Women share their exercise lessons

Going into 2021, we had our favourite home workouts saved, had found our running rhythm and knew how to handle disrupted routines. That may have meant this year wasn’t quite as tumultuous as 2020 when it came to workouts, but it was hardly smooth sailing.

After all, we were in lockdown until April. Then summer came at breakneck speed with plans finally able to go ahead. For some, that meant exercise took a backseat while we freely hugged, drank and danced. For others, it was training time as they prepped to take part in two-year-delayed marathons and competitions. Just when things started to feel a little more settled and we got our mojo back with our movement, the year is ending in the fog of Omicron. Once again, many of us are back to working out from home.

What 2021 has offered us, however, is the chance to think about how we move and why. We asked women of all fitness levels, from beginners to qualified trainers, to share those lessons – and there are some real gems we could all use.

On new routines

“I’ve learned the best training routine for me is matched to my menstrual cycle.” 

Nancy Best, personal trainer

“How great it is to work out with others! I hate working out alone after the home workouts of 2020.” 

Alice Porter

“Group training is my jam. It’s the only way I wanna workout!” 

Emily Campbell 

A woman doing a lunge in a face mask during a group workout
Some women learned they loved group training

“I completely changed the way I view exercise and prioritised consistency over intensity. Now, I go for an hour walk every day and do 30-45 minutes of pilates four to five times a week. Once every other week I’ll go to the gym for a compound exercise session but this doesn’t form the basis of my training the way it once did. I feel stronger, calmer and happier now that I’m able to fit exercise around my life – not the other way around.” 

Morgan Fargo, Stylist’s senior beauty writer

“Stop pushing for PBs all the time – just be in the moment and enjoy working out.” 

Eleanor Heaton-Armstrong, personal trainer

On their bodies

“I’ve had the most unreal shift in my attitude towards my body and what I do with it over the past 12 months. Most of it came down to something an instructor said in one of the many free YouTube home workouts I did at home alone: that exercise should be all about feeling proud/astonished/happy about all the amazing things your body can do. For years I’ve concentrated on the struggle and because of that exercise felt hard, an uphill battle – but this has made me so much more appreciative of my body and now I think of every opportunity I get to move as an opportunity to use this amazing, complex gift we have.” 

Katy Harrington, Stylist’s deputy editor 

“I had a real moment when I saw people talking about going to the gym to build their strength, not weight loss. It massively changed my perspective and I have learned to love my body and cross-training.” 

August Gawen

“I’ve learned not to worry about going to the gym or working out every single day. Sometimes the downtime is more important.” 

Charlotte Malpass

“Nothing bad happens if you miss the day you were meant to train. Literally, nothing happens overnight. You just get another chance to do something again the next day.” 

Emma Gray 

A woman doing upward dog during yoga
Women learned the importance of rest and recovery in 2021

On hitting new goals 

“Take the windows you have no matter how small – the power of just 10 mins is huge!” 

Nicole Chapman

“As a person in my 60’s my biggest lesson has been don’t stop. I spent the first half of the year not doing anything to do with fitness until I realised the negative impact it was having on my stamina, muscle strength, my mental health and overall well-being.” 

Carol Cassar

“I always knew rest was important but actually having the time to rest during the pandemic because I was working from home and not trying to cram everything into my day completely changed my mindset and my body thanked me for it. I didn’t need to workout every day of the week to see results.” 

Francesca Hunt, yoga teacher

“A lot of strength training (or anything that takes a lot of mental integrity) is mind over matter, if you’re full of self doubt it’s not going to happen. Changed my mindset and the ‘I can’t do it’ mentality and managed a 140kg deadlift this year, weighing in at 70kg.” 

Kimberley Scott

“I’m going through the menopause and it’s taught me a new way of being and balancing energy. Exercise is great, outdoor exercise is best and over-exercising wipes me out completely. I have to be so careful about listening to my body and do exactly the right amount of work.” 

Pearl Howie

“I’d planned for 2021 to be the running year, but Covid carried on wiping out races. The ultra-marathon I’d trained all through the spring for? Gone. The half marathon I’d planned to run with mates? Cancelled. After umpteen failed training cycles, the London Marathon miraculously went ahead and despite being overtrained, it was one of the best moments of my life – to see the city moving, thousands of runners coming out to celebrate London and raising millions for people who have definitely had it rough over the past couple of years. I’ll never take for granted the ability to run on these streets – or with other people – again.” 

Miranda Larbi, Strong Women editor