NERIDA FROM LISSOME
Lissome is latin for agile, supple and graceful. Not surprisingly, it perfectly epitomises everything that Nerida Bint has created in her women’s-only Crossfit gym. Women creating strong, supple bodies, all done with love, grace and an unshakeable sense of community.
Nez’s gym has a huge point of difference; she’s passionate about paying it forward and giving back to the community in more ways than just offering muscle-busting workouts for her clients. She recently hosted the Lissome Charity Ball, to raise funds for Jenny's Place - a refuge centre based in Newcastle that supports women and children that are victim to domestic violence, and regularly puts on social get-togethers and charity events. More than just a gym, the Lissome team get out for SUP sessions, high ropes, martial arts classes – anything and everything. It’s about creating a ‘family’, and ‘a home for any girl who might need some new friends’. She’s set out to create an environment where women can get together and get to know each other, beyond just gym buddies.
Even better, she’s passionate about creating happiness, rather than a hot body, through the fitness training for women. As a teenager, I remember going to the gym with friends in order to perfect “a hot summer bikini body” – we thought nothing of actually working out to feel good, or feel happy. So many gyms and fitness instructors focus on shedding the weight, but Nerida’s vision is different; it’s about feeling better, mindfulness and happiness.
"I’m always telling the girls – don’t try to look like anyone else but the best version of you. It’s silly to think you can look like me or I can look like you."
Nez’s story is a good one, and it’s not altogether uncommon. One day, she was driving to work at her fulltime gig as area manager for a waste management company, where she had a good, secure job, flexible hours and a boss who loved her. ‘I pulled over and pulled the pin. I literally just called my boss and resigned. I had no idea that when I got up that morning I was going to resign.’
Scared, panicked, but relieved, Nerida set about trying to figure out what the f—to do next. Remembering her boss had once told her, ‘Nerida, you light up when you talk about burpies’, the next step seemed clear (eventually), it was just a matter of getting there. After taking a few months off, Nerida approached Pink Muscle, a women’s supplement store, looking for work, and was turned down. But they gave her the opportunity to start running a bootcamp under the Pink Muscle name, where she soon gained a loyal following.
Nerida says, ‘The more I did it, the more I loved it. The girls were asking for more and more training. They wanted extra stuff to do when they weren’t with me – they were going to the gym and hating it and asking me to write them programs.’ She invited some of them to her existing Crossfit gym, and found that they were scared and intimidated, thinking it was too masculine.
‘I thought, what if there was a gym similar to a Crossfit gym that catered for women? An environment where women felt safe coming in to train the way you do at Crossfit, but without the scary word and associations.’ After doing an accelerated PT course, she ran a free bootcamp for a month to drum up some business. One thing led to another, and soon Nerida had signed a lease on a space in Wickham, Newcastle. Although she admits it was ‘terrifying’, the business has grown and grown since then.
"I don’t care who walks through that door – everyone has the right to exercise in an environment where they feel safe and encouraged and supported. That’s what I want here."
Actually, you couldn’t really call Lissome a ‘business’ – it’s more of a community, or a family. The day I met Nerida, I literally walked around on a high for hours afterwards. Such is the incredible effect she has on people around her. We talked for a really long time about inspiration and kindness, and later she sent me this incredible video. Nerida’s genuine and down-to-earth, with a massive smile. And the passion just oozes out.
by Amy Lovat
How does Lissome compare to a Crossfit gym?
Well, the idea is the same. It’s functional training; it changes every day. Weights, cardio, play, gymnastics. A few mornings a week we’re out and about, down at the baths or the beach, sometimes out here in the carpark doing outdoor training. It’s always different. But it’s about building community and opening up this family to anyone who needs a family – for any girl who might need some new friends or need a home.
Have you seen a sense of community from the very beginning?
Absolutely. Everyone who walks through that front door is greeted within 10 seconds. I know how intimidating it can be going to a gym for the first time, especially when you don’t know anyone. I really try hard to build that culture so everyone has a warm welcome.
Has it been hard convincing girls to come to the gym, that this kind of training is okay for them?
I’ve heard a lot of women say ‘Everyone’s so fit’ and ‘Everyone’s so strong’. And I love hearing it, but they weren’t like that when they started. I see their confidence grow and how empowering it is. It gives me the biggest kick. I honestly am so proud of them all – especially the ones who’ve been here since day dot.
Crossfit has a bit of a stigma attached to it – has it been difficult to break that stereotype?
