Black Dog Fitness
Black Dog Fitness was started with the aim of helping others to see and feel the benefits of exercise. The physical benefits get talked about a lot; cardiovascular fitness, reduced risk of illnesses, mobility, and so on. Nowadays, the mental health side is also talked about and how releasing endorphins can help combat anxiety and depression, as well as other mental illnesses.
Yet, even with all of this knowledge, it can still be difficult for people to find the motivation or time to make exercise a priority. Black Dog Fitness was created to help people overcome their barriers to exercise. This is especially the case for those with anxiety and depression. We understand that living with these conditions can be tough. We want to help people to overcome these barriers so that they can get and stay active to better manage their mental health.
To do this we offer one-to-one training, or small group classes. We also have the facility to bring equipment and train with you in your home or at a location that you feel comfortable. Alternatively, we also offer online personal training classes, digital training plans and instructional videos.
The business was founded by Natalie Harrison, who's story can be found below.
In 2014, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, which was hard to accept. I was prescribed anti-depressants which I had to take every day; these would give me the worst headaches imaginable, make the room spin and make me sensitive to light – I hated taking them but knew it was a long road to feeling “normal” again. My doctor told me that along with taking my medication, I should stop bottling things up and also try to do some light exercise to clear my mind… talking felt difficult, especially because I wasn’t sure why I felt the way I did; I was surrounded by supportive family and friends, had a good job and had no reason to feel down, and that was what made it more difficult because I felt guilty for feeling bad when I knew how bad other people had it and how they would happily switch lives with me.
Despite advice from the doctor, exercising was out of the question. I had no energy or motivation, not to mention that my confidence was at an all-time low. I just wanted to go back to work and lead a simple life, either that or wrap up in bed and never move. It was a long journey that required a lot of talking, but also listening to how other people saw me; they didn’t judge me or think I was weak, instead they offered support, a shoulder to cry on and someone to listen. Eventually, I returned to work and tried to focus on the positives rather than the negatives; I’ve always been quick to criticize myself for things I can’t do, but rarely stop to look at what I’m good at. I met a great guy and was honest and open with him from the start; with his support, I eventually weaned myself off of my medication (after consulting with my doctor).
I started running in November 2016, and could barely run for 30 seconds without ending up red faced, out of breath and bowled over with stitch; at the end of November, I entered my first Parkrun (a timed 5 kilometre “race”) and completed it in 46:11 – I had to walk a fair amount of it and felt absolutely shattered by the end. Since then, I started the C25K program using walk / run intervals, but then ended up adjusting it. At the start of March 2017, I entered a 10-kilometre event, finishing in a time of 1 hour 22 minutes, with a 5k time of 39 minutes. In October 2017, I completed my first half marathon in 2hours 59 minutes. My first marathon was the London Marathon in 2018, where I had a charity place with Mind. I finished in 7 hours 3 minutes – and this was a big turning point for me. Crossing the finish line came with mixed emotions… I was elated to have finished as I had been unfit for as long as I could remember and this was a big achievement, but disappointed with my finishing time. I decided that I would go back to the drawing board and train properly for my second marathon attempt the following year. Fast forward to 2019, and I saw improvements in all of my race times. My second marathon got me a time of 5 hours and 6 minutes. My half marathon time dropped to 2 hours 11 minutes, 10k to 56 minutes and 5k to just under 26 minutes. Seeing my progress has helped me to stay motivated, and given me a way to battle my anxiety. Running helps me to take control of my mind and show me that I can push myself and achieve my goals. Training gives me something to work towards and feel proud of myself for. In the past, I would hate having my photo taken and would avoid mirrors where I could. Now, I respect myself more – emotionally and physically. I watch what I eat, I exercise 5-7 times per week, and I’m a much more positive person overall. My head can still make me doubt myself, but I refuse to let it talk me out of things that I really want to do or to achieve.
Finding fitness and something that I could really push myself in changed my life. It became more than a hobby; it was a passion. Previously, I had changed my job aspirations a few times – lawyer, teacher, police officer, counsellor… Then I took a deeper look and realized that all of the roles I had aspired to were actually similar. They all help or support others in some way. This made me think about how I could combine my passion for fitness with a way to help others. I did some research on career opportunities and enrolled on my Level 2 Gym Instructor and Level 3 Personal Trainer qualifications.
I want to provide support to others who struggle with their anxiety and / or depression. I know how it feels to be anxious about going to a gym, to suffer with social anxiety, to have severe drops in motivation. I want to provide the encouragement and support to help people start and progress through their own personal journey. For me, the support of others was crucial – I didn’t want to be labelled and I felt as though everyone would look at me differently; everyone should have the support that they need to overcome their barriers, but not everyone is as lucky as I was to have had a great support unit around me, and that is why I started Black Dog Fitness. It’s more than just physical fitness and achieving physical goals; it’s about overcoming mental challenges too.