Jennifer Lau Is Trying to Make the Fitness Industry More Diverse

The fitness trainer and gym owner on how she made it happen

(Photo: Tobias Wong)
(Photo: Tobias Wong)

Name: Jennifer Lau

Job title: Co-Founder, Fit Squad; holistic nutritionist; Nike Master Trainer Canada; co-founder, The Real Toronto

Age: 39

From: Toronto

Currently lives in: Toronto

Education: Diploma in fashion design, George Brown College

First job out of school: Assistant designer for Sport Chek

When Jennifer Lau first started in the fitness industry almost 12 years ago, there weren’t a lot of women who looked like her. As a personal trainer, she was often the only Asian woman in the room. Being female in a male-dominated environment also brought its own set of challenges. When she took co-ownership of Fit Squad, a personal training studio in Toronto, for a long time she hid behind the former owner’s image and avoided telling people that she was in charge. “I’m female, I’m Chinese, I look nothing like them,” she says about her trepidation those first 18 months. Eventually, she decided to step forward and own it. “I changed the imagery, the website and the branding. My [current Instagram] profile photo is the image I set it to. It was such a pivotal point in my career. By doing that, I was really able to take ownership of the company.”

These days, you’ll find Lau front and centre, whether she’s training a client, teaching a class or running the business with Fit Squad co-owners Aldo Frixione and Gabriel Lee. Lau is also a Nike Master Trainer. “I’m one of 20 in North America, one of two in Canada and the only female,” she says. She also just celebrated the opening of a new studio space for Fit Squad. Despite all her achievements, Lau still encounters people who question her abilities. “Whenever I step into a gym that I’m not familiar with, people make presumptions about how strong I am or how much I know. You always have to prove yourself. The quickest way to prove myself is to lift something really heavy.”

Based on her own experiences in the fitness industry, Lau decided to shine a spotlight on other women of colour by creating The Real Toronto, a community of women in the health and fitness industries that connects online and IRL, with fellow personal trainer Jela Tubei. After realizing that they weren’t afforded the same opportunities or given the same exposure, they created a platform where they could network and meet other like-minded women. “We need to build community and have a place to do that outside of social media. We call it The Real Toronto because this is what Toronto is.”

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