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Meet SELF’S Newest Group of Everyday Athletes



Social: @nikkipebbles
Age: 34
Location: Queens, New York
Occupation: Special populations personal trainer and mental performance practitioner 
Favorite workout song on repeat: “Break the Ice” by Britney Spears
Favorite thing to do outside of fitness: Cooking and trying new recipes

Nikki Pebbles wants people who are just getting started to know that it’s okay to take it short and slow. “I suggest starting out with three, 15-minute workouts a week and building from there,” says Pebbles, who has been part of the fitness industry for 12 years. She considers dance her absolute favorite kind of workout—but that doesn’t mean it needs to be yours, too. Finding your fit and gaining comfort and confidence in a workout modality that speaks to you can help you create your own community. “I believe that fitness is made for all bodies and all humans,” Pebbles says. That’s why she’s hoping for the fitness industry to become more inclusive of the bodies it highlights: “All bodies are powerful and I am excited to see that expansion!”

Maggi Gao

Katie Thompson

Age: 27
Location: Manhattan, New York
Occupation: Personal trainer
Favorite time of day for workouts: Morning—you have the rest of the day to crush your goals.
Least favorite exercise: Burpees 

Maggi Gao is drawn to workouts that challenge both strength and skill, so it’s no surprise that she counts Olympic weight lifting and kettlebell routines among her favorites. In fact, she’s taking on a hardstyle kettlebell competition in April. After playing sports as a kid, Gao started fitness coaching in 2016—she’s now a NASM-certified personal trainer and level 2 certified kettlebell instructor—and wants to emphasize to her clients that “fitness is not a one-size-fits-all template.” There’s no one “look” to fitness, she says, and as the field continues to evolve, Gao hopes that its portrayal grows to reflect that. “I feel like if I saw more people who looked like me in the media when I was younger, I wouldn’t have felt pressured to work out a certain way, or even look a certain way,” she says. “But now I’m driven to help Asian-American women feel more empowered in their own skin.”


Gail Barranda Rivas

Katie Thompson

Social: @gailfitness
Location: New York, New York
Occupation: Fitness instructor, functional strength coach, personal trainer, Pilates and yoga instructor, and fitness presenter 
Favorite exercise: Kettlebell Turkish get-ups, followed by push-ups
Advice to those who may not feel represented in fitness: “It may take a few tries, but find a community that you feel comfortable and supported in. If you don’t find one, create one!”  

“Start off with small, achievable goals,” Gail Barranda Rivas says to those who are new to exercising. “A lot of folks go too hard, too fast, too soon, and wind up getting discouraged. All those small wins add up!” Now, nearly two decades into her own fitness career, she still heeds her own advice: “I’m definitely someone who likes to celebrate small wins—that can include taking a class outside of my comfort zone, lifting heavier than I thought I could, and every time I surf, when the thrill of catching a wave is unlike anything else.”

Source: Self

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