Jennifer meets me in the gym of the Parliament, the Sports Club. The lower part of her face is hidden by a mask. The 37-year-old Head Coach begins by telling me that the operator of the parliamentary gym used to be a private company. About four years ago, the European Parliament itself took over as gym operator and adopted the contracts of the gym staff. Now the gym is part of the ‘Unit for Prevention and Well-being’.

Jennifer has eleven years of experience in coaching and sports management. She holds a degree in communication and sports as well as being a certified fitness instructor and sports nutritionist. Before taking up her position at the gym in the European Parliament Jennifer worked in a ladies only private gym. When she started working at the parliamentary gym, the percentage of women working as fitness trainers and group coaches was very low. This has gradually improved and nowadays the number of male and female trainers is roughly equal.

As Head Coach, Jennifer does not only offer personal training sessions or teach fitness classes, but she is also responsible for the administration of the gym. When managing staff and devising weekly duty rotas Jennifer sometimes has to deal with staff being sick, which can be challenging.

Jennifer’s areas of expertise in personal training include body building, body sculpting and weight training. In her sessions she discusses clients’ goals with them and shows them effective exercises. She also helps with their posture and the execution of exercises. MEPs and parliamentary staff that have a gym membership can book individual sessions. Jennifer once worked with a client who lost 15 kilos. He was so thankful for her guidance that he gifted her a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates and a voucher for a massage. Of course, different clients come to personal training sessions for different reasons. Some clients aspire to run a marathon while others want to commit to a more active lifestyle. Interestingly, Jennifer has noted contrasting training preferences in various nationalities. Scandinavian employees like weight training whereas gym members from the South of Europe prefer cardio and group classes. ‘But this is a wide generalisation.’, she laughs. ‘Of course this doesn’t apply to everyone.’

It is Jennifer’s job to guarantee that the daily procedures run smoothly. She also helps to run the gym in Strasbourg when plenary sessions take place there. Therefore, when things go well and clients enjoy the sessions, she is truly proud of her team. Notably, staff at the Parliament do not only benefit from the gym and classes, but also from other health-related missions organized by the ‘Unit of Prevention and Well-being’. The project ‘Ergo Studio’ adjusts workstations (chairs and desks) in the Parliament and prevents possible postural problems thanks to strengthening classes. Furthermore the project ‘Fit & Safe’ offers courses and training adapted to the schedules and needs of the Parliament’s security officers.

To work at the Sports Club as a gym instructor, five years of experience as a trainer as well as sports certifications are expected. Trainers also need to speak a minimum of two languages, for example French and English, to account for the international background of gym members.

Jennifer appreciates the European Union for its ability to find compromises, resolve historical conflicts and give even small countries a say in international affairs. Having Congolese, Portuguese and Dutch roots, she sees the opposite happening in Africa. ‘There are still differences between European regions, yet the collaboration we see between countries is very positive.’

Currently, the Sports Club remains open despite restrictive measures thanks to the establishment of a hygiene concept, which includes the limitation of clients per hour, the obligation to wear a mask when walking between exercise machines and the hourly disinfection of changing rooms. Moreover, fitness classes can still be held – they now take place in a hybrid format. As this format offers much more flexibility, the Sports Club plans to keep classes hybrid even when restrictions ease; showing that sometimes constraints turn out to be the mother of inventiveness.

Thank you for the interview.

Lisa Sweering, December 2021