I get that and I felt the same way. I’d been living overseas for three years, had put on 25 kilos and tried for six months to get it off when I came back to Australia. I couldn’t shake a kilo. I was training twice a day, I’d always been fit. I bought a house across the road from a Crossfit gym in Newcastle and would see them training and I wanted to try it, but I was knocked back from there. I was told ‘Crossfit’s not for you’, because they obviously just looked at my size. But I found a different Crossfit gym and lost 25 kilos in the first 12 weeks of training. He was amazing, I trained for 2.5 years – he gave me all the time in the world, helped me with my diet. I think my body went into shock and I’ve kept the weight off ever since. You don’t know what people are capable of – no matter what they look like. That’s what I want here. The idea of Crossfit is all-inclusive fitness. It’s a shame about all the hype now.
What kind of results have you seen from your clients?
We’ve had girls walk through the door who lose 6-7 kilos in the first month, but not everyone has weight to lose. At the end of the day, it’s about the community. I sat down at the beginning and asked the girls to list their goals, then again at six months. At the beginning, it was all about wearing a midriff, losing weight, etc. Now, it’s that they want to be able to do a pull-up, back squat their own body weight, etc. They’ve forgotten about the aesthetic and it’s about what they can do with their own bodies. That’s what I love about this type of training.
Sounds like you’ve created an incredibly supportive environment for women…
I pinch myself all the time. I hear the girls, see them on Facebook, telling each other how awesome they are. Someone lifted 62kg yesterday and everyone is so proud of them – everyone gets behind each other. Training next to people who are pushing and encouraging you in a supportive way – that’s the future. Crossfit is the only sport I’ve seen where the loudest cheers are for the people coming last. And it enables the girls to tell each other how inspired they are by each other.
Do you have days where you’ve had enough? Must be tough getting up so early all the time!
99.9% of the time I want to come here. There’s a few times when you’re sick or tired and within five minutes of seeing the girls… I just sit back and watch them and they’re all giggling and laughing and helping each other with handstands and I just instantly feel amazing.
How important is the social aspect of the gym for you?
I know a lot of young girls have their own friends and active social lives, but some don’t. At Christmas drinks, someone said to me ‘Nez, I just love the girls here. Everyone’s so friendly and I feel like I’ve found a home. Lissome is the first time I’ve felt that’. Of course, I burst into tears! If that only happens to one or two girls, that is amazing. I couldn’t be happier. It’s all worth it.
Is it all you or do you have a team working for you now?
The first six months it was all me, but I’m finally starting to delegate more – I have a go-to relationship with PTs so if anyone wants one-on-one, I can refer them. People always say they want to be their own boss but it’s challenging; everyone wants someone from you and you have to try to please everybody. I’ve been lucky to delegate more coaching and admin stuff, plus marketing and PR now and I can oversee it and then network with other people and businesses. I feel like it’s important to have good relationships with other businesses, and pay it forward. If I see someone doing something cool at another gym, I’ll share it on our page. People are sometimes thrown by it, because they’re used to the competition. But I like to be supportive and the people who are happy to help each other are the ones who are going to be successful. I feel like we can grow and succeed together.
Did you ever think you’d run your own business?
Never never never. I always saw myself as this lady in a corporate office, working her way to the top. Then something snapped. I remember the week I quit, I was sitting in a café staring at waitresses and thought ‘I envy you’. I didn’t even care if I quit to work in a café, they seemed so happy. [When I started Lissome] I reckon I didn’t sleep for three weeks – heart pounding, thinking about the risks and the what ifs. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to pay the rent, there’s no one to bail me out if it goes wrong. Now I’m getting better at not being a control freak. You just have to remember that you didn’t start a business to put yourself in another job – it’s to create freedom and wealth and opportunity.
"I’m drawn to people who are about self-improvement and about being more productive, enjoying life a little more and taking each day for what it is, being inspired and making the most of it."
What’s the future of Lissome?
The idea eventually is to build a community that’s strong enough to support the community at large. We’re doing a mass blood donation next week, homeless shelter cooking nights soon, we did a Secret Santa last year and bought toiletries for the local church. I’d love to run a big sister program, to get young girls in here suffering from mental illness and try to portray the women as role models.
I’m 32 but I’m still a work in progress. You get to an age where you start to realise you’re always evolving, you focus on one thing for a little while and it shifts. I’m now starting to look more at being the person I need to be for my members, family and friends, in order to do the things I want to do.