CrossFit for everyone: Interview with trainer Evelyn Hichens

Whats is CrossFit? Whats it like to train a male rugby team? Does weight lifting make you ‘masculine’? We got to talk to the lovely Evelyn Hichens from the Isle of Wight who plain and simple is not afraid to lift. Here at Tilia Rose Swim being active is the core of our brand and we love to hear about women who put themselves out there and find a sport they love.

Evelyn is also the proud co-owner of a fitness retreat combining Yoga and strength training available on the beautiful island helping you balance and glo whatever your fitness level.

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Where does your love of fitness come from?

From a young age I was always involved in sport, and was a member of most sports clubs whilst at school. I love to challenge myself and strive to be a better version of me.

Why CrossFit?

Firstly, for those that don’t know CrossFit is a core strength and conditioning programme which, by definition, involves ‘constantly varied, high intensity functional movement’. A key element of CrossFit is Olympic weightlifting/resistance training. Prior to starting CrossFit, I had never lifted a barbell, and Olympic weightlifting as a concept was completely new to me. I was a keen runner and went to the gym, but I was getting a little tired of the repetitiveness and my fitness was starting to plateau.

With CrossFit you turn up with no idea what workout you are going to complete on any given day, and this combined with the vast expanse of movements/exercises (from rowing, to squats, to handstand press-ups, to clean and jerks, to wall balls – literally the list is endless) means that you will never get bored, and always find something that you rock at!

CrossFit came to me at a turning point in my life and it certainly offered me a place to escape, and more importantly access to an amazing community. I have made lifelong friends through CrossFit – and I am not the only one. The community aspect is quite unique – whenever you go to a CrossFit gym (known as a Box) everybody completes the same workout (scaled to your ability) and therefore there is sense of camaraderie as you are all in it together.

It also provides the opportunity to push yourself against other people, but most importantly against yourself in order for you to become a stronger, fitter person. For every workout you have the option of recording your time, number of reps/rounds, or weight lifted. This enables you to benchmark and set goals.

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When did you start doing Crossfit?

I started CrossFit in September 2015, and I became a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer in March 2018.

What do you say to women worried to lift?

Concerns around gaining ‘too much muscle’, becoming ‘bulky’ or looking too ‘manly’ is a barrier that is preventing many women start/commit to weightlifting/resistance training. When women raise these concerns, I like to do a bit of myth busting! Testosterone is the primary hormone responsible for muscle growth, and women have between 1/15th and 1/20th the amount that men have, making it a lot harder for us to gain muscle mass as a result. Taking part in strength training increases your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This helps you to burn more calories throughout the day, resulting in the development of lean muscle mass, and a reduction in body fat. In order to become ‘bulky’/significantly increase your muscle mass as a woman, it would need to be a conscious decision – it is likely that you would need to change your diet and spend a significant amount of time in the gym focusing on specific muscle groups!

In addition to overcoming these misconceptions, I also like to highlight all the amazing things that would happen to them as a result of lifting – for example it has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health, helps to build lean muscle, increases bone density (particularly important for women who are more likely to develop osteoporosis in later life), and makes you stronger (making you less susceptible to injury)!

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Is lifting masculine?

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Not in the slightest! Sports/approaches to exercise should not be labelled or defined by gender. I believe that fitness should be fun and not a chore/punishment – i.e. we shouldn’t be hitting it hard in the gym as we feel guilty for eating for eating a brownie for example! We should be doing exercise because we enjoy it – there are so many different options out there.

For some, lifting weights is viewed as a ‘masculine’ sport – it wasn’t until the Sydney Olympics in 2000 that women were invited to compete in weightlifting. Studies have also shown gyms to be gendered spaces, i.e. some have a preconception that the free weights area is for men, whilst the cardio-machines and fitness suites are for females (which was often reinforced by magazines). However, I feel that CrossFit is starting to change this, and helping to illustrate that engagement in weightlifting should not be dependent on gender.

How is this?

-          CrossFit focuses on performance over image (it’s very rare that you would find a mirror in a CrossFit gym) – not preconceptions of what the male or female body should look like

-          It is ‘infinitely scalable’ – every workout can be adjusted so that every single person can do a version of it (irrelevant of gender)

-          During the annual CrossFit competition (the Games) men and women complete the same workouts, receive equal amount of coverage, and receive equal airtime

I was really happy to see that in Women Health latest naked survey results, when women were asked ‘What are your body goals?’ – 86% stated to get stronger! I’ve also noticed that a lot more of the fitness magazines have articles and workouts on resistance training (that include barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells) making it more accessible to women and encouraging greater engagement. Times are changing!

What was it like training male rugby teams?

This summer, I delivered pre-season rugby fitness training sessions to a local male team. to be honest my main focus was increasing their level of fitness, and their gender was irrelevant. My sessions always had a weighted element incorporating tyres, sandbags, slamballs, and kettlebells. I absolutely loved delivering these sessions and felt respected by the team throughout.

Having heard about my classes, some of the ladies from the women’s team also asked to join in. The sessions did not change, as the goals remained the same – to increase overall fitness.

Where did your idea for Balance and Glo come from?

Balance and Glo offers wellness retreats on the beautiful Isle of Wight. The idea was developed by myself and Yoga teacher Jenny Stewart. We had been sharing our own practices with one another, yoga and strength training (which on paper seem very polar) and had begun to reap the complimentary benefits that each delivered. Both require balance, strength, and adherence to strict form. Increasing your strength through resistance training can enhance your yoga practice, whilst increasing your range of motion and general mobility through yoga, can boost your weight-based exercises. We wanted other people to experience these benefits, and therefore decided to create a retreat where ‘balancing’ these practices could be showcased.

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Tell us more about your retreat 

Our first retreat is this November (Friday 23rd November to Monday 26th November).

Balance and Glo is not a bootcamp; it’s not about telling people they are doing something wrong or need to make fundamental changes to their lives. Its about experiencing the benefits of our practices, exploring the great outdoors, and enjoying nutritious food, so that you have the opportunity to re-centre, re-charge, and re-connect with your body! By ‘staying’, ‘moving’, and ‘nourishing’ in our luxury sea-view accommodation, this island escape will result in you leaving with a ‘glo’.

For more information on prices, what’s included, and how to book click here:

For more information on my training, workout and recipe inspiration, and the services I offer follow @evelynhichenstraining, and for more information of the retreat follow @balanceandglo

Feel free to give me a shout if you have any questions: evfitiow@gmail.com

Tilia Rand-Bell