I began writing about the absence of variety and inclusivity in the realm of fitness and wellness due to my own personal encounters. (It’s all right here: What It’s Like Being a Black, Body-Positive Trainer In an Industry That is Mostly Thin and White.)
Mainstream fitness has a past of focusing on and catering to a predominantly Caucasian audience, traditionally disregarding concerns of diversity, inclusivity, representation, and intersectionality. However, representation is crucial; what individuals perceive shapes their perception of reality and what they consider achievable for themselves and others who resemble them. It is also important for individuals from dominant groups to witness what is achievable for individuals who do not resemble them. (See: Tools to Assist You in Discovering Your Implicit Bias — and What That Signifies)
If individuals do not feel comfortable and included in wellness and fitness environments, they risk being completely excluded — and this is significant because fitness is for everyone. The advantages of physical activity apply to every single individual. Physical activity allows you to feel revitalized, complete, empowered, and nurtured in your body, in addition to providing reduced stress levels, improved sleep, and increased physical strength. Every individual deserves access to the transformative power of strength in environments that feel inviting and comfortable. Individuals from all backgrounds deserve to feel noticed, respected, validated, and honored in fitness environments. Seeing trainers with comparable backgrounds promotes the ability to feel a sense of belonging in a place and that all of your health and fitness objectives — whether related to weight loss or not — are legitimate and significant.
Chrissy King, fitness coach and advocate for anti-Racism in the wellness industry
To establish environments where individuals from diverse backgrounds feel embraced, we need to do a better job in the mainstream fitness industry of highlighting individuals from diverse backgrounds. Because believe me, Black and Brown people definitely exist within wellness environments as enthusiasts, practitioners, trainers, coaches, and thought leaders.
— Chrissy King, fitness coach and advocate for anti-Racism in the wellness industry
If we truly strive to empower individuals, they must see themselves represented — and not merely as an afterthought. Diversity is not a checkbox, and representation is not the final objective. It is the initial step towards creating inclusive environments designed for everyone, spaces that feel warm and secure for ALL individuals. However, it is still an extremely important step because without it, important narratives are absent from mainstream wellness. (See: Why Wellness Professionals Must Participate in the Conversation About Racism)
Here are just some of the voices and narratives that need to be acknowledged and listened to: These Black trainers are accomplishing remarkable work in the fitness industry
Observe them, acquire knowledge from them, and provide financial assistance to their endeavors.
Taysha Pye (@taythetrainer)
Taysha Pye is a businessperson and former professional women’s basketball player from New York City with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. After working at several fitness gyms as a certified personal trainer, Taysha established her own gym, Vibez Training. Together with her business partner Brittney Benson, Pye’s goal was to “create a business that brings added value to the community — a business that provides just as much as it takes,” she expresses. “I’m thrilled to have offered a wellness resource to our Bed Stuy, Brooklyn community.”
Brittney Benson (@bodyxbrittney)
As the co-proprietor of Vibez Training in Bedstuy, Brooklyn alongside Pye, Brittney Benson, has been training clients and paving the way for individuals from all walks of life to feel at ease in fitness facility settings. “[I’ve] always desired to establish a space where people of color can come together in a gym environment that feels inclusive, where they can lift weights and express their true selves,” she remarks.
And Vibez Training fulfills exactly that purpose. It is a fitness center where individuals of color, particularly women of color, can enter and engage in workouts without fear of judgment. At Vibez, no one will ever label you as “intimidating” based on the weights you lift. All are welcome and will receive enthusiastic support. When Benson isn’t training clients, you can find her on the field playing for the New York Wolves semi-pro women’s tackle football team.
Percell Dugger (@goodwrk)
Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Percell Dugger is a personal trainer renowned for his comprehensive approach to fitness and well-being. His experiences within the fitness industry span from being the personal trainer of Black Panther star Winston Duke to serving as the head strength coach at the College of Mount Saint Vincent and working as a group fitness instructor at Rise by WeWork. When “Coach P” is not training clients, he enjoys writing, preparing for marathons, practicing boxing, and playing basketball at local courts in New York City.
