Personal trainer, women’s community creator, beam of shining light.
A perfect day that involves a 5am wakeup, training and work – you might be reading this thinking, who on EARTH would call that a perfect day? But if you met Ange Drake, and I really hope you do, you’d not only totally understand it, but also celebrate it. Because Ange wholeheartedly loves what she does for a living, completely emanating that sentiment – if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.
Personal trainer, women’s community facilitator, mother, wife, friend, and beam of shining light, Ange is the cheerleader everyone needs to live a happy, healthy and well-rounded life. But don’t think she’s not going to make you lift heavier, plank longer or skip just that little bit faster while championing you.
A former school teacher, and now the proud owner and leader of women’s strength gym 23W, Ange is dedicated in her mission to help women reach their health and fitness goals, in a supportive, judgement-free environment. But it’s not been without its struggles – with a baby and a global pandemic testing that very energy that keeps her inspiring others.
We spoke about taking the leap to becoming a small business owner, how she and her community rallied together to keep her gym open and spirits alive during lockdown, all whilst juggling the challenges of being a first time mother. We also spoke about the misconceptions of strength training for women and why it’s so important for long term health.
Ange Drake is…
Oh my God. So many hats. I’m the director of 23W, which is a women’s strength and conditioning community in Preston. I’m a mum of 12-month-old Schuyler, who’s an absolute trip, so much fun. I’m a wife, and I’m a really passionate advocate for women’s health and fitness.
What do you do and when did you realise that this is what you were meant to do with your life?
So 23W has been a long time in the making really. I started my career as a PE teacher. I love the challenges of teaching, but instantly I kind of had this feeling like I wasn’t doing enough, or that there was a part of me that still wasn’t being completely fulfilled.
I knew that strength training was something that I liked to do at the gym myself, but I felt really lost in not knowing what to do when I got there. So I thought I’d get my PT certification, thinking, it’s only a few thousand dollars and if I make my money back on it by getting a few clients that I can coach after hours, then it’s money well invested.
As soon as I started PT, with just a couple of clients (and some of those clients I still train today which is amazing), I just loved it. And I found that the boundaries really started to blur between the hours I was doing. I got to a point midway through 2016/17, where I don’t know how many hours I was working in a week, but I was also teaching full time. I was head of house, head of PE, and was coaching on most mornings and then most nights after school as well.
I was finding that a lot of the things that I really stood for were really slipping, such as how I was looking after myself and how I was looking after my relationships. I certainly didn’t have time for a whole lot of things.
I really started to realise how much I just loved being in the gym and actually loved the business side of things. And school teaching just wasn’t bringing me anywhere near the amount of joy. So I thought, right, it’s time to get real. So in 2018, I took long service leave from teaching and I never looked back.
That’s exciting! Opening your own business is always going to be a bit of a risk and it’s a scary concept. But did you feel fairly confident stepping into it, and did you know what the product was that you were going to put out there?
No, I definitely wasn’t confident, but I knew that I had enough support systems around me. I knew that I had great clients and I knew that I had a solid client base of around 20 or 30 clients. I knew there was certainly interest in what it was that I was doing, which was small group training for women. But I also was quite nervous because we had just bought a new home, and we had a mortgage to pay!
But I think what gave me confidence to leave the nine to five and leave the teaching salary, was the fact that I did it while taking long service leave. So I had three months of long service leave just to see if I actually was going to enjoy coaching full time and see if I could get my income up. Cause I think at the time, I was only earning maybe $10 – 15,000 from PT. It definitely wasn’t enough to support a mortgage!
So no, I definitely wasn’t that confident, but I was comfortable in what it was that I was doing. I knew that I had good support structures around me and I knew that I could also go back to teaching if it didn’t work out. But as soon as I started coaching full-time, I felt the life come back to me. I wasn’t stressed and overworked, and I was doing something where every day I was growing something, I was changing things.
Why did you decide to train women only?
I think it just fell into place that way. But I’ve always been very passionate about education for women. I always thought that I was going to end up in an all girls school teaching because I love teaching adolescent girls. I find something really inspiring in being part of a woman’s journey. I guess because I feel like I can relate to them.
When I started PT-ing, I found that there were so many misconceptions out there. And so many women that were so desperate for sound advice and systems that work, and to move away from the grind and the punishment that a lot of people think when they think about exercise and diet culture. It sets a lot of women up to have a really poor relationship with food.
