In order to create spaces where people feel welcome, we need to do a better job of highlighting people from diverse backgrounds—start by following these standouts.

By Chrissy King
July 02, 2020

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 12 Black trainers are doing incredible work in the fitness industry. Follow them, learn from them, and financially support their work.

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 marginalised 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 judgement. It's the real judgment-free zone."

As a trans body-positive activist, Roe also hosts workshops entitled Fitness For All Bodies, a training 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 their 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 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.

Chrissy King is a writer, speaker, powerlifter, fitness and strength coach, creator of the #BodyLiberationProject, VP of the Women's Strength Coalition, and an advocate for anti-Racism, diversity, inclusion, and equity in the wellness industry. Check out her course on Anti-Racism for Wellness Professionals to learn more.

Comments (1)

July 29, 2020
Great article. Checkout Nulife Fitness Camp, owner Miesha Wilson! Female and black owned in Cleveland, OH for over 13 years. @nulifefitnesscamp