It’s the morning of December 25, just shy of 9 am, and over 50 households across Birmingham and the West Midlands are gearing up for the day ahead. But they’re not getting up to start preparing their Christmas dinners or to put up some last-minute decorations. Instead, they’ve opted to start their day working up a sweat through a 40-minute workout with Birmingham- based fitness duo Twinsane Fitness. Jamaican-British twins Peter and Philip ran community fitness classes online throughout lockdown after initially launching their brand offline back in 2016.
“We’re trying to change the culture and give people a reason to live differently,” explains Peter, 50% of the duo who runs the currently online program from his home in Brum.
The pair have always been sporty, taking part in football trials for West Bromwich and Wolverhampton as teenagers and participating in local athletics, but it was the lack of fitness culture in their local community that led them to develop this interest further.
“We found a passion for the gym training in college and wanted to see how we could pursue it,” Peter explains. Yet while working at more mainstream gym facilities in their late teens, he recalls that a problem arose.
“The classes [at the time] were from a commercial gym point of view, and we always thought the way they teach is not really us – we couldn’t relate.”
Black gym professionals have spoken out increasingly over the last few years about the sense of alienation some face when navigating the mainstream fitness space and industry. According to Statista, there are some 7.2 thousand health and fitness clubs in the United Kingdom with approximately 10 million combined members. And yet, not everyone feels represented by these groups or can participate due to their lack of diversity and the microaggressions that can come with them. This has led to calls to “decolonize fitness.”
On a basic level, decolonizing fitness represents the creation of spaces in which both trainers and clients intentionally accept everyone, irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other identity.
“When I use the words “decolonizing fitness” I’m literally naming the ways I’d like to break free from toxic (mainstream fitness), reinvent, re-imagine, restructure fitness practices that feel supportive, affirming and empowering.” writes the founder of Decolonizing Fitness, Isla Barker, in a blog post.
In the states, a database of gyms and fitness clubs that have committed to these values has been set up, helping people better navigate the space. While no such database exists in the UK, Twinsane Fitness and others like them are taking up the task themselves, creating safe spaces for their communities outside mainstream fitness.
The logic behind this is simple: if workout spaces look, sound, and feel more familiar to Black communities (or more diverse ones), the habits such spaces hope to encourage are more likely to follow. This belief has led to the development of countless ‘by us, for us’ fitness movements across the world.
“We wanted to present something that felt familiar to us,” Peter explains, “from the music that we play to the way we handle workouts.”
For Black communities, in particular, there is no shortage of reasons why such a shift is necessary.
In the UK, 73.6% of Black adults were overweight or obese in 2019, the highest percentage of all ethnic groups. Over in the states, Non-Hispanic Black people had the highest age-adjusted prevalence of obesity at 49.6%.
When Peter & Phillip first decided to develop their own program, they sought inspiration not from mainstream fitness but from a community program run by a local fitness figure, 60-year old Ezra of Ace Fitness.
Peter explains that Ezra’s fitness group was “inspiring” for the pair, “the way he was teaching… he was doing exercise to music that we listen to. We always said we wanted to do our own thing, and this was someone from our community that was already doing it.” But it wasn’t just its community ethos that caught the twins’ attention – it was also the challenge it presented to the stereotype of elder Black men in the Caribbean community.
“A lot of people associate elders of that age group with just bunnin’ weed, drinking all day with big buss off bellies, sitting down in front of the TV… but I went [to Ezra’s community fitness class] and saw a lot of familiar faces from the community – a lot of our own people, Black people, and I was like wow – I’ve never ever seen this before.”
Changing the narrative
Working under the Ace Fitness banner for a couple of years, Ezra would later recommend the twins for an opportunity to branch out, leading to the official birth of Twinsane.
Health and wellness “absolutely need to be a priority,” Peter believes – but the duo also stresses the need to make workouts enjoyable. “A lot of people think of fitness as a chore, whereas what we do is fun” – the pair host their sessions in community spaces such as Handsworth park outside of the pandemic, organize group excursions to add a social element to the program, and have previously partnered with local DJs to create playlists that fuel workouts.
All of these factors have contributed to the rapid growth of the group, as Kush, who’s a regular at Twinsane workouts, explains:
“It’s a proper community setting, everybody’s familiar with everybody, so when you’re getting tired through a workout, you’ll hear a ‘C’mon sis get up.’ I might kiss my teeth or roll my eyes, but they get it, they won’t be offended. It’s like having that space to express yourself culturally. Then they also know that certain ailments affect us in the Black community, and when they’re creating these programs, it’s tailored to us in that way too.”
Community fitness programs like Twinsane Fitness are as much about the social element as they are about building better fitness habits. Moving into 2021, Peter’s desire to take this mission even further stems from his belief that working out communally is both a positive lifestyle change in terms of health, but also in terms of community building. “For a lot of men, its an ego thing – they think ‘I train already’ so there’s no need to come – but what we see is that more time when we meet up altogether, it’s for a funeral or a wedding – this gives us something to do together, to connect – and to change the narrative.”
Twinsane’s top tips for wellness over lockdown and beyond
- Check your dehydration – Ddhydration can be a contributing factor to thinking you’re hungry
- Practice meditation
- Do some form of physical activity home workout or walk at least 15-30mins daily (or 3 days minimum)
- Remember to stretch
To find out more about Twinsane Fitness, visit them at twinsanefitness.com