PORTLAND, Ore. — Emma Middlebrook has been in the fitness industry for 15 years. For some time she trained her clients in "big box gyms" and saw first hand how intimidating an atmosphere like that can be.
When she branched off into her own space, she did so with inclusivity in mind.
“A lot of clients who find me tend to have had bad experiences working in a larger space," said Emma. "Whether they’re just uncomfortable with the number of people around them or they have a hard time finding equipment and they don't feel very supported."
Emma strives to create an atmosphere where her clients feel supported and feel like they have control over their workouts, which she says should be fun.
"If you walk through this door, you’re going to have a really fun time, you can pick your own music. I have a client in her 80s and we listen to Frank Sinatra," she said. "You can literally do whatever you want in this space. I want you to feel welcome, I want you to feel at home.”
And her training space reflects that. It looks like what you wish your own home gym would look like. With white brick walls, minimalist decorations that offer a pop of color, and gym equipment that doesn't need a complicated version of Pictionary to understand, it is free of walking muscles grunting and throwing weights.
Candace Molatore, social media guru and self-proclaimed self-love advocate, has been training with Emma for a couple of months. She was unsure about seeking a personal trainer but has only glowing reviews.
"I didn't want it to be in a situation where maybe someone was forcing ideals on me. As a plus size woman, I feel like I get a lot of that," said Candace. "Emma was very forthcoming about her opinions in that working out should be fun. It's been really positive working with her."
Without the pressure of weight-loss, instead of a focus on being fit and healthy, Candace said it is validating to be in a space without pressure. With Emma's training, she said she knows she is doing the right things for her body.
Emma said social media plays a role in the unwelcoming atmosphere perceived at larger gyms.
"I think there's a lot of body image issues. Body positivity has a resurgence right now, you look at people like Tess Holliday and Ashley Graham, which is pushing forward the idea that to be fit you don't have to be a size two," she said.
Having suffered from depression, trauma, and even battling weight in the past, Emma understands how staying healthy and focusing on physical fitness can be centering.
“Hopefully I can help other people in feeling empowered and understanding their bodies and taking control of them and working out and staying strong."