Black Trainers and Fitness Pros to Follow and Support
I started writing about the lack of diversity and inclusion in fitness and wellness spaces because of my own personal experiences. (It's all right here: What It's Like Being a Black, Body-Pos Trainer In an Industry That's Predominantly Thin and White.)
Mainstream fitness has a history of centering and catering to a predominantly white audience, historically disregarding issues of diversity, inclusion, representation, and intersectionality. But representation is vital; what people see shapes their perception of reality and what they deem to be possible for themselves and for people who look like them. It's also important for people from dominant groups to see what's possible for people who don't look like them. (See: Tools to Help You Uncover Your Implicit Bias — and What That Means)
If people don't feel comfortable and included in wellness and fitness spaces, they risk not being part of it at all — and this is important because fitness is for everyone. The benefits of movement extend to every single human being. Movement allows you to feel energized, whole, empowered, and nourished in your body, in addition to offering 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. Individuals from all backgrounds deserve to feel seen, respected, affirmed, and celebrated in fitness spaces. Seeing trainers with similar backgrounds fosters the ability to feel like you belong in a space and that all your health and fitness goals — whether weight loss-related or not — are valid and important.
If we truly aim to empower people, people need to see themselves represented — and not just as an afterthought. Diversity is not a box you check, and representation is not the end goal. It's the first step on the road to creating inclusive environments designed with everyone in mind, spaces that feel welcoming and safe for ALL bodies. But it's still a very important step nonetheless because, without it, there are important stories absent from mainstream wellness. (See: Why Wellness Pros Need to Be Part of the Conversation About Racism)
Here are just some of the voices and stories that need to be seen and heard: These Black trainers are doing incredible work in the fitness industry. Follow them, learn from them, and financially support their work.
Taysha Pye (@taythetrainer)
Taysha Pye is an NYC-based entrepreneur and retired professional women's basketball player with a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. After working at many fitness gyms as a certified personal trainer, Taysha opened her own gym, Vibez Training. Alongside her business partner Brittney Benson, Pye's mission was to "open a business that adds value to the community — a business that gives just as much as it takes," she says. "I'm happy to have provided a resource for wellness in our Bed Stuy, Brooklyn community."
Brittney Benson (@bodyxbrittney)
As the co-owner of Vibez Training in Bedstuy, Brooklyn alongside Pye, Brittney Benson, has been training clients and paving the way for people of all backgrounds to feel comfortable in gym settings. "[I've] always wanted to create a space where people of color can come together in a gym setting that feels like they belong, that they can lift and be their true authentic self," she says.
And Vibez Training is just that. It's a gym where people of color, especially women of color, can walk in and work out, knowing they aren't being judged. At Vibez, no one is ever going to call you "intimidating" because of the weights you lift. Everyone is welcome and will cheer you on. 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)
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Percell Dugger is a personal trainer best known for his holistic approach to fitness and wellness. His experiences within the fitness industry range from being Black Panther star Winston Duke's personal trainer and head strength coach at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, to being a group fitness instructor at Rise by WeWork. When "Coach P" isn't training clients, he enjoys writing, training for marathons, boxing, and playing basketball at local New York City courts.
Besides being a coach and trainer, Dugger is also passionate about Black health in wellness, which led him to start Fit For Us, a wellness collective and marketing agency that aims to create equitable health and wealth outcomes for the Black community.
Lauren Leavell (@laurenleavellfitness)
Lauren Leavell is a Philadelphia-based trainer and barre and HIIT instructor who's all about inclusive fitness and body liberation. She "works with people who are ready to live life on their own terms and find their perfect fit — physically and emotionally," she says. Lauren keeps it real, honest, and authentic on her Instagram in a multitude of ways, reminding her followers that there's no wrong way to have a body and focusing on the ways that movement benefits our bodies that aren't based on weight loss. "My body is NOT my business card," she wrote on Instagram. "The reality is, fitness professionals come in every shape and size," reminding the world that being "fit" is not a "look."
As a self-proclaimed "diet culture dropout," Lauren encourages her followers to lean into joyful movement to exercise as a way to nourish your body, not punish it or beat it into submission. (Related: The Intersection of Race and Diet Culture)
Kanoa Greene (@kanoagreene)
Kanoa Greene is a fitness and yoga instructor and adventurer who is creating space for plus-sized bodies in the outdoor space. She's proof that athleticism, strength, and confidence can come in all shapes and sizes. "Growing up, there was no representation of bodies like mine," she says. "Not seeing myself created a drive in me to show people that they can do anything!" (Related: The Outdoors Still Has a Major Diversity Problem)
She has a passion for inclusive fitness stressing that fitness is for all bodies. "Everyone and every BODY deserves to feel empowered in movement and is something I'm happy to be bringing to the industry and the world."
