Frequently, people equate getting healthy with going to the gym and losing weight. While those can be keys to success, Form Fitness co-founder Morit Summers says they don't always need to go hand-in-hand.
"It took a long time to realize that fitness is not about weight loss," Summers said. "It's about movement, and enjoying movement, and feeling healthy and confident in a very different way.
Her Brooklyn-based gym is all-inclusive, which means they will train anyone regardless of size, gender, or race. There are no scales. Instead, the focus is on getting people to work out.
"We're fighting against what a fitness person looks like and what most people are seeing fitness people look like, which is thin and muscular and toned," she said.
The focus on an individual's strengths is what draws many people to Form Fitness, including Amanda Gay. Although she's an avid swimmer and stays active, Gay admits the gym can be intimidating for plus-sized women. She found Summers on Instagram and has been working out with her for eight months.
"[I like] having a trainer that knows I'm strong and powerful, having a trainer that doesn't underestimate me just by looking at me and seeing the size of my body," Gay explained.
Summers has been a personal trainer for more than 15 years, working with the likes of Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Ashley Graham and actress Danielle Brooks. Last year, she published Big and Bold: Strength Training for the Plus-Sized Woman, which is a beginners' guide to weightlifting. She's become an influencer with over 35,000 followers on Instagram, showing that not all fitness models have to be skinny.
Her own journey in the fitness industry began back in high school. As a self-proclaimed "fat kid," she felt pressure to look like her peers and begged her parents to join a local gym. Instead of just getting exercise in, she ended up finding her passion. Despite being told she would never make it as a plus-sized trainer, she studied exercise science and kinesiology in college, got several certifications in CrossFit, TRX, kettlebell, and weightlifting, among other disciplines, and has never looked back.
"I really fell in love with the gym and fitness in a very different way that sports doesn't offer," she said. "And for me, I believe that it was because I didn't have to keep up with my peers."
The important part of getting fit is consistency, not moving that needle on the scale, she argued. A 2015 study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research asked sedentary, overweight people to start walking three times a week for 30 minutes at a time. After three months, they showed improvements among significant health issues including high blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin resistance levels, a marker for Type 2 diabetes. But while they lost body fat, 67 percent of the group gained weight.
Form Fitness co-owner Francine Delgado-Lugo points out the end game of fitness shouldn't be towards a finite goal like achieving a certain weight or fitting into a specific dress. Delgado-Lugo became a trainer in her 30s after she hit the gym trying to get her pre-baby body back. But what she learned is she actually enjoyed weight lifting, and it was better to work on being healthy than making sure her body looked a certain way.
"If we all kind of took fitness in, it's never-ending, right?" she said. "We live in our bodies every day until the day that we die. And so, therefore, movement and strength should be aspects of our lives until the day that we die."
The hardest part of a fitness journey is just beginning it, she pointed out. It doesn't matter what you look like when you start. Just getting to the gym is already a victory.
"We all have bodies, we all are entitled to be strong and well in our bodies," Delgado-Lugo said.