In 2014 Brianna Bernard wasn't sure where to start in order to turn things around.
She was a mother of a 1-year-old son, in a marriage that was coming apart at the seams, and her body was carrying more weight than she wanted. That year, Bernard read a People Magazine article featuring a woman in her area who lost 100 pounds. That prompted Bernard to walk into the same gym and hire the same trainer to try her luck.
“In the beginning I wasn’t sure if I could lose 10 pounds,” Bernard, now 33, said. “We’ll see. I’m going to do what my trainer tells me to do and I’m going to be really consistent and I’m not going to quit this time because every single diet and exercise program I had tried before, I had failed at or I had given up on. And I thought, I know what that feels like to quit. What would happen if this time, I didn't? And it completely changed my life.”
It changed everything in my life.
Bernard dedicated herself to a fitness program that included boxing, full body workouts, and a revamping of her eating habits. She meal planned, logged the food she ate, cut certain food groups out, and drank plenty of water. Just over a year into her new way of life, Bernard, who started her weight-loss journey at 245 pounds, lost 107 pounds.
Her transformation is one that has influenced essentially every aspect of her life.
“I tell people that while the physical change is probably the most obvious, the mental transformation that happened when I lost weight has been the most profound by far,” she said. “It changed everything in my life. It changed the way that I parent my child. It changed the way I feel about myself. It changed my relationship with food and exercise. It changed my career. It changed the people I hang around. It gave me the courage and the confidence to leave a marriage that was no longer serving me and it made that relationship so much better. There’s not one thing in my life that has not been profoundly impacted by my weight-loss journey. I am a completely different person than I was 5 years ago.”
I’m going kickin’ and punchin’
A part of that change became evident when she was drawn to help people in the same manner in which she was helped. Instead of re-entering the corporate world, she decided to earn four certifications to become a personal trainer and nutrition coach. In 2016, she began serving in those roles and went on to launch her own fitness business in 2019.
When she first began her training sessions, Bernard waited for her now ex-husband to arrive home from work and then she would go to the gym. The process was a bit heart-wrenching as she was a stay-at-home mom and her son, Tye, was naturally upset when his mother left for the short time. Bernard came up with a plan to turn Tye’s angst into laughter before leaving.
“It was kind of sad when I would leave so [I thought] maybe if I can make him giggle he won't be so sad when I leave,” she said. “And he goes, ‘Momma, where you going?’ I said, ‘I’m going to go kicking and punching.’ I started doing some air boxing, just punching and kicking and shadow boxing in the kitchen, and he started belly laughing. From then on out, whenever I would leave to go to the gym at night he’d say, ‘Mom, you go kickin’ and punchin’?’ I’d say, ‘Yep, I’m going kickin’ and punchin’, buddy.’”
That cute banter has since turned into an activity she and her son, now 6, share. Her home is equipped with a heavy bag, mitts, and boxing gloves. When the evening rolls around, the duo put on gloves and start punchin’.
“It's something that we love to do together. When I say that this whole transformation has changed my life, it’s changed the way I parent hugely,” Bernard said.
The connection Bernard has with boxing is one that was there from the very beginning. Boxing was incorporated into every workout early on and is something she uses with her own clients. The same joy fostered from her relationship with boxing she’s now seeing in those who come to her to get in better shape.
“Whether they’re 20,50 or 70... it doesn't matter,” she said. “Everybody loves boxing and it feels good to hit things, but mostly I think it’s a mental release. You feel strong. If you can eliminate the number game – I’m up 5 pounds on the scale – if you can have them focus on some non-scale victories, things like I feel strong, I feel confident, I feel powerful, I feel less stressed. Things like that are huge wins for people and I think boxing delivers that.”
One of the more important aspects in creating that love of boxing is ensuring her clients’ hands are well protected. It’s the reason she encourages all of her clients to use Hayabusa boxing gloves. Crafted with built-in wrist support and the padding needed to protect the knuckles, the gloves are meant to make sure you leave the gym and are able to continue your everyday life.
“I have clients who are surgeons and sign language interpreters,” Bernard said. “The use of their hands is crucial to their occupations so those people need the best protection possible, and Hayabusa delivers that.”
Once clients come to understand Brianna’s journey to becoming stronger, healthier, and better, an inherent level of trust is formed. She tells them about her own experiences of trying on clothes that did not fit. Or hiding behind the camera because she didn’t want her picture taken. She also tells them about the times she would binge on ice cream late at night.
“I think that makes me relatable and that makes people open up,” she said. “There's an element of trust there when you feel like you're not alone. The clients who need or want to lose 20, 50, 100, 150 pounds are able to open up more because they know that this is a judge-free zone and that I truly get it and I want to help. I certainly don't have everything figured out. I'm a work-in-progress just like everybody else, but that's what makes me relatable and that's what makes people want to train with me because I haven't always been fit. I haven’t always been an athlete or someone who's always taken care of themselves. People feel comfortable, which is really important when you're in a vulnerable situation like personal training.”
In the end, Brianna’s ultimate goal is to pass on the lessons she’s learned, whether mental, emotional or physical, to others.
“Because my journey has completely changed my life, I have devoted my life to helping others,” Bernard said. “Had I not stepped out of my comfort zone and hired a trainer and tried new things like boxing and weight training and eating healthy, I would be in the same place that I was 5 years ago, which was a very anxious, stressed, depressed person, who was 100 pounds overweight. I felt trapped in my marriage. I was not confident, and after changing my habits and adding in all of these healthy, positive elements to my life, everything changed.
“And because I know what that has done for me personally, it has become my mission in life to help other people, even if they can feel a fraction of what I feel and what I have overcome in my life, I will have succeeded in my role. And that's why I do what I do.”
Read more about Brianna’s journey to fitness: www.briannabernardfitness.com