“Virtual PT sessions in my living room are getting me through lockdown”

Posted by for Strong Women

Thinking of doing virtual PT sessions in lockdown? Stylist’s Fliss Thistlethwaite did, and it’s given her the boost of happiness she needed. 

Last year I went through a break up. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, no-one cheated: it was with my personal trainer. The wonderful (and very patient) Veowna Charles trained me for five blissful months from March 2019. 

I would tell anyone who listened that I’d found the only female PT in the gym near my new office – I’d just started a new job – and, after several weeks of training, she had me lifting 35kg on the squat rack. We had fun in the gym, laughing and sweating in equal measures; I always looked forward to being pushed by her during the week, even if I did moan about it during the sessions. I walked around the gym with my head held high because I was there with Veowna, and that held a lot of respect. She didn’t falter walking into the weights room, while I trailed behind making jokes about my fitness. My goal was strength – of mind and body – and she was a huge factor in empowering me to feel both. 

But all good things come to an end, right? It was a hot summer day when Veowna told me she was moving gyms. The gym we were stood in, where we had our sessions, was opposite my office, so hopping on the tube away from the office (and home) to work out wasn’t an option for me. After five months of trainer-client banter, Veowna and I said goodbye. (One of us listened to sad songs on the way home that night. Clue: it wasn’t V.)

I went to the gym in dribs and drabs after The Break Up, but I soon realised working out on your own really isn’t as good as having a cheerleader pushing you to do ‘just one more rep’, or have someone laugh with you when you accidentally hit yourself with a kettlebell. My lack of motivation without those weekly sessions meant my relationship with fitness fizzled out, and I went from being the woman who found a new hobby in weight lifting to the woman paying for a gym membership she didn’t use for six months.

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Stylist Strong: Our digital executive editor explains why she loves her virtual PT sessions

Work was busy, I didn’t prioritise exercise. Then, everything changed when we went into lockdown in March. After the first week of lovely WFH lie-ins and making the most of Come Dine With Me in the evening when I’d usually be commuting, I felt like I needed to push myself into some form of exercise routine. No longer was I racking up 10,000 steps walking through Waterloo station or sweating out Friday night beers at a weekend spinning class. I found solace in running. In fact, I ran and ran and ran until my fitness – or lack thereof – caught up with me. Three weeks into lockdown my shins began to ache, my knee joints screamed at me and I was hobbling up and down the stairs for hours after my run. I still followed Veowna on Instagram, and her picture flashed up during one of my many evening scrolls through social media.

I found myself sliding into her DMs – as smoothly as you can when you’re convinced you have shin splints – and I asked if she’d think about doing PT sessions with me in this new virtual world. I needed help to feel strong again, and she was the only woman I trusted.

She said she had a space for me on her Skype client roster, and that was that. I was booked in. It felt like I’d found a little piece of the life I’d been so fortunate to have pre-coronavirus, and it felt good.

I anticipated the first session being a bit weird (who likes seeing themselves work out on camera? No one). But it turns out I couldn’t think about anything other than my shaking legs.

Was it the perfect workout? No. My yoga mat was annihilated by my cat last year, so I finished the session with chunks of purple foam stuck to my shins/bum/face/hair. And yes, I had to scrape an inch of dust off the 8kg kettle bell I’ve been using as a (very good) doorstop for two years. And, honestly, working out in the same room I now eat in, work in and watch TV was… interesting. But after the session I realised I was the happiest I’d been during lockdown. I had a huge rush of happy endorphins, I felt like I could tackle anything. 

I’ve just finished my fifth weekly session and it’s never easy. I forgot my Skype password so I was three minutes late, the internet connection was rubbish meaning my picture would freeze yet, somehow, she intuitively knew when I was pretending to squat.

But, you know what? It was really bloody great. I feel like I’m chatting to an old friend, albeit a friend who forces me to do very low squats with a very heavy weight. And having the regular Tuesday post-work slot gives me something to look forward to each week. It’s helped me form a routine.

I sweat, I laugh and sometimes I feel sick. But mostly, I ride the endorphin high and smile my way through the failed press up attempts. 

I used to call my friends on the walk to the Tube after a session with Veowna in the gym and talk to them at a million miles per hour. I had that same feeling you get on a night out when you want to call everyone and scream “I love you so much. No, seriously. I think you’re so great” down the phone at them. And I was finally feeling a smidgen of that in lockdown. When I press the red button and hang up on Veowna after an hour of sweating into my (very sad) yoga mat, I bounce up the stairs to talk to anyone I can find. Husband? Great! Cat? You’ll do.

My neighbours are probably actively avoiding me because I’m now the woman who curtain twitches and just happens to be taking the bins out when they set foot out their front door. 

I’m aware this reads a bit like a love letter from a teenage girl to her favourite band and, I suppose, it is in some ways. It’s a letter of thanks to Veowna for putting up with my deflection methods (I’m a journalist, I can get people talking if I want to take an extra break between sets), for pushing me to achieve things I never thought possible (I did my first real press up this week) and for making me feel like the world isn’t so small.

I was starting to find my bubble – working from home, not able to see my family who live hundreds of miles away – a bit scary, but knowing she’s at the end of a camera every week ready to push me to my limits is giving me that strength of mind I was searching for last March. 

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Felicity Thistlethwaite

Felicity Thistlethwaite is the executive editor digital at Stylist.