Our five finalists deliver—and then some. Help us decide who most deserves the title! In Women’s Health‘s fourth search for America’s top personal trainer, we pored over thousands of submissions with a truly 360-degree lens. We looked for empowering personal stories, loud and proud herds of social media followers, savvy entrepreneurship, and savvier workouts.
Photograph by Aaron Richter
About Erica Lugo:
City: Centerville, Ohio
Three Things That Describe Her
Booty shorts. “It took some time, but I’m most confident when I show off my legs. Being 5’11”, I feel like a badass displaying those babies!”
“Damn, Gina!” “It’s the catchphrase that works for everything.”
A foam roller. “I roll after every workout—I like having an ‘end’ to my session, so it feels truly complete when I leave the gym.”
Three years ago, Erica couldn’t do five jumping jacks without having to sit to catch her breath. And that’s just a guess, because three years ago, at 322 pounds, Erica would never have gotten up to knock out a set of jumping jacks. Even leaving the couch to play with her then 3-year-old son felt like too much work—and it was then she knew if she didn’t do something drastic, and soon, she wouldn’t be around for the most important man in her life. So she marched into Planet Fitness the next day at 5 a.m., jumped on the elliptical, and worked her way up to five hours a week on cardio machines. About two months in, a trainer showed her some high-intensity interval training drills (a.k.a. HIIT) she could mix in to gain muscle. “I discovered what good tired meant, and it felt amazing,” she says. (For tips on how to sculpt sexy muscles, pick up Lift to Get Lean by Holly Perkins.)
Forty-five pounds lighter on her journey, Erica created an Instagram account to track her progress. Her followers grew into the hundreds of thousands within months. The overwhelmingly positive feedback sparked a thought: She could actually help these people. For the past two years, Erica “FitLove,” as she’s known to her community, has run a mobile and online coaching program for a growing group of 150 women, offering her own take on HIIT to the masses. “People laugh because I’m always on my phone, but I don’t sacrifice the personal in personal training even though I’m not literally next to you. If you give me your all, I will give you my all.”
Her Fitness Philosophy
Start small: “HIIT can sound and feel intimidating, so I focus on scalable drills. My sessions run about 30 to 45 minutes, but I start with one-minute cardio intervals: either 15 seconds hard, 45 seconds rest, or vice versa. Having this flexibility makes my workouts great for newbies or people who are starting out with extra weight, because we can adjust them to where you are. And the quick intervals help keep you from quitting—they’re over before you know it!”
Confront your weakness: “I’ve always struggled with binge eating. Sometimes I need to plan a weekly cheat meal, because if I splurge on a whim, I won’t be able to bounce back. You have to be in tune with what you’re dealing with that day, and be honest about it, to make the healthiest decision.”
Focus on the real picture: “Comparing yourself to others won’t get you far. It’s a work in progress, especially on Instagram, where it’s so easy to get caught up in filtered versions of people’s lives. But fitness isn’t an image, or a size. It’s a mindset. I try to capture that mindset, not just selfies.”
Head over to TheNextFitnessStar.com to vote for Erica!