Fierce and Fit: 5 LGBTQ Instructors Working It Out at Home

by Ryan Leeds

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday July 5, 2020

Joe Andrews
Joe Andrews  (Source:Kaare Iverson Photography )

With many city dwellers still sheltering in place and missing their gyms, it's been challenging to get moving and stay motivated. Live and pre-recorded classes have saturated the Internet, making it easier to stay connected and committed. EDGE Media Network spoke with a few fitness experts who are catering to the LGBTQ community.

Mark Fisher Fitness (MFF), which operates a New York City clubhouse for group classes and semi-private training, was quick to pivot to a workout platform called HomeBody, Here, "ninjas"— an affectionate term for clients—can connect to 47 live classes per week via Zoom. Recorded sessions are capped at 35 people and can be accessed anytime. Amanda "Wheels" Wheeler, an MFF trainer (and pandemic newlywed), uniquely designed the program with small spaces and no equipment in mind.

"We offer a mix of everything. There is high-intensity as well as low-impact," says Wheeler. "We give tons of options for each exercise so that people of all ages and ability levels can do the workouts."

Wheeler's colleague, Chris Crowthers, had been working at another New York-based studio, Brrrn, pre-COVID, but has since returned to MFF as an instructor. In March, he and his husband retreated to their cabin in the Catskills mountain where, in addition to teaching classes, Crowthers hosts a themed, virtual dance party every Friday from 5:30 — 6 p.m. (ET). Participants are encouraged to don themselves in outlandish attire and accessories. Past themes included "Intergalactic Gala," "The Great Outdoors," and "All Dressed Up with No Place to Go." Crowthers described it as "Wedding reception meets Burning Man meets rave meets... I don't know what. It's full-on freestyle and is all about letting your freak flag fly!"

Tim Landicho  (Source: Mark Fisher Fitness)

Concerned about form? Check out Tim Landicho's Instagram page where he demonstrates the proper execution of split squats, lunges, and push-ups. Although Landicho teaches at MFF, he is a certified personal trainer who is available for individual coaching. When the virus hit and unemployment numbers rose, he kept training some of his cash-strapped clients.

"Some people were just getting the ball rolling with exercise and had that interrupted while others realized the importance of it," says Landicho. "I told them to continue with me because of how valuable it is to them."

On the West Coast, San Francisco-based Joe Andrews (aka "Yogi Trainer") takes a full-body approach to wellness by combining strength training with yoga.

"People are on the go all the time. They push themselves and their muscles to the limit, but no one is actually recovering," says Andrews. "Yoga brings in that aspect and shows people how to recover. It's a way to incorporate the benefits of yoga Nidra, which is a form of deep relaxation. Yoga is a counterbalance to weightlifting."

Andrews sets himself apart from many trainers with a more holistic approach. "It's important to focus on things like eating, sleeping, breathing, and thinking," says the instructor, who has a long history of personal training but decided to add yoga instructor to his resume due to the philosophy. "There are a lot of things we just don't learn in western civilization, but if you mix Eastern and Western thought, it's super helpful."

Like Landicho, Andrews is dedicated to his clients. In the early days of lockdown, he encouraged some of them to work with him up to four times a week for a month. "That's what got me through this. I was doubling my work, but I felt my clients appreciated it. I gave them an anchor when everything was so turbulent."

For cost-conscious workouts, Steph Wilberding is one to follow. Each day at noon (PST), she leads donation-based Zoom workouts from her Los Angeles home, capping the amount at $5. She recently accepted higher amounts for various fundraisers including Black Lives Matter and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.The 30- to 35-minute sessions use only bodyweight and incorporate cardio and Tabata with options for modification. Wilberding also conducts private training with individuals or couples.

What Keeps Them Running?
Amanda Wheeler  (Source: Dirty Sugar Photography)

What Keeps Them Running?

How have these fitness pros kept themselves and their clients from lapsing into laziness? Crowthers has kept his schedule as close as it was before the pandemic. "Find a routine and stick to it," he advises.

Wheeler suggests group interaction, even on a virtual scale. "It's good for the human spirit," she says. "Reframing why we move in this time is important. It's important to take care of yourself emotionally and mentally rather than to focus solely on your summer body."

Wilberding and Andrews agree. "Find something you'd want to show up for, even if it's not a workout," says Wilberding, adding, "People should seek any online community and the fitness will come. Honor your brain and body so that your soul feels a little bit better too."

"A lot of people have been impressed by what they can do at home and they feel empowered," notes Andrews. "It's great that everyone wants to work out, but this is a time to be working on single habits and for building a foundation."

Crowthers succinctly sums up the at-home exercise experience. "Virtual is fine as long as people are staying safe and not hurting themselves," he says. "Live your life, do your thing and keep yourself entertained. Just keep the creative juices flowing and take care of yourself."

Landicho provides a more existential approach. "Ask what you value as a human, and how does fitness help you find those values," he asks. "What are your 'whys?' Getting started is the hardest part but make games that you can win for yourself. As you collect wins, momentum builds and that will carry you."

*Instructors plan to host special Pride-focused events and fundraisers throughout June. Check their social media for updates.

Ryan Leeds is a freelance journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine and The Broadway Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

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