By Jackie Salo The Miami Herald.
The fitness world always has had a fixation with physical appearance, but social media has propelled this into stratospheric levels of vanity.
Fitness gurus are posting countless photos of themselves online, with their accomplishments chronicled by selfies rather than definable health goals.
One South Florida trainer, however, is trying to buck this trend.
Idalis Velazquez, 30, wants her clients to focus on their health rather than their looks.
"For a lot of people, this is very superficial," Velazquez said. "I am about improving the performance. 'Let's get stronger, better and energized.'"
People are noticing. The Coconut Creek, Fla., trainer has been named one of five finalists in Women's Health magazine's "Next Fitness Star" competition.
"I honestly just want to get women fit and change that fitness world," Velazquez said. "Stop thinking about aesthetics and looks. It is about just so much more than that."
Velazquez's passion for personal training started with her own health struggles.
A former track and field athlete, Velazquez counted numerous national championships in the junior division level in her native Puerto Rico.
At Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, she competed in track and field at the NCAA Division 1 level before a neck injury sidelined her.
With her track aspirations quashed, she began to work with a few clients as a personal trainer.
"I was teaching other people but I wasn't getting healthy myself," Velazquez said. "I started to get weak."
Her health issues multiplied when during her second pregnancy in 2011, she suffered from a brain hemorrhage.
"My health really went downhill," Velazquez said. "After a year on and off, after countless ER trips and neurologists, I got really frustrated because I was used to being so active and strong."
She felt like a shell of her younger self and realized she had to take back control of her body.
"I started to exercise but in a smarter way," she said. "I would play around with exercises that would not hurt me, but would strengthen my body and challenge all areas."
As her health improved, her mindset followed.
"During this time, I found this passion to help other moms out there because sometimes we really lose ourselves during pregnancy," Velazquez said.
Today, Velazquez advises women to "train smart rather than hard."
"Choose the right exercises _ ones that are going to improve your mobility, your stability and that help you get stronger while working multiple muscle groups," she said. "If you train smart, the body will respond. You will see the changes."
She reiterates this message to a group of women she trains three times a week in Coral Springs. With her dark hair pulled back, Velazquez stands in front of the class, animated, regardless of how arduous the workout.
Many of the women had seldom exercised before they joined her "boot camp" class, but together they have progressed and built a bond around their success.
Velazquez does not promote the class on her website since she feels the group has a unique camaraderie.
"They have these amazing personal histories. Seeing them happy and motivated here is amazing," Velazquez said. "It is a positive thing and they feel good when they leave here."
Since she knows the road to healthy living continues outside of class, Velazquez makes herself available to all of her clients.
They text her for workout tips and call her to put things in perspective when they get down on themselves for indulging in sweets.
One of her regulars, Sara Labruzzo, spoke of how Velazquez has motivated her over the past year.
"She gets to know you on a personal level," Labruzzo said. "She'll pull you aside and help you. She has given me so much support. Physically and mentally, I feel better."
Velazquez ran alongside Labruzzo and her friend, Jennifer Osburn, when they competed in Labruzzo's first 5K, offering her support the entire run.
"She is not intimidating like other trainers and really realistic about workout goals," Osburn said. "She wants you to believe in yourself."
Velazquez's class supports her in return.
"I was teaching this class (when I found out I was a finalist)," Velazquez said. "I started screaming and everyone was like 'Are you OK?' I was so excited and we were all hugging."
The competition has landed Velazquez on the flip cover of the current Women's Health magazine. If she wins the competition, she would receive a DVD contract.
"It feels really good to have made it this far," Velazquez said. "I want to do my best to represent all of the moms that have struggled and normal real women who want to feel their best."