Courtney Black has charmed fitness fans with a hint of glam and a can-do attitude, but how did she become the nation’s favourite Pocket PT and what has she learnt along the way?
By Florence Reeves-White
Trigger warning: this content discusses eating disorders. Please do not read on if this might be emotionally triggering for you.
Courtney Black is more than just a one-HIIT wonder, with thousands of subscribers to her real-time workouts on the Courtney Black App and more than 800K fitness fans following to boot. Her high-intensity workouts are aimed at building strength, fitness and endurance through commitment and perseverance – in the resonant words of Black herself, ‘what doesn’t challenge you doesn’t change you!’.
As we settle in for a good natter, Black is all beaming smiles and giggles. It seems that the effervescent, infectious energy that she brings to her workouts is reflective of her vibrant personality – and her honest and candid answers to each question are testament to that authenticity…
How did you go from regular PT to training hundreds of thousands?
Courtney Black: ‘I’ve been a personal trainer since I was 20. I was a city accountant beforehand and I essentially worked in the [fitness] studio at every point I could, building up a client base in the evenings and on weekends and bank holidays. Once I had enough clients, I quit my full-time job and did 13-hour days of personal training!
‘I started writing e-books and the first one went crazy, so I ended up doing around five. I was taking pictures on a self-timer or with Georgia (my best friend and manager) helping me. Then, I used the money to invest in my app, which launched on March 11, 2020, a week before the whole of the UK went into a government-endorsed lockdown– you literally couldn’t make that timing up!
‘I didn’t have any home workouts on the app at the time– in truth, I’d never done a home workout before – so I had to adapt. I did the workouts myself and made them into Instagram Lives, then I thought it was high time I created a real-time workout section on the app…now, here I am talking to you!’
How did you set yourself apart from the rest?
Courtney Black: ‘I’ve always trained very intensely. I just enjoy the feeling and I never want to be slugging around a room, using lightweights and not feeling it. I was watching other workout tutorials and it was annoying me how little they were actually doing for people, effort- and progress-wise. So, I thought, “I need to up the game here!” and I hope I did. I’m of the mentality that block sets, pyramid sets and super sets are the way forward – I’ve always said what doesn’t challenge you doesn’t change you, so I had to somehow fit that big thinking mindset into a small space with lower weights.’
How have you dealt with all eyes on you?
‘I’ve had followers since I was young; even at 18, I had 100,000 followers. It’s not as bad for me as it is for some people because it’s typically people who are doing the workouts that approach me and most of what they’re saying is “you’ve really helped me” or “you’ve transformed the life of someone I know”. How could I dislike or resent that?’
Did you think you’d turn your fitness hobby into a career?
Courtney Black: ‘No, I really didn’t. When I paid for my personal training qualification, it was a hobby. I had an eating disorder and so was solely interested in my health and my appearance – I just did it so I knew what I was doing with food and in the gym.
‘I didn’t really like the idea of being a PT because I always wanted to totter about an office in heels somewhere in London. I’ve always been a glam girl at heart and never really thought I’d enjoy working in gym wear. I’ve now worked out that being a PT doesn’t have to be a far cry from being glam – I guess you’ve got to make it your own. Do what makes you feel good; if there’s a mould that you’re not fitting, redefine it!’
How has exercise changed your life?
Courtney Black: ‘I grew up in a time where toxic body culture was rife – I used to run on the treadmill, watching catwalks while I did it. There was no censorship on adverts, everyone was promoting skinny teas, everything told me I should be thin and it was all part of what I now recognise as a disturbing and misogynistic attitude towards the female body.
‘Even when I did my PT course, I wasn’t doing it to gain muscle, I was probably doing it to lose weight if anything. When I went on the course, I found out that there’s so much more to nutrition than calories – there are macros and vitamins and minerals that are all so important to general health.
‘I now know that it’s about longevity and having health as a priority. When it comes to exercise, you shouldn’t be doing something you don’t enjoy. Do what motivates you or you’ll never keep it up.’
What advice would you give to someone who is going through what you went through with body dysmorphia and calorie counting?
Courtney Black: ‘Listen to the professionals. Lots of people don’t believe they have a problem, even when they’re told. They’re reading things online and think fitness means a one-size-fits-all plan, but it doesn’t. And let me tell you, you can eat more food than you think!
‘I know it’s tough to break the habit of a lifetime, but you need to get out of it slowly and steadily, taking everything at your own pace. Food is energy, and we need enough energy to fuel us to be who we really are. Losing our sex drive or being permanently tired or grumpy is hardly a way to live this one shot we get at life.’
What would you tell your younger self?
Courtney Black: ‘I wouldn’t give myself any advice. Every mistake I’ve made has made me stronger and I wouldn’t swap that for anything. I wouldn’t have learnt what I’ve learnt today if I hadn’t stepped a foot wrong. It’s natural to make mistakes, but it’s all about trying not to make them twice.’
You’re so cheery during workouts. Are you like that off the camera?
Courtney Black: ‘The energy just comes to me within five or 10 minutes of moving my body. Off camera, though, there have been points where I’ve felt overwhelmed – I’ve felt like a robot and been drowned in work –but I can’t stress enough the value of therapy. It’s all a self-doubt thing, and professionals really can help you work through that. Also, hiring other trainers to help me with the workouts on my app has given me far more freedom and taken the pressure off a bit. They really are amazing!’
Do you think everyone should engage with activity on some level?
‘Yes, 100 per cent. Our health is our best asset, and I really don’t get why you wouldn’t want to extend your life. Anyone who’s had a period in their life where they’ve exercised knows that it’s good for the joints, bones and heart. People see the gym as an all-or-nothing thing, but the average person doesn’t need to be training every day – even 20-minute workouts three times a week will make you fitter.
‘Getting fit doesn’t happen overnight and neither does losing weight – it’s about making long-term and sustainable changes.’
Do you have any tips for those in a fitness rut?
Courtney Black: ‘Plan. Fit it around your schedule, as there’s really no best time to train. People try to follow other people’s schedules and that doesn’t work. Put your favourite music on and just blare it out. If you’re at work, put music on 20 minutes before you leave work and get into the zone beforehand. Do what you enjoy.
‘A lot of people find my boxing days on the app hard but I always say, “if you don’t like it, do one of the other ones”. It’s not about following plans exactly, it’s about doing whatever you can.’
You must get lots of messages. What inspiring things have you read?
‘A woman told me her son was in hospital with breathing problems until he did my workouts. Another kid got bullied in school for being overweight and used my app to take control of his body. One lady has one arm but still does press-ups and burpees. Various women with post-natal depression have said my workouts have helped them to clear their heads. Men who were underweight have now gained confidence.
‘For me, after suffering with an eating disorder, there’s nothing more rewarding than knowing that I’ve helped them in some tiny way. If my workouts can make someone’s life a little brighter, I feel like I’ve done a good job.’
Courtney Black: my typical workout week
MONDAY: HIIT and legs workout (one hour)
TUESDAY: Boxing and upper-body workout (one hour)
WEDNESDAY: Low-impact workout (one hour)
THURSDAY: Rest day
FRIDAY: Legs and abs workout (one hour)
SATURDAY: HIIT and full-body workout (one hour)
SUNDAY: Rest day