Barrington Bennett, Jr. has worked for more than a decade as a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach. At each session, he makes clear that engaging the body is equally about engaging the mind and spirit. Bennett spoke with ESSENCE about why personal training should not be considered a luxury or inaccessible—especially for Black women—during a global health pandemic that has made it evident that strong bodies and immune systems could be critical for our survival.
ESSENCE: Why is working with Black women a particular passion for you?
Barrington Bennett, Jr.: Black women die more of preventable diseases than any other group of women in the U.S. I’ve watched my mother, my grandmother—all the women who have been pillars in my life—give everything to everyone else before they gave anything to themselves. Part of my mission is to repay all that was given to me by providing a space for sisters to own their own health and well-being.
ESSENCE: Coronavirus, parenting without school support, money disrupted. How can we even think about working out now or changing our eating habits?
B.B.: There’s no doing anything if we’re not healthy. In this moment when most of us have been forced to slow down–we’re not commuting to work or taking kids to school or practice, we can’t go to the salon or church or the club, how can we take that time to begin habits that support our well-being? Many of us have emotional relationships with food. It’s our reward or comfort. But food should primarily be something that ensures our life. Even still, I am less about saying, “Don’t eat this or that.” We’re always the people things are taken from. I want sisters to add food to their diets that gives back to them. Add more water to your diet. If you start drinking 20 ounces more water, you’re less likely to drink 20 ounces of soda. With children at home now, consider making healthy meals a family project. Sure, you may still go to a drive-through fast-food place, but I bet that will seem less appealing after you’ve made a really good meal.
ESSENCE: What about exercise? Especially if it’s not already part of our lives?
B.B.: Begin where you are. Set an alarm at the start of every hour to get up and move for a few minutes. Walk with family members. Ten minutes in the morning and ten in the evening can help not only with weight management, but digestion, hip mobility and, ultimately, longevity.
ESSENCE: What would you want all of your clients to understand?
B.B.: Most clients say to me during our initial meeting that they want to lose weight. I ask, “Why?” What’s the deeper reason? One client said their goal was to lose 50 pounds. Why? Why not 30 or 60 pounds? I learned that they weighed 50 pounds less when they got married. And in recent years, their marriage had less intimacy. What my client wanted was the closeness back that they once felt. And that might have been about weight but it might have been about all the other things that cause stress and drive people apart. But as we worked out, over time a confidence came back to my client—and stress was relieved. Exercise releases endorphins that make us feel better, no matter what weight we are. And that change alone has impacted their marriage in a positive way.
Here’s the thing: The outside is going to change working with a professional trainer who knows how to keep you going, keep you efficient and keep you injury-free. But without the true understanding of why you want to achieve whatever the goal may be, the outside results will never be good enough.
ESSENCE: Hiring a personal trainer seems like a luxury in a moment when most of us are worried about money.
B.B.: In my own practice, I offer semiprivate sessions, where moms and daughters, friends or sisters work together either in person or virtually. This makes it accessible to a population I am most dedicated to. Like seeing a doctor or dentist, working with a professional is a proactive way of staying in top health—including keeping you from hurting yourself.
ESSENCE: What should we look for in a trainer?
B.B: Ask for references from old and current clients. Have a conversation, not a workout, on Day One—at least not a hard workout. Do you feel comfortable and heard? Is your potential trainer only worried about the aesthetics, never worrying about what’s happening on the inside? Are they dedicated to the profession, or is it something they’re doing to fill the time while they hope for a break into another field? Don’t be someone else’s convenience. Look for a partner in your health and well-being.
Connect with Barrington Bennett, Jr., at www.BeTheBetter.com and on IG at Barrington_BTB. Click here for his helpful advice on we can do right now to claim your health while we practice social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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