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Tania's
Story

I love weight training because of the feeling of power and strength that comes with good lifting techniques.

When I was a child, there were far fewer sporting opportunities for girls than boys. I do think childhood experience is a significant factor in how active women are when they are older. I was lucky that I swam a few times a week, having been taught by my mum at a young age and I was a strong swimmer as a result. But I always had in my mind that I wasn’t “good” at any other sport from my school PE experience, where I was always one of the last chosen for a team.

So as I grew up, I thought swimming was the only sport I could do, which caused a problem once I started working and lost the flexibility to be able to fit in visits to a pool.

Tania lifting a barbell weight in the gym

I have been lucky to have enjoyed a successful professional career but I was always busy, working long hours. Even before I had my children, I never seemed to find the time to exercise. Ironically, knowing what I know now about how sport helps mental health, I would certainly have coped a lot better with the demands of professional life had I been able to fit exercise in. The problem was, the more senior I got, the greater the demands on my time became and consequently the less time I had for exercise.

When I was a child, there were far fewer sporting opportunities for girls than boys. I do think childhood experience is a significant factor in how active women are when they are older. I was lucky that I swam a few times a week, having been taught by my mum at a young age and I was a strong swimmer as a result. But I always had in my mind that I wasn’t “good” at any other sport from my school PE experience, where I was always one of the last chosen for a team.

So as I grew up, I thought swimming was the only sport I could do, which caused a problem once I started working and lost the flexibility to be able to fit in visits to a pool.

I have been lucky to have enjoyed a successful professional career but I was always busy, working long hours. Even before I had my children, I never seemed to find the time to exercise.

Ironically, knowing what I know now about how sport helps mental health, I would certainly have coped a lot better with the demands of professional life had I been able to fit exercise in. The problem was, the more senior I got, the greater the demands on my time became and consequently the less time I had for exercise.

My first pregnancy in 2008 was straightforward. I stayed healthy and I managed to walk a lot, though I didn’t do anything more strenuous due to a busy job. My second pregnancy (2014) was difficult. I had pelvic girdle dysfunction and was in a lot of pain. I could barely walk up the road. After my second daughter was born in the summer of 2014, I knew something had to change.

At the end of 2014, I worked up the courage to try some classes in the gym, and one of them was a weights class. I will always remember the first time I got to the studio door. I thought it all looked so scary that I was too terrified to join the class and I turned around and went home! But the next time I got there early, went in and tried to hide at the back. Instantly, I loved moving and lifting the weights to the music. Gradually I worked up more and more courage and pushed myself a bit harder in each class. I had a phenomenal (female) instructor who really backed me and kept encouraging me. After about 18 months of just “going with the flow”, I decided to really push myself. It was a strange but liberating feeling to know I was pushing myself despite the fear of failure. In other words, I knew I probably couldn’t lift a particular weight on the bar for the whole track but I did it anyway, even if it meant pausing or reducing the weight halfway through. I gradually increased my weights and I also started doing a few cardio-based classes (spin and so on). The transformation was massive, my strength and cardio fitness improved and (unbelievably to me) I was being told by other women that I was an “inspiration”.

That was late 2016 and I haven’t looked back, despite my job changing a few times and the pandemic getting in the way. Though the mix of activities I do has varied, I’ve got past the block in my head that used to keep me from trying things (that fear of “failure”) and now I’d back myself to succeed in any kind of exercise, though I am sure it is true that people have a natural disposition towards some things over others. (I’m much more of an endurance athlete than a sprinter, for example).

I still do weight training and this is my biggest love. There is nothing for me that beats the feeling of power and strength from lifting a bar with excellent technique. Now I regularly outlift the men (which they are generally very gracious about!). I also do different cardio classes, including spin, HIIT and so on, though I chop and change these for some variety.

I have also learnt to climb, which again I loved for the balance of risk and technique, although I had to take a break when my job changed and I couldn’t get to the wall regularly. But I will take this back up again when my kids are older.

