Hearts still racing and sweat still dripping, those brave souls who just survived another hour-long group workout with Joanne Blackerby and her team at Spirit Fitness Training in northwest Austin are dizzy to grasp what just occurred. Blackerby is a self-made health coach, starting out in the 1980s as a step aerobics teacher, and her group workouts have the same hectic, up-tempo choreography often associated with leg warmers and leotards.
“Joanne’s cadence is fast, and you’ll never quite attain it,” one of her workout regulars said. “She really just wants to get you moving. That’s the focus.”
Blackerby explained, “Think about the movement, not just doing the exercise. Think about what you want your body to accomplish.”
A married mother of three, Blackerby began organizing workouts for fellow moms in her Steiner Ranch neighborhood. Water aerobics, boot camps, yoga, personal training sessions inside garages—everything was fair game. As her children grew, Blackerby expanded her reach to corporate gyms, eventually building and leading teams of trainers and instructors.
The culture of those gym floors wasn’t always the most welcoming, however. Trainers are essentially competing with one another to lure gym goers into future clients. “It’s really a nasty, cutthroat glamour business,” Blackerby said.
That reality moved Blackerby to open Spirit Fitness Training. It’s a gym with a salon atmosphere. Trainers on Blackerby’s staff have access to the fully equipped space to train their own clients. They all squeeze together in a small back room office where the collaboration and teamwork is apparent.
“Working at (corporate) places as a trainer, you are obligated to solicit training,” said Shawn Faver, a recent UT graduate working under Blackerby. “The goal of any trainer should really be the client’s goal. Here we’re able to focus on empowering and building self-sufficient athletes.”
Anyone is welcome in Blackerby’s gym. “No one is turned away,” she said. “My weakness was always the business side.” Because of that, Blackerby also works with her trainers to understand entrepreneurial aspects like price, brand, and promotion.
Blackerby also launched the Spirit Fitness Pro Academy, which offers professional mentorship and education to aid aspiring fitness coaches as they pursue national accredited certification and continuing education. This September, ten local fitness professionals attended a one-day certification workshop hosted by ViPR pro John Sinclair.
“Everybody has their level of knowledge and their own style,” said Kenton Keith, a former NFL running back who now coaches alongside Blackerby. “The key is to be a student every day. Fitness is available to everyone.”