Interview with Gail Emms

Fitness Tips

Interview with Gail Emms

We had a chat to Gail Emms MBE and icon of British Sporting success having won a silver medal in Badminton at the Athens Olympic Games with her mixed doubles partner Nathan Robertson. 

What did you think of the new range? How does it compare to gym equipment you use/have used? 
I’ve been working out in gyms for 15 years or more and it’s been so exciting to see how gym equipment has developed in that time - the kit used to be so heavy and uninviting. Companies like Precor are really listening to what people want. Their new range is just great. The moment I saw it, I wanted to play with it. It’s intuitive, comfortable to use, flows really well and looks great. I want one! Being a mum, my time is so precious, anything that gives me a good and efficient workout is a bonus. A quick 20-minute workout is all you need to feel good about yourself. 

1. Were you always physically active - even as a child? 
Yes, my mum made sure of it. She played football for England and is a human dynamo. She was, and still is even now in her sixties, a wonderful sporting role model for me. I was never allowed to sit in front of the TV. I was always out doing some sort of activity - playing in the park, riding a bike, playing tennis etc. And I want to make sure I am the same positive role model to my two-year-old son. I was around four when I picked up a badminton racquet, but badminton was just one of many sports that I played. 

2. How did your career progress? (when did you start playing badminton, when did you realise that you are "rather good")? 
When I was seven I was beating 11 year olds, so I knew I was good, but I never considered a career in badminton until I reached the age when a lot of girls turn away from sport. I was going through a horrible teenage phase, when I was trying to fit in with the cool crowd at school and was being rebellious. It was 1992, I was grounded and the Barcelona Olympics were on TV. That was the first year that badminton was an Olympic sport and I was hooked. It was like a light switched on inside my head and I decided that I was going to be an Olympiad and go to the Olympics Games. I buckled down and it didn’t matter anymore that I missed out on all the gossip at school. I had a goal. 

3. What do you rank as the ultimate highlight - the Olympic silver in 2004 or becoming world champion in 2006? 
Beating my mum at badminton for the first time. I was 13 and I’d been trying to beat her for nine years! Winning the Olympic silver medal in 2004 and becoming world champion in 2006 I saw as part of my job, but beating my mum was definitely the highlight. Doing things that have pushed me outside of my comfort zone like running the London Marathon in 2009 and climbing Kilimanjaro have been more important to me than winning medals. 

4. How much time did you spend in gyms during your active career? And did you see it as an 'unpleasant necessity' to work out as part of your development or did you find it enjoyable? 
During my career, I was in the gym five times a week. In the mornings I’d have an on-court session, but the afternoons were spent in the gym for two hours either doing weights or CV interval training. Some days I really dreaded it. People think that athletes bound out of bed ready for training, but most of us are like sulky teenagers. You just have to focus on how great you will feel after the workout. You have to visualise it. That feeling of accomplishment is the most powerful motivational force there is. 
5. What do you do nowadays? What is your typical day-to-day? 
I try and keep things as varied as possible. A lot of my time is spent campaigning for school sport, so we can get more children inspired by sport. I also do TV and radio, and motivational talks. 
6. You've been very active in promoting sport and wrote a letter to the PM. What did say in the letter? What did you want to let him know? 
In 2010, Michael Gove, who is not very sporty, was going to cut school sports funding. I’m not naïve, I understand that some cuts have to be made, but I wanted him to come and look at the work we were doing in schools. Unfortunately, he wasn’t interested and was going to completely cut the £162m for school sports. I was outraged, especially with the Olympics coming up. It was ridiculous. So, I got 75 Olympians to sign a letter which led to a partial u-turn. We got some funding but not as much as I’d liked. 
7. Where does your passion towards school sports come from? 
I wouldn’t have achieved what I have without school sport. Yes, we all have our horror stories of sport at school – mine was running cross-country in a pair of those horrible pants. But there is a sport or activity out there for everyone. And it’s so beneficial. I know that I performed much better in class because I had released all my energy on the court. Sport is a good way of dealing with anger management in kids too. 

8. How do you fit exercise in with being a busy mum? 
It’s hard, but it’s all about organisation. What works best for me is to have a set time in my schedule to do an activity. So, I play netball on Wednesday nights and also do British Military Fitness training a couple of mornings a week. When my son was younger, I used to wear my training kit all the time, so I was always ready to go for a run whenever I could. 

9. As a former professional athlete you must have fitness and being active 'ingrained" in your very being - but as you know that is not the case with many Britons. People are getting bigger and unhealthier and obesity in all ages is a massive problem, quite literally. What do you think the health club industry could do to ensure more people visit gyms and fitness clubs? 
I think health clubs could offer better crèche facilities to make it easier for mums to get to the gym. I’m a member of a gym, and my two year old is on my membership, but I have to pay for the crèche and it’s always a hassle trying to find him a space in the crèche – it’s more hard work than doing the exercise. They could also offer more variety of activities and social forms of exercise. Exercise should be fun after all. 

10. Lots has been said about the Olympic legacy and the plans and to use the Games to get people more active. How do you think health clubs and leisure centres can latch onto the Olympics and do their part in trying to get the nation more healthy? 
They’ve got to use their imagination. There are 26 Olympic and 20 Paralympic sports, so there’s something for everyone. Leisure centres should run demos and introduce taster sessions to allow people to take part in something new. It’s about providing lots of different opportunities. I know it’s an effort to put on these activities, but it will pay off. The Olympics is not just about this summer; it’s about the longer term. 

11. What drives you? 
I absolutely love the way exercise makes me feel. I love being fit and healthy. If I don’t exercise for a week or two I’m a grumpy cow. I’m a much nicer person when I exercise, I have more confidence and have a greater sense of wellbeing. I also want to be a good role model for my little boy. It’s not about going mad in the gym, it’s just finding that time to keep it up and feel good about yourself. 

12. What is your favourite life motto or quote? 
“No matter how good you get you can always get better,” Tiger Woods. 
“Why have a comfort zone? Get out there and try something new.” Me!