How Co Antrim personal trainer Caroline Girvan has helped keep the world fit during lockdown
Co Antrim personal trainer Caroline Girvan tells Jenny Lee about her unintentional journey to becoming an online fitness sensation, how she has helped the physical and mental health of people all over the world during lockdown and her tips on getting into shape
FROM helping the mental health of key workers during the pandemic to supporting people in the poorest communities across the world enjoy free fitness workouts and helping home-schooling mums to stay fit and sane, Greenisland woman Caroline Girvan has been labelled the local Joe Wicks of this past year.
With a Facebook community dedicated to her workouts, almost three quarters of a million subscribers to her fitness videos and over a million hits, she was even named the world’s second-fastest-growing channel on YouTube.
And yet the 36-year-old says her online presence was completely “unintentional”, and admits she even had to teach herself how to use YouTube and Instagram.
“I'm actually quite a shy and private person and I just recorded a few videos for my friends' family and clients who couldn't train at the start of the first lockdown last spring," Caroline tells me.
“One of them suggested I put it on YouTube so they could watch it on their TV and the next thing I knew was that thousands of people around the world started watching it too and it just grew into the huge community it is now.”
As she watched her following grow, Caroline, who had been recording her workouts on her mobile phone, decided to invest in a stand-alone camera and lighting – yet she continued to keep the ethos simple and accessible.
The only equipment required for her EPIC fitness programme, which include HIIT, weights, core and abs, are a mat and dumbbells.
“Basically I get up and do mummy duties and do the home-schooling and then say 'Mummy is away to do her wee workout' and I go into the living room and press record. There have been some mishaps where I forgot to press record and I had to do it all again,” the mum-of-two admits with a grimace.
“It’s certainly not high tech, but I do try to make an effort to buy flowers for the background and wear matching outfits and people do comment that the aesthetics of the video bring them joy.”
Caroline’s genuine enthusiasm and natural way strikes a chord with her followers and their little companions. While some kids have joined in the exercises – one mum even made her little one dumbbells from tinfoil-wrapped toilet roll – it’s dogs that seem to make the most appearances, jumping on to the backs of owners as they try do 'plank' posture.
Caroline originally studied accountancy but it was after the birth of her son, who is now eight, that she decided to turn her love of fitness into a career, becoming a certified personal trainer.
“Being a personal trainer is about much more than helping someone lose weight or achieve toned arms. It’s amazing what you can do for people. People I have trained have made different life choices because of the confidence they gained through exercise," she enthuses.
Caroline has taken great pride in helping people all over the world in the past year.
“Of course there have been people who have completely transformed their physique but it’s the gains in mental strength which exercise gives people that is most rewarding and keeps me motivated," she says.
“I've had feedback during lockdown from people who have come off medication for depression and anxiety that they have been on most of her life and others who have overcoming eating disorders.
“A massive amount of key workers around the world do my workouts before they go on a long shift and they tell me it helps them get through it.”
While many people have capitalised on the opportunity that lockdown has presented to them by charging for online content, Caroline’s workouts remain free of charge, with some income being received through advertising.
Over the past few months Caroline has declined a number of proposals ranging from media work to owning her own gym franchise, saying she “just wants to continue helping people feel better about themselves”.
And although Caroline doesn’t rule out developing an app in the future offering live workouts, she is still committed to providing free content.
“I can’t cut off people in the likes of Africa and India who have been joining me this past year and can’t afford a fee. Through this journey I’ve learnt a lot about different cultures,” adds Caroline who spends up to four hours a day online responding to her questions and comments from her followers.
Demonstrating the lengths people go to to join in her classes, she recalls a woman in Africa who emailed her to say she was delighted that a neighbour who was building a shed had given her a brick that she was using in the workouts as a yoga block.
“It wasn’t a brick as we would know it; it was a concrete slab,” says Caroline, who thoughtfully posted her follower a pair of proper yoga blocks.
In the past Caroline has run marathons and ultra-marathons and participated in Ironman competitions and triathlons, though she admits that producing her YouTube fitness videos has kept her so busy that she hasn’t had time to pull on her running shoes this past year.
“I’ve always just taken part for enjoyment. If I had specialised in just one thing I could have probably excelled at that, but as well as long distances I also love to sprint, to lift heavy weights and do yoga. I like it all."
Her favourite competition was a 50-mile night-time run in the Lake District.
“It was an amazing experience. I just turned up and was by myself with a map, dodging sheep at two in the morning.”
And her advice to anyone lacking motivation or struggling to start exercising?
“Don’t be too hard on yourself. It doesn't matter if you are a beginner or advanced, everyone has moments when you think you can't do it.
“I have that moment in every single workout I do. Some people think it's easy for me but I too lose my balance and have to stop to take a moment to get my breath back. I don’t edit my videos and I think people like to see my struggles,” she laughs.
“Beginners especially feel under pressure and panic that they need to keep going. But it's OK to take a few seconds out and the gradual improvements you make will keep you motivated.”
:: You can find follow Caroline Girvan on YouTube and Instagram via @CarolineGirvan, on Facebook via Caroline Girvan Fitness and at Carolinegirvan.com