By Sarah McCaffrey
Oak Strength is a personal training business run by Emma Kennedy in Gloucestershire in the South West of England, if you’re active on Facebook or do much research online about Strongwoman in particular you have no doubt seen her name pop up a few times. I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with her a few weeks ago because I wanted to find out more about her and her business. To date she has competed in ten Strongwoman competitions, holds regular FREE training sessions from Trojans gym, runs weekly training sessions from Knights gym and does one to one and group training either at peoples homes or out and about in the fresh air. How and why she does it was what I wanted to find out.
Emma like a lot of us found exercise late in the game, there wasn’t a eureka moment of I’m going to get fit it was borne out necessity rather than inspiration. Unable to use her car to get to work she had the arduous task of using public transport which added an extra hour onto each end of the day. It seemed like a logical plan to start run/walking parts of the journey to speed things along. She herself admits she hadn’t done a lick of exercise since her PE days and even those days didn’t trigger fond memories. But sometimes you do what you have to do and so she did, walk/runs turned into slow runs, slow runs turned into faster runs which then led her to a sub 10 minute mile. This then snowballed and she found herself doing a 5K Race for Life in under 25 minutes, not to shabby for someone who felt awkward doing PE and was not a self confessed natural athlete. She then went onto train for a 10K but Emma admitted that doing longer miles didn’t inspire her. Whilst training for a 10K this is where her Strongwoman story begins...
She got wind of Europes Strongest Man competition being held in Leeds, this brought back those Christmas memories of watching it on the TV amazed at the feats of strength being performed but really having no idea what lifting a car was like in reality or what it really took to get to that level of strength. Her then husband encouraged her to go and watch the competition and bought some VIP tickets to go and meet all the competitors after the event. She discovered how friendly everyone was and even now is amazed at how the athletes had the energy to spend the time doing a meet and greet with all the fans after the brutal competition they had just done. At this point she went home and researched and had no idea the community to which she had stumbled upon, it was small but it was there! If you ever get to meet or have ever met Emma this next part will come as no surprise to you whatsoever, she decided she wanted to add to her bucket list to be picked up overhead by a strongman. But who? The obvious choice being Laurence Shahlaei, he was a Strongman local to her and she had seen him perform at the Europes. She wrote him an email and he replied saying he would do it if she came down and did a PT session with him, there was no other option but to agree!
At this point you must understand this was Emma’ first outing to a gym EVER and she was going to train with one of the top strongmen in the country. Emma explained that he was so welcoming and made her feel completely at ease. This was her first time touching a barbell and she said afterwards that she was hooked. She got her photo of Laurence hoisting her in the air and then immediately set about making the sport of strongwoman her passion. Laurence commented on how strong she was for someone who had never touched a weight before and let’s be honest how much more encouragement could you possibly need. So here a Strongwoman was borne and this time out inspiration not necessity, inspired by one of the greats, inspired by the strong community and inspired to be a stronger version of herself.
Emma with Laurence Shahlaei
If you were to look at her now you wouldn’t believe that she was ever a beginner to the sport, her background is in teaching in particular with specials needs and she states that “you have to think outside the box” in an environment like that. I had the pleasure of attending one of her Strong(wo)man training sessions and you can tell that she is comfortable with not just the gym environment but the art of teaching and the think outside the box mentality. She told me about her 'Sandwich Bag of Doom' which has become a mainstay in her circuit classes. In the box there 40 different exercises written down on pieces of paper and she asks someone in her class to randomly pick one out and this will be added to the class. She jokes that this was "if they turn out to be burpees it isn’t my fault". This kind of coaching and light heartedness is what can keep things fresh and interesting and if you have a teacher that thrives in a spontaneous environment then all the better.
She has recently taken the leap and gone full time with Oak Strength, it was big decision going from a well paid job in teaching to a full time trainer but she states that “I just want to be the strongest version of me and I want everyone to have the chance to find the strongest version of themselves”. This could immediately be a great tag line not just for a PT business but for someone dealing in how to better themselves psychologically. There is sometimes a misconceived notion of personal trainers having always been the pinnacle of health and fitness and as we have learnt this certainly wasn’t the case with Emma but look deeper and you will find demons she is fighting on the inside aswell. She shared with me her battles with social anxiety and depression and how these have been substantial obstacles to overcome not just with competing but with some of the situations she puts herself in. To overcome these problems and go into strange situations such as her first time in the gym with Laurence Shahlaei is testament to her headstrong and determined character. Sometimes the best coaches and trainers were forged in a fire fuelled by self doubt and a determination to be the best version of themselves.
When I asked Emma about her PT clients and how she helps them achieve their goals she said that "I am all about efficiency and functional training. My clients all agree and learn quickly that EACH REP of anything I ask them to do must be done properly and fully so they can feel the gains/ benefits. My clients are informed during each set/exercise which muscles I intend for them to FEEL working and how to work them most effectively. This then gives them the knowledge and power they need when they train at home, or in their own time to know what they are trying to achieve. It's a personal thing, and clients can feel involved in their progress, take some ownership of their bodies, their muscles and their gaining strength". She admits herself that not everyone needs a PT to be successful in their training but even the most the most knowledgeable athlete can benefit from the accountability that a good coach can bring. It would seem that Emma genuinely wants to help the world get stronger and find happiness in their own bodies.
Emma at her first Strongwoman competition
I wanted initially to write this article to get an insight into Oak Strength, specifically how it all started, where it is now and where it was heading in the future but after meeting and talking to Emma it couldn’t be confined to just that. The person makes the business not the other way around and her friendly demeanor and immediate openness left me feeling inspired and I thought this article should be just that, open and inspiring. So if you’re just starting out in Strongman or Strongwoman then be headstrong and determined in what you want to accomplish, dive in with both feet because you never know where that next wave will take you. If you’re reading this as a coach and trainer then use your past experiences whether they be tinged with anxiety or happiness to make your business unique and inspire someone by just being you.
I would like to give a massive thanks to Emma for letting me get to know her and for sharing so much for this article. Below you can find her social media profile links and class timetable
Social Media Links
Facebook - oakstrengthemma
Instagram - oakstrengthemma
Services and Class timetable
Super Saturday Strongman/woman (Last Saturday of each month) @ Knights Gym
Sunday Strongman/woman Training Session @ Knights Gym
Sunday Strength and Conditioning Session @ Knights Gym
Tuesday Fitness Class @ Knights Gym
Personal Training 1:1
Personal Training Couples/Small Groups
Further details and pricing can be found via her Facebook page on the link above.
(Knights Gym is based in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire)