Zanna Van Dijk: On Co-Founding The #girlgains Movement

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Zanna Van Dijk is one of the faces behind #girlgains – which, with almost 80,000 posts attached to it already, is set to be the next #yogaeverydamnday movement. A self-confessed fitness nerd and burrito lover, she’s inspired a whole community of girls on social media to tie their hair up, pick up some weights and make some serious girl gains (aka muscle).

With multiple sell-out #girlgains events already under her belt, and a collaboration with the Porridge Cafe, we caught up with Zanna to chat about building a weightlifting empire, living in London and… refried beans.

WAS THERE ONE DEFINING MOMENT WHERE YOU DECIDED TO COMMIT TO HEALTH AND FITNESS, OR WAS IT A GRADUAL CHANGE?

Definitely gradual. I was the girl that skipped PE at school, I avoided exercise whenever I could. I went on to be a typical university student – boozing and eating deep pan pizzas. I only started paying attention to what I ate when I developed problems with my skin, and everything else has sort of flowed on from there.

HOW DID YOU START WORKING OUT? WERE YOU ALWAYS DOMINATING THE WEIGHTS SECTION?

I was a cardio bunny for the longest time. Then I started to try out weights very, very slowly. I used to take my little weights into a corner of the gym because I lacked confidence. Once I did go out into the big boy area (or as I liked to call it, the “testosterzone”!), I was the only girl there – it was intimidating but I kept at it.

WEIGHTLIFTING FOR WOMEN IS STILL PART OF THE BIG SCARY UNKNOWN, FOR MANY THE BRIDGE BETWEEN THE TREADMILL AND WEIGHTS IS TOO BIG TO CROSS. HOW DID YOU LEARN WHAT TO DO AND WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST TIPS FOR THE REST OF US?

Basically – very slowly. There was no sudden I-know-how-to-do-this moment. My biggest tips would be just to search through online resources and try out moves at home to build your confidence before you bring them into the gym. All I did was watch videos, read through magazines, write it all down and give it a go!

If you can book a session with a personal trainer I would definitely recommend it, even just a one-off session will be so beneficial to your form and your confidence. I have a lot of girls come in wanting to learn to lift and I love to help them!

WHY SHOULD WOMEN LIFT WEIGHT?

So many reasons! It strengthens your bones and joints – helping to prevent osteoporosis. It helps your metabolism by building lean muscle tissue… not to mention it’s empowering as hell. It will honestly compliment any other training your doing, whether it’s a weekly run or marathon training. I mean if you don’t like lifting weights, don’t – but even just one upper body and lower body session a week will benefit you greatly.

It is remarkably difficult to build muscle mass and be “bulky”. Women tend to think that as soon as they pick up a heavy weight they will wake up huge – let me assure you that you won’t.

Zanna Van Dijk weight lifting pioneering the girlgains movement

THE LONDON HEALTH AND FITNESS SCENE HAS TRIPLED IN SIZE OVER THE PAST YEAR OR SO – WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF THAT?

The community itself is probably the greatest part. It’s always fun meeting so many other people that are interested in the same things and have the same passions. We can all try out the new gyms, classes and cafes together and talk about food non-stop – it’s my idea of heaven, haha!

Of course the fact that the industry is booming means that there are so many more things to try. I keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone. For example, I used to hate cycling and spin classes – then I tried BOOM cycle and fell in love. It’s so easy to stay in your own little bubble, but with all these new experiences it is good to get out and try new things – you never know, you might find a new passion!

YOU’VE CREATED YOUR OWN COMMUNITY ALL THROUGH A HASHTAG, EXPLAIN TO US WHAT #GIRLGAINS IS AND WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU…

Well, #girlgains is a hashtag we’ve created – Tally (@cleanfitlifestyle), Vicky (@healthyfitvic) and I. We’re just three girls who connected through Instagram and the moment we met we realised we had the same ethos: we enjoy eating well, fuelling our bodies, training hard, lifting weights and supporting other women to do the same. We created the hashtag as a way to connect like-minded girls and spread a positive and empowering message to get fitter, healthier and happier together.

We have been blown away with how far the #girlgains movement has come. It all started with a couple of instagram pictures and now we have almost hit 80,000 posts tagged with #girlgains. It’s not necessarily about lifting weights, it’s about training your own way and finding what works – the hashtag is just a way for girls to support and interact with each other. If you’re progressing, enjoying yourself, and feeling confident in yourself then you’re making some serious #girlgains.

Oh and we’ve expanded this summer with our event series at the Reebok Club, to bring everyone together in real life!

AND FINALLY, WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST MOTTO IN LIFE?

Balance. In every aspect of life. I’ve had periods of time when I’ve been eating in a very regimented way and I realised that it just doesn’t work for me. I need balance and I need flexibility. For me, cheat meals don’t work. If I want something I have it and that’s that!

Food is fuel, what you’re eating is going to directly affect how you feel, how you look and perform, everything! It’s sad to see how many girls have an unhealthy relationship with food. Enjoy food. Have what you want and enjoy it. Personally I’m a sucker for Mexican, there is nothing better than a huge burrito with a ridiculous amount of cheese, and refried beans – obviously. Just not all the time. I eat for flavour and pleasure, but I also eat for health and performance – so I find a balance.

Here at #girlgains we say the goal isn’t to look fit, it’s to actually be fit.

For event information, check the GirlGains official instagram @thegirlgains, and of course follow Zanna’s instagram @zannavandijk.

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