Besides functioning as a coach and instructor, Dugger is also deeply passionate about the well-being and fitness of the Black community. This led him to initiate Fit For Us, a collective focused on wellness and a marketing agency that aims to promote fair health and financial outcomes within the Black community.
Lauren Leavell (@laurenleavellfitness)
Lauren Leavell is a trainer and instructor specialized in barre and HIIT, based in Philadelphia. Her approach to fitness is all-inclusive and emphasizes body liberation. She believes in working with individuals who are prepared to live life on their own terms and discover their perfect physical and emotional balance. Lauren maintains authenticity and transparent communication through her Instagram platform, reminding her followers that there is no right or wrong way to have a body. She concentrates on the various ways in which movement benefits our bodies, moving away from weight loss as the sole measure of success. “My body does not define me,” she stated on Instagram. She challenges societal norms by emphasizing that fitness professionals come in all shapes and sizes, dismantling the idea that fitness is strictly based on appearance.
As an individual who has rejected “diet culture,” Lauren encourages her followers to engage in joyful movement, considering exercise as a way to nourish their bodies rather than punishing or forcing them into submission.
Kanoa Greene (@kanoagreene)
Kanoa Greene is a fitness and yoga instructor as well as an intrepid adventurer. She is actively working to create a space for plus-sized bodies in outdoor activities. She serves as a living testament that athleticism, strength, and confidence can thrive regardless of body shape or size. Growing up, Kanoa lacked representation of bodies similar to hers, and this motivated her to demonstrate to others that they are capable of achieving anything.
Kanoa is driven by her commitment to inclusive fitness, firmly believing that it is accessible to every individual, regardless of body type. She is delighted to contribute to the industry and the world by empowering individuals through movement.
Tasheon Chillous (@chilltash)
Tasheon Chillous is a personal trainer and group fitness coach at Ascent Fitness in Tacoma, Washington. She adopts a weight-inclusive approach rooted in Health At Every Size (HAES) principles. Tasheon is passionate about assisting individuals in discovering what brings them joy in terms of movement and strength.
She is enthusiastic about physical fitness for all individuals. “I strongly believe that movement is accessible to everyone and enjoy working with fellow individuals who are overweight or plus-sized and desire to engage in physical activity for a specific objective or to improve their well-being, or want to establish a routine of physical movement that is not associated with diet culture and prejudice against overweight individuals,” she expressed on her Instagram.
Amber Harris (@solestrengthkc)
Amber Harris, C.P.T, is a run coach and certified trainer based in Kansas City, whose ultimate mission is to “empower women through physical movement and accomplishment.” She shares her passion for running and physical fitness with the world through her Instagram account and encourages people to find happiness in exercise. “I encourage you to engage in activities that bring you HAPPINESS!” she wrote on Instagram. “Regardless of whether it involves walking, running, weightlifting, or practicing yoga, give it a try… even if it’s only for 5 minutes at a time. Your inner being requires it. Small moments of joy can alleviate your worries and anxieties. Joy will enable you to let go and start fresh.”
Steph Dykstra (@stephironlioness)
Steph Dykstra, proprietor of Iron Lion Training, a fitness facility located in Toronto, is a coach and co-host of the podcast Fitness Junk Debunked! Moreover, Dykstra is an exceptional boxer who has also received training in TaeKwonDo, Kung Fu, and Muay Thai. “I did not pursue boxing to achieve well-defined arms. Martial arts have always intrigued me, and my goal was to acquire extensive knowledge, strive for excellence, and gain maximum experience in the sport. Therefore, I wholeheartedly dedicated myself to the learning process,” she shared on Instagram.
However, if boxing does not attract you, there’s no need to worry. With a background in powerlifting, Olympic lifting, kettlebells, and various other fitness disciplines, Dykstra provides inspiration and guidance for every type of individual engaging in physical exercise.
Donna Noble (@donnanobleyoga)
Donna Noble, an intuitive wellness coach, advocate for body positivity, writer, and yogi based in London, is the founder of Curvesome Yoga, an inclusive community that emphasizes accessibility and diversity in the practice of yoga and overall well-being for all individuals.
