*With the notable exception of infomercial star and fitness guru Shawn T, black folks don’t show up on fitness videos often, and I’m told you don’t see us leading fitness classes, either. (I don’t have first-hand knowledge of that, as the last time I was in a fitness class I was preoccupied, waiting for the lunch bell to ring.) Most instructors that I’ve seen are way too young, way too perky, and way too white to really hold my attention.
According to USA Today, a new online fitness site, AcaciaTV, is trying to change that by offering a much more diverse group of instructors. Roughly half of them are African American or Asian, and a significant number of them are over 35. Some of them even know a thing or two about a drive-thru window, and come from careers and industries far from a gym.
In other words, they have much more in common with you and me.
AcaciaTV has offered fitness videos for almost ten years, but last year its parent company, RLJ Entertainment, decided to expand its offerings to a digital platform. They hired Allison Rand as Acacia’s general manager, and she decided to complement their extensive exercise video library with a more interactive online workout experience: blogs, workout tips on Facebook, and online personalized training. Acacia launched its website earlier this month.
RLJ Entertainment was founded by Robert L. Johnson, who also founded Black Entertainment Television, so it makes perfect sense that Rand would also set out to increase the diversity of Acacia’s fitness instructors. She says she wants to help people who have been left behind by traditional, mainstream fitness programs.
“This is about saying to the universe that we know it’s not just skinny white women who are working out,” she says.
Three of Rand’s five core trainers are non-white, and the six of them are trying to reach people who don’t live in the gym — and who might not be completely comfortable strolling around in spandex.
Most of the videos are aimed at novices, according to RLJ’s CEO Miguel Penella, who are looking for “healthier, joyful lifestyles,” The membership-based site costs $6.99 a month for unlimited video streaming and online support from trainers.
Those trainers also have backgrounds that make them a little more appealing to you and me. Well, to ME at least: Gerren Liles, for example, remembers being awakened in the middle of the night by his parents to go to White Castle for burgers and fries. By the time he was a young adult, he had early symptoms of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses that also challenged other members of his family. Liles now works out three hours a day, and says too many fitness instructors care about helping only clients who can benefit them.
“We should care about everyone,” he says. “We should work to change as many lives as we can, as opposed to those who can glorify us.”