Professional dancer turned personal trainer and now an instructor for the smart fitness mirror VAHA - Natalie Simmonds - has revealed her tips to get body confident this autumn.
September can sometimes feel like a time to start afresh as the summer comes to an end and we all start to get back into a routine again and for some that might mean prioritising health and fitness.
However, Simmonds has warned against trying the latest fad diet and slimming foods but instead encouraged people to focus on having a realistic consistent workout regime.
The trainer to celebrities and Victoria’s Secret models explained why body confidence comes from the mind as well as the body, revealed why good posture and alignment is so important to help your workouts and spoke about what working at VAHA is like and what it means for the future of the fitness.
What did your journey into the world of health, fitness and personal training look like?
I come from a professional dance background and when I was getting to the end of that career I was then looking for something still movement based so it was a natural correlation then to come into wellness and becoming certified in the things that I wanted to teach because it all correlates with the training I grew up with to then popping it into a fitness kind of class or brand, it’s the same. It all comes down to posture, alignment and people want to stay fit, they want to stay healthy.
Why is educating people about posture and alignment important to you?
Quite simply good posture is a great help, so good posture, bones muscles and ligaments to be properly aligned and that means that the muscles we’re working out or aiming to work more properly and efficiently so then everything works more efficiently in the body which will then result in less chance of injury. But it also means that you’re working to your optimum levels, so no time is wasted during a workout because everything is where it should be. But there’s also huge improvement in your ability to breathe when you maintain your posture.
I like clients to take that away with them when they’re working at a desk 9-5 and when you’re aware of your posture and you’re able to maintain it there’s huge improvements with your breathing and how you stay concentrated and focussed in your ability for other things. There’s loads of studies on it and that’s why I’m really big on it, I think you can’t go wrong with good posture, a healthy spine is what you want.
What is it about Barre, yoga and Pilates workouts that attracts you as opposed to dancing or circuit training?
I love low impact workouts which all three of them are. They challenge the muscles still but they’re incredibly kind on your joints unlike the high intensity workouts, coming from a dance background where I had years of impounding the joints.
I want longevity in whatever workout I choose to do, I won’t get it if I’m in impounding the same joints that I have been throughout my career. I don’t have any big injuries from dance but with low impact workouts you can work incredibly safely on the joints, and you’ll get the same effectiveness as you would with high impact workouts. It still lifts the heart rate, it does all of those things but in a different way.
You have trained celebrities and Victoria’s Secret models before but what does that initial session with them look like?
Basically, we meet up and then they’ll go through their aspirations and goals whether it’s training for a job or if they have to get in shape for a specific thing. And then I work with their background, whether that be injuries or not injuries or what their preferred style of workout would be and put together a plan for them which does definitely also include nutrition points as well, but I don’t advertise diets. For me that doesn’t resonate with me, and I don’t go that way with my clients.
I obviously believe in balance of everything, if there is a specific thing they’re training for I’ll tell them to eat a certain way so perhaps more protein. We just check that everything’s got a balance and it’s not all one sided. If it’s all one way it’s not good, it’s not healthy. There’s no longevity with diets when we’re being incredibly harsh on ourselves, it’s the same when you start to plan getting into doing your workouts, if it’s unrealistic there’s no longevity in it, you’re going to do it for three weeks and it’s not going to be beneficial to you and you think you’ll get to the body shape you want but that’s not what it’s all about, it’s only half of the plan.
We want to make sure we’re in this plan where it could be done for months to come, years to come and not keep going in and out and you just say oh I can’t do this anymore I’m just going to go back to eating whatever it was before.
What would your advice be to people who want to feel body confident as we head into autumn?
Basically, it’s the same thing I’d say to my clients: have realistic goals from their workouts. But I believe a good body starts in the mind so I teach my clients that it’s not only exercise for your body that will help. Most importantly it’s exercising your mind to find that acceptance towards your body first and foremost. It sounds stupid but it’s exactly that.
As long as you love yourself to start with and I teach my clients kind of the opposite of what society is telling them from a marketing point of view, we’re always told that we’re not good enough and we buy certain things – but the truth is we’re great as we are and even if we recognise that body confidence comes from our thoughts not just out figure we’re halfway there.
