Published: 11:32, 04 February 2021
| Updated: 07:26, 05 February 2021
A personal trainer is encouraging people to connect with virtual workouts and reap the mental health benefits of exercise during the latest lockdown.
Istead Rise resident Tanya McKenzie-Gordon was named Fitness Professional of the Year 2020 by the Kent Health and Beauty Awards in December.
It caps off a decade of hard work, grit and persistence by the 49-year-old Gravesend mum who came into the industry later in life.
But Tanya confesses the success of her journey has been no easy feat and has been as much about forging new friendships as it has been sculpting rock hard abs.
The fitness instructor believes building strong communities and support groups is key to making exercise plans and routines count.
After qualifying as a personal trainer in her 40's Tanya started to take a few classes at her local gym in Meopham.
Numbers were small to start with but eventually she grew in confidence and hired a hall to take fitness classes into Istead Rise, Longfield and later Castle Hill at Ebbsfleet.
"My class numbers increased over a couple of years - at the beginning I’d have 4-8 people in a class and would be making no money after paying out the hall hire.
"But I’m a firm believer that you have to be consistent, you have to be there for the 4-8 people who are turning up to your class - that may be the one evening they get to have a break from family life or the one evening they actually get to see another person if they live alone."
Persistence paid off and eventually, in the last couple of years, her FightKlub classes at Ebbsfleet have grown to accommodate around 65-75 people.
This includes members of the community ranging from police officers and teachers to supermarket workers and lawyers.
"The atmosphere was always amazing and it became a real feel good family" she said. "People who started coming to classes on their own made new friendships and found new confidence."
It was during this time a few of her regulars heard about the Kent Health and Beauty Awards and decided to nominate Tanya for a couple of categories.
The awards are judged independently and Tanya says she was "absolutely gobsmacked" to scoop two awards in 2019 before following this up with the main fitness accolade the following year.
But then the lockdown hit.
The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the fitness industry with many gyms, halls and other leisure venues closed for long periods.
During this time the popularity of home workouts has ballooned with many people streaming sessions on YouTube and other online platforms.
Tanya says she is fortunate to have an amazing group of regularly participants, including two IT workers who helped her get established virtually.
"Classes online have been an absolute life saver for both my participants and me," she said.
"We start the classes by having a chat and we end by saying goodbye. I see them, they see me - it’s like we’re still together."
But the personal trainer says the latest period of social isolation as taken its toll on the mental health of some members.
"It is a struggle... but we have a really good group of people and they tend to encourage each other," she said.
"The one big thing that spurs me on are the amazing messages - e-mails, Facebook messages, to say how much the sessions are helping with mental health."
Tanya adds some are really struggling with the isolation but seeing people "within their four walls" helps reassure them they are not alone, and they can log onto a class and have a chat with friends.
It's not been all positive for the fitness community however with some feeling the pinch of the online competition as they battle to recruit and maintain clients through digital doors.
Tanya mentions there has been some "grumblings" aimed at certain big name celebrities.
Among the most famous is TV personality and fitness coach Joe Wicks whose free live PE lessons saw hundreds of thousands of children and families tune in at the start of the first lockdown.
"There is quite a few grumblings but I don't really see it has made a massive difference to me," Tanya said, adding "he has worked his backside off."
In addition to raising money for the NHS she says the other important thing his campaign has done is raise awareness of the benefits of fitness in the young.
"It is more relevant now for kids so I don't think we should moan about it," she said.
Another huge benefit of exercise it has harnessed is the effect on mental wellbeing, she adds.
"During the past year it has become even more apparent to me of the benefits that exercise has on mental health," said Tanya.
"Yes, it’s great to look and feel physically fit but the mental side has long been overlooked until now."
"I have always been active, but not always healthy," adds Tanya who has been everything from a size 8 to a size 18.
"I knew personally that when I exercised I felt better afterwards but the struggle is to get people to exercise in the first place."
Tanya continues to run classes morning and evening six days a week. "I’m old, I need at least one day off," she quips.
And while she might still not be able to get her teenage daughter to join one of her workouts yet she's just happy she has found exercises that work for her.
You can catch Tanya's workouts and find out more information on the sessions she runs at tmgfitness.co.uk