Black Baddies In Fitness: Meet Twyla Denise
I was really excited to do this interview. My first cousin Twyla has always been a distant role model to me, for more reasons than one. I’ve mentioned before that I have family in Miami, but I forgot to mention how fit and fine and my relatives are.
I was able to reconnect with my cousin last year on my trip, and we’ve been in touch a lot lately. We all have role models, but how awesome is it to actually know and have regular check-ins with your role models. I am indeed blessed. I’ve been inspired watching her do her thing as a mother, entrepreneur, and recent MBA grad, all while gracefully blessing us with a firm physique, and a booty to die for!
This month, I joined her “Everything Butt” workout, because I wanted to support, and also because these legs and butts could use some attention. I’ve been jumping rope, squatting, deadlifting, and although Twyla says “It takes more than 30 days to build a butt,” I’m seeing a little less jiggle in the wiggle, and a little more lift in my gift.
We sat down last week via Skype to have a chat about her take on fitness, personal goals, and future business endeavors. We talked about everything fitness, from the pressure on moms to snapback, the struggles black women face trying to be active, and even the sexual benefits of being regularly active (we grown out here).
We managed to have a fruitful and motivational in-depth interview that I’m so excited to share with you, especially those who are on or looking to start fitness journeys.
Okay yeah, so tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are and what you do.
My name is Twyla Russell. I’m a Miami native. I currently hold my bachelor’s degree in Biology/Pre-med from Florida State University, as well as an MBA in Marketing from Nova. I am the mother of one, whom I love to spend my time with.
I’m a huge risk taker. I’m not afraid of much and I just love living life. I believe in the power to create the life that we want to live, and my motto for this year is “whatever life you see for yourself, that seems to be the most impossible, create that one.”
In creating that life, what is something that seems impossible for yourself?
Becoming a fitness ambassador. Fitness was just something to do to kind of keep me in shape. But the more I grow into it, and people ask about my journey, I’ve kind of been thrust into this world of fitness that I didn’t think of.
I eventually would love to be on platforms where I can go to conferences and speak to women –especially black women- about the importance of a fitness lifestyle and taking care of ourselves. I would love to do that on a travelling basis where I’m not paying for it, but somebody pays me to come do it.
Have you always been into fitness? How did you get into it?
Okay, so no I was not. I wasn’t very athletic growing up. In high school, I tried out for cheerleading and the dance squad. Neither one of those went very well (laughs).
I didn’t make it and I actually almost fainted at try-outs, and that was hella embarrassing. So yeah, growing up I wasn’t very athletic.
It wasn’t until I had my daughter. A year prior to me having my daughter, my closest friend had my oldest god son. She shared with me something her dad told her while she was pregnant, which was: when you have this baby, make sure you go back to who you were before physically. His angle was ‘you know, you have a husband, men are visual.’
When I heard that, I said “aha, that makes sense.” As mothers, we have kids and tend to pour so much into them, that sometimes we forget about ourselves. If we’re not okay, our family can’t be okay. So I took that, and spun it around, and said ‘instead of doing this for a man, I want to do this for me.’
When my baby was about a year and some months old, I met my current partner, who’s a personal trainer. Once I got with him, it was over from there.
What do you think about the pressure on mothers to snap back?
I do believe the pressure is there and I want mothers to just enjoy the journey. You look online and you see people like Massy Arias and Teyanna Taylor, who are super bomb, posting post-baby photos –they’re doing it, I think, to encourage and empower, but that visual of seeing them up there can put pressure on women.
Enjoy, first of all, having the baby, spending time with your baby, and embracing your new body. Women literally give life to a person! We bring life into this world. We birth another human being. That to me is amazing. If mothers take on that mindset, I think we would enjoy more of the journey and not feel like “omg I have to get my body back right because Teyanna Taylor looks like she never had a baby 9 days after giving birth.”
When you’re ready, get back out there, put yourself on this journey, and get to doing what you need to do to see the body you want to see.
How does fitness fit in with all that you’re juggling? You’re juggling motherhood, relationship, your businesses.
I’m a strong believer that we make time for what and who is important to us. My training is just as important to me as my business, my podcast, and any other endeavors I have going on, other than my family of course, they come first.
We have to take care of our bodies in order to be accomplished and do well at being a parent or at our business. For me, I don’t work a traditional 9-5. I’m solely focused on entrepreneurship. I left my job August 11, 2017. I remember the day, the time, the moment I walked out and everything. And ever since then I’m able to adjust my schedule as I need to. I’m very flexible.
