Our instructor team has grown in the last year and for this month of June, we are featuring and shedding light on LGBTQ instructors and their experiences with fitness and what it means to them. This week, we spoke with Matt Cárdenas, the founder of Fuego Fitness, which also amplifies LatinX voices in the Fitness & Health industry. 

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Recess: How did you get into fitness?
Matt Cárdenas: As a participant in fitness, I’ve been a lifelong athlete. I played every sport from tennis to lacrosse before eventually choosing soccer, which I have never really stopped playing. My parents were both in the Army and were involved in Army athletics and my Mom eventually became (and still is) a Marathon Runner, so fitness has always been a huge part of my family. As an instructor, I started my journey by taking Indoor Cycling classes while working for a fitness apparel company to subsidize my life as an Actor. Eventually I left acting and decided to pursue fitness full time!

Recess: How has your fitness journey evolved over the years?
MC: My fitness journey began by giving in to brands and clothes I thought made me look cool. I focused on the fact that I was an instructor more than what I was actually teaching. Now, though, I have come to realize just how important fitness is, how big of a business it is and how impactful it can be to people; plus I’ve noticed the incredible need to see ALL people represented within the industry.

Recess: Last month was Mental Health Awareness month; have you found that fitness has helped you navigate through difficult times?
MC: At its core, fitness has been a stress reliever. My classes and the classes I like to take are no bullshit, intense workouts that force you to be present and forget about anything going on outside of the workout. When times get hard, I find myself turning to fitness as a sort of therapy to escape and realign myself with the world around me.

“I’ve noticed the incredible need to see ALL people represented within the industry.”

Recess: What struggles have you had to face as a member of the LGBTQ community in the fitness community and how have you overcome them?
The fitness industry, for the most part, focuses on hot, ripped, white guys, working for “#gainz” and looking aesthetically pleasing. As a small, gay, person of color, I could be WAY more versed in how to properly teach a class, but if I don’t have the “look”, ie: ripped and white, then I have to work 2, 3, 4 times as hard just to be taken seriously. I’m lucky that I have the confidence that I do, otherwise I would’ve given up a long time ago. Fighting for a seat at the “fitness table” has taken
me knowing that I’m a fantastic instructor with the knowledge and experience to back it up. I might not be shredded or guzzle protein powder like it’s my job, but I am a damn good athlete and no one can take that from me.

Recess: What is something you’d like allies to better grasp or ways/areas in which support could be amplified?
TRY NEW INSTRUCTORS. PERIOD. Take someone’s class you might have never initially taken. Give people a chance. What people don’t realize is how often qualified, fun and effective instructors are fired or forced to move studios because their classes aren’t pulling numbers. It’s a sad reality but business is business. Usually clients have their “person”, they’re the first to book a spot in their class and they don’t even know who else works for that same company. And it’s like, I get it, you have your favorite instructor, you know you like them and you know it’ll be a good class, but you never know if you like a new instructor unless you give them a chance and once you do, BOOM now all of a sudden you have more than one option for classes to take. Also support instructors of color, because duh.