By Nia Kaye
Nia Kaye (who goes under the name of benchpressingbaubles on Instagram and Wordpress) is a British expat, living in Tampa, Florida. She has been lifting weights for about 4 years, but became incredibly focused on both lifting and nutrition in May, 2015 when she began preparation for a fitness photoshoot. Nia is aiming to compete in a bikini competition in 2017. You can follow her and her meal inspirations on Instagram and Wordpress.
In 2009, I signed up for the Cardiff half marathon (more like coerced into it after a few vodkas!). I loved the feeling of seeing my body change, as well as becoming visibly fitter. I loved doing the half marathon and completed 2 more in Cardiff subsequently. In 2011, my boyfriend of the time persuaded me to join a new low cost gym. I gave him my debit card details and told him to sign me up, as I am guilty of ‘bookmarking’ such things and then never following through! We signed up for a Friday evening class with a very enthusiastic but friendly trainer and we loved it! I became a bit of a class attending-aholic, and loved the atmosphere and the friendliness of the personal trainers and the post workout endorphins.
After several months, I decided to approach the personal trainer I had met on my first day for private training sessions. When he first took me into the weights room, I thought he was nuts and I refused to go in there unless personally escorted! I can’t pretend I enjoyed my first few experiences of using real weights as opposed to lurid coloured dumbbells that look like cat toys. I didn’t like the feeling that I was stepping into testosterone territory and the looks that I received from men when in there. I also am a neat freak, and seeing weights littering the floor was incredibly off putting.
Seeing my body change and becoming noticeably stronger was empowering, and eventually I plucked up the courage to follow a training plan that involved me entering the weights room 4–5 times a week. I still felt uncomfortable within the this area of my gym as manners and gym etiquette were often non-existent. Being an average height female, I felt incredibly little and lacked confidence to ask people how many sets they had left, so would often spend many minutes waiting for various pieces of equipment. Despite this, I became friendly with some of the other personal trainers in the gym – I think they enjoyed interacting with a ‘girl who lifts’ – and they would always help me out in getting squat racks!
By the time I left the UK (July, 2015), the proportion of women lifting weights in the gym was significantly higher than when I started. It was so much more comforting to see more females in the weights room and I made some great friendships with these girls too!
My first time walking into the weights room at the gym in Florida I am a member of, I was instantly both inspired and intimidated. For a gym that is not overly large, it was pretty busy, exceptionally tidy and the ratio of personal trainers to gym-goers was high! All around me were people working out of all ages, with both men and women lifting weights and working out hard. There is a 55-year-old woman in my gym that can do 3 sets of 6 reps weighted dips; a 70-year-old man who can do 5 pull ups and a 10-year-old child who can do 10 banded pull ups.
After about two weeks of working out there, personal trainers began to approach me – not with the ulterior motive of trying to persuade me to pay for their services – but because they were interested in who I was. With it being a relatively small gym, it was evident that having a sense of community was important to them and I soon realised that this was important to the other members too. The emphasis on fitness where I live is incredibly high. It is not only the norm to work-out, it is expected. Whenever I go into the gym, I see the same people day in, day out. Over the year, I have developed some lovely friendships with personal trainers and gym goers alike. People think nothing of coming over to me whilst I am exercising to chat about their day; correct my form or spot me. They shout at me for encouragement, ask me to demonstrate certain exercises, give me a kick up the backside when I need it and generally bring a smile to my face.
I recently visited the UK for a couple of weeks and trained in my old gym. I think of it as ‘home’ and it will always bring back such lovely memories as the place that I fell in love with lifting weights. But, similarly to moving away from home, I was incredibly excited to get back to my Floridian gym. Whilst perceptions of women lifting weights has undeniably changed in the UK, training in Florida is about so much more than that. It has been my safe place, my source of inspiration, friendship and has a massive place in my heart.