Name Alexa Towersey
Trains 98 gym
No one’s claiming there’s a dearth of top-drawer male trainers out there. Heck, we feature them in these pages all the time. But there should also be no doubt that you can get game-changing advice on working out from the lips of a crack female instructor. Chances are she’s someone who will bring a little extra subtlety to the gym-room floor. Someone whose response to a locked door isn’t to break it down but to find the key.
“FOR ME THERE’S nothing worse than seeing ego take over in the gym,” says Alexa Towersey, a statuesque presence on this chilly morning at 98 Gym, the house of pain in inner Sydney founded by Gym Jones disciple Chris Feather and co-owned by the gladiatorial Russell Crowe. “A lot of guys’ workouts are train wrecks waiting to happen.”
From being so thin at school that kids called her “Alexa Anorexa”, Towersey lifted weights to transform her body. In 2016, she became Australia’s first fully certified female Gym Jones instructor. What does that even mean? It means that on the back of tuition that took seven years (and punishing physical tests) she’s endorsed by the legendary Utah training facility Gym Jones, which forged the bodies of the Spartan warriors in 300. “I thought it was pretty awesome to have to prove myself,” says Towersey. “It was a baptism of fire, and I loved every minute of it.”
The Gym Jones approach is badass, but Towersey has put her own spin on it. The Towersey Method entails discarding certain elements you may assume are central to a fair-dinkum workout – big loads, primal screams, untold suffering – and focusing instead on creating a body devoid of weak links, primed for the real world. Towersey is also a technique fiend. This morning she’s guiding strength guru James Brodie through a set of squats. Brodie can squat 160kg before breakfast, yet Towersey is spotting chinks: “Gaze up!” she snaps.
“If you can zero in on why you’re training and build a strong, solid base, that will translate into a body that is stronger, fitter, faster and safe from injury,” she says. Here are her three rules of smart training.
Towersey has worked with many men and more women. Who trains smarter? Women, she says, without hesitation. “Typically, men want their arse handed to them,” she explains. If they’re wasted when they leave the gym, they’re happy. “But it doesn’t have to be balls-to-the-wall all the time,” says Towersey. “Women don’t work like that. They want to know the why of an exercise.”
A former Towersey client, endurance athlete Tony Shaw, figured every workout needed to be a lung-busting cardio ordeal and saw no point in lifting weights. “He hadn’t realised that by doing strength training, specifically targeting his glutes and hamstrings, he was going to improve his running,” says Towersey. That was until his race times plunged as his lower body thickened.
The moves that made the difference – hip thrusts, glute bridges – aren’t the type to fill guys with dread or have them wailing like banshees during execution. But that’s the point: an effective workout needn’t be face-melting.
“You glutes are your power muscle,” says Towersey. Walking, running, lifting, swinging . . . it all comes back to hip drive.
“Trust me, you don’t want to be that guy rocking a great tailored shirt but your jeans are hanging off your arse because there’s nothing there,” says Towersey. “I can tell you as a female: we spot that in a second.”
Last year Towersey realised her mobility was on the slide. Though it was an element of fitness she’d been attentive to, she was now struggling to do basic flexibility moves. It was baffling.
For a while, she says, she acted like a man, sticking her head in the sand. Finally she had a scan and the results shocked her: degenerative osteoarthritis was rife in her left hip, where her labrum was torn both top and bottom, most likely from squatting. In her late 30s, the doc told her, she had the hip of a 65-year-old and needed hip-replacement surgery. “In that instant my whole identity crumbled,” she says.
She’s back now as a force in the gym. The moral of the story is twofold, Towersey says. On the one hand there’d been periods when she’d succumbed to the “go hard or go home” mentality and this had come back to bite her. Forget that macho drivel, she urges.
On the other hand it was her focus on mobility that alerted her to a problem. “I learnt one of the biggest lessons of my life from undergoing something like that,” she says. “We really do need to listen to our bodies. If you’re constantly testing your capabilities, you can pick things up far earlier than you normally would.”
“In my experience men tend to shy away from some of the basic yet most important aspects of training,” says Towersey. Translation: you spend more time revelling in your strengths than addressing your limitations. This upside-down approach is understandable, concedes Towersey: “It’s far more enjoyable to do something you’re good at. Few guys are disciplined enough to spend time on their weaknesses. But I can guarantee that most men will struggle far more with a mobility session than they will with a vomit-inducing workout.”
The good news is that no matter how glaring your weaknesses, you can fix them. The keys are getting started, consistency and learning to love the work you need to do. “Your body,” Towersey says, “will go wherever your mind tells you it’s capable of going.” ■