Pip Black (above right) and Joan Murphy (above left) are the pioneering duo behind the Frame fitness studios which now number five locations across London. Launching in the throes of the recession back in 2009, they’ve seen the fitness industry explode over the past seven years and witnessed abrupt changes in attitudes to physical activity—fuelled in part by social media. Here they explain why the fitness revolution hasn’t been entirely healthy and explore their new cause of concern: pregnancy fitness.

Pip: The original concept behind Frame was simple: try and get people to move a bit more in a social, fun atmosphere. At the time fitness in London was pretty awful. Going to the gym was something to be dreaded and there was no sense that it could be a leisure activity. It was all so negative and about punishing yourself because you ate too much, or drank too much the night before. There wasn’t really any other reason and it was so shit when you were there. For Joan and I, who have always enjoyed being active and knew how fun exercise could be, it was weird to see what we were being offered – it just wasn’t ticking any boxes.

Joan: It’s so true. Back then, if I told someone I was going to the gym, they’d sarcastically say, ‘have fun.’ They couldn’t conceive that it could be enjoyable, and to be honest they were right. The only pilates classes out there were so serious, and everything felt really overpriced.

Pip: Both Joan and I grew up playing team sports. Pretty much every evening was spent at some sort of sports club. Weekends were about matches—hockey, netball, running and tennis. Team sports teach you a lot about commitment. However tired you were, you knew you had to get up in the morning and be at the clubhouse to go to a game at 7.30am and that was just drummed into you. It’s something that has served me so well in my adult life because I know if I commit to something, I will always turn up and deliver. Teamwork really teaches you everything–it takes a lot to score a goal or win a match. But it was also the social side of team sports that we both really missed.

“Our classes—from 80s aerobics to dance—offered something more fun. It was never about beasting yourself.” Pip

Joan: I’m from New Zealand where there is a total different mind-set and different way of life which wasn’t translated over here.  When you start out in your career, you don’t have time to commit to teams–you just cant get to the clubhouse for 7pm for practice. I really missed the camaraderie of the team aspect. In NZ, you could quite easily go to work, go for a run with some of your work mates then grab a pizza and maybe a glass of wine. We’d play touch rugby as a work team–there would be all sorts of team sports. There was nothing of that nature here.

pip-black2Pip: So when we launched Frame,  it was about getting people who did nothing to start doing something. The message was that it is better to do half an hour once a week than never exercise at all. But the classes—from 80s aerobics to dance—offered something more fun. It was never about beasting yourself.

Over the years everything has started to evolve in terms of attitudes. Of course that’s what we wanted–for people to move more. But somewhere along the way things have got confused and we’ve seen a huge increase in women stacking high intensity classes into their schedules and pushing themselves to breaking point. Now we’re trying to convince people to find a middle ground. You don’t have to work out everyday. In fact it’s not good for your body. If you’re an athlete and you’re training for something, then amazing, but if you’re a normal person with a job and a London life, you don’t need to be killing yourself every time you do a class. It’s like we’ve lost the fun again.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in women stacking high intensity classes into their schedules and pushing themselves to breaking point.” Pip

Ultimately if you’re working in a really stressful job, doing high intensity classes all week long isn’t the best thing for you. You probably need to start thinking about doing some yoga or pilates. It’s about bringing your cortisol levels down a little bit rather than hyping them further up.

On The Social Media Six Pack

Pip: Of course social media has played a massive part in the shift in attitudes to fitness—and health. The Instagram thing is something we feel quite strongly about. There are a lot of beautiful, slim girls on social media who naturally look toned and lean. Yes, they work out regularly, but the truth is that they’d look great either way. And they are followed by thousands and thousands of other women—many of them young, impressionable girls who see that body shape as the norm. It’s not like back in the 90s when everyone wanted to be super skinny—now we all have to have a six pack. But this time around, a lot disordered eating and excessive exercise passes as acceptable under the banner of ‘fitspo’.

“What people put on social media leads us to believe that you should be able to have this time to exercise—that it’s your right. And that other women somehow have a better time than you. But actually a lot of people are trying hard to forge a career, they’re working late, they have other demands. They can’t fit it all in. We cant all do a personal training session at 11am.” Joan

Joan: Some people have a natural six pack—they have genetically different body types and shapes. I’m someone who can put on muscle pretty easily, so I’m more likely to be able to show muscles on my stomach. But the truth is some people are never going to get one—no matter how hard they train—because they just don’t have the genetic makeup that builds and shows muscle on the stomach. For a lot of women, that area is exactly where they store their fat. In order to see a six pack, for most women your overall body fat levels need to be very low and you have to think about the implications of that for your future. 

joan-murphy-left-and-pip-blackWhen it comes to striving for a six pack, people are often only considering the now and what they see in the mirror in front of them. They’re not thinking about fertility, bone density or gut health. The sorts of things that go along with cutting our major food groups and stripping things out of your diet. And even more worryingly women are taking their cues from people in the world of social media who don’t have either the experience or training to advise others.

Pip: Exercise today is always, always about getting ‘the body’. For us that’s something that’s really depressing. It just doesn’t need to be all about what you look like, it really is about how you feel. If you feel good and you’re in a mentally good space, that is really the most important thing in life. If you’re happy, the people around you are more likely to be happy—your partner, your kids, your friends. Often you will find that people in their peak ‘super slim’ shape are working out like that and not eating enough because they are not happy. Therefore, they’re putting all of their efforts into being totally internalised and thinking they can control at least this one area of their life. It’s not anorexia, but it’s disordered eating to varying degrees. That’s not making them happy and it’s not something anyone should aspire to.

