Maria Ludeke and her husband Nightrain Epton launched their virtual gym, Sweat Practice, last October. They offer several group fitness classes, from yoga and meditation to cardio and strength, as well as virtual personal training. Something that sets Sweat Practice apart, beyond the all virtual format, is a committment to making sure anyone has access to classes. Ludeke and Epton offer free memberships to Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color, regardless of financial status, as well as anyone who is in a situation where they are not able to afford the added expense of gym membership.
I spoke with Ludeke about Sweat Practice and their unique approach to fitness.
Smile Politely: Tell me a little about yourself, and your experience as a fitness instructor.
Maria Ludeke: I’m a certified personal trainer, and I’ve been training for about three years now, but I’ve been a lover of working out my whole life. I’ve always been an athlete. It wasn’t until I started doing personal training that I really realized how much I love working with people. I started Sweat Practice because the community of working out with other people is super important to me, and it kind of feels like being on a team again. That’s one of the reasons I named it Sweat Practice. You know, you go to practice with your teammates, and it creates a strong sense of wellness and community. I’ve always enjoyed cheering for people as well. I enjoy the motivational aspect of it. I tell people that take our virtual classes, “You don’t even have to turn your camera on. You could just lay down for the entire class and I’ll still cheer for you.” I really enjoy helping people feel better. Movement makes you feel better: mentally, physically, emotionally. It’s not about looking a certain way, it’s about getting stronger in all ways.
SP: How did the idea of Sweat Practice come about?
Ludeke: I think the pandemic kind of pushed me to it. I never thought that I could teach or train people virtually, but I actually had someone reach out to me on Instagram in March last year saying, “Do you do virtual personal training?” And I didn’t respond to the message for a little bit, because I was like “Do I? Can I do that? I’m not sure.” But she was willing to work with me, which gave me confidence that it was possible. I’ve worked with this particular client an entire year now. I’ve never met her in person, and I feel like I know her really well. It definitely opened up my eyes to realizing that virtual personal training is possible. It gives people the ability to not have to leave their house. You don’t have to cancel because of weather, and it works better scheduling wise. If you have a long work day, you don’t have to run all the way out to the gym. I think a lot of people enjoy that they can, especially as they work from home, stop for their lunch break and just change into their clothes real quick and do it in their living room or the bedroom and then get right back to their meeting. One of my best friends takes the virtual classes, and right at the end of class she slips on a sweater and her glasses and puts her hair a little different and she’s all ready for work again. It has been super fun to realize that I can connect with more people, like friends from high school and college, and my mom and sister have started taking classes. That’s been a really special part of it.
SP: Is your intention to keep it virtual? Or are in person classes something you would consider in the future?
Ludeke: That’s a good question. I will definitely maintain it virtually for a while. But I certainly miss working with people in person, especially a group fitness class. You can crank the music up, and energy is just vibrant…I definitely daydream about having an in person option again. For now, I do think there are a lot of pros with virtual fitness, and I do think it’s something that’s here to stay now. I’m hoping that if anything, Sweat Practice can always compliment in person gym memberships. When things return normal, I completely understand wanting to be in a space, seeing other people, and high fiving each other. But I know there are also days where you don’t want to leave the house, or you want to roll out of bed on Saturday morning and just do yoga in your living room rather than getting a car and going somewhere.
One of the people that takes my virtual classes said, “I can drink Dr. Pepper, and no one will judge me.” It’s just little things like that. My mom has mentioned that she feels more comfortable doing it from home because she feels like she can’t do all the moves all the time. So if she wants to take a break, nobody’s gonna be like, “Oh, you’re not doing it.” I hope it makes people feel more safe.
SP: On your website you talk about how we often connect exercise to wanting to look a certain way, and you want to break away from that. There are just so many obstacles that keep people from a regular exercise routine and it’s difficult to get motivated and stay motivated. How do you break through some of that?
Ludeke: Well, I try to start each class by just telling people “Hey, way to show up. Good job.” Showing up like that’s the important part. It’s never about how intensely you need to push yourself. So much of succeeding with exercise is about your consistency and about showing up for yourself and deciding to do something. It doesn’t have to be really intense, but I think there’s so many mental and emotional benefits to working out, and we should always try to focus on the fact that working out can help you feel better. It can help you be a better person because you’ve worked out to lower your stress. I think when we get caught up on “I need to exercise to lose weight” that’s kind of a negative mindset that’s not as sustainable. And so trying to keep it positive and really just showing up is a huge accomplishment. I really do think our culture has made a mistake connecting exercise to weight loss, but the benefits are far more than that; just feeling stronger emotionally, mentally, and physically.
I think it is important to model for our family and friends to have a healthy, consistent workout habit. It definitely rubs off on other people around you. A lot of my clients that I’ve worked with for a while now, once they really get into a good routine, their husband or partner or whatnot will be like, “maybe I should start working out, too.” It definitely is not about looking any certain way. It’s about feeling good.
SP: What is Fitness for All, and how did you decide to establish that policy?
Ludeke: One of the yoga instructors that teaches for Sweat Practice, she brought the idea to me, and I was so happy with it. She’s a phenomenal yoga instructor, but she’s also just a great person and is really aware of what’s happening in the world. I really appreciated that she was like, “Hey, I think that we should offer something that can be super supportive of others during this time.” Fitness for All is a free membership, for unlimited classes, for Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color as well as anyone whose budget prevents them from accessing the services. The offer, though, is for all BIPOC regardless of their financial situation. It’s not a replacement, of course, for the reparations that are owed on a national scale, but it’s one small way that Sweat practice is choosing to support this larger movement of racial justice and equity. We believe that everybody should have access to yoga and fitness classes, and that structural inequalities and systemic racism created barriers to those resources. We very much want to remove those barriers. There’s no application necessary. Just email me and I’ll just set up your account so that you can start practicing with us.
Working out is an important lifelong necessity. You should enjoy it and not have to be stressed out about it.
SP: Do you have a favorite class that you teach?
Ludeke: I’m partial to the Core Strong class, but the Saturday morning one (Circuit HIIT) tends to be the most popular, so I get to see the most faces. In terms of me taking one of my classes, I think I would go for Sweat and Stretch because I really appreciate stretching and not having to go all out hard.
Beginning this month, Sweat Practice is launching a partnership with Common Ground Food Co-op. They will offer some donation-based classes, where class fees will be added to the Co-op’s Round Up For Good totals for the month. You can find the list of 2021 Round Up For Good organizations here.
You can find out more about Sweat Practice by following them on Facebook and Instagram, or checking out their website. Contact Maria Ludeke at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to inquire about Fitness for All.