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How A Gym Tackles Health Equity While Prioritizing Health And Safety During COVID

Ren (she/her) runs a local strength & conditioning community in the Seattle area where as of December 4th this year, has seen 2925 COVID deaths and confirmed 174,290 COVID deaths. During this pandemic, Strive & Uplift coaches have implemented programs that adapt to their members’ dynamic needs and given them the versatility they need to stay healthy from the safety of their own homes. The resilience of her facility and staff is a reflection of the strength in the community she’s built. Ren shows us there is a way to be responsible and inclusive when making better health more accessible.


Meeting Ren for the first time in autumn of 2020 was a huge breath of fresh air during a tumultuous year. We discussed everything from how she strives to create an inclusive space, what certain certifications she sought after as a trainer and how those decisions impact the way she trains, and her commitment to following the science--especially in shelter-in-place orders to addressing public health and the health of her community.

Reshaping Inclusive Fitness

Ren runs Strive & Uplift, a gym that boasts a community of different bodies seeking better health through movement that suits them. During the pandemic, the gym was forced to close its doors--and Ren consciously took steps to keep doors shut while looking for safer methods to better serve her community.

Like many fitness and health coaches, Strive & Uplift needed to shift to lean more heavily on virtual spaces. Although this was a challenge and not an exhaustive replacement of in-person sessions, the shift to online engagement expanded the boundaries of the Strive & Uplift community to those who might otherwise not be able to attend on-site. More importantly, Ren noted that the adjustments, including the implementation of flexible pricing payment program, more appropriately catered to her clientele during the pandemic--allowing more health enthusiasts to retain their membership and allowing her business to stay afloat.

The use of a flexible pricing payment program is only one way Ren sees the organization adapting to the effects of the pandemic, widespread economic devastation and disproportionate effects across socioeconomic communities. Strive & Uplift’s flexible payment allows members to dictate how much they pay monthly depending on what they are able to contribute, with recommended amounts listed on her website (see why people choose Strive & Uplift with this link).

In early September, the Black Lives Matter Movement (that ignited more voices than the Women’s March in 2017 to take action after the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor) seemed to take a breath, as if the nation were internalizing the flood of social and political activism. The movement started in 2013 but didn’t see the overwhelming support, especially from people from higher income groups and the support from white allies until this past summer. Marginalized communities have suffered disproportionately historically when it comes to access to healthcare and means to better health habits.

It’s time to think about what this year will look like. It’s time to recognize that the image for a “fit” body has largely been constructed by external sources and we have the power to shape a healthier body image, build healthier practices, and empower a healthier community. This is our responsibility.

Reliable Trainers at the Helm

Ren, owner and trainer at Strive & Uplift; Photo courtesy of Ren

Ren has earned her CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) among other certifications over the years. The CSCS held a 63% pass rate in 2019 and is boasted as a certification that sets the gold standard for credentials among fitness professionals. Her background and credentials support her individualized, science-based practice in supporting and mobilizing her clients.

Ren recognizes the richness in having a diverse coaching staff at the heart of her company. Liz specializes in KB Sport (kettlebell work), Becca and Kira lead Pilates classes, Allison incorporates holistic health coaching, Dominique combines yoga and strength, and Bert creates sport-specific programming and trains ultimate frisbee athletes. Each coach has their own story on how their relationship with movement and health has led them to their role.

A team of personal trainers with masks on in front of bold print "You are Strong" on wall.
The Strive & Uplift Team, Photo by Sam Hotaling

There is significance in seeing different faces instructing an assortment of sessions. Having diverse body types and backgrounds reflected in these leadership roles reflect the truth behind “healthy”: it doesn’t look one specific way.

Forbes writer, Serenity Gibbons, addressed the homogeneity of the fitness industry in March last year and acknowledged the digital revolution that would inevitably open opportunities for the BIPOC and underrepresented communities.

Having different faces and styles reflected in front of group sessions isn’t just about representation. Our bodies move and respond to training differently. There are many ways we can attain good health. Though movement might be a large pillar in maintaining our wellbeing, finding movement patterns that serve us is integral to building lifelong habits. Strive & Uplift’s coaches, though ranging in areas of expertise and decorated with varying life experiences, demonstrate the ability to translate this in their classes and content, tailored to a range of preferences and ability.

Our Health: Looking Into The Future

As more vaccinations are rolled out across the states, local jurisdiction aims to strategically implement and prioritize the delivery of dosages to curb COVID-19 outbreaks. The return to pre-pandemic normal seems foreign even with the possibility in the foreseeable future.

The closure of storefronts, gyms and other facilities a year ago caused an abrupt shift in our patterns. If we are some of the lucky ones, a full year of becoming accustomed to the proverbial “new normal” has made us newfound bakers, runners, outdoor enthusiasts, or at-home TV-series critics.

Gyms are aching to re-open safely. Better understanding of the virus has helped create better guidelines, protocol and practices to guide owners and trainers to safe practices during the pandemic.

Still, the thawing of this year of stringent sheltering-in-place amidst monumental social justice strides is one that will hopefully reveal a new way of approaching better health. The disruption in the fabric of our past reality has paved the way for us to redefine what lies ahead. Strive & Uplift continues forward, not going back to the past reality, but creating a new one via the collaboration of collective, diverse minds.

The movement continues.

Superpower, Apple, launched Apple Fitness + this past December during the “second wave” of the pandemic. With it came one of the most inclusive teams of trainers seen at such a scale thus far. The team represents a diverse range in age, able-bodied and adaptive athletes, and backgrounds (to list a few).

Movement and the pursuit of better health should not be limited to any narrow demographic.

Strive & Uplift hopes to reopen a physical location sometime this year, but are also open to the possibility that it might look very different than it did before. Ren expects to continue utilizing the virtual space in addition to her in-person classes to be able to offer services to clients who have challenges meeting in-person. She is persistent with maintaining a diverse coaching staff and remains proactive in providing a safe and inclusive space for her community. With this, Ren and her team hope to guide people from all walks of life to find empowerment through movement.


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Written by:

Judith Wang

Founder, Project Green Beard

UCSC Banana Slug

Special thanks to Ren Caldwell (Strive and Uplift Owner, CEO, CMO, NSCA CSCS, FMS, Level 2 Kettlebell Instructor)

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