Self-love, tough-talk and body positivity with personal trainer Shana Stewart
It’s no secret that the fitness industry is awash with poor nutritional advice. An unhealthy emphasis on weight loss as the sole purpose for exercise means a lot of us try to implement too many new habits and goals all at once, only to find them difficult to maintain.
Consistency is key, says Shana Stewart, a personal fitness trainer based in Melbourne, Australia. But achieving that consistency starts with a bit of self-love and body positivity. We grabbed 10 minutes with Shana to talk about what personal fitness means to her and how she helps her clients.
What made you want to retrain as a personal trainer?
I originally studied for a Bachelor of Communications, majoring in journalism and worked in that field for about two and a half years before I had enough of sitting at a desk - I call it my quarter life crisis. I moved abroad and worked in various hospitality jobs while travelling around Europe. When it was time to return to Australia I knew I didn’t want to go back to sitting at a desk all day, so I decided to study for my Certificate III & IV in Fitness. I’ve been into the gym and keeping active for around 10 years now, so it seemed like a natural choice.
Can you tell us a bit about what Eir is and how your personal training differs from other instructors?
In Norse mythology (think Vikings), Eir is the Goddess of healing. Everyone has heard of Thor and Odin, but Eir is a less well-known part of their mythology, I chose her for my business name because I firmly believe in the healing power of fitness. I know how well it can make you feel – not just physically, but mentally – when you challenge your body through movement and fuel it with nourishing foods.
Eir is not only known for her healing qualities, but for her perseverance and patience - two attributes which are so important to have in your mind when you start making changes towards leading a healthier life. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day!
I can’t toot my own horn and say that my personal training is much different from everyone else’s; I work on my clients’ bodies in the gym and teach them nutrition basics that they should implement into their daily lives, so they can really start to see a difference, but every trainer should do that. What I love doing most is building up people’s confidence! Seeing people go from not wanting to work out in front of a mirror because they don’t want to look at themselves to proudly doing their exercises in the mirror. Or, for example, clients telling me that they can now get down on the ground to play with their dogs or kids and not be afraid that they won’t be able to get back up. That’s the real stuff. And that comes with time and encouraging self-love; praising people when they’ve done well, not belittling them or shaming them when they make a mistake, instead encouraging them to keep going. We’re all human, we are never going to be perfect.
What are people’s biggest mistakes when they first start training?
Going too hard too fast and approaching training with an all-or-nothing attitude. It’s not maintainable for the average person and you are more likely to burn out too quickly and think it’s not for you. I encourage people to make little changes often, rather than trying to completely overhaul their lifestyle in a week.
What are your top approaches for improving your client’s confidence?
Acceptance, encouragement and being a happy person to be around – for example being genuinely excited when a client hits a new personal best or loses weight (if that’s their goal). I often do little happy dances in the gym when something exciting happens and my clients laugh at me but, if you can get someone who was originally so uncomfortable just being in the gym laughing and do a happy dance with you or give you a high five, it shows how much their confidence is increasing.
You also run group classes. What do they consist of?
My group classes are all HIIT (high intensity interval training), but we do different exercises every week, so you can never truly get used to it, because it’s always different. HIIT training is great for burning fat and improving your overall fitness level. It’s challenging for all levels because everyone works to their own pace, so you can be an elite athlete or an absolute beginner and I’ll still get you sweating.
Your whole mantra seems very focused not just on people’s weight goals, but their overall health, do you think focusing too much on weight is a problem within the fitness industry?
Absolutely, focusing solely on weight is a problem! In the end, your weight is just a number and it can’t necessarily tell you how healthy you are. Everyone wants to weigh a certain weight, and that’s fine. It’s good to have a goal with fitness – but I don’t just weigh my clients when we start training, I take their measurements too and encourage them to get a DEXA scan (body fat percentage scan) so that we can really see what’s going on inside. You can have a very slim person come to you who is actually 40% body fat, or a woman who thinks she’s ‘fat’ because she weighs more than all of her friends, but she actually has a great amount of lean muscle tissue on her.
Health is not a one-size-fit-all thing and won’t look the same on everyone.
I like your hashtag #theresnosuchthingasgirlpushups. Does your advice differ from training male and female clients?
There’s no difference in how I train male vs female clients, unless they prefer a different style. That comes down to them, not what gender they are. I train people in ways that they’ll enjoy; you shouldn’t dread your PT sessions.
Men do gain strength quicker than women, due to higher levels of testosterone, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have some men who struggle to do a push up or a girl who can’t smash out 20. Everyone is different, I train them to their level of fitness and strength.
I think now’s a really positive time for empowering more women to lift weights, as too many still think it will give them a ‘manly’ body or arms. How do you get your clients to think differently about their training?
I explain the science! As women, we don’t have enough testosterone to become ‘bulky’ – unless we take extra. Since none of my clients are out there looking for testosterone shots or steroids, that’s just not going to happen.
It is still a huge misconception that I have to explain regularly, but once clients start to see that they’re not gaining bulky muscle, they’re simply getting lean because they’re losing body fat, they come around. Plus, if you want to get that shapely booty that everyone is after these days, you’ve got to lift weights!
What’s your best advice for people training at home, or thinking of improving or developing their training routine?
Training at home is absolutely doable and you can do a very effective HIIT workout with nothing but the floor. But, the best advice I can give to anyone looking to improve or develop their training regime is to be accountable to someone. So many people give up because it’s hard or they can’t motivate themselves. But if they had a friend or a trainer to answer to, they would stick at it for longer. There’s no shame in asking for help, most people need it!