Two Peloton Instructors on the Role of Health & Fitness in the Latinx Community
As Peloton cements its status as one of the most popular fitness platforms globally, their efforts to include a broader range of voices and perspectives has become even more important.
For a long time, the Latinx community had few, if any, leaders of influence in the boutique fitness space. Hiring instructors like Mariana Fernández (yoga), Rad Lopez (strength) and Camila Ramón (cycling) to teach in Spanish and English signals a marked effort to increase and highlight that representation.
It can be argued that the trio has the platform to be amongst the most impactful voices in Latinx fitness and create a bridge for communities that have long felt marginalized by the cost and approach of boutique fitness.
RELATED: Best Health and Fitness Apps
In separate conversations, we spoke with Fernández and Lopez by phone and Ramón via email to have an open and honest discussion about the role of health and fitness in the Latinx community and how they view their own roles as leaders of influence in the space.
The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.
AskMen: What kind of role, if any, did health and fitness play in your childhood and early adult years?
Mariana Fernández: Growing up in Mexico, fitness was not a part of my lifestyle. My mother is an athlete (she didn’t start competing in running races until her 40s), and she was often the only woman competing in those races. However, we did learn to swim early on, and she did teach us to take care of our bodies.
I discovered yoga in college when I was so stressed out during my sophomore year ahead of a geology final. It was cold outside, and the gym wasn’t calling, so I tried a heated yoga class. I remember my muscles were shaking and I was falling out of poses. I remember being so challenged physically. But I also found I was less anxious and mentally I felt much better. I felt something shift.
Rad Lopez: I’m Dominican and I grew up in the Bronx with my mother and father. My father passed early on, so my mom did what she had to do for me and my younger sister. To be completely honest, “wellness” did not play a part in my upbringing. The Bronx is a very underserved community in terms of the food and fitness choices that other boroughs and areas of the city offer. A lot of my fitness background was looking up to idols in sports, mostly in the boxing realm, and that’s where my fitness interests came into play. I didn’t know a lot of families that prioritized health and fitness, but sports was a family pastime. We gathered around that.
Everyone was eating and having a good time when we got together for the big boxing events, but I’d sit in front of the TV, eyes wide open, from fight number one to the last bell. I loved boxing’s marriage between beauty, elegance and grittiness, but it wasn’t until age 15 that I actually stepped into a boxing gym. That first day, I got in the ring and got my ass kicked. It lit a fire under me and I began gaining confidence and discipline (as I trained more). All of that working out and training gave me a sense of progress, control, self-confidence and reliance.
Having a mother and sister as my main influences made me empathetic and boxing taught me everything else. When you put both of those together, it’s a recipe for greatness. In this field, you need both to cater to our wide array of members.
Camila Ramón: I was born in Argentina and moved to the US when I was 7. I would go back to Buenos Aires every year for two months to spend time with my family. As an immigrant growing up in the US, and also because of the customs that stayed with my family from Argentina, we ate a lot of home-cooked meals. My mom always made an effort to make delicious and healthy food. In Argentina, we eat a lot of protein with potatoes and salad so that was always a staple and my mom also made pasta from scratch, with sauce and everything.
In terms of activity we grew up going to “el campo” and riding horses in Argentina when we visited. My family liked to walk a lot so that was always something my parents did too. My dad played a lot of sports growing up, but stopped because he suffered some severe injuries and later became more sedentary. My family primarily trained to maintain a certain weight, without an awareness of training for functionality and the benefits of strength training. I was always the most active person in my family. I had so much energy, and I loved running, dancing and later started lifting weights. I taught myself everything about training as I fell more and more in love with movement and my parents always supported me along the way.
AM: Are there any misperceptions that you’ve encountered or endured as a Latinx health and fitness teacher? If so, where do you think those come from and how do we work towards breaking those down?
Fernández: For a long time, the Latinx community tried to work its way out of a box — that we all looked and sounded the same. The beauty we try to bring to light now is that we all are different types, shapes, colors, especially knowing that we are all as much Latina, Latino, Latinx, regardless of generation. There was a long-time stereotype about which generation you are or what you’re supposed to look like, and maybe my voice can be a reminder of things that bring us together as nuanced as we all are.