So, then we can go and try to find a class that really challenges us but also brings us joy, then it becomes part of your routine, it’s non-negotiable. If you’re hating and loathing what you do everyday there’s just no point putting yourself through that. I come from the aspect of body confidence rather than it having to be achieving a certain shape or size. I’ve met people who have the most amazing figures but there’s still that self-doubt, that negative talk there so it really is to start with the mind first.
To wish you’re someone else is to waste the person that you are so I really like to work with that. If the focus is just on the aesthetic look physically then you’re extremely unhappy when it’s not going to plan or you’re probably extremely unhappy even when you get to your goal because there’s so much other work that’s not been done too, so mental and physical fitness go hand in hand – I don’t think you can achieve one without the other.
Now you’re working as an instructor for VAHA, so could you explain what it is and why you chose to join their team?
I’m really excited to have joined their team, it’s an incredible community. The vibe is amazing between the clients and the team members, like the instructors. We get to do a class and then you can literally chat with them after, we’ve got a Facebook group that we’re all part of. It’s really good, you can really check in almost instantly which is brilliant.
We also offer 1:1 too which is great, it’s all online, so it’s through the mirror. It brings that boutique experience whether it be your gym or studio classes directly to your living room or wherever you are – it brings it to you. It makes it as convenient as possible, so I suppose it gets rid of any other excuse. What’s great is we do live on demand classes as well, so you can do a live class, or you can go back to one and do an on-demand class and we offer 1:1 personal training too so you’ve literally got your PT instructor on the screen with you too.
There’s lots on offer, there’s lots of different classes too. We’ve got the high impact workouts, we’ve got the weights, we’ve got the Pilates and the yoga and the Barre – so you’ve got such a variety too which I think is great to have online.
Is VAHA the future of fitness?
I definitely think the way things are going, I’ve noticed it since things are kind of resuming back to what we used to know as normal, there’s still this big draw to the online world. I really think it has its place.
There’s benefits of both, there’s benefits of being socially in a space with someone but this is also incredible. It fits in with your life so much more in that you haven’t got to travel across London to get to that class on time, it’s just there in your living room or wherever you have it. That relationship that hit everyone that your health is actually so important, and people used to put it on the backburner, but exercise was probably the thing that helped people through tough times, and I think that relationship doesn’t then change, it becomes something that is part of your routine even subconsciously, it’s not a chore.
Obviously exercise is really important in your life, but would you say your nutrition is equally as important for a healthy lifestyle?
To a degree I kind of do agree with that. I think more so with me it’s with the workouts, whatever you’re choosing to do is your form of movement, for me it’s just having consistency with that and intensity, that’s first and foremost to have that going. Then you have a bit more flexibility nutrition wise depending on what your goal might be.
I work with people who don’t desire to lose weight, they just want to keep optimal health. But there’s a bit more room for balance, there’s no specific way to eat because everyone’s body, our metabolic rates are different, people respond differently so it’s such a bespoke thing on the nutrition side of things because we’re all going to require something slightly different.
So, I can’t say to you for instance no pasta and no pizza because that works for some people and I’m one of them, I’ll definitely eat a bit of everything. It’s definitely 50/50 but there’s no point being incredibly consistent and then not having a thought for what you’re putting in your body. You want to nourish your body; you want to put in really good stuff, so you don’t want to do a workout and then eat something that has zero nourishment to the body or it’s not going to help the body come back from a workout.
I agree that 50/50, we should be mindful but not get too bogged down on the diet side of things. I know there’s a huge market for that and I’m not really here for it. I don’t believe in specific diets; I don’t like to push that too much. You probably won’t meet too many people other than me in my industry who’d say that, but I don’t believe that there is a one size that fits all.
Natalie is a London-based Barre, Yoga and Pilates instructor and has extensive experience as a lead trainer in London’s top and most exclusive boutique studios. She comes from a professional dance background and is passionate about empowering and educating people through intuitive movement, with a focus on posture and alignment.
Natalie is now working as an instructor for VAHA, the UK’s first interactive fitness mirror which launched in April. VAHA acts as a virtual personal trainer, streamed directly into your home and loaded with more than 200 different on-demand workouts and live classes around the clock catering for every training goal and exercise preference.
Words by Lucy Roberts for Female First, who you can follow on Twitter, @Lucy_Roberts_72.
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