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Notts CrossFit Athlete and Coach Lucy Campbell Discusses Women in Strength Training and Putting Two Fingers Up to Stereotypes

21 May 22 words: Lizzy O’Riordan
photos: Curtis Powell

Combining strength training, gymnastics and high intensity workouts, Nottingham’s CrossFit box has attracted quite a cult following. We caught up with CrossFit athlete and coach Lucy Campbell to talk about women in strength training, the camaraderie of group workouts and letting go of weight-loss goals…

Harsh lights, mirrored walls, big men in small tops - a gym’s weight room can be intimidating to say the least. Such is true for any gym newbie, but particularly so for the female population, often relegated to treadmills and other ellipticals, told that weight training isn’t for them. But with more women graduating from the cardio section every day, the tides seem to be changing and a new culture emerging, one which celebrates women embracing their strength. 

Acting as a face for this movement is Lucy Campbell, previous swimmer and gymnast, and current CrossFit athlete at Nottingham’s CrossFit box. Lucy is an athlete who has nurtured a love of sport from a young age, being “in the gym from five years old, building up to twenty hours a week”, making regional champion as a gymnast before turning her energy to swimming as a teenager. Here she swam for the National Squad for open water, being awarded fifth place at Junior Europeans and eighth at Junior World.

But it wasn’t until she stepped into the CrossFit box that she finally found her true calling as an athlete. Having recently quit swimming and looking for something new, she was drawn to this new kind of movement which (as the name suggests) crosses over many areas of fitness, incorporating elements of gymnastics, high intensity training, weight lifting and plyometrics. And at which she has thrived, currently sitting at number five in Europe, and training for the semi-finals of the CrossFit Games 2022. 

I love that I can outlift some of the men, and I love putting two fingers up to those stereotypes and those people who think I shouldn’t be able to do that

So what does she love so much about CrossFit? “I love that I’m strong and I’m fit and that I can outlift some of the men,” she jokes, “and I love putting two fingers up to those stereotypes and those people who think I shouldn’t be able to do that.” But also, Crossfit offers a sense of camaraderie that she didn’t experience in her previous sports: “I enjoyed swimming but there was no social side because your head is always underwater. CrossFit has a communal feeling, because you talk to people and cheer each other on. You all do the workout together scaled to your ability level, so while workouts might feel grim sometimes, you know the person next to you is doing the same thing.” This atmosphere, she tells me, means that it’s easy to make friends at CrossFit, reporting a close-knit friendship among most of the athletes. 

Being in a culture that celebrates female strength is also a major perk: “When I was a distance swimmer I always felt weirdly strong, and like I never fitted with the stereotype. But the thing I love about CrossFit is that you have to be strong and fit and move your own body. And I’m surrounded by women who just look like complete badasses, which is cool. In our box, in particular, the best athletes are the women, and I think it’s created a culture where women have these people to look up to.” 

There are so many things to be learned from training that are past the point of weight-loss

The sport also places a massive emphasis on strength and enjoyment over weight-loss goals - an ethos illustrated by the lack of mirrors found in the box. “We are so past the point of caring about weight loss,” Lucy says, a particularly powerful statement in a world that puts so much emphasis on the smallness of women’s bodies. “It's refreshing to see that there are more women in the box who care more about how they are training than how they look.” Even in her role as a personal trainer, she aims for her female clients to “enjoy the process of training and of getting stronger” above weight-loss goals, noting, “There’s only so much weight loss that can be sustainable. It’s better to love the feeling of going to the gym, or hitting a personal best, or pushing yourself. I think there are so many things to be learned from training that are past the point of weight-loss.”

That’s not to say that all CrossFit athletes have a perfect relationship with their body. Even Lucy can feel self-conscious about her physique: “When I go out, I might feel really aware that I’m standing next to a guy and my arm is twice the size of his, or my leg is twice the size, and that does make me feel self-conscious. We all have those stereotypes ingrained in us that feminine doesn’t equal muscles, and I don’t believe that, but it can be hard to reframe.” However, as she rightly notes, “It’s unrealistic to feel good about your body twenty-four seven.” There is no path to a perfect body image, and that’s all the more reason to focus on how exercise makes you feel.

To close up our chat, I ask Lucy how to get involved in strength training, her feelings of empowerment and excitement so distant from the brightly lit weights section that brings dread to so many: “I used to personal train at Pure Gym and for so many of my clients our sessions were the first time they’d stepped into the weights area. And it is scary. Likewise, when I did my first CrossFit session, I honestly felt sick with nerves. But I’m so grateful I stepped inside because it was the best choice I ever made. You just have to take that first step.”

A taster session at CrossFit Nottingham is free to book online


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