Shy, geeky, lanky, uncoordinated – these are all words personal trainer Nats Levi uses to describe herself as a teenager.
“I wouldn’t go running outside; I hated it as I didn’t want people to look at me,” she remembers.
But these days, the Auckland-based fitness expert is the personal training manager at Les Mills Britomart, and you’ll find her teaching fitness classes, coaching clients, and helping people to feel healthier, happier, and more confident.
Here, Nats shares some of the key lessons she’s learned from the fitness industry.
1 Work and learn at your own pace
I’m quite a slow processor, I like to think about things and take my time. When I first stepped into Les Mills, I was so shy. I started out by trying lots of different classes, and eventually I decided I wanted to teach. Sometimes when there was a new routine, it was frustrating because I would take a while to get the hang of it.
Over time I realised I was getting better and better at it, which was really empowering. It’s okay to try something and fail, but by breaking it down into small steps you get that sense of success and you want to keep going.
2 Learn what works for your body
We are all built very differently, and it’s not until you understand yourself and learn how you move that you get stronger and fitter.
People respond differently to exercise due to their genetics, their metabolism, their hormones. Try a variety of things to find out how your body responds, and what works best for you.
If you love running, and it’s working for your body, go running. Do you prefer weights, or yoga? Do you like working out alone, or with other people?
3 Nurture your confidence and self-belief
I think there’s too much focus on the physical aspect. I know we’re in a society where everything is about beauty and aesthetics, but not everyone fits this mould we’re always presented with. And if you don’t fit that mould, then what else is there for you, when everything that is advertised or shown to you about being a female is this one ideal?
I hate seeing people who are achieving great things, like lifting really strong weights or moving in a way they haven’t moved before, but they never feel success because they are only concerned about fitting into this one aesthetic.
I’ve often struggled with that, as I’ve always been so tall. I have to check in with myself and say ‘that’s not me’, and be grateful for everything I’ve been given and confident in who I am.
4 Think about and define your goals
I like the saying, ‘if it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you’, but the key to that is the definition of a challenge. What is challenging for you? For example I love lifting weights, but I’m bad at slowing down, so yoga is really challenging for me.
The challenge doesn’t have to mean the hardest, fastest or heaviest. It can also be mental. When it comes to fitness, having a goal in mind is important. Ask yourself, ‘what do I want to achieve?’
5 Get the right advice on nutrition
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about food, and if you’re worried, it pays to see a nutritionist.
Something that can make a big difference is looking at your micronutrients; the vitamins, minerals and trace elements that make your body really fire.
Macronutrients like your carbs, protein and fats is where all the focus seems to be, but there are a range of other aspects that are important for helping us to perform at our best.
It’s about making sure you get the right co-enzymes to make things work properly in the body. It’s like having the right lock and the right key at the right time.
6 Adapt your workouts for your life
Speaking from my own experience, and from talking to some of the other trainers, we say we used to do all of these intense classes and feel great, whereas now we have to be more careful as our bodies don’t like that level of impact anymore.
Your body will layer on muscle mass to a certain age, and you’ll reach a point where you hit the maximum strength that you’re probably going to get. When you’re at an age where you’re at your ‘peak’, your body is really efficient at putting on muscle mass, and after that it’s more about maintaining those levels.
Also our hormones change, and hormones play a big role in how our body responds to certain exercise, and our energy levels. That’s not to say we can’t make gains as we age, but we have to be a bit more structured with nutrition and training.
7 There’s no such thing as a ‘quick fix’
You see a lot of photos of quick results, but if it’s lasting change you’re after, then it’s just about patience and consistency. That will allow you to maintain it the healthiest way.
Follow the tried and true methods. Make your workout a habit, and give something three to four weeks to see results. If you’re patient, the benefits will stay with you a lot longer.
8 Pushing too hard does more harm than good
I see a lot of clients overdoing it when it comes to exercise. I have been there myself and that experience stuffed up my body hormonally, so I’m really passionate about stopping other people from going down the same path.
Sometimes, if you’re simply not feeling like it, that’s your body signalling to you that it needs time to repair. The rest phase is just as important as the workout phase. If you’re always hammering your body, you’re just going to be eroding away any good work you are doing.
9 Don’t get hung-up on myths or biased ideas
Something I still hear a lot from women at the gym is they’re scared resistance training will bulk them up. But women don’t have the hormone system to be able to bulk up. Also resistance training isn’t just lifting heavy weights.
There’s resistance in doing a Pilates class or exercises that use body weight. It’s all about gradual tension your muscles have to work to control.
Resistance is so important for women; as we get older it helps with bone density and to get the muscle mass that will keep us mobile and healthy. Another factor is the more muscle you have, the more your metabolism is going to spike and you’ll just keep burning energy.
Gyms don’t have to be intimidating
I hear a lot of people say they hate the gym, and to be fair, it isn’t for everyone. But there are lots of different gym set-ups now. At Les Mills there’s a lot of music, noise, and interaction, and some people just prefer a quieter space – and that’s okay.
There are so many different options out there, like CrossFit, yoga studios, boutique places, 24-hour gyms, and some of the council gyms have really good equipment too. At-home workouts are great, or if you prefer exercising outside, head outdoors. Just get moving – we’re born to move!