If you’re like me and you follow countless fitness freaks on social media in the hopes that they’ll drop the much-needed gems you require to finally be able to achieve the body you’ve always desired; you may have realised that in the fitness industry, diversity is lacking (particularly in the UK) and it’s always the same few faces we see dominating in that space.
I caught up with Lance Francis, a personal trainer from West London, and we discussed everything from his personal struggle when starting out in the fitness industry, to the lack of influential Black British female fitness gurus in the mix who are not afforded the opportunity to reach and speak to that untapped target market.
To find out how the conversation went, continue reading…
Let’s jump right in!
When did you start your own fitness journey and were you always fit?
I’ve always played sports in school so probably since the age of 10 when I started playing football. Growing up, I always did physical activity. I got to college and was playing football at semi-pro level but then I got injured, so started getting into fitness through physio and rehab because that’s when I actually needed to join a gym.
So what made you decide to make it your career?
I’ve always liked helping people. When I started training, other people started to ask me things so I thought if I could learn, get better and use my passion, why not?
Did you struggle to get clients at first?
Yeah, 100%. I remember in my first month I only got paid £80 and that didn’t even pay for my travel!
Did you have personal trainers that you knew?
Nah. Nobody respected it then, they didn’t see it as a job. People don’t really see it as a business because you don’t wear a suit and they just see it as a bit of fun. If my dad had a choice he would rather me be a plumber or an electrician, but now, since I’ve been doing it for 5 years, he gets it.
Were there people out there like you when you started 5 years ago?
There was nobody around; nobody I knew was a trainer. I never thought, “Oh I wanna be like him”. I remember when I first put a fitness video up, it was when you could make a collage with 3 videos together and everyone was like “ah this is sick!” but even then, the response was different. People liked it but they didn’t like it, it was just like “oh yeah”.
I don’t remember many people being into fitness as much at that time really.
No, even top people that I follow now, for example, Simeon Panda. Even him, his followers were nowhere near now.
So did he inspire you at the time?
Yeah, he was the only guy I saw that wasn’t using steroids and I was like “rah, this black guy is really doing it”. I also like how he’s professional about it because you have to remember, especially because you don’t wear a suit, to be black and to be seen as professional is very hard.
Do you think it’s different for you as a black guy than it is for another person from another race?
Do you think it’s partly why it was harder for you to get clients?
I was new and things I know now I didn’t know then, but I do think the way that some people view you does play a part. Now, I’ve worked at places where hardly any black people were going to the gym so it was a big thing. When you were approaching people, you would have to put your work voice on, because if you spoke normally they would view you differently. On paper, there are trainers that don’t have the skillset and qualifications that I have so it wouldn’t make sense to choose them over me, so when I’m pitching it to you there can only be one reason why you would choose them. If the price is the same and everything else is the same, why wouldn’t you want better value for your money?
Do black people come to the gym as much as any other race?
I would say no. But you have to remember that black people have always naturally had curves in terms of women and guys have always been muscular genetically.
What’s your background in terms of where you’re parents are from?
My Dad’s from Jamaica and my Mum was born here but her parents are from Grenada.
So what was your family diet and exercise routine when you were growing up, if any?
We didn’t exercise together but in terms of food content, there was always veg and salad with every meal regardless of what it was. Some veg I didn’t use to like but it was mandatory, no negotiating (laughs). I always liked Sunday dinner, you can’t go wrong.
What’s your favourite cheat meal?
You know what, it sounds weird but there’s nothing that I love. Some people really like chocolate for example but I just like everything in moderation – I won’t say no to chocolate but I won’t indulge. I’m also not a big takeaway person and when I was in school I always liked cooking.
So in terms of going on a fitness journey, you never really had to struggle to get into it?
Yeah, that’s true I think, the only thing I would say is that now if I wanted to gain weight, I really struggle because I’ve always been skinny so to eat more for me is quite hard.
What’s your favourite fit meal?
I like steak. Steak and sweet potato you can’t go wrong (laughs).
I like a sweet potato too, to be honest (laughs).
So what has been your biggest struggle as a personal trainer?
The struggle is finding that work/life balance because if you’re good and successful at what you do, you’re gonna struggle to find that in terms of how you organise your time. I feel that I always need to prove myself to people a lot more. More to myself than others. I just feel more under pressure. I dunno if it’s maybe because I’m black, but I feel like I always have to prove myself.
