As we enter the third year of a pandemic, your at-home workout routine may be ready for a shakeup. Here to help are fitness influencers from across the country who take a fresh approach to exercise – namely that it should be fun. With a goal of empowering and uplifting their followers, here are seven influencers from around the country, including Chicago, who will help you stay motivated on your fitness journey.
Instagram: @moritsummers, 35,000+followers. She has a second account, @trainwithboostcamp
Morit Summers defies fitness industry standards by taking an inclusive approach to strength training.
Strength training has direct correlation to not just physical strength, but also mental strength, says Morit Summers, CPT, a personal trainer for 15 years and the author of Big & Bold: Strength Training For The Plus-Size Woman. “It’s amazing what people can realize about themselves when they commit to themselves,” she says.
Summers, who is a powerlifter, crossfitter and coach with the Boostamp app, specializes in working with clients at all levels of strength training, from the basics to competing in powerlifting.
“Fitness is not only about weight loss, it’s about feeling good and confident in the bodies we live in,” Summers says. “It’s about finding movement that brings us joy.”
A lesser known fitness tip she likes to relay? It’s not only right, but also acceptable for your knees to pass your toes in a squat, as long as you keep your feet planted firmly on the ground.
“Just because someone teaches a movement a certain way does not mean that way will work for everyone, it’s okay to make adjustments for your body and needs,” Summers says.
Instagram: @jenidelpozo_fitness, 11,500+ followers
A professional dancer for nearly two decades, Jeni DelPozo’s philosophy is that fitness should be fun.
As a trainer, pilates—a low-impact exercise aimed at strengthening muscles while improving flexibility—is at the foundation of all of her workouts. She says she wishes she was on the pilates train back when she was a dancer and endorses this way of working out because it gets people to pay close attention to form. When your form is correct, DelPozo says, you’re able to get the most out of each and every workout.
DelPozo, a trainer with the AI-powered GOFA fitness training app, has a Comprehensive Pilates Certification from Equinox, a Schwinn Cycling Certification and Yogaworks Barreworks Certification.
A message that she often relays to her followers: There’s no need to push through pain.
“Get rid of the “no pain, no gain’ mentality,” DelPozo says. “Listen to your body and take your workout where you can. Each day is going to be different, and that’s OK. Once you can take the ego out of your workouts, you’re going to get so much more out of your workout.”
Instagram: @jayt292, 6,400 followers
James Thomas started teaching Les Mills group fitness classes 15 years ago while he was in high school.
“Back then, nobody would pin me for making fitness into my career,” Thomas quips. “I was the one who wore jeans under my gym shorts in gym class, not a fan of anything athletic until I found group fitness.”
Now, he’s a certified fitness expert, official Reebok athlete, and fitness ambassador for Pullman Hotels. He travels the world as a fitness influencer and has trained Les Mills instructors throughout the United States. (Les Mills US is based out of Chicago). As an out and proud trainer, Thomas likes to use his Instagram platform to educate his followers about LGBTQIA+ issues.
His favorite classes are HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), Les Mills GRIT and Les Mills SPRINT. “The energy from the movements, music and community end-feeling of, ‘these burpees are terrible but we finished it’ drive me through each training session,” he says.
His favorite fitness tip is to focus on how exercise is making you feel.
“This could be feeling stronger, energized, uplifted, and so on,” he says. “Results are not overnight, but the feeling is instant.”
He also reminds people that fitness is a marathon not a sprint. You can’t push your hardest every single day or you’ll burn out and risk injury. “Consistency really is key,” he says.
Instagram: @danyelewilson, 270,000 + followers
Chicago-based Tone & Sculpt trainer Danyele Wilson has been an athlete her entire life, starting with gymnastics at age 2. After graduating from Indiana University where she was a cheerleader, Wilson started attending local HIIT and functional strength training sessions, and she was asked to coach at the gym.
“I initially started my Instagram account to share what I was doing in my classes and to get my friends to attend — before I knew it, things took off,” she says. “I fell in love with coaching, qualified as a fitness coach and continued to share my love of fitness to inspire others to discover their inner athlete too.”
She quit her job in corporate marketing and is now coaching on the Tone & Sculpt app. She refers to her followers as “athletes,” and does this because she believes being an athlete is a mindset.
