This article was written by Emma Kennedy who is a current Forget the Gym running Chick. It was originally published in The Sunday Business post in May 2009, one of Forget The Gym’s first official media pieces.
Witness a different type of personal fitness
Gyms are not exactly the most encouraging of environments . Honed bodies in skimpy, unforgiving shorts may inspire one or two eager newbies but, for the vast majority of gym virgins, the whole experience of lining up alongside the Lycra clad can be a little daunting.
As a relative newcomer to exercise, however, Mary Jennings knows what it feels like to be intimidated by the super-fit. ‘‘I never did any exercise – ever – until about five or six years ago,” she says. A hectic life working for a management and IT consultancy firm left little time for exercise when Jennings was in her mid20s.
Six years on, the 31-year-old runs her own personal training business. The company started life as Revive Fitness, but Jennings is gradually rebranding her company as Forget the Gym. ‘‘My whole concept is getting people out of the gym and getting them outdoors,” she says.
‘‘Everything I do is either outdoors or in your own home, I don’t use the gym at all. I’d say about 80 per cent of personal trainers are gym or studio-based, and you need equipment to complete the programme. With me you’ll use a park bench, the side of your coffee table, stairs – whatever you have.”
Having experienced it herself, Jennings recognises that a lot of people are self-conscious when it comes to exercise. ‘‘I suppose my aim is to make it a bit more accessible and enable people to fit it into their lifestyle,” she says.
Jennings radiates health and energy, but perhaps her biggest selling point as a personal trainer is her likeability, which stems from her honesty. Listening to her story of discovering exercise is enough to make you want to dig out your dust-covered running shoes.
‘‘I was living in England, working in a very corporate environment – living in hotels, eating dinners out,” she says. ‘‘In that life I never really considered fitness or exercise, but through a friend I got introduced to jogging.”
She didn’t exactly take to it like a duck to water, however. ‘‘When I say jogging I mean very, very slow jogging. I went for one walk/jog, nearly died and thought that was the end of that.”
She went from rookie runner to endurance athlete mile by mile.
‘‘Over time, I gradually built it up and got to a stage where I could do a five-kilometre, half-hour type of jog. I had thought there was no way in the world I could have done anything like that.”
Running her first marathon is something that she believes completely changed her outlook.” If I could run a marathon, then anyone could do it,” she says. ‘‘Even the five-kilometre race was as big an achievement for me at the time I did it.”
While Jennings embraced her new, healthier lifestyle, it took a while before she saw the broader implications of the changes she had made.
‘‘At the time, I never looked at the bigger picture of fitness or exercise, but as I got into it I began to realise that there was this whole world out there,” she says. ‘‘I saw how it affected me – how it changed both my body shape, my attitude and also my nutrition.”
As someone who had tried diets in the past, Jennings found that getting fitter broke this cycle of using food as a means of kick starting health. ‘‘Before, I would have gone on diets, but the stability of the exercise meant that the diet looked after itself to a large extent.
I was craving healthier food.”
When the chance of a career break came up, she jumped at it, taking time out to travel before doing a course in personal training, more out of interest than with the intention of building a new career.
It was during her course, however, that she took her first tentative steps into helping others find the same sense of achievement that she had found through exercise.
‘‘I dragged a few friends into it at that stage and unofficially started helping people who were typical walkers – normal girls who would go out for a walk and a chat in the evening,” she says.
Fast forward a few months and Jennings had completed her course, moved back to Ireland and decided that her new love of sport could also be the beginning of a career as a personal trainer.
She started her business in 2006.
Her clients vary hugely, with people of all ages, shapes and sizes. She sees people from both extremes – those who just want to complete a race and those who want to knock a minute off their times.
However, the common trait among her clients is their lack of confidence in their own ability to become fit, something that she thinks can sometimes stem from experiences in gyms.
‘‘Jogging is not just for fit people; you don’t have to be fit to run. You can use it as a means of getting there and you don’t have to be afraid of it,” she says.
Taking the right approach to a new exercise regime is paramount.
‘‘People go out and run for a minute flat out, and then think they can’t do it. My approach is that you start slowly and gradually build up over time.”
Watching her clients develop and achieve their goals gives Jennings a kick. ‘‘The first time someone does ten minutes non-stop, it’s enormous. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but for someone who thought they could never run, it is.”
Her clients decide to go the personal trainer route for a variety of reasons. ‘‘For younger people, the motivation is usually weight loss and toning up,” she says. ‘‘The older people would tend to be there more for the health benefits.”
Jennings gives clients a range of training options, with a range of price tags. She provides one-to one training sessions, runs small group classes, arranges running groups and, perhaps her biggest growth area, offers online coaching.
Personalised online training programmes are available for people with a specific goal in mind, such as the mini-marathon, and also for those who just want to get moving. Any online plan usually begins with a one-on-one session with Jennings.
‘‘The online side of it is about support and motivation,” she says.
‘‘A lot of people have never done something before, start with a blast, do it for a few weeks and then it’s gone. There is no ownership to it; there’s no accountability.
With the online, I’m sending you a text to see how you got on – it makes you more likely to go out and do it.”
Online clients also fill in a log which allows Jennings to tailor the next stage of their training plan to suit their needs. While Jennings is aware of the various online training plans that people can download for free from the internet, she maintains that her service offers something different.
‘‘There is no ownership and no personal element to them,” she says. She also argues that the one sizefits-all approach does not work, as it fails to take into account potential hiccups along the way, such as an injury or unexpected events.
Jennings thinks that, for a lot of people, it is the accountability of someone making them exercise that prompts them to go to a personal trainer. However, she does not see her role as indefinite.
‘‘My approach with personal training is that no one needs a personal trainer for life,” she says. ‘‘A personal trainer is a kickstart to get you moving in the direction of where you want to go.”
As yet, she hasn’t seen much of a drop-off in business, despite tightened purse strings in recent months. In some ways, however, a restricted budget is to her advantage.
‘‘I am seeing more people who are giving up gym memberships and making enquiries about other options, such as the online programmes or the classes.”
Training others aside, Jennings continues to seek out challenges of her own. She completed a 39mile ultra-marathon a few weeks ago and is now setting her sights on the summer triathlon season, having only learned to swim two years ago.
‘‘I’m terrible, but triathlons are my next goal,” she says. ‘‘I did a few last year, so this summer I want to try to improve the swimming and do a few more.”