Interview: Jodi Packham AKA Straight Up Fitness

Jodi (centre) with her girls who surprised her by dressing up for her class.

Since I started Stretch Your Zone I have had the pleasure of meeting so many amazing and inspirational women. This week is no exception. In March this year Jodi Packham started something special in Lawrence Weston. Newly qualified as a PT instructor she decided to set up some fitness classes in her local community, and has since acquired a band of loyal attendees (whom she affectionately refers to as “my girls”) who not only turn up every week but often come to more than one class.

A few weeks back I went to one of her circuits classes on a Tuesday in the local youth centre. It was so much fun. Her girls are a larger than life bunch. There was a lot of laughter and tongue in cheek banter: at the same time it was clear that these women were a team and were very supportive of each other and also very welcoming to me. It was lovely to be a part of such a community focused group, and if it wasn’t for Jodi this bond might never have happened.

We met up for lunch at Beets ‘n Roots on Cotham Hill so I could find out more about Straight Up Fitness and how it all began:

Tell us a bit about you and how Straight Up Fitness began?

So it started for me because I’d been in various dark places. I have a very addictive personality which normally gets me into a lot of trouble whereas suddenly with exercise I thought oh my goodness this feels great and it’s ok and I can do this. Then my partner started saying “you’re good at this, you’re finishing things you’ve never finished before.”

Plus, I love shouting at people and pushing them because they always surprise themselves. My favourite story is of one of my girls on an obstacle course, Emma, hanging upside down from the monkey bars over muddy water saying “no I can’t do it” and I’m screaming at her and she did it, she made it all the way over.

That’s how it came about really. I wanted to show other people that you can do absolutely anything and it will make you feel good.

So you found that you enjoyed fitness and then decided to take a PT course?

Yes and I did it in 5 months. I’ve never finished anything before but I finally found something that I loved. I finished and set myself up as Straight Up Fitness in March this year and I met my girls. I wanted to do something in my community that made me a part of my community. I wanted to walk down the street and have people say “hey, how you doing” and chat about their kids and family or whatever. That is definitely one of the biggest things for me.

How would you describe yourself?

I’m horrendously impulsive. Crazy and determined but only about things I really want to do. I’m also a serious pusher, so if I think someone is capable of something, I will push them whether they want me to or not.

You’re a perfect PT!

Hopefully! It makes people hate me but love me at the same time!

Oh, they don’t hate you!

You’ve heard them! (They jokingly call her Janet at her new Dance and Tone class).

But it’s definitely all tongue in cheek!

Yes, the exercise makes them feel good so they always come back!

Jodi teaches a circuits class at Blaise Castle

What do you love about your job?

I love shouting and screaming at people!

I love it when they say that their confidence has improved, or their anxiety has lessened. A lot of my girls suffer really badly with anxiety and they don’t get to see their friends because of it. A lot of them don’t even have a big friendship group because they have young children and this has given them that chance. A lot of them come for social reasons, not just to get fit. Exercise is so good for mental health.

You are doing some voluntary work too aren’t you?

Yes, I’m volunteering at the moment for Bluebell Care. They work with pre and post-natal women, particularly with post-natal depression, and it’s just about trying to be a preventative measure by reaching them before they get to a level where they need help. It’s teaching me endless positive skills. I’m listening in ways that I’ve never done before. I’ve stopped trying to relate to people because my experiences are different to other people’s.

Sometimes people just want you to listen don’t they?

Absolutely, they don’t want you to solve things which is hard as it’s a natural human instinct.

It’s the same in my classes. If my girls come in saying they are having a hard time then I don’t say “how shall we fix this then?” I say “right, 20 burpees!” It doesn’t solve it but it’s a way of coping.

What advice would you give to a newbie to fitness?

Try everything and find what you love. Don’t just say, I have to be able to do circuits to get fit really fast or HIIT is the only way forward. You might love cardio or you might love strength. For me it was weights. That’s what turned my head. One day I went to a body pump class, lifted weights and I felt so amazing.

Find what you love and what really makes you happy and start with that and surprise yourself. Naturally you fall into other things after that.

What’s your fitness routine?

I TRY and run. I’ve just signed up for another 10k because clearly I hate myself! It’s called the Wild Run and it’s at the Wild Place Project in Bristol on 10th September.

I try and do a mix of strength and cardio and it’s just wherever and whenever I can do it. If I could, I would train every day because I love it so much but realistically, working it around family life (Jodi has two young boys), I just do whatever I can. I even have a pull up bar in the door way which my partner keeps banging his head on!

Where is your favourite place to go for brunch/lunch in Bristol?

I don’t really normally go out for lunch but one of the reasons I love my partner so much is that we both love food and if we go out for dinner we always try to go somewhere different. I love Falafel King on Cotham Hill and Fujiyama is amazing. Also, Flavalanche on Park Street for frozen yoghurt and all the things that you feel that you shouldn’t have but every now and then you have to.

Sushi at Fujiyama

What would your perfect day in Bristol look like?

I’m just thinking of the best day I’ve had recently. It was opposite the SS Great Britain where there is a little jetty and a place to sit and it was one of the hottest days ever. Me and a group of friends took some food and some cider and just sat there chatting and watching the world go by and it was so nice. To be honest though, anywhere in Bristol on a sunny day with some cider and some yummy food and I’m 100% in.

Jodi really has given something special to her community. For many of the women who come to her, it’s the first fitness classes they’ve ever been to. She really does push them to achieve amazing things. It’s a chance to socialise with other women, get fit, giggle and feel good about yourself. Win win for everyone.

Here’s a list of her classes:

Monday - Dance and Tone 6.30–7.30pm at Avonmouth Community Centre.

Tuesday - Circuits 7–8pm at Lawrence Weston Youth Centre.

Thursday - Dance and Tone 7–8pm at The Rock Centre, Lawrence Weston.

Sunday - Bootcamp 6pm at Blaise Castle.

Plus a new group for mums and babies on Tuesday 9.30 - 11am starting next week.

If you would like to book a class or find out more about Straight Up Fitness then click here:

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