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“What Would Nike Say?” Q&A With Trainer Carmen Morgan

A man who loves fitness and wants to make it his job has plenty of sources to turn to for inspiration. A woman isn’t so lucky. To build an online audience these days, there’s a lot of pressure to layer on the makeup, show skin, and offer workouts that are part boot camp, part balancing act, because it seems like the only way people will follow you is if you look better than they do and can do things with your body that they can’t.

But Carmen Morgan is bucking the trend. Known simply as @MyTrainerCarmen on Instagram, the Houston, Texas-based coach is closing in on 700,000 followers and running a six-figure business—and she’s doing it her way, by offering digestible fitness advice to working women who need to get in shape at home and with minimal equipment. Morgan, a regular at Onnit certs, visited HQ in Austin recently and shared her tips for other aspiring female fitness pros, as well as women who want to tone up.

Onnit: You started out as a schoolteacher. How did you transition into a fitness pro?

Carmen Morgan: I was always into fitness. Ever since I played sports in middle school. As a grown-up, working out was my outlet from my stressful job. I taught art, and that’s usually the first subject to get phased out when a school has budget cuts. At my school, my budget decreased every year for three years while my class sizes increased. They cut back my class hours too, so, eventually, I found I was spending more time in the gym than I was spending working on my career. That’s when I decided it would probably be a good idea to switch jobs.

I knew it was important to get my education up on fitness before I tried to start a career in it. So I used my newfound free time to get certified through NASM and ACE before I decided to take on a client. Then I started using the school community to find clients. There were a lot of teachers I knew who wanted to stay fit, but they needed something easy to do that was also fun. Something they could do right there in the school gymnasium. I started training small groups of female teachers after school, and that led to one-on-one training. I didn’t charge anything at first because I was still a teacher there.

How did you start to market yourself as a trainer?

At the apartment complex I lived in, there was a table by the elevators where people used to post all kinds of services they offered. I got some cheap trainer business cards made and placed them there. That’s where my first three paying clients came from. One of them I still have today.

Reaching out to the immediate community was the easiest way to get started, and training people where you live is perfect because of how convenient it is for both of you. People could just walk downstairs to my apartment to work out. When the business took off, I quit teaching; that was four years ago.

Many of your students must have battled body-image issues. When they found out you were a trainer on the side, did they come to you for advice?

Yes. One of the worst parts about being a teacher was hearing middle school girls beat themselves up about their bodies. To have a sixth-grade girl come to me and tell me she can’t eat nachos because she’s nervous it’s going to make her fat—so she’d rather not eat anything at lunch—that was so sad. When I was in sixth grade, I didn’t care. I ate whatever.

I used to coach soccer at the school too and I started talking to the kids about how to set fitness goals. Like, “If you can run around the track once right now, let’s make a plan so that you can run around it two times before the end of the year.” I tried to get them to focus on ability rather than what they looked like because that’s what helped me. When I stopped thinking about what I looked like and focused instead on how I was feeling and what I could do, I made more progress with my fitness goals. I still love talking about tangible signs of progress with my clients. “That split squat was hard for you at first, but look what you can do now.” When you take that approach, one day you look up in the mirror and, sure enough, you see that your waist size has gone down and you look stronger.

I’ve had former students DM me on Instagram and say, “Hey, Miss Morgan, I’ve gotten into working out and lifting weights from your videos.” That means a lot to me, especially in the Hispanic community, where fitness is not very popular. Especially among Hispanic women, who often think a woman shouldn’t be muscular.

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Speaking of Instagram, you have a big following there. What was your strategy to build it?

I actually created my Instagram after I quit teaching. I never had social media before. I’ve always treated social media like a business, rather than a place to post selfies. I wanted to create something that could serve a specific function, so I asked my friends and colleagues, “What would you like to see?”

They would say things like, “I need something I can do with 10-pound dumbbells,” or, “I broke my ankle and am wearing a boot on it. Do you have a workout I can do sitting down?” People really like when you ask what their specific limitations are. So I started creating content for that.

I have so many teacher friends and my brother is a teacher, so they’ve always been my go-to’s. They’re the perfect focus group because they’re busy, a lot of them have families, and they’re teachers—so they’re stressed and interested in learning what they need to do to be healthier.

Do you have any other tips for trainers who want to stand out from their competition online?

I always pay attention to feedback. People would post questions on my videos like, “I can’t quite do that lunge, can you modify it?” and I would answer. I came up with workouts you can do in a chair, or with five-pound dumbbells, or in a few minutes, and I showed the people that I was always listening to them and willing to help.

Interacting with your audience is a big thing. Make sure you’re addressing their questions. If you have time to go on Instagram and scroll through pictures, you have time to answer a few questions. Just set a time frame that you’ll spend answering people and get as many done as you can. Then people won’t think you’re a snob who doesn’t have time for them. When someone asks for a video on stretching your hips and I post it a few days later, I always hear a thank you. Your audience will always give you ideas for new content you wouldn’t have thought of on your own, so you both win.

You look great, but you don’t try to be sexy in your videos. As a result, most of your followers are women—your target audience. Do you feel any pressure to take chances and shoot videos that could get you even more attention?

Whenever I post something, I ask myself, “What would Nike or Disney say if they came to my page?” Would they say, “That’s a little too much,” or “that’s not family-friendly?” Or will they come to my page and think it’s original, well put together, and not risqué, and then maybe invest in it? I think that’s important for everyone to consider. I’ve done some guest speaking at middle schools since I left teaching and I try to explain to girls the permanence of what they post online, what they send to boys. Ladies, it’s there forever!

