Looking for some workout inspiration? Welcome to our new column, ‘This is what strong looks like’.
This week, netball player and former England team caption Ama Agbeze MBE offers her advice for getting over the feeling of being intimidated at the gym.
What is your workout regime?
At the moment I have a very strength-based programme because I’ve had a couple of lower limb injuries. I’ve just come out of a phase of doing four weight sessions a week, which was quite tiring and full on. And on top of that my regime focuses on general fitness and speed endurance, as well as netball specific fitness which typically involves the ball and lots of exercises involving changing direction.
What inspired you to begin that regime?
When I was younger I wasn’t as clinical with my training and I had lots of injuries, so as I’ve gotten older I’ve learnt that [my regime] actually helps. I don’t like training that much but it helps me perform better when I’m on the court, so it’s just what I have to do.
What was it like on your first ever day at the gym?
I think I was probably a little bit daunted. I’ve got quite a muscular physique and I remember thinking, “I don’t want to do weights or go to the gym because it’s going to make me even more massively muscly, and people will think I lift like a guy”. So I didn’t even want to go to the gym because I thought it would make it so much worse.
What’s been your best moment so far?
I can’t think of one individually, but it’s amazing when you get a personal best, or manage to do an exercise that’s really difficult. For example, the first time you do a chin up you’re like, ‘oh my god, this is so amazing!’ Even though you’re barely able to pull yourself up you thinking, ‘yes, I did it!’
Yesterday in the gym I had hanging leg raises on my programme, which I hadn’t done in ages. My trainer asked me to take my feet to the bar, and I didn’t think I could do it. It involves hanging [from the bar] with your hands and lifting your feet all the way to your hands, which is completely difficult. But then I did one and I was so happy (even though I didn’t let on!) So those exciting things that happen in training are my best moments.
… And your worst?
When you get injured during training. It’s that initial devastation of thinking, “something’s happened to me, I’m not going to be able to do what I need to do, how long is recovery going to take, is it going to be a serious or major injury…?”
How do you motivate yourself when you don’t want to go to the gym?
People think working in sports is easy, but I think it’s like any job – some days just getting to the gym and starting my workout feels like a massive task, and there are definitely days when I would love to just sit at home and scroll through Instagram. So I try to arrange to meet someone, even if I’m not doing the same session as them, as it’s fantastic motivation.
One time I had a track session to do and I literally woke up the night before feeling anxious and panicking, thinking that I was really unfit and wouldn’t be able to cope. One of my team mates was in Liverpool at the time and she had a similar session to do, so I drove from Birmingham to Liverpool to do the session with her, and then drove back to Birmingham. If I hadn’t done that, I would have talked myself out of the session by telling myself it was too difficult and I couldn’t do it. It was a five hour round trip, but I think it was worth it…
Some women feel intimidated at the gym, what would be your advice for getting through this?
I find this really difficult – people think I’m fine because I’m a professional sports person, but I still feel intimidated at the gym, even though I’ve been going for years.
As a professional I mostly train in private gyms, meaning there aren’t many people in there and everyone is doing their own thing, so it feels like a safe environment. But I do often have to go to public gyms where there are more people and they are always so busy. Everyone has the right clothes and their hair always looks amazing and I feel intimidated and don’t like to make eye contact with people. It’s really difficult!
I think if you’re in that situation then going to the gym with another person is a must. And if you can’t find someone to go with you, then try and chat to people when you arrive, because by creating that connection you won’t feel like you’re alone, or that everyone’s staring at you.
I think everyone should think, my body is my body, it is what it is, and I’m going to that gym session for myself, no one else.
What should we remember when looking at other people’s fitness regimes on social media?
It’s very easy to look at someone’s feed and think what they are doing is amazing, but a lot of people just create workouts for social media – so that might not necessarily be what they are actually doing in the gym. It’s also important to remember that people’s physiques and looks are part of their genetics, so even if you have the same training regime as them you might not get the same outcome.
What’s your advice for other women who are looking to get strong?
Even though I’m still a bit daunted [by the gym], my advice would be for women not to feel that way. Being strong is a really powerful thing, and I think it’s great for women to understand their bodies, not just for health reasons but for general wellbeing. Pay attention to yourself, and understand your mind and body.
What does strong mean to you?
When I think of ‘strong’, I think of physical and mental strength – to me, it embodies being able to tackle any situation. If you are mentally strong you will be more driven to be physically strong, and if you are physically strong then hopefully you will have a strong mind. Just motivating yourself to do things that you don’t want to do, or find difficult, is a form of strength.
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