“It’s the commitment to progress,” she says. “It’s a me vs. me mentality that refuses to settle … I believe there is power in accepting that title. The physical results will come.”
With a “progress not perfection” mantra, she encourages athletes to train for their goals, not the scale. Track progress via baseline strength and endurance tests, take progress pictures, notice how your clothes start to fit differently and most importantly, take note of how you feel every day.
“As impressive as physical transformations are, nothing compares to the incredible mental shifts that come with this athlete mindset,” Wilson says.
Instagram: @Runstreet, 16,500+ followers
Marnie Kunz, who splits her time between Chicago and Brooklyn, grew up running cross country and track and ran throughout college. She became a running coach over 10 years ago and obtained her NASM personal trainer certification during the pandemic.
She founded Runstreet to host Art Runs in New York City as well as Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, Austin and Atlanta.
“I like to encourage runners of all levels to enjoy their workouts and to get out and explore with our Art Run events, which are 5K running tours of street art in different neighborhoods,” Kunz says. Chicago runners can also check out The Murals and Street Art (MASA) app, which was created by Chicago Art Runner and tech whiz Austin Hutchinson.
Kunz uses her social media influence and events to help philanthropic causes, with Art Run events benefiting different causes. As an example, the recent Chicago Holiday 5K Art Run benefitted Sarah’s Circle Chicago chapter. The organization provides services to women who are homeless or face barriers to achieving permanent, safe housing.
One of her best at-home fitness tips? If you want to increase the intensity of a strength training movement and have little to no weight available, do one-legged versions. Example: Single-legged squats, Romanian split squats and one-legged bridges.
“These are great exercises that can make home workouts more challenging,” she says.
TikTok: @benpavlovich, 18,000+fans
Ben Pavlovich, who is from Chicago and is living in Santa Monica, California, is a strength coach and nutritionist who believes that fitness should add to your life and that small, consistent efforts can lead to big changes. “All you need to do is start, the rest will come,” he says.
As an example, an extra walk every day could translate to 10-20 pounds of fat loss in a year, says Pavlovich, who has trained celebrities and also volunteers with at-risk youth, teaching them proper exercises and leading personal training sessions.
He also likes to share with his followers and clients the mental health benefits that come with exercise, which is a scientifically proven mood booster that can decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“My goal is to have my clients look good and feel good, inside and out,” says Pavlovich.
Outside of training, he’s committed to marine conservation efforts as a donor and a volunteer, helping to build artificial reefs, clean up beaches, and conduct coral surveys around the world.
The first step to achieving your fitness goals is to find something that you get excited about, says Victoria Liu, a volunteer coach with Girls on the Run, which is a national nonprofit that promotes empowerment by teaching life skills and lessons through running.
Fitness should be fun, she says, and she likes to remind those who she coaches that their workouts don’t get easier, they’re just getting stronger.
Liu has been a licensed physical therapist for 22 years, and is a certified Pilates instructor and certified RRCA run coach. She recently created a local chapter of Girls on the Run in her Dublin, California neighborhood as a way for her eight year old and her friends to get together and do something physically active outdoors during COVID.
When she’s coaching, she encourages people to strive to improve by just 1 percent each day.
“Without challenge, there’s no change,” she says. There’s a sweet spot of challenging those she coaches to get out of their comfort zone, but never to the point where they are going to risk injury or be discouraged.
Liu likes to use social media to educate people on how to take care of their bodies and stay healthy while they train. For instance, she provides tutorials showing runners how they can strengthen their ankles and feet and demonstrates strength training workouts for runners.
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Brittany Anas is a freelance writer who specializes in health, fitness, and travel writing. She also contributes to Men’s Journal, Women’s Health, Trip Savvy, Simplemost, Orbitz, and Eat This, Not That! She spent a decade working at daily newspapers, including The Denver Post and the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, and she is a former federal background investigator. In her free time, Brittany enjoys hiking with her gremlin-pot belly pig mix that the rescue described as a “Boston Terrier” and coaching youth basketball. She also works with domestic abuse survivors, helping them regain financial stability through career coaching. Follower her on Twitter and Instagram.