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Long before The Wing opened its first “coven” and women’s retreats became the trendy wellness getaway, Uplift was offering female fitness, connection and empowerment in the heart of Manhattan.
It was 2012 when Leanne Shear founded a fitness studio specifically for women in New York’s Flatiron district. From the get-go she knew her goal was to make women feel powerful and capable in every aspect of their lives, and that meant facilitating connection between clients. Six years on, Uplift has a thriving community who frequent the studio to be pushed physically and supported emotionally.
We caught up with Shear to talk female bonding, the rise of women-only spaces, and why strength training is her workout preference.
Culture Trip: What was the original philosophy behind Uplift and why did you decide to make it female only?
Leanne Shear: I was a writer before I started Uplift, and I started to diversify a little bit, doing running coaching on the side. I found that something interesting happened—when I was was running side by side with another woman, or working out with another woman, we were physically active, but we were also giving each other advice in other areas of our lives. So it kind of struck me early on that movement and physical fitness was a way to bring women to the table and empower them in other ways.
CT: Uplift is also a female society. How important is that in terms of helping women stay on track in all aspects of their wellbeing?
LS: The root of everything is an authentic strong community of women. Often we’ll do a workout and then a workshop on love and relationships, and we’ll drink some wine while we discuss these things. Or we’ll do our Strong Women Uplift Each Other series, which is when we come together and discuss topics we find it hard to face, like miscarriages and infertility, mental health issues, the loss of a parent—things like that. For us it’s this continuous cycle and circle of empowerment.
CT: Uplift focuses mainly on strength training. Why that, as opposed to, say, yoga or Pilates?
LS: The core of our business is strength, so we don’t shy away from lifting heavy weights which isn’t historically something women have gravitated towards in their workouts, but I’ve always said that when you’re physically strong that translates into other areas of your life. So even if somebody only comes to us just for her strength training she’s going to go out into the world and act strong. We see this correlation between women feeling physically strong and feeling better equipped to negotiate a higher salary with her boss, or stand up for themselves if their relationship is flagging. All sorts of empowering things.
CT: A lot of exercise research is done on male bodies, but women have very different physiology. I’m curious to know whether you’re structuring classes around females specifically.
LS: Like you say, it’s actually alarming how the vast majority of physical fitness research is done on males, and you’re hitting the nail on the head in saying that our biology is very different. So we’ve created a continuing education credit for personal trainers with all the latest research and programing specifically geared towards the female body. Our coaches are women, they understand women, and they just connect with their female clients on a higher level.
I do think strength training is a really important part of a woman’s life for many reasons, but Uplift is unique and special in that we provide that added element of female empowerment, connection and community which is something women crave and need as well.
CT: There’s been a surge in female-focused spaces in recent years. As one of the first businesses in the city to take this approach, how does it feel?
LS: I feel proud of the fact that I was able to perceive the tide turning with women-only spaces—that it was going to be coming to prominence. I think because I was experiencing my own growth and feminist awakening, trying to understand my own place in the world as a woman and where I felt comfortable. I think there’s something really powerful about women coming together, and there’s something revolutionary about it too. It’s not just a safe space—all these movements [like Me Too and Time’s Up] show that women are intelligently and purposefully taking back power. When one woman speaks up and she has an army of women around her supporting and encouraging her, well that makes things much easier. It’s a really exciting moment in our culture right now and I couldn’t be more proud that [Uplift is] right in the middle of all of it.