I can also never switch off with my job because it’s always in everyone’s face. Even if I’m out on the weekend, the second you mention you’re a PT everyone’s going to talk to you about their problems so I’m not working, but I am. Everyone always wants as much as they can get from you.
What is the biggest misconception you think people have about fitness and being healthy?
They think we’re magicians and they think it’s a quick process. They think they’re going to walk in and leave the gym the same day looking like the body they want to be (laughs). People need to understand that it’s a process, as I said before it’s a lifestyle.
How do you make it so your fitness and healthy eating isn’t a chore and is something you want to do?
I think ahead, so if I look at my training, I know what I’m doing throughout the week. I don’t need to think about it when I get to Tuesday because I already know that I’m going. And it’s the same with food. People that order takeaways it’s like, why wait until you’re very hungry when you have to do the quickest option? If you planned and thought at the start of the day “ok, what are we going to have for dinner tonight?” when it gets to 6 o’clock you’re already making your meal.
What are the easiest breakfast, lunch and dinner staples for changing how you eat?
I think of food in the sense of protein, carbs and veg. When I choose a meat/fish/protein, I think about what carb I want to have with that and work from there.
What do you think about the vegan movement?
I’m not against it. The way vegans are talking about food is negative. I think they should focus on the good stuff they get from their meals rather than all the negatives about non-vegan living. It’s how they’re promoting it. I think people would be more inclined to trying it if that was the approach.
I couldn’t do it because it’s so difficult and restrictive, plus it’s not something that is really practised in my family/culture.
Yeah, in Caribbean culture we have a lot of pescetarians but I think to go further than that is less common. I don’t think it’ll ever be a huge thing in black culture or households. Culture plays a big part in your starting position and what you eat.
Personally, as much as I find it hard to change my diet, I find it even harder to stick to a fitness routine. Which one do you say is more important to focus on?
I should say diet but I think fitness. I wouldn’t say you can out train a bad diet, but I think it has more of an effect because your activity level is very important. Also, the fitness side of things will gradually make you want to make better decisions in relation to food
Weights or cardio?
I’m gonna say weights. It’s just more beneficial in terms of the way you can structure it. You can structure it in a circuit format so your heart rate is gonna be higher anyway, or you can structure it so it’s strength based to help you tone. I think when more people educate themselves about weight training, they’ll believe in it more.
Full body workout or targeted days e.g. leg day, upper body day etc.?
Training splits are beneficial. Imagine trying to do a full body workout 5 days a week – there’s no rest or recovery in terms of the muscles that you’re going to work so every day as you’re coming to the gym you’ll get tired. You’ll overtrain your muscles and you can’t do that for a long period of time.
Just to piggyback off that, what is the optimum number of days you should train?
I think people should train like 3 days a week, minimum.
But what’s the max?
I’m going to say 6 days a week. I do 6 days a week but I think that Monday-Friday everyone is in a routine so there’s no reason why you can’t go to the gym every day. You get up, you go to work, and you finish. Gym only has to be 1 hour, you can go during lunchtime if you have enough time and it’s convenient.
So only one day to recover?!
I think it’s possible.
What is your personal slogan?
Inspire, motivate and educate.
Yeah, that’s always been it from day 1. It’s always been on my logo. It’s my job to educate people.
So what’s next for you?
I want to be more influential. I won’t name them but there are big companies out there that have no sponsored black people.
Even this week, I was quite emotional about the fact that they actually sponsored a black female. But the thing is, she is not of a darker complexion and I know that she will never be the face or be in big campaigns but the fact that they actually sponsored her is still a big deal. She’s from the US but it’s still good, I’m not knocking it.
Do you think there aren’t enough Black British female PTs that are out there or in the spotlight?
I feel like they don’t get the same recognition so if a black girl starts doing fitness on Instagram the response isn’t the same. I don’t know if that’s because maybe one person sees that and they don’t relate to it or they just don’t want to support it in general.
So that’s your main focus?
I want to try to get sponsored because I know how I can use that platform to try to influence more people. There are not enough influential people that are sponsored in fitness for it to make a difference within our community. I understand now that followers and all this stuff makes a difference but there are different levels of sponsorship. We’re just asking them to try us for a bit and see if it works.
We have to remember, in fashion generally, black people being on big a campaign is a big deal. Even with Burberry when they had Jourdan Dunn, that was a big thing and that was 4 years ago. Brands are a bit cautious about it, so it will be interesting to see about the girl from the US.
Where can people find you?
Twitter – @MrLanceFit, Instagram – @MrLanceFit and they can also contact me via email firstname.lastname@example.org.