Finding her Place

Reyes Bernárdez during one of her Zumba sessions at Gimnasio Cuesta Sport / HANNAH CHO

At Gimnasio Cuesta Sport, Reyes Bernárdez is not only a top fitness trainer, but also a role model, confidante and friend to all members of the gym. She is dedicated to empowering women in her community one push-up at a time.

“Let’s go! One more song! Push! You can do it!” echoes throughout the four floors of Gimnasio Cuesta Sport, one of Seville’s most popular and happening gyms, located in the heart of the city. “Cuesta,” as the locals endearingly call it, is a vibrant, energetic place filled with people from all over the world and characters of all shapes and sizes.

In the midst of Cuesta’s diverse clientele, Reyes Bernárdez stands out, easily spotted because of her bleached blonde hair, petite figure, large brown eyes and booming voice. Her presence is joyful yet powerful and, at times, intimidating. Reyes, 37, has been working at Cuesta for three years and as a trainer for 19. Constantly busy, she runs around between classes while maintaining a huge smile on her face.

When asked about her hectic schedule, she laughs and says, “Whoa! From Monday to Friday, I work and only work. I normally start my day at eight in the morning, followed by three classes, a short rest period, lunch and a nap. At night, I work from six to ten. I’m working all day long teaching five or six classes everyday.” However, she is not as invincible as she seems. “This job is not only mental but physical as well. My body needs to rest. I can’t work for six hours straight in the morning or at night, so I divide it in halves – three hours in the morning, three hours at night.”

Reyes’ love for sports and fitness began when she was 16. “I joined the local gym and started working out because my parents decided to separate and I didn’t want to spend time at home. In the morning, I studied, and in the afternoon, I worked out, so that I wouldn’t have to be in the house.” She recounts the endless hours she spent exercising, “An hour would pass, and another, and another, until I eventually realized that I enjoyed it a lot. My teacher even asked me if I wanted to focus on fitness as a career path and said I would be great at teaching. From then on, I decided to study and pursue fitness. I began at level one, and eventually became certified in aerobics, Pilates, weightlifting, spinning, everything.”

However, being a woman in a male-dominated industry comes with many challenges. “It’s difficult to become a professional trainer in a gym,” Reyes remarks. “Economically, things are not going well in Spain. Every day, it gets harder, and the salaries become lower. It’s difficult to advance, particularly for a woman,” she adds. Furthermore, implicit gender discrimination exists within the gym, negatively affecting Reyes and other female trainers. “Normally, people look for strong men to train them, even though I can train someone just as well as a male trainer can. I may not seem to be strong, but I can make that person strong.”

Reyes admits that, at first, it was hard to enter the gym as a new female trainer. “When you arrive someplace new, men look at you as if to say, ‘What can you do?’ However, once they get to know you and realize that you know what you’re doing, they work with you more. This always happens until you find your place. For a man, it’s easier.”

For most women at Cuesta, “finding their place” usually means confining themselves to specific areas of the gym, implicitly directed towards females. “The weightlifting room is a difficult place for women. Aerobics or Zumba classes seem more ‘appropriate’ for women,” Reyes explains. Unfortunately, these gender norms discourage women from joining Cuesta. “Many avoid the gym because it makes them feel ashamed or embarrassed because they feel insecure,” she expresses in disappointment. Nonetheless, Reyes always encourages women to come. “At the gym, everyone is welcome, not just those who are strong or good-looking. The gym is a place to improve your mental and physical health, to maintain a balance.”

This positive attitude and commitment to empowering women are conveyed in Reyes’ fitness classes. “My sense of self-confidence allows me to work in areas of the gym generally taboo for women. I’m the only female trainer who teaches classes with more men in them, such as spinning or weightlifting,” she adds, laughing.

Reyes is aware of the “yoga mom” stereotype – the idea that tranquil, quiet classes are a better fit for women. Yet, she needs more than a calm yoga class. “I’m very high-strung and I have a lot of energy, so a yoga or Pilates class does not tire me enough, physically or mentally. I need explosiveness, something with energy that will release adrenaline.” However, she admits that her job has its ups and downs. “Sometimes you feel very motivated; other times, not so much. Sometimes you’re sick, sometimes you have your period, sometimes you’re in a fight with your boyfriend and you have no desire to go to the gym. But, every time I’m having a bad day and don’t want to go to work, I end up going, and afterwards, I feel so happy. You forget everything else and focus only on the positive.”

Although it can be difficult at times, Reyes always tries to be on the same page as her trainees. “Above all else, I want everyone in the class to feel good. When I’m in the fitness room, I can tell when someone wants to vent to me. When someone is having problems, I can see it in their faces. I myself often open up about my own life – we’re human.” She remembers a young, Italian woman with whom she made a special connection last year. “She was studying in Seville through the Erasmus program. When she first came to the gym, she was overweight. She kept attending my Zumba classes, and every time I saw her she was thinner. I talked with her a lot; she was very likeable; we shared many interests. Around Christmastime, she brought me a gift with a note describing how she was finally happy again, largely because I had believed in her. Now she’s back home in Italy, but she’ll still message me once in a while to let me know that she’s thinking of me and still going to Zumba class!”

At the end of the day, empowering others is what gives Reyes the stamina to keep pushing onward, figuratively and literally. “The gym is a place to talk about a little bit of everything, to make friends. I feel very good here.”