Joan: Without wanting to sound overly moralistic, we do try and practice what we preach. You know we don’t use models in our campaigns, we use regular people–often our receptionists or people that work for us. We don’t, as an office, ever sit around and talk about what we ate for breakfast, or how many times we’ve worked out that week. We don’t sit around and discuss calories. We aren’t all on the latest diets. As a company ethos—we have a lot of likeminded people working here and I mean, a lot of them are smoking hot—but we don’t sit around like these social media accounts and analyze what each of us are consuming or exerting.

“That’s the other thing about social media—what you see is not what you get. It’s not the reality.” Joan

It’s also worth mentioning that there are people out there who have a lot of time and money on their hands and there’s an idea that this kind of health has become a bit of a premium. A lot of us don’t have that time or money. Prior to having kids, both Pip and I were able to do a class every day but now we drop off our kids at 8am and pick up at 6pm and we have to fit 15 hours of work in between. Guess what, you probably don’t get to a gym class. We try and have walking meetings so that we get some fresh air and we’ll timetable with our husbands to squeeze in a class where we can. In the past we just did as we pleased—but this is the reality. That’s the other thing about social media—what you see is not what you get. It’s not the reality.

Prime example, I’ve just had another C-section and I’ve got to put my core back together, so I made a plan to work on it. Day one of the plan, my little one lost it. I didn’t mange to do anything for my core. What are you going to do? What people put on social media leads us to believe that you should be able to have this time to exercise—that it’s your right. And that other women somehow have a better time than you. But actually a lot of people are trying hard to forge a career, they’re working late, they have other demands. They can’t fit it all in. We cant all do a personal training session at 11am.

Pip: Most of the people I know that have a large social media following don’t work. Or more accurately, that is their work. So that becomes all their time and effort. Everything is about getting their body to look like that so they can take pictures and of course they can work out all day, every day because they don’t have to go to work. Frame is here for all people, inclusive of people that are working or that are mothers or have other demands on their life. Or just people who also want to spend their time doing other things. We don’t expect people to come here every night because they should be with their friends or going to a gig, or just enjoying London. 

Pre & Post-Natal Fitness

Joan: The thing that spurred us to launch Mumhood is the huge confusion that so many women feel about what they can and can’t do exercise-wise during pregnancy. I’ve taught at Frame through two pregnancies and Pip through one, so we know first-hand all of the questions that get thrown at us. It is the single biggest thing that I get asked for advice on from friends at home in New Zealand and here–I can’t tell you how many messages I get on the subject. A similar conversation has definitely been going on with our community post-pregnancy too.

joan-murphyPip: With Mumhood, it’s almost like going back to the beginning again so it feels like a passion project because we both feel so strongly about it. It’s actually really similar to when Frame started—in that we just wanted people to start exercising. It’s taking that ethos and attitude and bringing it to a different sub-section of women, some of whom already come to Frame, others who don’t. The aim is to take the initiative nationwide, then globally and educate all mums and expectant mums about exercise and motivate them to stay active.

Joan: Pregnancy is not the time when you should be looking to hit PBs or training to win a marathon. It’s just about keeping your body in good shape. When you’re pregnant you’re carrying someone inside you—everything you do to your body has an impact on your baby, so surely that should be the time when you’re most looking after your health? Then post-birth, it’s really hard when you’ve got a baby that cries all night. The whole experience can be really lonely, so mentally it can be really nice to have somewhere you can go with likeminded mums and do exercise. But even if you’re doing it at home, getting those endorphins flowing will help you feel better about life and a little more in control at such an uncertain time.

One big issue we’ve noticed recently is that all these women who have been pushing themselves to do 10 classes a week, are so fit now that they’re stressing about weight gain and fitness decline during pregnancy. Which is really scary. I’m not saying you should put on huge amounts of weight–totally not, but you need to be mindful that you shouldn’t be exhausting your body during pregnancy. On the other side of the coin you have women feeling so worried about doing something wrong that they avoid exercise all together. Which is just as bad as going in to0 heavy. There are so many mixed messages out there. So giving people real information so that they can exercise safely and feel confident in the fact that they know they’re doing everything right is great. 

Another factor we’ve taken into account is the reality that post-nataly you just don’t have the same time or perhaps resources. You might be on reduced pay, you might be living further out of town and you’re completely exhausted. But even if you have all the help in the world, repairing your body takes time—it takes nine months to make a baby so it takes nine months to put yourself back together. Another one of the massive problem with social media is how that translates. The ‘snapping back’ culture on Instagram is growing really quickly with mum’s sharing their post-pregnancy fitspo—and people are coming into the studio and saying that they feel scared or depressed that it’s taking them so long to get back into shape when it’s only been a few weeks since they gave birth. Women’s self-confidence can be so low after having a baby, so those messages can be so negative. 

Pip: It links back to the crazy exercising with non-pregnant ladies. It’s amazing that there is a shift and people are realising that you can exercise through pregnancy and mums want to get keep their fitness levels up to get their figures back through exercise rather than just dieting. But on the flipside it’s very likely that it will go too far the other way and become excessive, which during that part of your life is more dangerous as the risks are so much higher. You know if you get back into doing intense exercise straight after your baby and you haven’t put yourself back together properly, you can easily injure yourself really seriously. You can prevent your body from repairing itself in the longer term. So it’s about having realistic advice and making women feel confident while they get their strength back.