On a quest to ensure that all individuals are embraced in the yoga community, Noble organizes body-affirming workshops for yoga educators with the objective of instructing fellow yoga trainers on how to develop varied and reachable classes while also scrutinizing their personal unexamined prejudices.
The work I engage in—advocating for body positivity, providing guidance, and offering guidance through coaching—is intended for individuals who are silenced and overlooked by the mainstream. This is to ensure that they have equal opportunities and access in the realm of well-being,” she expressed on her Instagram page. “I feel immense joy when I witness Black women and marginalized communities coming together, fostering empowerment and a sense of belonging. This paves the way for many others to partake in this incredible healing practice.” (Also, check out Lauren Ash, the Founder of Black Girl In Om, One of the Most Influential Voices In the Wellness Industry.)
Justice Roe (@JusticeRoe)
Justice Roe, a coach and certified trainer based in Boston, is dedicated to making movement accessible to individuals of all body types. Roe is the innovator behind Queer Open Gym Pop Up, a space designed specifically for individuals who may not feel safe or welcomed in traditional fitness environments. “Queer Open Gym Pop Up came to be because we have all been taught societal messages about how we should perceive our bodies and how they should appear,” Roe explains to Shape. “However, these beliefs are not our own. They are merely societal constructs. The Queer [Pop] Up serves as an environment where we can truly embrace our authentic selves without facing any judgment. It is a genuinely non-judgmental zone.”
As an advocate for body positivity within the transgender community, Roe also conducts workshops called Fitness For All Bodies. These workshops are tailored for fitness professionals and aim to facilitate discussions on the best approaches to promote body acceptance, accessibility, inclusivity, and the establishment of safe spaces for clients. (Here, you can find even more trainers who are dedicated to fostering inclusivity within the fitness industry.)
Adele Jackson-Gibson (@adelejackson26)
Adele Jackson-Gibson resides in Brooklyn and works as a storyteller, writer, model, and strength coach. She aims to “remind women of their strength through words, energy, and physical movement,” as she conveys to Shape. As a former collegiate athlete in soccer and track, Jackson-Gibson has always found delight in movement and holds great appreciation for what her body can accomplish.
With training in various disciplines such as CrossFit, yoga, kettlebells, Olympic lifting, and others, Jackson-Gibson aspires to “educate individuals on how to discover movement that suits their unique bodies. By exploring different forms of movement and identifying areas of growth, people often establish a newfound connection with their physical selves and cultivate a sense of empowerment. My goal is for people to truly understand the language of their bodies.”
Marcia Darbouze (@thatdoc.marcia)
Physical therapist Marcia Darbouze, D.P.T., is the owner of Just Move Therapy, where she provides physical therapy and coaching both in-person and online. Her areas of focus primarily revolve around mobility, Strongman training, and powerlifting programming.
Specialized in physiotherapy, she had no plans of pursuing a career in the realm of individualized fitness guidance. “Becoming a strength instructor was never my aspiration, but I witnessed clients sustaining injuries as a result of improper programming,” she explains to Shape magazine. “I couldn’t bear the thought of witnessing harm befall my actual therapy clients, and that’s how I ended up here.”
Darbouze is also the host of the podcast Disabled Girls Who Lift, which is part of a self-titled online community operated by disabled, chronically ill womxn, committed to advocating for fairness and accessibility.
Quincy France (@qfrance)
Quincy France is a certified trainer based in New York with over 12 years of experience. With a focus on kettlebells and calisthenics, he can be observed on his Instagram performing a variety of astounding feats demonstrating his extraordinary strength — envision handstands on a pull-up bar. (P.S. Here’s everything you need to know about calisthenics.)
“Some refer to it as training, but it necessitates a unique individual to recognize the potential in someone and assist them in achieving greatness,” France wrote on Instagram. “Shoutout to all those who take the time out of their day to support others in reaching their utmost potential.”
