Jacqueline, 58, on empowering women of all ages to build strength and confidence through exercise

Fifty-eight-year-old Jacqueline Hooton is empowering women of all ages to find strength and confidence through exercise. The personal trainer, mum-of-five and grandmother-of-two passionately believes that staying fit and active is crucial to healthy ageing and longevity. Jacqueline usually trains women at her home gym in Bognor Regis, West Sussex, and while this isn’t possible in the current climate, she’s made every effort to move her training online. She also continues to inspire and encourage others by uploading regular at-home fitness content to her Instagram page.

Possibly the best example of how Jacqueline empowers women to get fit and strong, is by looking at her relationship with her 21-year-old daughter, Saffron – who previously struggled with an eating disorder. Jacqueline has supported Saffron throughout her fitness journey, which has helped her to form a more positive relationship with food and her body. Training side by side, Jacqueline and Saffron’s relationship has gone from strength to strength; and they can often be seen doing partner workouts together over on Instagram.

Jacqueline says, “Over time, we have together managed to shift the emphasis from thinking about what her [Saffron’s] body looks like, to focusing on what her body can do. I’m so proud of how far she has come. She’s becoming stronger every day and will definitely go on and exceed my strength in the years to come. She has a real advantage over me because she started strength training at age twenty. I wish I had known about strength training when I was her age!

“The great thing about training together is how close it brings us, and it definitely motivates both of us. It’s a really lovely way to spend time together.”

Jacqueline has become a powerful role model, not just for her children – who now see sport and fitness as a normal way of life – but for her clients, and her followers on social media. Explaining what she loves most about her work; Jacqueline says,  “The most rewarding thing is seeing women grow in confidence and happiness through training. There is something very empowering about strength training for women. Getting physically strong does carry over benefits to other areas of your life. I also work with many women who have underlying medical conditions, and disabilities, and it’s very satisfying seeing the difference exercise and activity can make to the quality of someone’s life.”

Jacqueline on her own journey with fitness, and starting a career as a personal trainer

While Jacqueline spent her childhood swimming in the sea, sailing and cycling, it wasn’t until after the birth of her first child in 1989, that she really began to value the importance of keeping herself fit. Not just for her own health, but for the wellbeing of her baby. With limited childcare options, Jacqueline began working out to Jane Fonda videos, and walking miles each day while her baby slept in his pram – and by the time she had her fifth baby, she felt ready to formalise her fitness knowledge by studying to become a personal trainer.

Over the years, she has taken part in bodybuilding competitions, run marathons, and completed various fitness challenges. She swapped her career in store management, and buying, for the opportunity to work as a personal trainer in large gyms, and small corporate facilities. And for ten years, she also worked as a fitness tutor, delivering fitness courses and education to a new generation of fitness instructors.

“One of the things I feel very strongly about is making fitness accessible and inclusive to all”

Then, in her early 50s, Jacqueline felt that she was juggling too many plates. Being a fitness tutor, personal trainer, and coping with the demands of a big family, was causing her to feel exhausted and overwhelmed.

So, when one of her grown up children started university, and another left home; she saw an opportunity to convert her home studio into what is known today as Her Garden Gym; a training space designed to nurture women’s physical and psychological health. The move was driven by Jacqueline’s desire to find peace and a better work-life balance by being able to work from home full-time, and her dream of providing clients with the chance to train in a supportive, relaxed environment, free from judgement.

Jacqueline says, “Although I’ve worked with male and female clients during my long career, nowadays my focus is on female clients – especially focusing on women in midlife and beyond. Many of my clients don’t want to go to a gym (even when they were open!) and feel more comfortable training at home, or in my studio. This is really important to me because one of the things I feel very strongly about is making fitness accessible and inclusive to all.

“Nearly all my female clients breathe a sigh of relief when I reassure them they won’t have to go to a gym or take up running if they don’t want to, but I can still help them achieve their health and fitness goals!”

“During lockdown, I’ve also been using Instagram to show people how to stay fit at home, using things like backpacks and fabric conditioner bottles as weights!”

Since Her Garden Gym was established in 2016, Jacqueline has built up a solid client base; a community of women who are all committed to doing what they can to improve and maintain their fitness levels – while having fun at the same time.

Although Jacqueline had set up an Instagram account in 2014, it was a couple of years later, when Her Garden Gym came to fruition, that she really understood the value of Instagram in marketing her business.

Explaining how she used Instagram to connect with potential clients, and to continue building her profile as a personal trainer, Jacqueline says, “I’m quite a visual person, so I enjoy amateur photography, and love the creative side of Instagram. I started creating short fitness videos to upload to my page, as well as other informative and motivational fitness content.

“This is helpful because people can get a flavour of what you do, and how you might be able to help them reach their fitness goals. It’s about building relationships and trust, which in turn leads to contacts and potential clients. During lockdown, I’ve also been posting videos which show people how to stay fit at home, using things like backpacks and fabric conditioner bottles as weights!

“The other thing that Instagram has enabled me to do, is to forge relationships with big brands for collaborations. So I’ve delivered and created content for these brands, which has enabled me to reach a wider audience.”

During the pandemic, social media is just one of the ways that Jacqueline has continued to connect with clients. She has also made the decision to start training clients via Zoom; helping them to stay as fit and healthy as possible during lockdown. She says, “I think we are all having to adapt and evolve and I see my online business expansion as the next logical step.”

“I believe we have a responsibility to ourselves, our families and the wider community to be as healthy as possible, so that we can fully engage in society and live long meaningful lives”

In addition to the knowledge that Jacqueline has acquired about health and fitness during her career as a personal trainer, her position as a woman in her 50s, also helps her to relate to her female clients of a similar age. She empathises with what potential barriers to exercise might be, and has a good understanding of the type of exercises that can help women to maintain their mobility and independence into later life.

For example, she creates short workout circuits that focus on increasing the performance of everyday movements; like getting up and down from the floor.

She also coaches all her female midlife clients on the art of squatting; as this is an important functional exercise for building and maintaining lower body strength. This functional exercise is especially important when it comes to movements like getting off the bed or the sofa, getting in and out of the car, or getting on and off of the toilet –  all things that women in their late 60s and 70s may struggle with.

Speaking about the benefits of a healthy diet and exercise post-menopause, and about her own personal experience with exercise as she’s got older, Jacqueline explains:

“As a post-menopausal woman I know my bone health, heart health and brain health are all at risk during this life phase. There’s much we can do to support our long term health though, and minimise these risks. Eating a nutrient dense diet, managing stress, exercise and daily activity are all important if we want to lead a long, healthy life.

“I am very committed to my strength training and running. Between these two activities I know I am doing my very best to promote my heart health, bone health, coordination, core strength, balance and brain health. There are no guarantees of course, I have many fit friends and peers who despite leading incredibly healthy lifestyles have been affected by serious illness, disease and other medical conditions.

“Nevertheless I believe we have a responsibility to ourselves, our families and the wider community to be as healthy as possible, so that we can fully engage in society and live long meaningful lives. I guess what it really comes down to though is not so much my love of exercise but my love of being active. I believe our bodies want to move. We were not designed to sit down all day.”

“I’m so inspired by women like Mary Duffy, a 71 year old powerlifter, and Joan MacDonald who at 74 has had the most incredible transformation the past four years”

Although Jacqueline has spent many years working on her strength and cardiovascular fitness, she’s noticed some age-related changes. But for Jacqueline this is simply another reason to work hard to maintain her strength, flexibility and fitness levels – while still allowing herself enough time to recover in between training sessions, and paying close attention to any niggles that could lead to injury, and prevent her from training long term. She says:

“I definitely can’t run at the sort of pace I could in my thirties and forties! But this is to be expected as our maximal heart rate decreases with age, which reduces both cardiac output and oxygen delivery to the muscles we need for running efficiency. This is why maintaining cardiovascular exercise, and supporting our heart health is so important. 

“Flexibility has also never been my strong point, so I am making an even greater effort with this as I get older, I still want to be able to reach down and tie the laces on my trainers for many years to come! 

“The one thing that I haven’t seen diminish over the years is my strength. If anything I have become stronger. Strength training is my real passion – there’s nothing like feeling physically strong, and strength in all areas of life is invaluable. I’m so inspired by women like Mary Duffy, a 71-year-old powerlifter, and Joan MacDonald, who at 74, has had the most incredible transformation over the past four years. I believe these older athletic women are doing a great service to women in general, showing that you can be fit, strong and healthy in later life.”

“It may be that we need to think less about ‘exercise’ and focus more on increasing our daily activity”

Though Jacqueline has been strength training since her late thirties, she enjoys exercise just as much now as she did then, if not more. She’s keen to remind anyone who’s thinking about starting their own fitness journey, that it’s never too late to get started – and that small steps can still make a big difference. Jacqueline says:

“If you’re struggling to feel motivated to exercise, and are feeling under confident or a bit down about things as a result, then you’re not alone. I work with many women who for various reasons have never felt fitness and exercise is for them. School PE of the 60s and 70s has a lot to answer for! Often when I talk to women of my age and older we discuss their relationship with exercise, and where some of their negative feelings have come from. Who doesn’t remember the humiliation at school when two team captains cherry-picked the ‘sporty’ girls leaving the less popular, less coordinated or less able girls until last? Early experiences like these can lead to a real dislike of exercise, as can the association with discomfort, embarrassment, and getting hot and sweaty.

“It may be that we need to think less about ‘exercise’ and focus more on increasing our daily activity. When people are starting out, they often think that they need to do everything all at once, which can feel really overwhelming. Instead, focus on making small achievable changes, like a daily walk. Walking ten minutes from your home and ten minutes back again will be about a mile for most people. Then perhaps you could add in some really simple strength challenges; for example, sitting and standing up from a chair without using your hands for 8–12 repetitions.”

As a fitness advocate, at ease with wearing bikinis and colourful gym wear, Jacqueline believes that age is a wonderful blessing, and that amazing things – including a healthy relationship with exercise – can be achieved once we decide to stop imagining ourselves as too old.

She says, “Apart from playing in a paddling pool, there are very few things that we should decide we’re ‘too old’ for! The idea that we are ever too old is what ages us, not the date we were born. And on the hottest of summer days, even playing in the paddling pool naked doesn’t seem like a bad idea at any age!”

You can find out more about Jacqueline and Her Garden Gym by visiting Jacqueline’s website, or Instagram page.

Were you inspired by Jacqueline’s story? Are you passionate about health and fitness, or perhaps you’re looking to start your fitness journey? Join the conversation on the community forum, or leave a comment below.

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