And I say that as somebody who, in my twenties, did all the diets. I’ve tried all the different styles of training. It wasn’t until I actually got educated myself that I got results. And that’s why I wanted to start the sort of community where women can come and train with other women.
It’s unintimidating, it’s full of education. It’s full of knowledge sharing, not just of the fitness and health variety, but everything! Come into a session and you might overhear somebody sharing some tips about work, or motherhood, or anything! It’s just such a place where wisdom can get shared. And I think there’s something really beautiful about that.
If there was a bloke that really wanted to join us, I definitely wouldn’t say no. But with only women in there, we can really focus on women. There’s a great TedTalk that says women are not small men; that women really are significantly different to men in so many ways. So it’s important that when it comes to being coached that we coach that way.
There are a lot of misconceptions that strength training is just about bulking up, and for a lot of women, that may not be the results they are after. But from a health perspective, what are the benefits, and why is it important that women incorporate this training into their routine?
Unfortunately weight training for women still carries a lot of misconceptions, especially when you relate it to a Figure Pro (professional bodybuilder) who has been training for a good 10 to 15 years, and has dieted down to have not one ounce of body fat on their body.
The important benefits for women goes far beyond actually the aesthetic of how they look. Although obviously muscle does play a big role in helping to accentuate certain body parts. But really when it comes down to it, weight training is so important for minimising the loss of bone density, increasing metabolism, working on any structural weakness, or improving the way somebody might function, as well and how that they may move. I love to think of movement and strength training as medicine to keep the body moving well and using it as a primary care way to actually nurture and love your body.
Unfortunately, in today’s society, where we spend so much time sitting and so much time being inactive, it is really important that we’re doing activities that encourage us to be weight-bearing and make sure that we’re actually applying enough load to get benefits out of that exercise.
Honestly, whether you’re doing Pilates or yoga, or whether you’re lifting a barbell, all of those things are about strength training. The difference is the load that you’re actually using. The idea behind strength training is that you can train far more effectively, because you can really start to push the amount of weight that your body is lifting. So it’s a more efficient way to train.
And it’s done in such a way that you don’t have to be doing it every single day – you can get great benefits out of strength training two or three times a week. Which is a far cry from the mantra that a lot of women are led to believe that they should be exercising and flogging themselves every single day. That’s not necessarily that conducive to health and to making them feel good either.
I definitely had that perception as well – that I needed to be exercising like five, six times a week to get effective results. But when I train in strength, I can’t do that. My body literally will not let me train every single day.
Yeah, that’s right. Strength training works off the stress adaptation and recovery cycle. So it is really important that you actually are getting enough stress to force the body to adapt, but then you’re also having enough time between sessions to recover. And when you first start out with strength training, you may need two or three days between your workouts.
As you get fitter and stronger, you might be able to come back sooner. But you will find that to be able to lift the most amount of weights that your body can, you do need the recovery. So it’s about finding what is the right balance for you.
You became a new mum last year to Skylar. How did you find managing that with your business and with COVID? What were the kind of highs and lows you experienced?
We’d been trying to fall pregnant with Sky for a while, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I had a little bit more time to really organise myself in the business. By the time we worked out that we were pregnant with him, we were a year and a half into being open. Which meant I could really knuckle down in the nine months that he was cooking away, to make sure that I had 23W to a point where I could step away from it.
Hindsight is a great thing, because I think I was thinking that I’d probably take three or four months off, and Jez, my husband, will be a stay at home dad, and we’ll have this perfect life, you know? Little did I know that when you have a baby and you’re breastfeeding, you’ve got to be around all the time for them, even at three or four months!
But then my mat leave was cut short. We had Sky on the 7th of March, which is the same day as the global pandemic was declared! We got home from the hospital and I pulled Asha and Dee, who are my incredible PTs and colleagues at 23W, I pulled them around and was like, we’ve got to come up with a contingency plan because I don’t think we’re going to be open by the weekend. And sure enough, we were in forced lockdown. So it was weird going into motherhood when we’d just gone into lockdown.
We had to pivot the business really, really quickly – all I can remember from that time was I certainly was not sleeping when Sky was sleeping. I was doing as much work as I possibly could, there was a lot of feeding while I was on the computer.
The 23W community rallied behind us 110%, and at the end of the day, I wouldn’t change anything for the world because both Sky and 23W are the most important things to me. And I think it really did enable us to change a few things that we needed to change, and make the business a more robust business as well.
