Updated: Sep 9, 2021
In 1987, the United States Congress designated March as Women’s History Month. It is a month to celebrate the contributions women have made to building our great nation. Further, it is an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come in the struggle for gender equality.
From gaining the right to vote, to closing the pay gap, to more options for reproductive health, we have a lot to celebrate. Acceptable fashion in the workplace is no longer limited to just dresses and skirts. In fitness, gender stereotypes that once discouraged girls from engaging in sports are dismantled more and more each decade.
Several decades ago, it was considered unladylike to be seen sweating, so exercises for women were characterized by stretching (1940s), hula hoops (1950s), and vibrating belts (1960s). Fitness culture for women started to change shape with the advent of Jazzercise (1970s), which invited women to find the joy in working out. Jane Fonda’s aerobics videos (1980s) brought with them a distinct fitness fashion— hello, leg warmers, belted leotards, and side ponytails. The revolution continued into more recent decades when high-energy group exercise classes such as Zumba (1990s), and Soul Cycle (2000s) gained popularity. Women everywhere were beginning to take charge of their bodies and their lives. Today, at-home exercise programs with celebrity fitness trainers can be queued up with just a few clicks of a button, and there are endless options of group fitness classes to choose from.
As the owner of Kalispell’s aerial fitness studio (which uses cirque-style exercises with silk fabric, aerial hoops, and dance poles to build strength and flexibility), I view the last decade as an era where exercise isn’t just a means to an end, but rather a celebration of what a women’s body can do.
Yet I acknowledge there is still a little work to do in the struggle for gender equality. As a personal trainer, I have worked with clients who are nervous to walk into the weight room at the gym because it is still viewed somewhat as a men’s domain. I believe, with a little work, we will see the end of that misconception in this new decade.
Which is why I am proud to present to you this interview with Stephanie Breck of Columbia Falls, Montana: lawyer and mother of a 14-year-old by day, bad-ass bodybuilder and fitness coach by night. Stephanie competed in her first bodybuilding competition at age 49. Now at age 50, she spreads a message that fitness can be found at any age, and her mission is to empower women from a place of self-love. She just happens to be dismantling gender stereotypes and what she calls “gym-timidation” along the way. May you feel empowered by her story and join us in our quest for health and the celebration of what women are capable of.
Mindy: Congratulations on your successes in the bodybuilding competitions in Spokane.
Stephanie: This is the second year I have competed. The first year I just did a show in Spokane. This year, I did one show in Utah, and then the weekend after that I went to Spokane. This year, I hired a husband and wife team as coaches, and they were amazing; I did really well.
Mindy: What inspired you to want to do competitions?
Stephanie: I was twenty pounds overweight and struggling with alcohol. I was ready for change, so I got sober and did the 21-day fix [one of the Beach Body®’s diet plans], and it helped build my self-confidence. So, I went to a Beach Body® Convention and the bodybuilding show there and it made me want to immerse myself in it even more. So I did the 2018 show in Spokane and the two shows this year. It has been such a great experience, and it made me want to help other women achieve a deep transformation like I had.
Mindy: Can you tell me about the coaching program you created?
Stephanie: The program I built is called “The Midlife Maverick” because I wanted to help women ages 40+ who are experiencing the same types of hormonal fluctuations and changes in their bodies as I am. We hear from society that once you hit age 40, it’s okay to settle for where you are or give up on fitness altogether, but you really can overcome the challenges that come along with midlife. You just have to learn and apply yourself. Most women don’t want to take the time to learn, and they tend to be distracted by all of these quick-fix diets, but the best way to find a plan that will give you long term results is to experiment. So, my program helps women figure out what works for their own bodies because what gives one person results might not be the same for another person. I call that figuring out your fitness blueprint, and I believe finding your blueprint is the key to lasting change.
For me, I eat six times a day. My diet is pretty limited, but it works for me because it is all foods that I like. I make the main portion of my plate protein, then I add in the carbohydrates and vegetables that I like and put those things into a food plan. A food plan works really well for me. Planning is part of the 3 “P’s” of my program, which is planning, preparing, and prioritizing. I plan and prepare my workouts and food, and I prioritize where I need to. I have a lot of things going on, so time management and prioritizing are really important. The key to sticking to your priorities even when you don’t want to— it comes down to discipline.
Mindy: This interview is running alongside an article about how women’s fitness has changed over the years. We have come a long way, but I know there are still women who are nervous to walk into the weight room at the gym because it’s viewed as men’s domain. What do you think needs to be done to break down those misconceptions?
Stephanie: I can understand why women feel that way. “Gym-timidation” is what I call it. It’s a muscle you have to build in your mind to get over that, and I think education helps. Some women fear the weight room because they think they are going to get gigantic muscles, and that just doesn’t happen. And they’re also afraid of building muscle because it makes them heavier and they are connected to the scale. My body looks totally different at 135 pounds now than it did at 135 pounds five years ago. I wish I had known when I was younger the importance of a weight training program. I used to just do cardio, but now I know the stresses on your muscles from weight training creates shape.
Mindy: If you had just one pointer that women could use to elevate their health and fitness, what would it be?
Stephanie: I don’t want to say something lame like “drink water,” but that definitely helps! But I really think the key is to educate and take responsibility for yourself and be consistent.
Mindy: Where can people find you if they want to work with you?
Mindy is a columnist for "Montana Woman Magazine." Her column "The Real Levitation Experience" shares expertise for elevating health & wellness that she has acquired through her certifications as a personal trainer and life coach. Mindy is also founder of Kalispell’s Levitation Nation Aerial Studio, where the catch phrase “fitness is fun” is embodied alongside a culture of movement & women empowerment. For more about Mindy, please visit: https://www.levitationnation.org/mindy.