Fats Timbo: “Anyone can become disabled – it’s about how you bounce back that matters”

At 4ft tall, gyms aren’t necessarily the most accessible spaces for Instagram and TikTok influencer Fats Timbo. But that isn’t stopping her from getting seriously strong.

Fats Timbo isn’t your usual fitness-loving influencer. For a start, she’s hilarious (she is a comedian with over 2 million TikTok followers, after all). And secondly, fitness isn’t that deep for her – unless we’re talking about access for disabled people. Rather than having the zeal of a recent fitness convert (Timbo’s own fitness journey began during the 2021 lockdown), she remembers only too vividly how hard it can be to find the motivation to work out.

She started strength training after a friend offered her a training plan last year. “Suddenly, I was there thinking, ‘Oh my God, now I have to buy weights; I need to buy protein. But almost immediately, I started falling in love with the results,” she tells Stylist. In fact, the 4ft tall model and comedian fell for fitness so hard that she decided to start her own Instagram series to place inspirational athletes with disabilities in the spotlight. 

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“I found that when I was doing my fitness, I had to adapt moves because there are loads of machines that I can’t use. I had to find my own way of doing things. And then I started thinking: ‘How would somebody in a wheelchair work out at the gym? They wouldn’t get to use a treadmill. How would they use that particular resistance machine? What about someone who is blind? How would they do this?’ It just got my brain going – it made me realise that I hadn’t seen much representation of disabled people in the gym.”

So, Timbo took to social media, and there she found her community. “I came across so many different disabled athletes online and it really inspired me to go into the gym. I thought to myself, OK, if I’m finding this hard, I can’t imagine how it would be for someone with more severe disabilities.”

Immediately, her agent contacted a few athletes with disabilities to discuss access and representation in fitness. The chats were illuminating: one blind gym-goer told them that he’d been rejected by a gym after being told that none of their PTs were trained to deal with someone like him.

“There are so many problems that aren’t talked about or that people aren’t aware of,” Timbo says. “I’m just glad that Gymshark (the series sponsor) gave me the opportunity to air them.”

One of the most inspirational athletes she’s worked with is PT Tyler Saunders: “He was born with one leg and he does hikes. It’s wild. I’ll be complaining about a weight being too heavy, and he’s there doing squats with one leg – it just gives you perspective. There are no excuses, he just does it. I find that so inspiring, and I think everyone else should be inspired by people like him.”

Then there’s Ellen, a wheelchair user and Gymshark athlete, who rope climbs in her chair. “I need that kind of upper body strength!” Timbo exclaims.

Both Ellen and Tyler appear in Timbo’s Access series, alongside Chris Nicholson, who was paralysed during a rugby match. “You know, a lot of people don’t realise that anyone can become disabled; anyone can have an accident one day and have their whole life turned upside down. It’s about how you bounce back from it and how you live your life afterwards.”

Right now, disabled athletes are competing in the Commonwealth Games – the first time they’ve been properly integrated alongside able-bodied sports. When asked what impact those sports will have on the everyday life of disabled people in the UK, Timbo replies simply: “The everyday person can do whatever they want. It’s all about them; if they find that inspiration to go and do something, they’ll do it. 

“Many people have so many barriers [that stop them from engaging with fitness], and it’s time we fight through those barriers. I face a lot of obstacles myself, but if I can do something, I will. And I’m sure a lot of other disabled people have that mindset. I’ve found that with a few of my friends, they just need the confidence to do stuff and that’s why a lot of disabled people come together to kick through those barriers.”

So, what’s next for Timbo? Well, she’s found that from working on her back strength, she’s better able to walk – and that means hiking is on the horizon. “I’ve kind of hit my exercise goal already because I used to find it hard to walk long distances. The back pain was just too much. But since strengthening my bones and muscles, I can now pretty much walk however long I want. I think I should do a hike or something.”

Does that mean she’ll be attending next year’s Strong Women Trek? I flag she’s got a year to get up to a half-marathon distance. “Oh my God!” is her response. See you at the start line, Fats!

Fats Timbo’s three tips for staying motivated

Last week, a report found that nearly half of women in the UK haven’t done any exercise for over a year. Timbo knows only too well how hard it can to be to get going, but over lockdown, she says she cracked the key to enjoying fitness: “I started paying more attention to eating healthy foods, realised you need to be consistent with exercise and that discipline is important,” she says. “It’s been hard to crack those three things, but I’m so glad I’ve found a routine that works for me”. Crucially, she’s also stopped looking at the scales after becoming “obsessed with the numbers”.

Today, she gyms three times a week. And to reach that level of routine, she has three tips for boosting motivation.

Focus on the endorphins

“The more you don’t want to work out, the more you should push yourself to go because those are the days when you’ll notice the mental difference the most. Whatever time you have, just give it a go and you’ll feel amazing straight after you’re done.”

Try to eat more whole foods

“I’ve been focusing on consuming more protein because it keeps me full, strengthens my bones and helps my muscles grow. I like to have chicken salads for lunch, salmon in the evenings and try to have things like yoghurt and shakes around my workouts.”

If you don’t have time to work out, walk

“Even if you can’t go to the gym, just walk a bit more. You could walk from the station to your workplace, for example, or walk instead of taking the bus. Instead of the escalator, do some steps. It’s all about adding more exercise into your daily routine – it’s the little things that matter.”

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