Creating a Safe Gym Space: My Mission to Transform Lives in Manchester

Ray poses in front of the painted walls in her safe gym space. The wall is brightly painted and has the words 'hello me time'

Welcome to My Fitness Haven: Your Journey Starts Here

Hi and welcome to my little world! I’m a Personal Strength and Nutrition coach based in Manchester.

In Summer 2023, I opened my own private studio, designed to be a haven for the gays, theys and neurodivergent baes – and anyone else finding the traditional gyms unsuitable for their needs. I run the studio with my gorgeous assistant, Nugget. He acts as primary motivator and expertly demonstrates the most comfortable positions to nap, while I demonstrate proper technique and form in weightlifting. We support people either solely in the gym, or in nutrition and lifestyle habits too, as needed. This can either be individual, or with a partner.

Meet the Trainer: A Passionate Guide to Your Fitness Transformation

I’ll admit I’m a workaholic. This is often something I get accused of, and, although I do agree, I am simply following one of my biggest passions.

I have fought off severe depression, disordered eating and have trifled with anxiety during some more turbulent times of my life. I struggle with over-stimulation and crowded spaces. And, I can completely fry my brain simply by concentrating too hard on a task for a couple of hours, killing my productivity for the next week and a half. But strength training, fueling my body properly and practising mindfulness? This helps A LOT. I find that by focusing on activities that have a clear, step by step approach, other areas of my life fall into place better too.

The ‘wins’ in the gym when you reach various goals, (as well as feeling like a badass for lifting heavy shit, not to mention all the happy hormones it gets going) is something I feel the need to share.  I’m not saying it’s the answer to whatever your own struggles may be, but it’s a great place to start. My studio’s creation was inspired by my difficulties, as well as the difficulties my clients have shared with me regarding other gym environments. 

I see too many people simply accepting the way they feel physically, mentally and emotionally and doing nothing about it – letting life pass them by. We only get one life, and I am super passionate about helping people feel good. Maybe I do too much of this, maybe I am a workaholic, but I’d argue there are much worse addictions

Gym Vibes: The Philosophy Behind My Safe Gym Space

I’m a personal trainer who doesn’t like gyms. The typical gym is set up with gender binary facilities, harsh, often pulsating lights, mirrors full of selfie-takers, egotistical gym bros, and a lack of education on how to use the potentially life-threatening equipment – So I created the opposite. A friendly, welcoming safe gym space, just for us. Somewhere to feel as comfortable in your own body as you can, while moving it to get stronger, fitter and more powerful.

We control the music too, so you can choose your workout playlist, or we can have something chilled playing in the background, if you’re feeling a little fried.  I often turn off the main lights and use the fairy lights and corner lamp for a softer glow. Life is hard enough as it is without making the gym a difficult place to be. The added doggy dopamine that Nugget provides is also great if you need a cuddle between sets – I find his are a lot more popular than mine nowadays! 😉

For some of my clients, the gym is the only time they take for themselves so I like to make the space somewhere they can feel comfortable in, while having a great workout – they sound like the opposite of each other if you haven’t trained before, but honestly, lifting can be a very mindful practice.

Tailored Training: Personalised Fitness Plans for Every Client

For your first session with me, we’ll have a look at how you currently move, and your current abilities before we jump into anything. This is so that I can put together a programme that’s appropriate for you, as a starting point to progress from. It also means that if I’ve picked up any muscular imbalances from the initial assessment, these can be worked on from the start, rather than finding these out as we go along!

Your programme will be put together on my app, with video/written guides to each movement and we’ll track what you achieve each session on there. If you also want to start doing some sessions independently, it means that you can track these on the same app at your own gym, and I can see how you’re getting on.

State-of-the-Art Facilities

Buying my gorgeous, brand new equipment was the best shopping spree, but without any guilt whatsoever, as it was for my business! I knew I wanted to provide the best options equipment-wise for my clients, so adding item after item to my order, with the lovely Chris from Fitness Superstore was a lot of fun.

We’ve got a 2x 90kg stacked Cable Machine; a Squat Rack with 150kg worth of ​​Hi-Temp Rubber Crumb Olympic plates; a Dumbell Rack from 2.5kg up to 30kg; an 8-piece Kettlebell set; a standard utility bench, and a hip thrust bench too.

Underfoot, we have heavy impact, noise suppressing flooring for comfortable ears and feet! I’m also the proud inhabitant of one of the only full length studios at Pollard Yard with an extra window fitted, which provides more natural light (I’m way too proud of my window!), to partner well with the soft glow of the fairy lights lining the top of the walls. To give the studio a pop of colour and character, I had the talented Jess Riley in to transform the space, and of course, to make it even gayer.

Ray stands in front of a bright colorful wall with the word 'GAY on it. The photo was taken in her safe gym space in Manchester

Balancing Act: Work, Life, and Fitness Goals

PureGym’s latest fitness report, using data from YouGov, Google, independent surveys and their own internal member data, show that 34% of people said that their job doesn’t leave them enough time to exercise. A lack of time is a reason that’s often based on trying to fit into a certain routine or workout structure that isn’t designed for everyone. For example, some people can go to the gym 3 times per week for one hour in the morning/evening, if they work the traditional 9-5. Nowadays work hours can be very flexible and work-social lines are blurred, so this structure doesn’t fit everyone.