Working out is a part of my to-do list, and it’s a part of my scheduling. I always, always, always, no matter what the situation is, make time for some sort of workout, and if I can’t get to the gym for whatever reason, I’ll do something at home. I always make time for my fitness and wherever I can get it in is where I get it in.
So you work out every day?
About 4-6 times a week. Yeah I do.
What is your exercise regimen like? You’re doing cardio, strength training?
I typically try to heavily focus on strength training. When I was younger, someone used to call me “hot dog legs,” (laughing) because my legs had no muscle. So now I have a built my legs to have some shape. They have some curvature. I love lower body days.
How long was it before you were seeing results from your workouts?
A few months, maybe 3-4 months.
It’s a process, you know you see these girls on Instagram, one day, they have no butts, and then 2 weeks later, they’re like “chunky donkey,” that’s not how this works. This is a real process.
You have to be willing to allow the process to work. It takes time. Even now, I’m still not where I want to be, and I’ve been working out consistently for a couple of years now. I have a lot of years left to go before I even remotely get to where I want to be.
What inspired the Everything Butt challenge?
Genetically first of all, I have what people call a nice butt genetically. Like my whole family, we all have nice butts, but I realized I needed to target that body part a little bit more to get it to sit up.
So with a nice big butt, it also begins to drop, and I don’t want mine dropping (laughs). So I begin to add an additional work out to my regular workout that focused only on the butt and I noticed the difference. People are always commenting on my butt and asking what I do, so using the techniques and workouts that I learned and complete myself, I put together a 30-day workout that I did with my friends and family for free last November.
A lot of them really enjoyed it. Some of my friends and family was like you “you should sell this,” like make it a product. At first I was hesitant. But, I was like you know what let me just see what happens.
I put it on Instagram, and let everyone know “hey I’m trying to do a butt workout, it’ll be $15, and it’ll include X, Y & Z.” I decided, if one person said they’re interested, I’ll go forth. Well you know what? I got quite a bit of people who said they were interested.
As a black woman, can you point out barriers to why we’re not working out enough:
Obviously the first barrier would be hair. But I do want to dispel the myth that black women don’t work out because we don’t want to sweat out our hair. Let’s be honest, no woman does,
I am a sweater when I work out. I sweat a lot, and the first place I sweat is in my head. I’ve been natural for almost 7 years and because I sweat so much in my head, I would have to wash my hair so much after my workout. Black women are not supposed to wash our hair every day. That’s not what we do.
Last year September, I decided you know what, I’m just gonna cut it off. My hairstyles didn’t last and I didn’t want to put heat on my hair all of the time. I cut my hair off and I haven’t looked back since. If it’s a weekend, and I’m taking Saturday and Sunday off from the gym, I can get my hair done. But because my lifestyle is more important to me than my hair, I choose my lifestyle of fitness.
Skin is also a big issue for me. I am prone to acne, and sweating clogs pores, clogged pores causes acne, therefore my skin care regimen is super crazy. I go to the dermatologist and I also see my esthetician, who is like a gift from god. She keeps my skin great. So that’s something else I find to be a barrier, my skin.
As I’ve mentioned, genetically I have a big butt. I would notice that when I run, I feel it moving, and it feels like something is dragging me down. It just gets in the way sometimes! But you know what, it’s okay. I don’t want it to go anywhere, but it does sometimes just feel really heavy.
These are three main barriers for me when I work out. I am a black woman, these are my experiences, so I guess you can call them black woman barriers.
Do people ever tell you you’re overdoing it, or doing too much, call you a health nut?
Currently my goal is to build more muscle mass. In order to do that we have to burn fat to rebuild the muscle. I lost some weight because I’m burning more fat, and someone said to me “omg you’re looking anorexic” and I was taken aback, like “anorexic?”
Anorexic people are sick, no shade to them, I wish them well, however; it’s a medical disorder. You’re saying I look sick. That threw me a little bit, I’m not going to lie. But I also understand that people’s ideas of what a woman or a person should look like is completely different from mine.
It’s not my job to worry about other people’s opinion of me. It’s my job to focus on me, and do what I need to do.
We talked about barriers to exercise. What issues do see with nutrition in the black community?
As far as the black community, we focus everything so much around food.