Lopez: It’s tough to say. My fitness journey was a bit different because I came up through boxing. The majority of boxers are people of color: Hispanics, African-Americans, etc. and I came up (in the boxing community) to do it and teach it. Everything I did was very specific to the sport. In that realm, I didn’t encounter much pushback, but I also credit that to the confidence I found in boxing because I owned the space I was in. Boxing is a gritty sport — one where you almost have to fight your way out of the trenches.
Ramón: When I was teaching in Los Angeles, people would just assume I was Mexican just because I said I was Latina. I think by increasing visibility of the different and beautiful differences in our cultures, as well as increasing representation, this will help educate a lot of people on understanding who we are a bit more. And to be honest, when I first started off in this space I put a lot of pressure on myself because I thought I had to look like the Latinx trainers on TV with perfect bodies and massive curves to be successful in this space. I’m proud I worked my way out of that and I can be an example of a real, healthy body for our community. I think that realistic representation of health, fitness and sport is also vital.
AM: What initially inspired you to apply for an Instructor role at Peloton? Is there anything specific you thought you could bring as someone of Latinx heritage that Peloton didn’t previously have?
Lopez: Working out and fitness gave me a sense of progress and an escape from feeling stagnant. I grew up in the projects for most of my life in low-income housing. There were times where my mom would feed us Cup of Noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner. She made sure we had everything we needed, but it was a struggle. Without the confidence I found through working out, fitness and boxing, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to step out in the world.
Peloton reached out to me, but my entire life has been about progress. Growth has been a huge theme over my 30 years of life and is something I’m big on. I was excited to bring my most authentic self to Peloton. The hair, the music … everything that comes with a Latino male. Folks that look like me, look like my mom … to have them relate to me, and be able tell my story at Peloton, I’m excited to bring hope into what I do.
Ramón: I am bringing my authentic story, as an immigrant in the United States, as a person who is equally as much English as I am Spanish-speaking, and as a woman who felt an insurmountable pressure to look a certain way because of pressures of our Latinx culture. I want to be a voice to change the narrative in the Latinx space from one that’s centered around aesthetics, to one that focuses on enjoying movement, health and performance above all. I struggled a lot in my journey towards self acceptance and I know that if we put in the work now, more children will have the resources and role models necessary in our culture to minimize those experiences for others.
Fernández: I was teaching at this studio in NYC and it was hard to bring Spanish into the practice. Once we mentioned teaching in Spanish during the interview process, it was an “Aha!” moment on both sides about what could be. I’ll always remember hearing from one of the production crew members on my first day how much it meant to a member of his family that was taking a class at Peloton because it was in the language they grew up with. I’ll never forget that.
AM: What do you think your roles can be as health and fitness leaders in the broader Latinx community?
Ramón: I think we all have a big responsibility to pave the way for future generations of Latinx trainers to come! I think seeing us on this platform will organically open the door for more Latinx professionals and immigrants who trust themselves and fight for their dreams. It’s also really cool because we do get to control the narrative and focus on all those things I mentioned earlier. I am confident in doing the work with Mariana and Rad because I know them personally and back them as people, and because Peloton aligns with these values as well.
Lopez: To bridge the gap and make sure that we are heard and seen — as everyone should be doing for their communities. It’s been such a joy to work with Camila and Mariana. There are so many different communities within Latin culture. With Camila from Argentina and Mariana from Mexico, we all have different lingos and verbiage and it’s such a colorful experience to relate and bounce ideas off each other. They both do such a great job of bringing forth and lifting the Latinx community, and it’s something we will continue to do.
Fernández: Something that I try to do, whether in Mexico City or NYC, and now specifically at Peloton, is for the Latinx community to hear their language — to hear and see people that sound like them. For a long time, boutique fitness felt really inaccessible, something of another status and for other demographics/classes. Whether you own a machine or not, it’s now much more accessible and people are thinking: “we can have this as part of our world”. Something I value so much about the Latinx community is that we always tend towards family and community. Our #PeLatinos community has grown to several thousand members, and it’s a place where we can encourage and recommend classes. It’s contagious. If you see someone (doing this) that’s part of your family, it encourages you and opens doors because for a long time you didn’t think you had access to it.
You Might Also Dig: