These Fitness Pros Are Making Wellness More Inclusive — and Bringing the Motivation

Everyone deserves access to the transformative power of movement in environments that feel welcoming and comfortable. These people are helping to make that happen.

Inclusivity x Motivation
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It would be a massive understatement to say that I was intimidated when I got involved with fitness for the first time in my adult life. Just walking into the gym was scary for me. I saw an abundance of incredibly fit-looking people and felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. I had no idea what I was doing and didn't feel totally comfortable navigating the gym. I didn't see any employees or trainers that looked even remotely like me, and to be honest, I wasn't quite sure if I belonged there or if anyone could relate to my experiences.

My first experience with a trainer was a free session I was gifted for joining the gym. I remember that session vividly. Just picture me — someone who'd never been to a gym in their entire adult life — engaging in the most brutal training session you can imagine. I'm talking burpees, push-ups, lunges, jump squats, and everything in between — all in 30 mins, with very little rest. By the end of the session, I was light-headed and shaking, almost to the point of passing out. The trainer mildly freaked out and brought me sugar packets to revive me.

After a few minutes of rest, the trainer explained that I did great job and he would have me in good shape and down 30 pounds in no time. One really big problem with this: not once had the trainer asked me about my goals. In fact, we hadn't discussed anything prior to the session. He just made the assumption that I wanted to lose 30 pounds. He went on to explain that, as a Black woman, I needed to manage my weight because I was at a bigger risk for diabetes and heart disease.


I walked away from that first introductory session feeling defeated, unseen, unworthy of being in that space, utterly out of shape, (specifically) 30 pounds overweight, and ready to run away and never return to the gym for the rest of my life. I didn't look the part, I had been embarrassed in front of multiple trainers and other patrons, and it didn't feel like a welcoming space for a fitness newbie like myself.

For individuals with marginalized identities, whether it be members of the LGBTQIA+ community, people of color, older adults, individuals with disabilities, or individuals in larger bodies, walking into a gym can feel terrifying. Having access to trainers of diverse backgrounds goes a long way in allowing individuals to feel more comfortable. A person's unique set of varying identities impacts the way they see and experience the world. Having the ability to train with someone who shares some of these identities can allow individuals to feel more comfortable in a gym setting and also more comfortable opening up about any fears or hesitations about the gym. It also leads to an overall feeling of safety. And feeling comfortable and confident in the gym may make you feel more motivated to stick to a training plan that you’ve decided to take on.

Additionally, incorporating simple practices can go a long way toward creating a more inclusive workout world…and world, period. Taking steps such as installing gender-neutral or single-stall changing rooms and bathroom facilities, asking individuals their pronouns, having a diverse and representative staff, refusing to make assumptions about people's fitness or weight loss goals, and being wheelchair accessible can make a difference.

Fitness isn't just for individuals of a particular size, gender, ability status, shape, age, or ethnicity. You don't need to look a certain way to have a 'fit' body, nor do you need to possess any particular aesthetic characteristics to engage in physical activity of any form. The benefits of movement extend to every single human being and allow you to feel energized, whole, empowered, and nourished in your body, in addition to reduced stress levels, better sleep, and increased physical strength.

Everyone deserves access to the transformative power of strength in environments that feel welcoming and comfortable. Strength is for everybody and individuals from all backgrounds deserve to feel seen, respected, affirmed, and celebrated in fitness spaces. Seeing other trainers with similar backgrounds, who want to make fitness more inclusive for everyone, fosters the ability to feel like you belong in a space and that all of your health and fitness goals — whether weight loss-related or not — are valid and important. And believing that your goals are valid is a key to remaining motivated.

Here are ten trainers who not only understand the importance of making the workout world more inclusive but also embody it in their practices:

Morit Summers

Morit Summers

Morit Summers

Morit Summers, who founded Form Fitness BK alongside Francine Delgado-Lugo and Jowan Ortega, is (in her words), "on a mission to prove to you that you can do it too." Summers recreates popular (and often very challenging) workout videos created by other fitness influencers and trainers on Instagram, modifying the movements to make them more accessible for the everyday gym-goer, emphasizing that modifications don't make you less capable. Besides being a complete badass in the gym — partaking in everything from powerlifting and Olympic lifting to completing a Spartan race — she frequently reminds followers not to "judge a body by its cover," proudly showcasing her strong and capable body across social media.

Dr. Lady Velez

Lady Velez

Lady Velez

Lady Velez, M.D., director of operations and coach at Brooklyn-based gym, Strength for All, decided on a career in fitness after finishing medical school in 2018 because she felt that being a coach was more conducive to helping people find actual health and wellness than practicing medicine. As a queer woman of color, Dr. Velez coaches and trains clients in weight lifting, powerlifting, and CrossFit, helping them find their own personal power and strength. Dr. Velez says she particularly enjoys training at Strength For All, an inclusive, sliding-scale gym, because "although I have often felt welcome in other spaces, specifically CrossFit, I never realized how many other people didn't feel welcome in fitness spaces,” she notes. “What I love about what we do is that it's a place where queer, gay, trans individuals, and people of color can come and feel comfortable, seen, and understood." Her passion is evident; just check out her Instagram where she's constantly showcasing the clients she feels privileged to work with. Related: What It Really Means to Be Gender Fluid or Non-Gender Binary

Asher Freeman

Asher Freeman

Asher Freeman

Asher Freeman is the founder of Nonnormative Body Club, which offers a sliding scale queer and trans group fitness class in Philadelphia. Freeman is, in their words, "a trans personal trainer determined to smash racist, fatphobic, cisnormative, and ableist myths about our bodies." In addition to training and providing tips for business owners on how to create a successful sliding-scale system in order to ensure fitness is financially accessible, Freeman hosts a variety of classes and workshops educating the fitness community about concrete ways to practice inclusivity, including "Chest Binding 101, a Webinar for Fitness Professional to Better Service Clients Who Bind."

Roslyn Mays

Roslyn Mays

Roslyn Mays

Roslyn Mays, aka Roz the Diva, is a personal trainer, competitor in pole dancing competitions, and group fitness instructor who seeks to make sure everyone feels welcome in her classes, no matter their sexuality, gender, size, or ability. In addition to teaching classes at studios such as Body & Pole and Incredipole, she's led workshops ranging in topic from Build Your Confidence to Plus Sized Pole Dancing. Mays also founded Dangerous Curves, a pole dancing competition for plus-size athletes.

Nathalie Huerta

Nathalie Huerta

Nathalie Huerta

Nathalie Huerta was inspired to found The Queer Gym based on her own experiences attending gyms as a lesbian athlete. Her goal was to to create a space that made everyone feel safe and welcome. The gym initially offered in-person classes in Oakland, California, and has since completely transitioned into virtual classes. "I realized there really weren't any inclusive gyms ensuring safety for the queer community, so I built my own," Huerta previously told Shape of her decision to open a gym. "I created a space so that folks [such as]  myself could feel comfortable accessing fitness and wellness, while also feeling a sense of community."

Jessica Rihal

Jessica Rihal

Jessica Rihal

When Jessica Rihal started taking fitness classes, she noticed there weren't a lot of other students who looked like her as a Black and South Asian person in a large body. Now, as a yoga and meditation instructor, she aims to create an environment where all people will feel like they belong. "I foster inclusivity in my hatha yoga classes by placing emphasis on being present and moving for the body and with the energy you have in this moment with no end goal or 'results' on the horizon," says Rihal. "This is made possible by offering a variety of options and variations on traditional postures that may be difficult to obtain for one reason or another." 

Emily Young

Emily Young

Emily Young

A therapist and personal trainer, Emily Young realized that clients could benefit from trainers who were informed in the subject of trauma. She began adjusting her approach to training to meet the needs of her clients. "I didn't know what to call it at the time, but I could look around the gym and see that the work I was doing was different," she previously told Shape, noting that she then found an existing name for what she'd been doing. "It was like an a-ha moment of finding my place," says Young. "As soon as I saw the words 'trauma-informed personal training,' I was like, 'That is what I've been doing.'" Young worked with Hope Ignited Training to develop a driveTrauma-Informed Personal Training Certification, designed to help trainers learn about trauma and its impacts on the body.

Wesley Hamilton

Wesley Hamilton

Wesley Hamilton

Wesley Hamilton was shot multiple times in 2012, which left him paralyzed below the waist. The life-altering event drove him to adopt new fitness and nutrition habits and found that he felt healthier and gained confidence. Hamilton created Disabled But Not Really, a non-profit that empowers people living with disabilities through fitness and mental health education, and started competing in adaptive CrossFit competitions. The organization launched a #HelpMeFit challenge, an eight-week program with training sessions and nutrition and mental health education for athletes with disabilities. Related: Meet Wesley Hamilton, the Founder of Disabled But Not Really Who's Empowering Athletes of All Abilities

Anne Reuss

Anne Reuss

Anne Reuss

When she hired a trainer in hopes of gaining strength, Anne Reuss realized that she was coaching others on how to coach her, a deaf person, more clearly. The experience inspired her to become a trainer herself and introduce soundless coaching. Reuss recently finished a contract with Marvel Studios and is currently offering one on one virtual and in-person training for entrepreneurs and sharing fitness and mindset practices on her Instagram. “Movement is the great equalizer,” says Reuss. “It doesn’t matter what background you come from, what your identity or gender is, what culture you represent.” 

Dianne Bondy

Diane Bondy

Diane Bondy

Dianne Bondy is an accessible yoga teacher who believes all people should be made to feel welcome to practice yoga. She teamed up with fellow yoga teacher Amber Karnes to create Yoga For All, an online certification program for teachers who want to offer accessible yoga. She started YogaForEveryone.tv, a workout streaming site with accessible yoga videos for people of all shapes, sizes, and ability levels.

Melissa Shah

Melissa Shah
Courtesy of Melissa Shah

Melissa Shah is the founder of Find Your Breath, a yoga education brand that aims to make the the activity accessible, increase the representation of minorities in the wellness space, and decolonize the ancient practice of yoga. As a yoga therapist, Shah strives to adjust the practice to students’ individual needs, whether that means adapting asanas or offering one-on-one sessions. Find Your Breath has offered classes exclusively for clients with marginalized identities and workshops with discounted rates for BIPOC students.

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