PT Magazine piece: Women in fitness - where are they now?

From nutribullets and crossfit to Hollywood clothing lines and tough mudder. It’s now impossible to browse a magazine or an Instagram feed without encountering the photogenic world of fitness. This explosion in popularity means more people are now looking to earn their keep within the glamorous world of full-time fitness. “Why am I stuck shuffling papers for The Man in an office with no air conditioning when I could be out doing headstands in the hills of LA?” the thinking goes. But beneath the shiny, ab-laden exterior, what does a health and fitness career really look like? I caught up with three women making waves in their new profession to better understand the highs and lows that this industry holds in store for us all:   


Lettie King left the world of advertising to start pursuing two of her “life passions – health and fitness”. Disenchanted by the world of the hard sell, she’s now over a year qualified as a personal trainer, working for Fitness First, Tooley Street in London. Sick of bad bosses and “not being in charge” of her own time, she was convinced to run the “risk” of going self employed, even with the “unsteady” income that this entails. If her flourishing pre and postnatal training business is anything to go by, it was a decision well made. Lettie loves that she has the chance to “add strings to (her) bow”, constantly learning about how best to train her clients. Whilst she cites missing old colleagues and “dressing up” as drawbacks to personal training, with her sights squarely set on establishing her own studio and teaching at foreign retreats, she recognises this is a small price to pay.


After qualifying as a PT in 2014, Rachel Strefford has enjoyed something of a bumpy ride during her first year on the industry’s frontline. Increasingly disillusioned with her “9-9” in fashion, and having had PT brochures delivered to her desk since as early as 2006, Rachel resolved to finally make a change. “My office was making redundancies and it seemed like the right time to go, so I took advantage to study for the Advanced Level 3 diploma at the YMCA full time”. Setting aside her fears about being in her 30s in a traditionally younger working environment, “I thought I would work for a large gym and easily build a client base and be teaching within a month of leaving”. She got the job bit spot on, landing a position with LA Fitness straight after qualifying. Life with this big outlet was not all that she had hoped for, however. Rachel spent three gruelling months “slogging my guts out”, battling to pick up clients “up against 19 other trainers”. Quickly realising that this was not her path, she is candid when revealing her “temptation to go back to a permanent office job, especially when business is tough and clients come and go”. She has so far resisted these calls though, knowing that she is “only a year in and starting your own business takes time and patience.” Knocked off her initial path, Rachel - with support from her husband and family – has been strengthened by her setbacks. She has recalibrated her goals and her week is now filled with class teaching at North London’s awesome studio, HIIT Girl, where they have just appointed her as a ‘master trainer’.  


A couple of year’s more qualified than our other interviewees, Jo Beale’s journey from running a fitness clothing website to owning her own fitness studio owes more to chance than a passion for fitness per se. Her “accidental” transition began when she covered a class for a trainer, having started looking at class teaching to better understand her business’ target audience. It wasn’t long before she was convinced to give up her “old life” and she’s “never once been tempted to return to the 9-5”. Taking a total of 9 months to complete her studies part time, she gradually gave up the day job in order to start teaching more classes or to put private clients through their paces. Three and a half years and countless early mornings later, Jo has established and runs the fantastic Epicocity in Somerset’s buzzy Frome. Based in a large warehouse with rubber-tile clad flooring, it’s much more than your average gym. With a nod to all the latest fitness trends such as suspension training or HIIT classes, clients’ heart rates soar flipping tyres or swinging kettlebells at all hours of the day. Not satisfied with keeping Somerset residents in peak physical condition, she is now looking to expand her business’ holistic offering, “including more professionals from other areas in order to offer a better, more comprehensive service to (her) clients.”


The three ladies agree that the early mornings can be killer. “Sometimes at 6am, you just want a lie in” states Jo, bluntly. And at 5am, Lettie’s thoughts are often fixed upon “snoozing for an eternity”. Despite finishing top of her class and delivering some brilliant results for her current batch of clients, Rachel has struggled to establish a steady income through private client work. Whilst her “view of what I wanted to do when I started training is very different to now” this has clearly not impacted on her determination to “make it work”, and she is now looking to start teaching fitness courses.


Our interviewees may each have taken a very different path but their shared message is clear – fitness is not all Hollywood glamour. To make it in this profession, you need a combination of hard graft and steeled resolve. Plus an ability to rise and shine! If you're able to summon the requisite strength, the potential to lead a fast-paced, stimulating and varied career is unquestionably there.