Mike Watkins (@mwattsfitness)
Mike Watkins is a trainer based in Philadelphia and the founder of Festive Fitness, which provides inclusive and body-positive personal training and group fitness for QTPOC and LGBT individuals to ensure that movement is perceived as safe and accessible for everyone. “I established Festive Fitness and Wellness in January as a means to give back to my communities, specifically the LGBTQIA community and Black and Brown queer/trans individuals,” Watkins informs Shape. “Working as a fitness trainer in a large commercial gym, I experienced feelings of insecurity and mistreatment when standing up for myself and others.”
While being a self-employed fitness professional hasn’t necessarily been effortless, Watkins believes it has been entirely worthwhile. “I wouldn’t be truthful if I claimed the past six months have been simple,” he states. “I underwent a mental breakdown at the onset of June when the American Racial Revolution commenced in Philadelphia. However, in a sense, it has empowered me even more to share my narrative and promote healing among others through fitness and wellness.”
Reese Lynn Scott (@reeselynnscott)
As the proprietor of Women’s World of Boxing NYC, New York City’s premier women-only boxing gym, Reese Lynn Scott is fulfilling her objective to “provide mentorship through boxing programs for teenage girls while offering women and girls a secure, comfortable, uplifting, and empowering environment to train at both competitive and noncompetitive levels.
Reese, a registered novice combatant and licensed USA boxing trainer, has coached over 1,000 females and young ladies in the sport of boxing. She also utilizes her Instagram account to “educate women on how to assert their territory and prioritize themselves” in a series of tips on Boxing Therapy Tuesday on IGTV.(See: Why You Should Definitely Give Boxing a Try)
Quincéy Xavier (@qxavier)
Quincéy Xavier, a coach based in Washington, D.C., trains individuals in a distinct manner because he believes that the physique is capable of achieving so much more. “Why should we simply concentrate on appearance when this physique, this tissue, is capable of achieving so much more,” he explains to Shape. Xavier is genuinely interested in the personal development of his clients and as such, takes on the roles of trainer, instructor, problem solver, motivator, and visionary.
With certifications in power and conditioning, kettlebells, joint flexibility, and yoga, there is practically nothing Xavier cannot assist you in accomplishing concerning your health and fitness objectives. Moreover, he strives to help his clients reach a state of acceptance and love. “It is about you,” he states. “The one who stands in front of the mirror unclothed after a Saturday night out. Criticizing every flaw to the point of hopelessness until you realize that there are no flaws. That you have to love yourself — every aspect of yourself — and learn to perceive love in areas where you previously perceived hatred.” (More here: 12 Things You Can Do to Cherish Your Body Right Now)
Elisabeth Akinwale (@eakinwale)
Elisabeth Akinwale is no newcomer to physical fitness, having participated in college gymnastics and being an elite athlete in the CrossFit games from 2011 to 2015. Nowadays, she is the co-owner of 13th FLOW Performance System, a gym for strength and conditioning based in Chicago that adopts a systematic approach to produce predictable outcomes for its clients.
Akinwale made the decision to establish this space because “we had to create because what we were searching for didn’t exist,” she wrote on Instagram. “There are instances in your life when you are the sole individual who can take action, so you must do it! Instead of questioning why someone else isn’t doing it, desiring a place at someone else’s table, or attempting to figure out why something isn’t meeting your needs, DO IT! Create what you need because others also require it.
We’re not present to participate in the game, we’re here to alter it.
Mia Nikolajev (@therealmiamazin)
Located in Toronto, Mia Nikolajev, C.S.C.S., is a certified strength trainer and a firefighter who also participates in powerlifting competitions. Showcasing a 360lb back squat, a 374lb deadlift, and a 219lb bench press, she’s the person to follow if you’re interested in becoming exceptionally strong. However, even if you’re completely new to strength training and may even find it daunting, Nikolajev is the trainer for you. “I enjoy meeting individuals at their current level and witnessing their ‘aha’ moments when acquiring a new movement or achieving a goal,” she tells Shape. “I take pleasure in witnessing my clients embrace their power and confidence.”
Additionally, apart from being an exceptional trainer and powerlifter, Nikolajev utilizes her platform to discuss the significance of representation within the fitness industry. “Representation holds importance. Being observed holds importance! Being listened to and validated and feeling like your thoughts are being considered holds importance,” she wrote on Instagram.