I have an 87% female audience on Instagram and I like keeping it that way. The age range is 20–40. I think I don’t get as many millennials because I don’t do trendy workouts. I also think not pushing sex has helped cultivate a female audience. If you’re a dude looking for skin, you’re not going to waste your time coming to my page. There are way sexier accounts out there to follow! My audience is more the average fitness person, but I’m proud to say that I seem to be growing it with my app [My Trainer Carmen]. I think I’m attracting more dedicated workout people and helping my beginners transition into being that way too. I’m hearing more comments like, “I started on Week 1 of your program and now I’m on Week 6.” Some of my followers are sticking with it and getting fitter and growing along with me.

I’d like to get younger women involved though. I’d like to get back into the school system. I’d love to get some sort of program into middle schools and talk more about women’s empowerment through weight training.

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You mentioned your app. Can you tell us more about it?

My Instagram account allowed me to get in touch with an app company, and they offered to create an app for me. We do a rev share split. It’s available at mytrainercarmenapp.com. There are 48 weeks’ worth of video workouts you can do with me—a beginner plan, a main plan, a HIIT plan, and a nutrition section. The workouts also come with photos, and built-in timers to keep you on pace. It tracks everything on a calendar for you. It costs $12.99 a month and I’ve got 80% subscriber retention.

What other advice do you have for ladies who want to start a fitness business but may be hesitant?

I know women can be intimidated to start a business now because the fitness market is so saturated. But I think if you take whatever you’re into and break it down into the simplest pieces possible, there will always be a market for it.

For instance, I like yoga, but I’m not very good at it. I find myself searching the web for anyone who posts two or three yoga moves I can do. Not the cool ones where you’re flipping over in mid-air—simple ones that someone like me who just wants to improve their flexibility can do. So pick something you’re confident you know how to break down. I think I do that well because I was a teacher. There’s going to be somebody in the classroom who doesn’t know what you’re talking about, so you need to know how to explain things simply [laughs].

You mentioned earlier that many Hispanic women haven’t embraced fitness culture. How do we get them working out and eating better?

Their culture has a lot of flair and fun, so why not bring that into your workout? I tell them to do some kind of dance class that’s fun and not intimidating. People have to remember that there’s more than one way to get fit.

What do you say to women who obsess over getting the body of their favorite celebrity? Anyone can lose weight and look better, but if you’re built like Roseanne you’re never going to pass for Gwyneth Paltrow.

That’s true! My thing is consistency. I posted before and after photos one time that were taken a few years apart. I wanted to show that I was consistent in my workouts and with eating healthy. If you do that, your body is going to look the best it can.

I like thick girls and I wish I were curvier and had shapelier hips, but I don’t. I tell people, “This is my best body, and yours is going to look even better than the person you look up to because it’s yours.” Instead of trying to capture an image, focus on doing what you need to do to get better. We don’t all look the same, but if our consistency is on the same level, we’re doing all we can to be our best. That’s all anyone can ask.

Most of your followers train at home. What advice do you have for making home gym workouts safe and effective?

I’ve always been a home workout person. I don’t like crowded gyms. I think you can get it done with just body weight, bands, and dumbbells. You need to be super conscious of form when you’re working out by yourself, especially if you don’t have a wall-length mirror. Ask yourself, “Are my shoulders back and down? How’s my posture? Where’s my chin?” If you have balance problems, you should start doing your lunges and squats with a chair for assistance. Squat into the chair to shorten the range of motion a bit so that you can control the movement, and rest your hand on the chair to steady yourself as you lunge. Safety first.

What fitness myths do women still believe that need to die a quick and brutal death?

That lifting heavy makes you bulky or manly! When women tell me they don’t lift any weights and they just do cardio, I say, “Whoa, stop right there.” When they say, “Your body looks great,” I say, “Well, my body wasn’t made on a treadmill.” In fact, I never touch one. I never skip weights but I skip cardio all the time.

Another myth is that you can’t eat anything you enjoy. I love Mexican food, so I teach people to be smarter about reading food labels and to be mindful of the sugar content in things. But I never say you can’t have a food you love. Try to eat as many real foods as you can. If you can’t handle anything else, just don’t drink your calories and don’t eat processed foods. Get those cereals and granola bars out of your kitchen.

I ask people to go on Pinterest and enter their favorite recipe and then type in “healthy” in front of it. I guarantee you’ll find a billion ways to clean up how you eat and make it healthier. But you have to transition into eating healthier gently so it’s not such a shock. You can’t go from eating tuna casserole to chicken and broccoli.

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How do we get women to eat more protein?

They need to find a protein food that they like. A lot of people don’t like chicken breasts, so in that case, eat shrimp, fish, or beef. You have options!

You’ve been a fan of Onnit for a while. How can we get more women to give us a try?

My husband is a fan of the Joe Rogan podcast and he first told me about Onnit from hearing about it on there. He said Onnit was somewhat local, based in Austin, and I should reach out to them. At first, I was hesitant, like a lot of women, I’m sure. It seemed very male, very trendy. Their videos were kind of in your face, and I’m not like that. But I reached out to see if I could make a connection and they welcomed me to come try out a class.

I met [Director of Fitness Education] Shane Heins and [Chief Fitness Officer] John Wolf, and I fell in love with what Onnit is teaching. I fell in love with the environment and the trainers. They invited me for a certification and now I try to get to as many of them as I can. I’ve done Fundamentals, Kettlebell, Durability, Suspension Trainer, and Barbell. I can’t recommend them enough.


Follow Carmen on Instagram at @mytrainercarmen.