I was also lucky that I didn’t feel that sense of isolation – I was there and I was showing up to the 23W community, running zoom workouts. I just felt so good after being on those zoom calls, putting on some makeup and putting my hair up, and just pretending like I didn’t have baby vomit on me. It was actually probably the best thing for me as a new mum to be back with my girls again and doing what I love.
I hadn’t really thought of it that way! Having that support network, beyond your immediate household, would have been amazing.
Your offering at 23W not only features strength training, but Pilates, yoga and boxing. And then also this beautiful mindfulness and nutrition element. Why is that also important for you to include that as a holistic package for your community?
I think the key word there is holistic, because it is so important to have a balance of all those things to be really feeling like we’re thriving. The motto at 23W is ‘Wellness. Wisdom. Wonder’, and it really does encapsulate that whole holistic picture of what it is that’s going on in any woman’s journey.
All those aspects are very important, and being able to educate our members on what and how to feed their bodies is important. At the end of the day, we don’t want them just to be coming in and training, running their bodies into the ground and not getting the benefits because they’re not eating enough. Or they’re trying to be on a diet that’s not appropriate for them, and then wondering why they’re not having success.
So it is really important that we’re able to holistically coach someone. And similarly, it is really important that we’re also living by that mantra of practicing self-love and learning when it’s time to actually stop and to slow down, and to listen to your body and to nurture it. Because while that Wonder Woman ideal is a great one to aspire to, it is also really important to acknowledge that even Wonder Woman needs a bit of self love and self care.
It’s filling your own cup first, isn’t it?
Yeah. It’s so important, and 23W really is about meeting all of those needs.
What does 23W actually mean?
When we were trying to work out the name of what we were going to call the studio, I knew that I had a vision of seeing ‘Wellness. Wisdom. Wonder’ up on the wall. My husband said to me, what letter is w in the alphabet? And it just so happens that it’s number 23. So it’s 23W, because it’s about that play of all those W’s coming into our name.
Oh, that’s awesome. I would always speculate but never actually I had never come to a conclusion!
You and your team use social media quite a lot, as a way of helping to educate, not only your community, but also to document the ups and downs of your own health and fitness journeys. Why is that important to you?
Social media is such a powerful tool, and I think it’s easy to sit there and see what everyone else is doing, not play into it, and think that you don’t have a message or something worthwhile to share.
But I think it is all about empowering women to not feel like they’re alone or to feel like that they can’t have their questions answered as well. And all the things that I think that I have struggled with, I know that they are not things that are unique to me. So that’s my big driving force to what I share on my social media.
I think initially it can be really scary to put yourself out there and put yourself in a place where you are really vulnerable. But it’s about having a following where your messages resonate with them and are helpful to them. So I think social media is a really powerful tool to actually connect with other women who are on the same journey, and to feel inspired by other people in 23W’s Instagram.
We’re in that day and age as well, where the first place most people turn to for information is social media, as opposed to seeking out someone in a professional setting. So I think if you’re communicating well and responsibly on socials, it can be such a powerful tool and, as you said, it makes you feel less alone.
What, what exciting things both within the workplace, and personally, have you got coming up?
Oh, wow. So many unknowns this year. Hopefully we can stay open. That would be really nice. We’ve just launched another eight week challenge, which is a really powerful time to bring new girls into the community.
But I think for 23W, it really is about continuing to connect with all of our members. We are going into our third year, and I think the big goal that I have for this year is to continue to make our members experience exceptional.
I would also love to see 23W putting together a powerlifting team at some point in the future. I think that would be a really cool boss thing for us to have.
On the home front, I do want to make sure that I’m spending enough time with Sky and with my husband. I’ve tried my best to work out the days that I’m going to be in the studio and days that I’m not in the studio so that I can be making sure I’m getting quality time with Sky, and then quality time with Jezz as well.
As a business owner, it definitely can get all too consuming. I could start work early in the morning and not finish until 12 at night. You’ve kind of got to learn to put the tools down and to tune out and to focus in on the people that want your love and that you want to give love to.
My last question for you, what does your perfect day look like?
I would be up at 5:00 AM, have my two eggs and toast, which I have every morning, and my huge coffee, and then go in and coach for a few hours. Then train at my optimal time, which is eight o’clock in the morning, before spending time with Sky, go to the park, and if it’s a warm day, maybe go for a swim. An early dinner somewhere out and then home to bed also early. I think that would be my perfect day.
I love that you’re still fitting in work and training into your perfect day. It’s perfect. It just suits you.
I do. I actually really like getting up early. I feel really productive and I think it gives me a really solid routine and helps me feel grounded.