Tasheon Chillous (@chilltash)
Tasheon Chillous is a personal trainer and group fitness coach at Ascent Fitness in Tacoma, Washington with a weight-inclusive and Health At Every Size (HAES) approach. She has a passion for helping people find what joyful movement and strength means to them.
She is passionate about fitness for all bodies. "I believe movement is for everyone and love working with fellow fat/plus size baddies who want to move their body for a specific goal or want to feel better or want to create a movement practice that isn't attached to diet culture and fatphobia," she wrote on her Instagram.
Amber Harris (@solestrengthkc)
Amber Harris, C.P.T., is a Kansas City-based run coach and certified trainer whose life mission is to "empower women through movement and achievement." She shares her love of running and fitness with the world via her Instagram and encourages people to find joy in movement. "I encourage you to do something that brings you JOY!" she wrote on Instagram. "Whatever it is, do it…..walk, run, lift, do yoga, etc. Even if it's only 5 mins at a time. Your soul needs it. Tiny moments of joy can ease your mind and your angst. Joy will allow you to release and reset."
Steph Dykstra (@stephironlioness)
Steph Dykstra, owner of Toronto-based fitness facility Iron Lion Training, is a coach and co-host of the podcast Fitness Junk Debunked! Even more, Dykstra is a badass boxer who has also trained in TaeKwonDo, Kung Fu, and Muay Thai. "I never pursued boxing for ripped arms. Martial arts have always fascinated me, and I wanted to learn all I could, be my best, and get as much experience in the sport as I could. So I committed myself fully to the process of learning," she wrote on Instagram.
But no worries if boxing isn't your thing. With experience in powerlifting, Olympic lifting, and kettlebells, among other modalities, Dykstra offers inspo and advice for any kind of exerciser.
Donna Noble (@donnanobleyoga)
Donna Noble, a London-based intuitive wellness coach, body-positivity advocate and writer, and yogi, is the creator of Curvesome Yoga, a community focused on making yoga and well-being accessible, inclusive, and diverse for everyone. On a mission to make everyone feel welcome in the yoga community, Noble hosts body-positive workshops for yoga teachers with the aim of teaching other yoga instructors how to make their classes diverse and accessible while also examining their own unchecked biases.
"The work I do—body-positive advocate mentoring, training, and coaching is for all the people who are denied a voice and are invisible to the mainstream. So that they have greater equality and access in the wellbeing space," she wrote on Instagram. "There is joy in my heart when I see Black women and marginalized groups able to come together, and the empowerment and community that is created. It opens the doors for so many others to access this wonderful healing practice." (Also check out Lauren Ash, Founder of Black Girl In Om, One of the Most Important Voices In the Wellness Industry.)
Justice Roe (@JusticeRoe)
Justice Roe, a Boston-based coach and certified trainer, is making movement accessible to all bodies. Roe is the creator of Queer Open Gym Pop Up, a space designed for individuals who may not feel safe and welcome in traditional fitness environments. "Queer Open Gym Pop Up evolved because we are all taught messages in our lives about who we are supposed to be in our bodies and how we should look," he tells Shape. "These are not our truths. They are social constructs. The Queer [Pop] Up is a space where we can be all of who we are without judgment. It's the real judgment-free zone."
As a trans body-positive activist, Roe also hosts workshops entitled Fitness For All Bodies, a training program for fitness professionals, designed to discuss best practices for body acceptance, accessibility, inclusion, and creating safe spaces for clients. (Here are even more trainers working to make fitness more inclusive.)
Adele Jackson-Gibson (@adelejackson26)
Adele Jackson-Gibson is a Brooklyn-based storyteller, writer, model, and strength coach. She is "seeking to remind womxn of their power through words, energy, and movement," she tells Shape. A former soccer and track collegiate athlete, Jackson-Gibson has always found joy in movement and appreciation for her body's capabilities.
Training in the modalities of CrossFit, yoga, kettlebells, Olympic lifting, and more, Jackson-Gibson wants to "teach people how to find movement that works for their bodies. As we flow with what's worth exploring and observe sticking points, people tend to open up this whole commutation channel with their physical self and create a new sense of agency. I want people to understand body talk." (Related: I Stopped Talking About My Body for 30 Days—and Kinda Freaked Out)
Marcia Darbouze (@thatdoc.marcia)
Physical therapist Marcia Darbouze, D.P.T., owner of Just Move Therapy offers in-person and online physical therapy and coaching, focusing mainly on mobility, Strongman, and powerlifting programming. Trained in physical therapy, she didn't intend to enter the world of personal training. "I never aimed to be a strength coach, but I was seeing clients get injuries due to bad programming," she tells Shape. "I didn't want to see my actual therapy clients getting hurt so here I am."
