Press

More African-American women are becoming fitness-conscious and willing to have a professional trainer help whip them into shape – no matter what.

by Kate Ferguson
July 1, 2010

When Lacole Broadus realized her weight had ballooned to 200 pounds forcing her into size 18 clothes, she gave herself a reality check. “I thought the weight was going to fall off after my third child,” Broadus says, “But when she was around 7 or 8 months and I was still 200 pounds, that’s when I knew I had to do something.”

The “something” Broadus did was to make a lifestyle change. She wanted to eliminate poor eating habits and pare off the pounds she’d packed on after having her last baby. To reach her goals, Broadus organized an exercise regimen and sensible eating plan that took her down from a size 18 to a size 6 in six weeks.

For Broadus, six was the magic number. “I trained six times a week. I did an hour of strength and core training and then an hour of cardio,” Broadus says. “I was very careful with my diet and didn’t starve myself. I had six small meals a day, eliminated all the junky fast or processed foods, cooked everything myself and really watched my sodium intake to avoid retaining water.”

Then Broadus took things one step further. She enlisted her husband as a trainer, and after she noticed the many mistakes women made while they worked out at the gym, she decided to enter the profession herself. “I became a personal trainer to show women these errors,” Broadus says. “I’m a perfectionist about nutrition and weight loss, so my career blossomed from there.”

First, though, Broadus entered a fitness competition to realize a dream she had after seeing her bodybuilder brother compete in a show. “It was a lot of work, and it took a lot of time,” she says. “But I was so happy to achieve it.” Soon after, Broadus returned her attention to becoming a personal trainer. She also began speaking about health and fitness and how to start training at churches. Now, Broadus also began to get clients, such as Julane Miller-Armbrister, a government and community affairs executive in New Jersey.

A friend referred 59-year-old Miller-Armbrister to Broadus. She wanted a personal trainer who’d be able to come to her home for workouts. Her erratic job schedule didn’t allow Miller-Armbrister to get to the gym regularly or commit to fitness classes. “The idea of having someone come to my house and fitting themselves around my schedule was probably the thing that most sold me on getting a personal trainer,” Miller-Armbrister says. “With my 60th birthday coming up, I had a goal to get healthy and be in good shape.”

Broadus’s fitness success story also motivated Miller-Armbrister. “I thought that if she was motivated enough to go from 200 pounds to the way she looks now, she probably would understand the difficulties that other women like me had — and would want them to also become as fit as she is.” Broadus says that she uses herself as an example to show clients that they can achieve their fitness goals just as she did. “What I do is talk to them about how to take things one step at a time so they don’t become discouraged by the numbers.”

Part of Broadus’s technique is to set small goals for her clients. As they begin to go down in size, she encourages them to donate their old clothes to a program she developed. Broadus passes the clothing that no longer fits her clients to other women she trains who are at a certain stage of weight loss. “It’s that stage where they haven’t lost all their weight, but can’t fit into the clothes they currently have,” she explains.

“Psychologically, it helps the women who are giving away their clothes because [I tell them to vow] they are never going to be that size again,” Broadus says. “And it helps the women who get those clothes to know they have also reached a milestone toward their fitness goals; the smaller-sized clothing confirms that.” Vanessa Powell, is another of Broadus’s clients. The 43 year old is a full-time student, pastor’s wife and the director of women’s fellowship at the Agape Family Worship Center in Rahway, New Jersey. Broadus’s husband introduced them.

“I was inspired by her testimony about her weight loss, and what she shared gave me the courage to work with her,” Powell says. Powell wanted to return to training at the gym with more consistency and get the results she desired. “I was going to the gym, but didn’t realize that running on the treadmill was not going to do the trick for me anymore,” she says.

“When I was in my 20s, it would work, but now I needed someone to show me exactly what I needed to do,” Powell adds. “Plus, I needed to fit this into my busy schedule to get that extra energy to be able to function on a daily basis.”

Powell says Broadus’s fitness program helped her lose 25 pounds, improved her core strength and endurance and modified her diet to better her nutrition. Beyond the visible results, however, Powell says she also scored a confidence boost from meeting her fitness goals. When the weather outside was nice, Broadus trained Powell outdoors in a park or at her church.

“The biggest challenge is making time for exercise a priority,” Powell says. “When you’re so busy, it can appear that you don’t have time because of other commitments and responsibilities. But once I made it a priority, it became easier for me.” According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), nearly 80 percent of midlife black women are overweight or obese. This extra weight increases the risk of a slew of illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, gallbladder disease, arthritis and some cancers.

To address the problem, doctors suggest women opt for lifestyle changes stressing healthier eating and regular physical activity, like Broadus and her clients did, to achieve lasting weight loss. “In addition to training and exercise, I have incorporated more walking into my lifestyle,” Miller-Armbrister says. “Another thing that’s changed is the way I shop for food, and working out has also motivated my husband to start becoming healthier. We’re both much more conscious of how we eat.”

The NIH also says that 55 percent of black women are physically inactive–they don’t participate in any spare time or recreational physical activities. It suggests that women aim for at least 30 minutes of a moderately intense activity, such as brisk walking, several days or more each week. (Activity periods can be divided into short bursts of 10 minutes each.)

And, yes, sometimes all it takes is a role model to show us that we can slip a little more fitness into our lives. “So many women have come to me and said, ‘I’m going to lose weight, too,’ and are taking their health more seriously,” Powell says. “Getting fit and healthy has even helped me with my schoolwork,” she adds. “I’m able to think much better. Everything is a lot clearer.”