We live in a world where we all — male or female — feel a need to meet an ideal fitness model. The swimsuit model in Sports Illustrated, the svelte Instagram celebrity doing incredible yoga poses on the beach, the actor with the perfect six-pack abs. But here's the thing: everyone’s definition of fit is different. There's no right way to look or to work out. And there's nothing that can hold you back from being the version of healthy and fit you want to be.
So, we’ve found 10 incredible athletes breaking down barriers in the fitness industry who will inspire and motivate you. These men and women are proving that no matter what your backstory or what you look like, you can lead a healthy and fit life, because fitness isn't about reaching any one type of body. And don’t worry! We’ve attached their Instagram accounts so you can continue to follow them for inspiration and motivation.
1. Meg Squats: Really Strong is Really Beautiful
"Hello my strong, strong friends!" That's how powerlifter Meg shown above starts every one of her YouTube videos, each of which have hundreds of thousands of views. Meg's bright, comical and candid personality allow for her to be honest with her viewers. She provides a friendly face (even though most of her viewers have never met her) and candor while addressing many issues that people who get into weight lifting — whether new or experienced — will go through. She discusses everything from being intimidated at the gym, to eating to fuel your —for starters, nobody's perfect, so you can eat a cheeseburger and have a beer. Meg also debunks many body stereotypes. She embraces the idea that strong is beautiful and that no one should have to meet one type of body type ideal to be beautiful.
2. Dylan Werner: Breaking Stereotypes
"Yoga is for girls." "I'm not skinny enough for yoga." "Oh, I'm not flexible enough to do yoga." Well, Dylan Werner is debunking all of these misconceptions people have about yoga. Dylan has been practicing yoga for seven years and is living proof that yoga works for men who want to be muscular too. With no strict diet or calorie count, Dylan believes in eating what makes your body feel empowered — and it's different for everyone. He spends his time traveling, teaching yoga and proving that anyone can be a yogi.
3. Krystal Cantu: Crossfit Confidence
Krystal Cantu started Crossfit in April 2013, despite concerns about her ability. She instantly fell in love with the community the sport offered — the coaches, the athletes and the environment. However, in August of that same year, Krystal lost her right arm in a car accident. At that point, she had two options: give up and feel sorry for herself, or keep living her life. She opted for the latter. A month after her amputation, Krystal started Crossfit again and she will happily tell you that "Crossfit saved my life." It gave her an outlet to prove that losing a limb didn't affect who she was or what she was capable of. In Crossfit, Krystal "found confidence and the piece of [her she] thought [she] had lost forever".
4. Jessamyn Stanley: Feeling Good
Jessamyn Stanley is leading the charge to break down barriers in the yoga and fitness world and prove that anyone can be a "yogi." She's been practicing yoga for over five years and is the author of "Every Body Yoga." Jessamyn encourages everyone to judge their health and fitness on the question "How do I feel?" rather than "How do I look?" She believes in promoting a body positive community that celebrates her yoga student's bodies, no matter their weight or shape.
5. Holly Rillinger: Focus on You
Nike Master Trainer, personal trainer, creative director for Cyc Fitness, Holly Rillinger is no stranger to the fitness industry. But her ultimate fitness goal is to help people improve their mental health along with their physical health. Her new fitness program, Lifted, combined meditation with high-intensity interval training. You have to put aside whatever the person next to you is doing and focus on yourself — just take the first step. Rillinger's healthy living philosophy is all about the mind-body-spirit connection. Rillinger believes that you have to train all three areas. Having a good body will not make a difference if you're not happy. So, you have to train in ways that make your mind, body and spirit happy.
6. Allyson Felix: Love Your Shape
Nine-time Olympic medalist Allyson Felix is one of the most incredible athletes in the world. She's the most decorated woman in U.S. track and field history. But that doesn't mean she's always been immune to body critiques. She was nicknamed Chicken Legs in high school because of her long, lanky legs, and the nickname has stuck with her, even through the Olympics. But still, Allyson loves and embraces her body. "I love my shape because it make me feel really powerful and like I can accomplish anything," Felix says. Felix has been quoted many times praising her legs, regardless of how awkward they may seem, because her legs are what got her where she is today.
7. Jay T. Maryniak: Fitness Beats Addiction
If you want to hear a comeback story, then look no further than Jay Maryniak. Beginning at just 9 years old, Jay started smoking. At 11, he started drinking. And in middle school, he turned to hard drugs. At 19, he went to rehab and left shortly after. He turned to fitness to beat his addiction, starting with kickboxing and weight lifting, before turning to Crossfit. At 27, Jay was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes after losing 15 pounds and not sleeping. A month after being diagnosed, Jay was back in the gym with an insulin device. And now at 31, he's still participating in his 12-step program while leading others on their own fitness journey.
8. Misty Copeland: Your Body Can
The first African American to become principal dancer in the American Ballet, Misty Copeland has not only been breaking racial boundaries, but fitness boundaries as well. While growing up in the ballet scene, Copeland never felt like she fit the "dancer body" stereotype, and she struggled with body image issues. Even something as simple as finding a leotard to fit a larger butt was difficult. Copeland has been at the forefront of the movement to prove that any body is a dancer's body — that not all dancers are slim, and that a muscular build is perfectly acceptable.
9. Kaisa Kerane: More Than a Body
"We are so much more than our bodies. However incredible they may be, they are not the definition or the limit to who we are as human beings," Kaisa Kerane says. Her motto is: I am more than my body. Kaisa has a master's degree in exercise science, sports performance, and injury prevention. She has been featured in many publications and also partnered with former first lady Michelle Obama for her "Let's Move!" campaign. But Kaisa bases her training and lifestyle on developing on a good relationship with your body. If you love and take care of your body, then it will be able to achieve incredible things. Kaisa recognizes that not everyone is fortunate enough to have a body that's capable of so much, so those who are should respect and embrace that fact Her training theory is all about movement. Kaisa motivates people to #justmove in whatever way they want.
10. Noah Galloway: No Excuses
A sergeant in the United States Army, Noah Galloway was in an IED attack in December 2005. He lost his left arm and left leg, becoming a double amputee. Upon returning home and entering recovery, Galloway became withdrawn, out of shape, and depressed. He had been active and competitive, but after his injury, Galloway became sedentary, spending his time drinking, smoking and sleeping. But one day, Galloway got back into shape and made health and fitness his lifestyle again. Now, he leads a life of No Excuses. He's a personal trainer and a motivational speaker. Galloway also founded the charity No Excuses Charitable Fund.