Darbouze is also the host of the podcast Disabled Girls Who Lift, which is part of an eponymous online community run by disabled, chronically ill womxn, dedicated to fighting for equity and access.
Quincy France (@qfrance)
Quincy France is a New York-based certified trainer with more than 12 years of experience. With a focus on kettlebells and calisthenics, he can be seen on his Instagram doing a variety of amazing feats showcasing his incredible strength — think, handstands on top of a pull-up bar. (P.S. Here's everything you need to know about calisthenics.)
"Some call it training, but it takes a special person to see the potential in someone and help to guide them to greatness," France wrote on Instagram. "Shoutout to everyone that takes time out of their day to help others reach their greatest potential."
Mike Watkins (@mwattsfitness)
Mike Watkins is a Philadelphia-based trainer and founder of Festive Fitness, which offers QTPOC and LGBT+ inclusive and body-positive personal training and group fitness to ensure movement feels safe and accessible for everyone. "I created Festive Fitness and Wellness in January as a way to give back to my communities, specifically the LGBTQIA community and Black and Brown queer/trans people," Watkins tells Shape. "Working as a fitness trainer in a big box gym, I felt unsafe and was mistreated when I spoke up for myself and others."
While being a self-employed fitness professional hasn't necessarily been easy, Watkins feels it's been completely worthwhile. "I'd be lying if I said the last six months have been easy," he says. "I suffered a mental breakdown at the start of June when the American Racial Revolution began in Philadelphia. However, in a way, it's empowered me even more to share my story and heal others through fitness and wellness." (Related: Mental Health Resources for Black Womxn and Other People of Color)
Reese Lynn Scott (@reeselynnscott)
As the owner of Women's World of Boxing NYC, NYC's first women-only boxing gym, Reese Lynn Scott is fulfilling her mission to "provide mentoring boxing programs for teen girls while offering women and girls a safe, comfortable, uplifting, and empowering to train on both competitive and noncompetitive levels."
Reese, a registered amateur fighter and licensed USA boxing coach, has trained over 1,000 women and girls in boxing. She also uses her Instagram account to "teach women how to claim their space and put themselves first" in a series of Boxing Therapy Tuesday Tips on IGTV. (See: Why You Should Absolutely Try Boxing)
Quincéy Xavier (@qxavier)
Quincéy Xavier, a DC-based coach, trains people differently because he believes the body is capable of so much more. "Why would we merely focus on aesthetics when this body, this tissue, is capable of so much more," he tells Shape. Xavier is truly interested in his client's personal growth and as such, plays the role of trainer, teacher, problem solver, motivator, and visionary.
With certifications in strength and conditioning, kettlebells, joint mobility, and yoga, there's literally nothing Xavier can't help you achieve in regards to your health and fitness goals. Beyond that, he strives to help his clients come to a place of acceptance and love. "It is about you," he says. "The one who is in the mirror naked after a Saturday night out. Shaming every imperfection into futility, until you arrive at the realization that there is no imperfection. That you have to love you—all of you—and learn to see love in places where you used to see hate." (More here: 12 Things You Can Do to Love Your Body Right Now)
Elisabeth Akinwale (@eakinwale)
Elisabeth Akinwale is no stranger to fitness having competed in collegiate gymnastics and as an elite athlete competing in the CrossFit games from 2011 through 2015. These days, she is the co-owner of Chicago-based 13th FLOW Performance System, a strength and conditioning gym which utilizes a methodical approach to yield predictable results for its clients.
Akinwale decided to open the space because "we had to create because what we were seeking didn't exist," she wrote on Instagram. "There are times in your life when you're the only [one] who can do something, so you must do it! Instead of asking why someone else isn't doing it, hoping for a seat at someone else's table, or trying to figure out why something isn't serving your needs, DO IT! Create what you need because others need it too. We're not here to play the game, we're here to change it."
Mia Nikolajev (@therealmiamazin)
Based in Toronto, Mia Nikolajev, C.S.C.S., is a certified strength coach and a firefighter who also competes in powerlifting. Boasting a 360lb back squat, a 374lb deadlift, and a 219lb bench press, she's the woman to follow if you're interested in getting seriously strong. But even if you're brand new to strength training and maybe even find it intimidating, Nikolajev is the coach for you. "I love meeting people where they are and witnessing their 'aha' moments when learning a new movement or achieving a goal," she tells Shape. "I love seeing my clients step into their power and confidence."
In addition to being an amazing coach and powerlifter, Nikolajev uses her platform to discuss the importance of representation within the fitness industry. "Representation matters. Being seen matters! Being heard and validated and feeling like you are being considered matters," she wrote on Instagram.