You might think that if you only have twenty minutes to spare, then there’s no point in working out, but I’m here to tell you that that is not true. You can absolutely get results from more frequent, shorter sessions. I like to pride myself on the art of diary tetris, and fitting clients in around each other at suitable times for everyone. This is because, in order to stick to a new routine, you need to make it as easy for yourself as possible, so it’s harder to find excuses, and easier to keep going!

Group Fitness Dynamics: Building a Community

I’ve found that cultivating community between my clients has created a lovely sense of camaraderie and encouragement towards each other, which has been really nice to see. I organise group hikes, yoga, breathwork and other activities like aerial sessions and bouldering – basically whatever my clients have mentioned wanting to do! There’s no pressure at all to join any activities, and some clients are simply part of a group chat where people can share ideas, links to good deals on protein supplements, anything else worth sharing. I also deliver partner coaching at the studio, which is helpful if you’re either competitive or fancy a bit of extra support from a partner or friend.

Mind and Body Harmony: My Holistic Wellness Approach

I like to get to know potential clients; their past experiences, their goals and their individual obstacles before we start working together, to get a really good feel for what we can aim to achieve. I offer nutrition and lifestyle habit support alongside training, but sometimes this needs to be introduced slowly. Some people are ready to jump into looking at all areas straight away. Others simply want to focus on the training element alone. Some people want to look at all areas, but want to build things up slowly, and work on adding a few training sessions per week into their routine first, before tackling anything else. We’ll work on whatever you are comfortable with. I don’t stick to rigid plans and try to mould people into the same way of doing things.  I’ll listen, and work with you to find what works for you specifically. 

I work with people who are interested in improving their mental health as well as the physical. If you’re looking to get ripped and don’t care about how you get there, even to the detriment of your health, we’re not a good fit. Don’t get me wrong, looking in the mirror and liking what you see, can affect the way we feel about ourselves. However, building healthy habits into all areas of your life, alongside working towards aesthetic goals, is going to make you feel MUCH better in the long run. And that’s what I do. If you’re looking for a safe gym space in Manchester and are interested in working with me, please fill in an enquiry form and pop in as much detail as you can. I currently have a waiting list and better fits will be placed higher up!

Client Success Stories: Inspiring Transformations

Christabel

“I have been working with Ray since Feb 2023, and joint sessions with my partner since Oct 2023. I can’t put into words how much training with Ray has made a difference to both of our lives, but I will certainly try for this blog! I have always tried to be active, but completely wrote off lifting and the dreaded weight rooms due to anxiety and the general vibes.

There is such a lack of diversity and inclusion within the fitness sphere that I feel doesn’t get enough attention, but Ray is a breath of fresh air. The space and community Ray has created is beautiful. I have loved getting to know other lifters through the activities she has planned. Ray’s private, low lighting, low stimulation work out space, with the world’s cutest dog has been invaluable for my mental health and wellbeing. I feel safe, and judgement free, which has allowed me to become the strongest version of myself yet!

When I started I could not even hold up a 5kg dumbbell to move it out of the way, I had noodle arms and accepted that was how it would be. I can now lift the same amount of weight as my 6’3 partner (I am 5’6) and I am only getting stronger. I had heard the phrase deadlift prior to training and it filled me with dread (dreadlift!?). There was just no way that I would be able to do something like that, my body could not coordinate itself in that way for one. Through Ray’s coaching and patience, and her amazing ability to out weird me, easing any anxiety I had, I have learnt how to deadlift and can lift heavy!

The impact this has had on my mental health and confidence is immeasurable, I’ll still stay away from the weight rooms, but that’s only because Ray’s studio is infinitely better!!”

Amber

“When I was recommended Ray, I was coming out of the tail end of a nervous breakdown. I was depressed, agoraphobic, nervous, and I had lost the connection to my physical body that I usually have. I knew I needed to start training again, but I wanted a bit of guidance and accountability as well as a safe space to go twice a week.

I’m so glad I found Lift!!! Ray has been incredibly patient with me; understanding that sometimes my mental health is on a knife edge, but still encouraging me to lift big weights every session whilst also giving me space to have quiet moments with Nugget, the best little therapy dog. I’ve come a long way since I started training in mid December. I’ve dropped many kgs – but my body is also looking and feeling stronger and more sculpted. I’m feeling better in myself and I can’t thank Ray enough for their support, wisdom and ability to adapt to my needs. I’ve also made a new friend in Ray and Nugget, and also having social events with the other clients. I can’t wait for the next few months as we get closer to my goal!!”

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Picture of Ray Hickford

Ray Hickford

Hi, I’m Ray, a health and wellbeing professional in Manchester working with clients through training and nutrition programmes to help them feel more confident, strong and happy both in and outside of the gym.
As a Qualified Personal Trainer and Level 4 RSPH Nutrition Advisor, I am constantly learning myself - from my clients, from other industry experts and sometimes myself! And sometimes I write some of this down for ya.

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