Every time I meet with my family, we could be meeting for the smallest thing, and we always have to have food. I would try to suggest healthier foods and then they’re always like “uhn uhn Twyla, NO, I don’t want that!” (laughs). I think that we have to understand that we have some of the healthiest bodies naturally, but because we begin to introduce these foods into our bodies, we begin to see diseases like cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and things that wreak havoc on our community specifically.
I understand that there are factors that come into play when people choose their foods. Like for instance, in the inner city community, where I’ve worked before, there’s no place to get healthy lunch. If you’re in that community, without a car, places are charging $10/$15 per meal, and you have 3 kids to feed, plus yourself, you probably won’t go, or can’t afford it. So I get it, there are factors that play a role in that.
I still don’t think that should be a reason we don’t take care of our bodies because what we put in our bodies can definitely determine our life expectancy. We can shorten it, or give it longevity. I think in the black community, we have to become more responsible for what we what eat, and make conscious decisions to eat better foods.
What is your diet like? Do you eat not-so-good foods here and there?
Okay, so first thing I want to say is: I do not like the word “diet.” I know it can be used in different contexts, but when you hear the word “diet,” 2 things come to mind, “restrictive” and “short-term.” Eating is a part of my lifestyle, so I like use “lifestyle.”
The way I eat is called intermittent fasting.
I don’t eat for 16 hours and then I eat for 8. It’s called an eating window, where that’s the time frame you can eat. I only eat 8 hours out of the day, between 2 pm and 10 pm. It saves me time in the mornings!
Science shows that intermittent fasting helps us to burn more fat, mostly in the tummy area. I have seen a tremendous difference in my stomach since I started intermittent fasting. I love the results.
I also focus on 50% of my diet being protein, 30% being fat, and about 20% of it being carbs. People have the misconception that with intermittent fasting you can eat whatever you want but I don’t believe in that. There’s lots of science behind it. It gets very detailed.
I believe in treating myself sometimes. The only thing that is completely off limits is fast food. I don’t do McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, none of that. I don’t remember the last time I had it, and the smell of it repulses me.
What else do you have going on?
My partner and I are starting a workout regime for couples, and it’s going to be called “date night” We found fitness to be an easier journey when you do it with the person you spend most of your time with. It’s not only about the workout but it’s about building intimacy.
We build intimacy, we get a chance to do some teamwork. We get a chance to see each other sweat. Not only is it good for that moment, it’s good for later when you get home too! It increases sexual drive as well. Your body begins to change, he see your body changes, you see his body changes, and it encourages a healthy sexual lifestyle.
Working out with your partner has so many benefits, other than sex, it’s bonding time, it’s everything. So we want to offer that to couples.
Also, I have my podcast. It’s called Mind Your Business, and we’re currently on podomatic. It’s a podcast where a friend and I comically explore the black business and professional experience. We use real life situations to talk about black business and what we can do to be better. Unfortunately, our money only stays in our community for 6 hours, and we tend to not have great business acumen. So we bring on experts and different people who can give advice on how to handle different situations.
One other thing, I’m actually starting my own YouTube channel, which will be coming out very soon. It’s already up on YouTube, but I haven’t posted anything yet. The purpose of the YouTube channel is all things women, where we can come together and talk about everything from parenthood, friendships, relationships, partying, getting older, everything. I would also highlight a lot of my fitness life and journey on there as well.
I got a lot going on.
So to wrap up: Any motivation that you want to send out to readers?
Keep in mind that the hardest part of fitness is starting. To get started, you first have to change your mind. If it doesn’t start with a mindset, it’s not going to be long-term, it’s gonna be temporary. Make up in your mind that you want to do something different.
My partner loves to tell his clients “just trust the process.” It’s a process. It will not happen overnight. Don’t be fooled by what you see on social media. Some of those women have been working out all of their lives. Trust YOUR process, because everyone’s is different.
Set small goals and celebrate those small wins. Sometimes we’re so stuck on what we want to look like in the future, that we get so discouraged because we don’t look like that today. Celebrate that moment, even if it’s just a quick twerk (laughs).
Love yourself in the body that you’re in today. Realize “I have some work to do,” and then do it. Enjoy your body. Enjoy the journey. Admire the transformation, and show it off a lil bit. And remember if you stop, that only means, you have to start again. So once you get going, stick to it consistently. The body does not come sitting on your butt. Get up, get active, and do something.
GEt up, get active, and do something