In "The Level Up," changemakers in the fitness and wellness industries tell us how they're making an impact in their communities, from pushing for inclusivity to promoting body acceptance and so much more. Here, Wade Bryant shares how he’s pushing for all people to recognize their body’s flexibility skills.
A few months ago, Wade Bryant, 32, considered walking away from his career as a fitness trainer. Bryant, a former professional ballet dancer who specializes in flexibility, had posted an Instagram video of a client performing the splits against a wall with his assistance. The video wasn’t so different from what he usually posts but the hateful comments he received in response to this particular clip sent him into a spiral.
“I remember being on a plane to Atlanta and reading through the comments,” says Bryant. “One person commented that I wasn’t a ‘real trainer.’ Another accused me of having a foot fetish.” He was tired of having to defend his work, especially when plenty of other people were posting similar things without the criticism.
“I’m a 6-foot Black guy with a beard,” he tells Bustle. “I don’t look like a traditional trainer, so people judge me.”
Just hours after his flight landed, Bryant received a DM from a woman who claimed to be Lizzo’s personal assistant. She asked if he’d fly to Los Angeles and give the Grammy award-winning singer a one-on-one stretching session. He took her up on it.
Since that day, a lot has changed for Bryant, who now counts Lizzo and supermodel Winnie Harlow as regular clients. Bustle spoke with the trainer to learn about his background as a ballet dancer, his friendship with Lizzo, and why consistency is key for improving flexibility.
How did you come to be a professional dancer?
From the time I was young, I’ve loved to dance. I grew up in Harlem, where everybody dreams of being a basketball player, but I wanted to do something different. I remember imitating Michael Jackson and memorizing all of Usher’s choreography. When I was 12, I competed in a talent show. The prize was a scholarship to study ballet at Manhattan’s Uptown Dance Academy — and I got it. I trained at the company until I was about 17 years old. The teachers and my classmates became like family to me. And I had so many incredible opportunities, like performing in The Nutcracker at the Apollo Theater, dancing for Alfred Gallman’s Newark Dance Theater, and training alongside dancers at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
When did you quit dancing and become a personal trainer?
I started phasing out of the dance world at age 17, but I didn’t officially stop until I was 27. As I got older, I realized ballet wasn’t for me. I became bored with it — there’s not as much freedom, and I was having a hard time keeping up with the choreography. When I finally quit, I became certified as a personal trainer. But even after all these years, the core of my training is still rooted in classical ballet technique.
“Lizzo told me to ignore the trolls. She’s been like a big sister that way.”
What would a one-on-one session with you entail? What kind of exercises do you lead your clients through?
I don’t have a lesson plan because everybody has different abilities. And I don’t teach flexibility, I teach technique. A class might start with a floor warmup or a contemporary dance routine. There’s always some movement involved. Then I’ll teach classical ballet technique: pointing toes, turning out, engaging the core. It’s what I know, but it’s also key for building strength and preventing injuries. It’s all about building better mobility. With consistency, anybody can do the splits.
Tell me about the first time meeting Lizzo.
When her assistant hit me up on Instagram, I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t seem real until the minute Lizzo walked into the studio. I was so nervous. I was like, ‘Do I play Rick Ross like I always do, or do I play her music?’ But when I finally met her, she was so humble and cool. I got to see the silly side of her. We ended up training together for two hours. She told me that she wanted to train with me after seeing my Instagram page — she said she could see how trusting my clients were of me.
That must’ve been really validating after your experience being bullied on social media.
Totally. Lizzo told me to ignore the trolls. She’s been like a big sister that way. I don’t know how she does it. She gets so much hate but still lives through it. I told her, ‘I really appreciate you for being you.’
You train celebrities, but you also train regular people. What tips do you give your clients who want to improve their range of motion in their everyday lives?
Warming up for at least 20 minutes is key. Focus on your hamstrings, quads, and lower back. Stay consistent — at least five minutes of stretching every day. And finally, don’t compare your flexibility to anyone else.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.