IDEA member Marilynn Larkin empowered a group of women to walk tall.
IDEA member Marilynn Larkin started working out before working out was cool. The New York City–based fitness professional says she always felt like an outsider when it came to her exuberance for exercise. “I sometimes found myself the only woman in the gym lifting weights,” she said. “People asked me why I was there. I’ve always loved to move, and I’ve done everything from aerobics to dance and the heavy-duty stuff. It was always fun to me. I never wanted to turn my avocation into a job, nor ever worked out for the effect.”
While Larkin viewed fitness as a simple part of life, eventually she did answer the call, became certified as both a personal fitness trainer and a group fitness instructor, and started creating programs and ideas to encourage others to move. “If I am inspiring people, I want to do something meaningful,” Larkin says. She got the perfect opportunity to do just that when she was approached to teach fitness to a group of economically disadvantaged women.
Dress for Success, a not-for-profit organization that helps low-income women enter the workforce and stay employed, approached a close contact of Larkin’s about participating in an 8-week program. Dress for Success’s mission is “to advance low-income women’s economic and social development and to encourage self-sufficiency through career development and employment retention.” Participants receive one suit for a job interview, along with a week’s worth of career separates. The idea is to boost self-confidence and empower women. The organization was looking for volunteers to teach participants about health-related topics such as nutrition and general exercise. A yoga class had not been well received. It just didn’t seem to resonate with the women. The contact felt that Larkin’s posture-focused class—along with her down- to-earth personality—would be a good match for the program. So she accepted the challenge.
“They had a huge gym with no equipment at all and only one electrical outlet. So I brought my boom box and some resistance bands and started teaching.” The women loved Larkin’s teaching style and the upbeat music so much that they invited her back to teach the entire series.
The class was based on Larkin’s Posture-cize® program, which she developed for “young or old, heavy or thin, tall or short, male or female. I created this after years of working with all types of clients and recognizing that poor posture stands in the way of exercising properly, work productivity and functional, daily living,” Larkin says. The 30-minute class focuses on balance and core strength and also features a “posture walk” and a “free-for-all” section where participants can express themselves. Guided visualization at the end of class helped the women focus their thoughts and learn how to destress. It turned out to be perfect for the Dress for Success group, and provided positive reinforcement for Larkin that she had indeed created something all could enjoy and benefit from. “We had a core group of 35 women of all shapes and sizes who kept coming back week after week, even in the snow and ice,” Larkin says. “It really fueled me and made me feel good about the direction I was taking.”
Larkin attributes her program’s success not only to its accessibility but also to the communication path she took to connect with her audience. “I decided to talk about the emotional component of posture and how it just makes you feel positive and gives you a better attitude,” Larkin says. “I loved it that the women responded well to this and in turn expressed their needs to me, which helped me fine-tune the program and carried me through.” This momentum turned out to be particularly important, as Larkin broke her ankle midway through the program. “It gave me energy to know that I was doing something to help others, and they gave a lot back to me.”
Larkin’s personal physical challenge wasn’t the only one overcome during the 8-week period. Many of the women remarked about how much better they felt, how they walked with a new sense of pride and carried their bodies with a newfound respect. “One woman said that, although she was only a clerk in the office where she worked, a visitor asked if she was in charge,” Larkin says. “She attributed this to the workout and said it made her feel great about herself.”
IDEA’s campaign unites our members with those of other organizations in a joint effort to reach out to nonexercisers. Our commitment is to provide you with information and sources so you can act locally.
Are your clients obese, disabled or just starting to exercise after years of sedentary living? We want to hear how you are motivating, challenging and retaining clients on a long-term basis. In 200 words or less, detail the specifics of your program and your client(s), and provide your name and contact information. If your success story is compelling and unique, we may use it in a future issue or on the Inspire the World to Fitness® section of the website.
Mail: Sandy Todd Webster
10455 Pacific Center Court
San Diego, CA 92121-4339
Fax: (858) 535-8234