Born and raised in Miami, Francheska Martinez found herself working an unsatisfying desk job at a law office after graduating from college. So she decided to take a deeper look at her interests, hoping one might lead her to her dream career.
She began to focus more on fitness, taking it from a casual interest to a career path. Now, six years later, Martinez is a personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine and has created a major platform of her own in the fitness space—she has over 290,000 Instagram followers. She draws on her Cuban-Colombian culture to create an inclusive environment to help clients from all backgrounds foster their own love of movement. As a pain-free-performance specialist, Martinez is also focused on helping her clients maximize their mobility safely while learning to enjoy the process.
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Her motto: Fitness should be fun. From walking her dog, Yoshi, to Rollerblading, Martinez diversifies her own fitness programs and encourages her clients to do the same. That way the workouts become something they want to do—which can turn them into habits that stick.
While Martinez has etched out a solid space for herself in this realm now, the path to becoming a Latina in the fitness world wasn’t easy. Martinez had to deal with numerous challenges, including her family’s lack of understanding about her career, the pressure to be successful, and the tensions of being a woman in a male-dominated industry.
“I think for me, realizing that I could always pave my own way was necessary,” Martinez tells SELF. “There’s the voice of this inner child telling me that you can always be successful as long as you’re passionate.” And that, she says, helps give her the strength to continue when things get tough or she’s feeling discouraged.
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To wrap up Hispanic Heritage Month, SELF sat down with Martinez to talk about how she’s working through these obstacles and pursuing her goal of making fitness more accessible for people in her community.
SELF: Did you always know you wanted to enter the fitness space, or was there something else you aspired to do?
Francheska Martinez: I started out wanting to be more of a scientist. I always leaned toward the sciences, and I kind of bounded around with what I wanted to do, but for the longest time I wanted to be a paleontologist and then an archeologist. And then as I got older, I wanted to be a medical examiner. Once I started really visualizing what that would look like, I figured it might be better to explore my interests aside from dead bodies and excavating. Because I’m scared of bugs too, so that wasn’t really feasible when I thought about it.
At what point did you start thinking about fitness as something you might do?
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So I got interested in exercise science classes in school just casually because I wanted to learn more and add more tools to my toolbox so I could take care of my health, but I never thought of it as a feasible career. I didn’t consider it until after I graduated from college and I worked at a law firm for a little bit. I had an office job for about a year, and then I had to do some soul-searching because I was super unhappy, and I had to figure out what resonated best with me. A year after college was when I decided to pursue fitness professionally.
What does it mean to you to be a Latina in the fitness space?
For me, it’s really being representative of having positive lifestyle habits, for everyone that’s Latino and even beyond the Latino community too. Everybody who comes from different backgrounds needs to learn how to incorporate more wellness and movement in their lives. For me, it’s also about having fun when it comes to movement and fitness. I feel like a lot of what I enjoy about Latino culture is that every time we have gatherings and parties—even if it’s not supposed to be a party—it just automatically becomes fun. There’s somebody playing music and people dancing. For me, it’s about having that element of joy and community within the movement and program.
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Can you talk more about creating culturally competent fitness, and how you address the different needs of Latino communities as an Afro-Latina?
For me, it’s about diving into people’s whys—why they want to become more fit and add more movement into their lifestyle. And I think that teaching people to find something they enjoy is important. I feel like a lot of times with American culture, people do things for performance. Especially internationally, Americans are known for performance, performance, performance. When in reality it should really be about lifestyle, in my opinion, and including fitness into your lifestyle. It should be something you genuinely enjoy.
I feel like from a cultural aspect, we have foods in our culture we actually enjoy. We have music that we enjoy. So I think one beautiful thing about our culture is that it adds this element, this flavor of life. I think when it comes to fitness, I try to get my clients to realize that everyone’s going to have a different journey and different things that resonate with them. We look at it from a personal lens and think about what’s going to make them most fulfilled and what’s going to resonate with their language, background, and things I’ve experienced before. So I think looking at fitness through a lens of enjoyment and personal fulfillment is a great way to translate it to people in my community.
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Were your family and members of your community supportive of the path you’ve taken, or was there resistance to it at first?
