I’m so excited to introduce Lara Milward to you. Lara is an award-winning fitness coach. She is also the co-founder of a growing fitness community called BlitzFitness which focuses on building confidence and self-esteem, things which are close to my own heart. Through her own experiences as a teenager, Lara truly understands the importance of exercise for both physical and mental wellbeing and is now on a mission to share that with other women.
Lara specialises in fitness training, core stability, endurance challenges, circuit training, boot camp fitness, anatomy and physiology, weight management and pilates; she has such a breadth of experience.
In 2014 Lara was the only woman over 40 and the only mother joining the core team with Sam Branson for the Virgin Strive Challenge 2014. A journey ‘under human power only’ of 1,500 km from London to the top of the Matterhorn for children’s charity ‘Big Change’. Lara is a political science graduate from Loughborough University whose first job was working on an All-Party Committee for Women’s Healthcare at the House of Commons, her passion for keeping women healthy, active and body confident has been an unswerving theme throughout her life.
Lara writes regularly for a range of publications and has been featured in Women’s Running, The Sunday Times magazine, The Times, Vogue and Good Housekeeping and is often approached for comments on a range of fitness areas. As well as her fitness work, Lara also undertakes a number of speaker engagements relating to inspiring women and striving for the charity ‘Big Change’.
I couldn’t wait to interview her.
When did you decide to start exercising regularly and why was that?
Sport has been in my life since I was a little girl and it formed the framework of my daily life – I think it was simply that I had so much energy that my parents needed something to do with me! I joined a local swimming club at the age of six and for the next half a dozen years or so, I spent early mornings pushing out the lengths. Like most kids, I tried all sorts of other fun things like ballet and gymnastics but fast forward to my early teenage years, I stopped swimming and with that I lost my way. I had no idea at the time – you don’t as a teenager – that the regular exercise that I was getting through swimming was ticking all the boxes for my physical and just as importantly, my mental wellbeing. Through all the training I had developed an enormous appetite and while I stopped training, I didn’t adjust my food intake. I put on weight, became self-conscious and unhappy and hid. I was at an academic all-girls school which assumed sport was for the ‘also rans’ and so not a lot of importance was placed on it. It wasn’t until I joined Loughborough University in 1989 that I found my feet again and I can physically feel and remember the joy inside that erupted within me when I had a timetable filled with sport again and I had energy, self-esteem and confidence back. I felt free and in control of who I was again. And I had the understanding and experience to know that regular exercise kept me sane, healthy, buoyant and vital and I will never let it go.
What activities have you tried and what’s your favourite?
I have tried everything! From sky-diving to ‘broomball’- a bit like ice hockey – on the ice in Moscow. I love skiing and dancing but my I’m always happiest as part of a team – water polo, volleyball, netball – I always work harder and have a greater purpose if others are involved.
What has been the biggest barrier you’ve had to overcome in your fitness journey?
My self-perception. In my own eyes, I am never lean enough, good enough, fast enough, even though I have completed everything I have committed to. I have struggled with my body image all my life and if I could save women and girls from anything it would be from wasting valuable time and energy on any kind of self-loathing. My body has carried me through many physical challenges and I should be proud of it and want to look after it, not fight it.
Have you had any negative comments and how have you dealt with them?
I’ve had comments about being chubby when I was younger but to be honest, not many negatives at all. I have had what I feel are ‘cloaked’ negative comments in that someone has made a passive-aggressive comment and it’s only when I’ve got home I’ve thought – why did they say that? Were they having a dig or a swipe at me? Sometimes that has upset me, but I’ve learned to sit with the feelings rather than react instantly. Usually after a good night’s sleep, everything seems better in the morning.
What goals have you set and have you reached any of them yet?
I love variety so I am good at doing something once and then needing a new goal or challenge. For example, once I had done a marathon I needed a reason to do another one and thus I chaperoned someone else. I have a much bigger goal at the moment and that’s to focus on supporting other women and girls to find a sport or activity they love. There is nothing more empowering for a woman than the support of other women, both in business and sport and the strength that comes from this cannot be harnessed. So this year is all about that.
What benefits has being active brought you?
Where to start?! Being active is my life, it’s everything to me. It gives me energy, enthusiasm, confidence, thinking time, health, friendships, challenges and fulfilment. When I am not active I am a different personality. There have been times in my life when access to and freedom to exercise have been removed and I feel much more fragile – mentally in particular – when that happens.
What advice would you give to other women who want to start exercising?
Stop listening to the voices; the ‘internal saboteurs’ that are preventing you from starting OR give them a name and have a conversation with them saying, “I hear you but I am not going to listen right now and I’ll come back to you later” and as Nike says, “Just Do It”. Find a buddy, find an activity you like doing, put it in the diary and make a commitment. The hardest bit is starting. The hardest bit is behavioural change but you can make new habits, you just have to start. There is nothing to fear, you have nothing to lose.