Tania climbing

During the pandemic I started running, partly to maintain my own sanity when gyms were closed and partly to keep my older daughter active and help her with her own pandemic-related mental health challenges. We enjoy Parkrun when we can make it and I also run socially with a local running club, as well as for charity challenges with one of my employers (who regularly raise funds for The Prince’s Trust). My daughter incidentally has fallen in love with running and now trains with an athletics club and regularly competes in biathlons. This is a child who back in November 2020 (lockdown #2) wouldn’t run more than 15 minutes. She didn’t want to push herself for fear of “failing”. Facing that fear and pushing herself in spite of it has been a huge step for her.

The other new activity I have taken up is football coaching. I know very little about football other than what I have gleaned from TV and have certainly never played. But my younger daughter started playing in a local girls’ team, where coaching and admin are all provided by parents. Until I got involved, the coaches were all dads. It is lovely to see men inspired to pass on their own childhood love of football to their daughters. But I felt it was important to show the girls that mums do sport as well, to give them a female role model on the pitch. And I also think a mum brings a slightly different set of softer skills to managing a children’s group, complimenting what the awesome group of dads brings. So I’m on a very steep learning curve of my own in terms of football but it’s hugely rewarding to see the girls enjoying themselves in the fresh air and playing what – until only very recently – was considered a “boys’ sport”. I hope that my involvement plays a small part in inspiring the next generation of young women to believe there is always a place for them in sport.

I prioritise weight training, that’s my “thing”. So I always try to build my week around 2 weights sessions if I can.

I’m flexible on everything else. Some weeks I can manage a spin class, other weeks I might do an extra run or go for a swim whilst I’m waiting at my daughter’s swim class. Running is of course more flexible because you’re not constrained by a gym timetable.

Tania running outdoors with her daughter

My club running and football coaching and the occasional swim are built around my daughters’ timetables. I go running as I drop my older daughter to her track training; I do football coaching with my younger daughter (which involves running around on the pitch with the kids and tracking down all the stray footballs!) and I sometimes grab a quick swim as my younger daughter is at her swim class.

As a general point, I would say that seeking out exercise opportunities alongside the kids’ activities is really helpful, even if it’s just going jogging around a pitch whilst they play – it means they are doing what they want. I find a way to be active at the same time, instead of hanging around waiting for them.

I love weight training because of the feeling of power and strength that comes with good lifting techniques.

Solid technique is what enables heavier lifting, making the amazing machine that is your body stronger by working in the way it was designed to.

I have also gained a huge amount of self-confidence since I took up weight training because I have had to push myself to try something, knowing there is a real risk I would “fail”.

But that doesn’t matter. In fact, it made me consider what “failure” really is. I concluded that trying a weight and not being able to lift it wasn’t a failure at all, it was simply pushing a boundary further than I had before, which is sure to be commended. This had made me much more confident in other situations where I might “fail”, like speaking up (and getting shot down!) in a work meeting for example. I think men are much less worried by such “failures”, whereas girls are often conditioned not to offend or speak out of turn. So by redefining “failure”, I have seen considerably more success in my professional life. Admittedly it is also very pleasant to succeed in a sporting discipline (weight training) which is usually thought of as the preserve of men. Women can be strong too and I’m proud when a woman in the gym tells me I am an inspiration to them – in fact, many men come up to me and tell me they wish they were as strong as me!

I would say that discovering weight training has not only helped me to get fitter and deal with stress in my professional life, it has also made me much more confident as well and that in turn has led me to push onwards in my career in a way that I wouldn’t have dared to before.

Finally, I have to say I absolutely love seeing the faces of the girls at football when they have enjoyed their session and they finish buzzing and excited to come back the next week. I feel I am making a small – but hopefully very real – difference to the lives of the next generation of young women by giving them a positive sporting experience that will hopefully cement their love of sport at a young age.

Covid constrained me, as I’m sure it did everyone else. I tried to do home workouts, with a variety of household objects as substitutes for weights but I didn’t enjoy it much. I missed the buzz of gym classes and the people I know there. Plus there’s only so much benefit from lifting cans of baked beans!

The silver lining was that I took up running, along with my older daughter, who has gone on to take her running more seriously with a running club and biathlon competitions. I imagine she will look back on the pandemic as a turning point for her in sport, in that she faced down fear of a sport she had previously imagined she wouldn’t be good at, did it anyway and turned out to be rather good indeed!