I think it was a lack of understanding, because they were supportive that I was getting into the health space, but I don’t think they realized what industry I was going into. They assumed that I would be a gym worker. That’s one thing my grandmother told me. Especially as somebody who immigrated from Cuba in the ’60s, she always had high expectations for us, so I think for her it seemed like I was reaching low, but she didn’t realize I was seeking fulfillment and seeking to make an impact in the world. I think eventually when she saw me pursuing my own path, she was supportive of it. She’s also somebody that I try to reach out to as well, to motivate her to do the things she enjoys, like going for walks or mowing the lawn or doing the leg press at the gym.
Speaking of incorporating fun elements into fitness, I’ve seen you post about your dog. How do you incorporate that into your workout?
It’s funny because Yoshi actually hates to run with a passion. She’ll drag me home. But when I go to the park with her, I do take it upon myself to do some squats while she’s returning the ball and I do a lot of lateral shuffles. And we just go on active-recovery walks on the weekends. Since I’m in Texas, it’s super hot right now, so we only go for about 30 minutes and that’s enough for the both of us.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome entering the fitness industry?
For me, a lot of obstacles have been experiencing the world as a young woman in the industry. I’ve dealt with scenarios where it was hard for me to earn the respect of my peers in the beginning of my career. Navigating a male-dominated space was difficult. When other people wouldn’t respect the professional boundaries and try to make things more personal, that’s been a challenge. I think being a woman and dealing with sexual harassment is one of the hardest things for sure.
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Right now, it’s being a hybrid coach and balancing my online workshops with my in-person clients, and traveling to workshops and constantly making sure I’m creating more stuff for the online industry.
You seem to have a comprehensive approach to fitness, with online products, traveling workshops, etc. How do you find the inspiration for different workouts and approach your work?
A lot of it for me has been trying to reach as many people as I can, and from the perspective of getting people genuinely interested in finding joy in movement. For the online platform, sometimes I realize I might be excluding certain types of people or catering to a certain demographic, so I try to have all these different programs, including free online programs, so anybody can do them. It’s also just making sure I’m able to coach people in person too because it’s a different experience.
On another level, it’s also about trying to give back to my community and people who support me. For me, it’s about filling everybody’s cup so I can be fulfilled professionally, and I want to make sure I’m not leaving anybody out along the way. I want to be as inclusive as possible as a trainer, and I want to make sure we approach fitness as something that’s for everybody and should be accessible to everybody, not just people who can afford it.
How has the pandemic affected your fitness routine?
It’s made me hunker down more. I’ve been isolated in my home gym and focusing on my own program, and I feel better and stronger than ever. I’m also less results focused, and I’m doing more of what’s going to make me happy. Either way I’m going to weight-lift two times a week because it’s part of my regime. But the other three days, I’m training, and it’s pretty much just based on my mood at this point. Sometimes I’ll go doggy paddling and work on treading water; some days I ride my bike. I’ve been getting into Rollerblading again, so it’s really just up for grabs.
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What would people be surprised to learn about you?
That I’m actually not that serious about fitness in person. It’s just part of my life. And I don’t restrict myself with food as much as people would imagine. I enjoy desserts, I like eating burgers—you know, I’m a normal person. I have a dairy intolerance, but you know, I still eat pizza with dairy-free cheese.
What about Latino food?
Oh, my God, I’m the biggest empanada fiend ever. I’m always on the hunt for a good empanada, and I don’t discriminate. Give me fried, give me baked. Empanadas to me are my love language…I learned how to air-fry tostones, and you could not tell the difference.
Do you have any advice for people starting out on their fitness journey who might feel overwhelmed?
Start adding more squats into your life, walking more, doing basic movements. I think the biggest piece is for people to just approach it as being a lifelong learner and knowing that you’re going to start slow. But I think that thinking of it from a perspective of trying to learn about something new is a great way to get started. So that way you feel motivated to continue learning new things instead of trying to make yourself feel like you’re obligated to commit to these fitness times, or you’re obligated to move three, four times a week. I think looking at it from a perspective of like, we’re all humans and we’re all designed to move, is a really inspiring and motivating way to start moving more and looking at it.
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