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Michelle Bridges on women in the health and fitness industry

In celebration of the International Women’s Day theme, #EmbraceEquity, I wanted to share with you some of my experiences around being a woman in the health and fitness industry.

As a lot of you know, I’ve been in the industry for a VERY long time. It’s safe to say I’ve seen a lot, especially when it comes to women in the health and fitness industry. I’m talking about fitness trends, fashion, and workouts!

I sometimes think back to the days when I was a 14 year old girl, teaching unqualified classes to my school mates and then to adults at the local squash centre and think, wow! Something that you just couldn’t get away with today! From this age, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. Boy, did I have my work cut out for me!

The fitness industry then

Being a woman in health and fitness has been an interesting ride. It’s no doubt that things were different back in the day. When I officially got my qualifications at 18 years old, there were women in the industry but many of the management positions and gym owners were male dominated.

We slowly started to see that change, as more incredible women were moving up the ranks within some of the bigger fitness club chains. More women also started to break out and start their own PT businesses. Me being one of them!

It was also really common that male trainers were getting a higher pay. There was a time when I had to negotiate getting better money if I could bring in the most people! I started bringing in more than 100 people to my classes. I felt like that was my superpower to increase my rate, so you know damn well I was going to get those people through the door!

As a young woman in the health and fitness industry in the 80s and 90s, it was really easy not to be taken seriously. After all, the fitness industry was not what it is today and it felt like I was looked down on sometimes for what I did as a living.

I had to prove to people that I wasn’t just a piggy tale girl wearing aerobics gear!

This was a huge driver for me. I needed to prove them all wrong. I look back now, and I’m really grateful for those experiences because they’ve made me who I am and gave me fuel to keep going.

As instructors, we all used cassette tapes (great when one got chewed) and moved on top carrying around our CDs! It wasn’t until I took a trip as a Master Trainer with Les Mills to Singapore and came back with this magical thing called an IPOD! Gamer changer! We also didn’t wear fitness clothing like the uniform that it is today! We really were rocking those crazy outfits!

In the 80’s and early 90’s, women who trained at the gym were always focussed on doing cardio. Almost all the women were on the treadmills, the bikes, the ellipticals.

You just didn’t see that many of us girls in the weights area, so that was a challenge I wanted to take on!

Women were scared of getting ‘big muscles’. It felt like I had to unchain them from the equipment and get them into the weights room. You’d hear me protesting, ‘but weights are the fountain of youth’!

The fitness industry now

Nowadays, I feel like women really understand and see the benefits of lifting weights and the stigma, I believe, is gone.

It makes me smile seeing women of all ages lifting weights (even my mum). If you have the ability to, you really should be doing some form of strength training so your muscles, bones and mind stays strong and healthy!

Pilates and yoga has been around for ages, however, in the last decade, there’s definitely been a resurgence and now there are a plethora of ways you can do these classes, making it easily accessible for almost all women. You’ve got reformer pilates, mat pilates, hot yoga, at home yoga, group yoga classes. The list is endless!

When I first started 12WBT more than a decade ago, we were the first of our kind. No one was doing online training, I even had people saying to me that it wouldn’t work. Now, it’s a sea of online training with different programs and female coaches.

With these online programs such as 12WBT and moments in time such as Covid, I’ve noticed more women wanting to take charge of their health and fitness through online programs and at home workouts. Women’s mindsets are changing around health and fitness, for the better.

When I reflect back to when I first started out, now it feels so much more like it’s the norm to do some form of exercise. 

Things I’ve learnt

Being a woman in the health and fitness industry and in business for over 30+ years, you could say I’ve seen and learned alot. 

Firstly, never allow anyone to underestimate you, especially yourself. Let any of those emotions be your fighting fuel. 

Secondly, learn your craft, hone your skills and don’t stop learning. Someone can always teach you something.

Lastly, know your people. The ones who you train or come to your classes. Grassroots is a precious commodity, it’s where the best lessons come from. Do the time.

Go get ’em ladies! You’ve got this!

Mish xx

Feel inspired to transform your health but not sure where to start? Visit my programs page to find the right plan for you.

RELATED: Listen to my podcast – ‘How I pioneered the way of online fitness’

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