If you’ve ever entered a gym before, you’ve probably experienced some strange feelings during your first few visits; making your way through the maze of equipment, not knowing where to start or avoiding the local inhabitants. These are all common experiences, and the ways most gyms are run only seem to compound these feelings. Often void of all help except for animated pictograms that line the cold-metal machines, filled with people who from the size of their biceps, obviously know what they’re doing, and set-up in ways that often have you situated in the middle of the room for everyone to see that you have no idea what you’re doing.
While many students may have felt these feelings, for females they can be perpetuated by the sense of prying eyes. With so much testosterone flying around the room, it can be an uncomfortable way to start your fitness journey. Some girls recognise this and end up heading to one of those all-women’s gyms. The ones whose names immediately describe them as a place you go to lose weight, pre-empting your figure. Usually these places are perfect for mums with bubs, but not quite what someone at a university age is looking for.
That’s why personal trainer, Billie Asprey, says she decided to start up her own fitness group.
“I was living in Queensland and was helping about 20 different girls online from the Central Coast who didn’t know what to do in the gym,” she explains.
“They’d go to curves, a lot of them had been there with their mum and there was no benefit. It’s a little circuit, which is great for older women but for girls that are young and fit, it’s not much.
“Likewise they go into a gym, they don’t know how to use the equipment, there’s not many girls in there so all the guys are gawking, they’re not comfortable and there’s nothing in between.”
Started just a couple of years ago, Bella Muscle has grown to become one of the Central Coast’s most popular fitness facilities. Self-described as a sisterhood and with a large social media presence to support it, the all-ladies gym runs classes five days a week, both morning and night, and has grown quickly from its humble beginnings.
“We started as a ten-week challenge outdoors on council grounds, all we really had were sand bags that we filled up from Bunnings and some tyres we got from tyre shop down the road,” a laughing Billie says.
The offer of providing something different was taken up by more than just Billie’s friends, and after Bella Muscles’ first fitness challenge, they had up to 40 members. The concept had taken off, so Billie and her business partner, and co-owner of Bella Muscle, Abbey Meehan, decided to rent a shed in an industrial state at Charmhaven. While it too, had humble beginnings, the shed is now a health-haven for women looking to keep fit.
The investment has paid dividends as the shed, as it was once described, is now an impressive and professional home for the ‘Bellas’ also known as members of the gym. The spacious, open and airy building provides a luxurious feeling of not being boxed in. Neutral tones adorn the walls with a flash of pink mixing well with blacks, greys and whites. But while the facility is grand, it’s what goes on in the gym that’s unique.
Group classes are run with an important social aspect and feel to them. A focus on positivity, support and encouragement makes the classes appealing, and crucially, an enjoyable experience. Exercises’ are undertaken with partners and in groups; and the smiling-assassin, Billie, is there to guide the way.
The feel is different, it’s something new and it’s rewarding. As 26-year-old member Amanda McAdams explains, it’s free of the judging and intimidating public-gym experience.
“It’s a much more comfortable environment, you don’t feel judged at all, you be yourself. If I need help, I have no problem asking Billie or Abbey for more information,” she says.
McAdams recalls her previous experience at another local gym as one where she only utilised part of the facility and often felt uncomfortable.
“I tended to do cardio; bike, elliptical and treadmill. But there’s lots of bulky guys, and on machines you feel like a woos.”
That’s not the case at Bella Muscle as astute trainers run classes and the fitness regime is spread across Pilates, boxing, circuits and cardio-based sessions. The Bella family doesn’t always stay in the gym though, with natural pursuits often on the cards.
“Every Saturday we go and do something fun outside: beach sessions, hills, we went hiking on the weekend,” says Billie.
But don’t think the fun is restricted to the outdoors; Bella could resemble a dance studio with the likes of Daft Punk, David Guetta and Chiddy Bang blasting from the speakers on the day I visit.
Such is the allure of Bella Muscle one member now elects to drive straight past her old gym which was just five minutes from home, and make the 30 minute journey to Charmhaven. The reason for doing so might lie in Billie’s approach to women’s fitness training.
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“You might have a goal weight but just because you get it doesn’t mean you’re going to be happy. Likewise if you reach a certain strength or fitness level, just because you get it, doesn’t mean you’re going to be happy,” she says.
“I think largely, for woman, they never see themselves in the right light. Everyone else can think you’re amazing, you’re fit and fast and strong and beautiful, but if you don’t see it in yourself, you’re never going to be happy.
“I think it’s about letting the girls see what they really look like and feeling that they feel good, as appose to just looking it from the outside.”
With an attitude like that, it’s easy to see why the Bella Muscle family continues to grow.