Meet The Size 22 Personal Trainer

Photo: Will Brembridge
It's a weird time for women's bodies. (Though, as women of all sizes will tell you, it's always a weird time for women's bodies.) On the one hand, the fitness movement has exploded: Never have there been so many boutique workout classes and organic salad options. Athleisure is holding strong. And the body type du jour has shifted ever so slightly to appear more "athletic" compared to the size zero phase a few years back. Healthier, maybe, but still largely unattainable.
On the other hand, though, fat acceptance and the body positivity movement have never been stronger or more powerful. Women of all shapes and sizes are, quite rightfully, refusing to conform to the ridiculous standards of "beauty" that the media has forced on them for years.
But what happens if you straddle both worlds? Plenty of plus-size women take part in exercise. Nike knows — it's just released a plus-size fitness range, which has been received incredibly well. And plus-size Instagram fitness stars are everywhere, with accounts like MyNameIsJessamyn and Nolatrees attracting hundreds of thousands of followers obsessed with their incredible yoga moves.
And then there's Lauretta Johnnie, a size 22 personal trainer in London who runs a fitness company for plus-size people called Full Figured Fitness. Her goal: removing the obstacles that keep people of all sizes from being active. Below, we speak to Lauretta about what it's like being a member of the plus-size fitness community, how she inspires and encourages her clients, and what she wishes everyone knew about working out.
When did you get into fitness and why?
"I have always had a personal interest in fitness. As a child my parents were strict. I couldn't say 'I am going out to play' — I had to do something. That something was tennis, going for walks with friends, running, cycling or practicing some form of sport. I put on weight in my late teens and wanted to teach exercise as a way to get fit myself and motivate others."
When did you first get into personal training?
"I qualified as a personal trainer over a year ago [Lauretta first became an Exercise to Music Instructor 16 years ago]. I wanted to qualify because I couldn’t find an instructor to train me the way I wanted to be trained. I wanted to be taken seriously and be on par with other fitness professionals."

I wanted to shift the focus off weight loss and being an unobtainable size and self-hate, to focus on fitness, healthy living, eating nutritious meals and creating sustainable lifestyle changes.

How did you know there was a need for your company training plus-size people?
"I knew my experience was not unique and wanted to create a space where every body could exercise. I wanted to shift the focus off weight loss and being an unobtainable size and self-hate, to focus on fitness, healthy living, eating nutritious meals and creating sustainable lifestyle changes."
Fitness can be intimidating for anyone. But what sort of things do you hear from your clients about their experiences in mainstream fitness classes and gyms?
"I have heard a lot about experiences like these — including my own! I have heard of people attending classes where the instructor tells the class what to do and then looks at the individual and gives them another set of instructions. In my classes all instructions are integrated with modifications, so the class receives the same instructions.
"When I first went to the gym at my biggest I couldn't actually get into the actual turnstile in reception — they had to open the service gate. The receptionist said sorry about 28 times. Also, a concern is the communal changing room — often there are no private rooms, and small toilet [stalls] make it difficult to go in and out of the [bathroom]. There’s also the question about what to wear and finding activewear that fits bigger sizes, although this is changing now."
Do people ever seem surprised that you are plus-size?
"No, because it is advertised — there were a few surprises in the early days, though. I was once asked, 'Do you know when the instructor will arrive?' I can still picture the woman’s face when I told her I was the instructor."

I once saw a comment saying, "this is promoting obesity". I am not sure how encouraging overweight and obese people to exercise is promoting obesity. Surely it’s the opposite?

How do you deal with any negative press or comments?
"Overall the comments have been 99% positive, but I once saw a comment saying, 'This is promoting obesity.' I am not sure how encouraging overweight and obese people to exercise is promoting obesity. Surely it’s the opposite?
"Some people are disgusted at the thought of an overweight person, no matter what you say. It is their default mode. In the UK, 63% of the population is overweight or obese, but the images in gyms or advertising fitness clothing are of slim women or muscular men; likewise, the conversations berate overweight people into weight loss. Full Figured Fitness is about challenging the stereotypes of fitness and encouraging plus-size people to share their stories and create understanding and helping people get fitter."
Is there one thing plus-size people are sick of hearing?
"'Congratulations' when the plus-size person has just done a class or a gym session and they are the only one being congratulated, patted on the back, or given a high five. Also, unsolicited dietary advice like, 'I always make sure I eat loads of salad [smile].'
"Personal trainers can be overzealous, overly sympathetic or overcompensating. There can be assumptions that you have never exercised before or need lots of help."
Photo: Will Brembridge
Do you think our idea of what “fit” looks like is too tied up in outward appearances?
"We live in a society where calorie intake is up and calorie output is down, a society where over 63% of adults and 28% of children are overweight or obese.
"I do believe we need to redefine fitness from the ground up, the organizational culture, the low expectations of service providers, the culture of blame, the imagery. We need more understanding of the connection to mental and emotional health, we need to challenge fat shaming and fitness shaming, gyms and health centers need to be more accommodating, for instance, when it comes to benches to sit on on the gym floor, [changing stall] sizes and attitudes of staff. We need to discuss the journey and create understanding. We also need to promote fitness to people of all sizes."
What are your recommendations for someone who is plus-size and wants to exercise but doesn’t know where to start?
"First, get a check-up from a doctor — get clearance and medical advice and support.
"Train with a qualified instructor — speak to the instructor ahead of the class and discuss any needs or concerns.
"Make sure you have quality footwear, correct clothing and bring water and a towel.
"Get a fitness buddy or a 'crew.' You may have a friend who wants to come along.
Don't go too hard: Start with a good warm-up targeting your major muscle groups. It can be five minutes, although I usually recommend a 10-15 minute full body warm-up for the bigger body.
"Do what you enjoy! Fitness can include: walking/brisk walking, swimming, cycling, chair-based exercise, cross trainer, exercise classes, weights/strength training and going out dancing. The best way is to get a personal trainer. You can join a class and there is also online training. Nutritionally, try drinking water and eating unprocessed foods. Keep a journal of your fitness journey, it's great to reflect on."
Lauretta Johnnie is a qualified personal trainer and founder of Full Figured Fitness. Clothes by State of Mind Activewear.
It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach here.

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