The relentlessness of auditioning with no promise of a job makes it an extremely cut-throat industry – and my mental health suffered. In fitness, I found an outlet for that stress, but I also found a more welcoming world. Rather than one person winning the job, it felt like an area where all of us could thrive in our lanes. Ultimately, I made a choice to follow what was making me happy – and that was making a go of it in the fitness industry. After retraining as a PT, I landed a job at Barry’s Bootcamp and my first few years were focused on high-intensity workouts and cardio. But it was turning my attention to strength WORDS OF WISDOM: Finding an environment where you can thrive is key for women. I love to lift weights, but nailing my first pull-up is the exercise achievement I’m most proud of. Sophie Lait Sophie’s MO is helping you feel good in your body by finding a form of movement that brings you joy. She’s here to help you build a stronger mind-body connection and use exercise to overcome any insecurities.Like many women, I found fitness as a way to punish myself and lose as much weight as possible. It worked, but I paid a price. I developed a problematic relationship with food that, in hindsight, I recognise as an eating disorder. What I thought was me being my best self was obsessive – and deeply unhealthy. My relationship with food improved when I changed my environment, spending time in the US and working as a fitness coach with young girls. But just when I was doing better, aged 24, I started experiencing symptoms of endometriosis – a condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. The excruciating pain meant I was unable to exercise, and I ended up putting on weight. This moment marked the start of a changing relationship with my body. It didn’t happen overnight; it was a slow process of coming to terms with both my body and my illness. With time, I realised I could either resent my body or accept it. I chose the latter. I still suffer with symptoms of endometriosis daily; around my period, the pain is so shocking all I can do is curl up in a ball. But having a good relationship with my body means I can give it what it needs, whether that’s rest and a hot water bottle or a gentle workout. Today, my confidence ebbs and flows, but movement never fails to help. It’s this learning that informed my decision to become a PT. I wanted to help other women feel confident not just moving their bodies, but taking up space. My mind-body connection is the thing that needs the most nurturing and I take a holistic approach to it. I prioritise sleep and tune into my energy levels and mood; taking these small, intentional actions, in turn, gives me more self- compassion around my fitness routine and body image. More than anything, I know that I don’t have to be perfect – there’s no such thing; all we can do is try our best. Growing up, I played a lot of sport – netball, football, swimming – but dance was the thing that stuck. I even went on to train as a dancer, before realising stage life wasn’t for me. The relentlessness of auditioning with no promise of a job makes it an extremely cut-throat industry – and my mental health suffered. In fitness, I found an outlet for that stress, but I also found a more welcoming world. Rather than one person winning the job, it felt like an area where all of us could thrive in our lanes. Ultimately, I made a choice to follow what was making me happy – and that was making a go of it in the fitness industry. After retraining as a PT, I landed a job at Barry’s Bootcamp and my first few years were focused on high-intensity workouts and cardio. But it was turning my attention to strength training that changed my perspective. Counting out the number of reps and seeing tangible results felt empowering – a world away from the one I grew up in. Sessions left me feeling focused and confident; for the first time, I began to embrace my athletic physique – and feel proud of what my body could do. It’s the reason I feel so passionate about helping other women find this form of movement. During lockdown, I launched the Grndhouse app as a space to help everyone fall in love with lifting weights. That anyone can do it makes it a powerful health habit; one that leaves you feeling accomplished. WORDS OF WISDOM: Find your ‘why’. Are you moving your body and fuelling it positively, or as a means to punish yourself? This question is so important for fostering a better relationship with fitness.Rosie Stockley Rosie trained as a dancer and choreographer before retraining as a PT and founding the fitness platform Mamawell. She teaches a variety of disciplines from HIIT to barre. As a professional dancer, movement has always been my passion. I was doing ballet, modern and tap dance from the age of eight and was lucky enough to pursue dancing as a career. It was an interest in supporting my body to perform optimally on stage that led to a curiosity about how the body functions – and I ended up qualifying as a PT. The training was tough: I went from performing in theatres to sweating it out on the gym floor. But while I loved learning about strength and form, it was becoming pregnant – and realising how little information there was about staying fit and strong – that led me to where I am today. Back then, there were yoga classes and remedial offerings, but my clients wanted to do triathlons and keep on lifting heavy. At the same time, so much of the language around motherhood and fitness was rooted in ‘bouncing back’ – none of it was acknowledging the amazing feat your body performs during pregnancy and childbirth. I wanted to change that. My approach is rooted in an understanding that women are busy; my clients tend to be multitaskers who are always ‘on’. When they arrive on the mat, I want them to leave all that behind so they can focus on what their body needs. That’s why it’s so important for me to always explain the ‘why’ behind movement. I’ll never tell you to ‘do 10 squats’. Instead, I’ll tell you what to think about, how to engage your muscles and the benefits of performing the movement. It’s a more mindful way of exercise – one that brings it back to you. WORDS OF WISDOM: Your workout is one of the only times that you gain energy in a world where being a good person is about giving to others. Focus on mindful movement to connect with yourself and finish every workout feeling energised. Saima Husain Saima is a PT who works with clients to kick-start their movement journey and build confidence inside and out of the gym.When I was a kid, movement was all about having fun and being part of a team. But growing up and having children of my own meant that part of my life was sidelined, and my fitness journey didn’t pick back up until I started dating a PT. Thrust into the fitness industry, my relationship with exercise became about changing my body. I developed insecurities – and started pushing myself to compete with other women. When I left that relationship, a healthier version of me flourished. I started slowly, first by walking on the treadmill, then built up my confidence enough to enter the weights room. Strength training taught me so much, but mainly it put the fun back into my training. It’s also helped me build a body that lets me do the things I love, like running and playing with my kids. Today, I’m a firm believer that you don’t need to be in a pool of sweat in order for exercise to ‘count’ or be good for you. I qualified as a trainer to help other women learn that exercise can help you grow muscle, but it can also help you grow as a person. I love teaching women in the gym and via my partnership with SportsShoes and Adidas, where I help women through a running and training programme. Seeing people find the courage to push through the mental barriers that stopped them in the beginning is the best part of the job. Some of my clients have even been inspired to train as PTs themselves. WORDS OF WISDOM: If you find your environment is keeping you small, change it. To help me stop viewing exercise as punishment, I moved to a different gym. The first step is to recognise what’s holding you back.

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