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Meet the TikTok and Instagram influencers changing the way Toronto stays fit


From mental health focused meditation to Herculean weightlifting, there’s a wellness regimen—and a social media star—for everyone

Julia Perfetto, @juliaperfetto

Primary platform: TikTok
Followers: 249,400
Workout specialty: Bodybuilding and strength training
Favourite move: Hip thrust
Favourite workout spot: “The Dundas Peak nature trail in Hamilton is a nice 40-minute hike, and you can see the whole city.”
Wellness motto: “Be consistent even when the motivation isn’t there.”


“As a kid, I was never into sports. The gym has always been my way of staying active. One day, a couple of friends suggested that I post my workouts. I started by putting a few on Instagram but soon deactivated my account. I doubted that people would be interested in what I had to offer, but then I thought to myself, Who’s to say there isn’t room for me? When the gyms closed because of the pandemic, things really took off. And, while Instagram is a good place for getting discovered—that’s how I got on the Netflix show Dated & Related—I never imagined I’d be on TikTok. I was late to download it and thought it was silly at first. But I’m so glad I started. In 2021, I was working at a digital health care company, but because of social media, I was able to quit my job and devote myself full-time to online coaching and working with brands through paid posts and collaborations.”

 

Brent Bishop, @iambishop

Primary platform: Instagram
Followers: 10,800
Workout specialty: Functional strength training
Favourite move: Compound movements like squat presses
Favourite workout spot: “I love running the Lake Shore pathway. I can stop at the outdoor workout spots along the way and get my functional training in.”
Wellness motto: “Have active time every day of the week.”


“I opened my first studio about 14 years ago and haven’t looked back. My goal has always been to get people out of their comfort zones. I’m not a believer in ‘Cut this out completely’ or ‘Do this only.’ It’s about living life to the fullest while taking care of your health as best you can. We didn’t have social media when I started out, but now I know that it’s a powerful tool for my brand. During the pandemic, I started Move at Noon, a 25-minute lunchtime workout. Anyone who wanted to join could tune in live on Instagram. I was amazed at the response. It kept me feeling very positive and connected to the community.”

 

Zehra Allibhai, @zallibhai

Primary platform: Instagram
Followers: 280,000
Workout specialty: Quick at-home workouts
Favourite move: Deadlifts and skipping
Favourite workout spot: “There are so many beautiful trails in the GTA, but I regularly hike the one at Bond Lake in Richmond Hill.”
Wellness motto: “You have to incorporate health and wellness into your everyday life.”


“I played a lot of sports and enjoyed fitness when I was growing up. But women aren’t encouraged to become athletes in Muslim and South Asian cultures, so I took up a career in kinesiology and personal training. I began sharing my workouts on Instagram, and people would comment on how great it was to see someone working out in a hijab. They weren’t comfortable going to gyms, and that’s when I realized that there was a need. So my goal became to get people in my community active and then expand outward. I’m not what most people think of when they imagine a fitness influencer. I’ve had clients say, ‘I like that I can’t see whether you have a six-pack—it’s less intimidating.’”

 

Azam Taher, @mtfitness.ec

Primary platform: Instagram
Followers: 101,000
Workout specialty: Functional training
Favourite move: Weighted pull-ups
Favourite workout spot: “I like to train at Birchmount Park in Scarborough. It has bleachers, a multi-sport field and a huge track nearby.”
Wellness motto: “Movement is medicine.”


“I’m originally from Afghanistan, but during the war I moved to Tajikistan, where I got into tae kwon do and MMA. When I came to Canada, my goal was to become a professional athlete at the Olympic level. When that didn’t work out, I got into the fitness sector. I’ve tried posting fancy videos with elaborate production and lots of skin, but I didn’t feel good about it. My most-watched video, with over 100,000 saves, was a simple body-weight core workout. No equipment, some music, five exercises. Showing off might be good for one post every six months, but my goal is to help others succeed and live pain-free.”

 

Jose Lopez, @joselopez_fit

Primary platform: Instagram
Followers: 18,800
Workout specialty: Circuit training with purposeful movement
Favourite move: Lunge single-arm dumbbell press
Favourite workout spot: “Riverdale Park has one of the steepest hills in the city. After a few sprints, running on level ground will be a breeze.”
Wellness motto: “Focus on the best version of yourself, not anybody else’s version.”


“I stumbled into fitness when I was a teenager. My older brother got a gym membership, so I joined too. I had no idea it would become my life’s passion. I started my Instagram more than five years ago. It seemed like a great way to share the knowledge I had acquired over the years. Now I’m a father, and I realize that, with kids, it’s a lot harder to find the time to train regularly. It’s important to listen to your body and do what you can, when you can, with whatever time you have. If the baby kept you up all night, a long stretching session might be perfect for that day.”

 

Alex Boross-Harmer, @abh_movement

Primary platform: TikTok
Followers: 239,500
Workout specialty: Mental-health focused fitness
Favourite move: Lying perfectly still
Favourite workout spot: “Going for a walk in High Park, disconnecting and just enjoying nature can do wonders for mental health.”
Wellness motto: “Fitness is a place to be unapologetically selfish.”


“I tell my clients I’m an anti-fitness fitness coach. All of that ‘Push yourself,’ ‘Go harder,’ ‘Drop and give me 20’—I throw all of that language out the window. Anything you’ve ever learned about fitness in terms of repetition counting or pushing the weight? That doesn’t matter unless you’re training for the Olympics.

“I was an early TikTok adopter and went viral with a challenge where I shared a bunch of my traumas. I really love the TikToks that use sound clips, like the Taylor Swift ‘Hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.’ That’s the energy I identify with. I try to do everything mindfully and from a well-intentioned place, so if I don’t have anything important or helpful to say, I’m not going to post anything. I put out content that I hope will make a difference in someone’s life.”

 

Beverley Cheng, @beverleycheng

Primary platform: Instagram
Followers: 186,000
Workout specialty: Athletic functional training
Favourite move: Dumbbell snatch
Favourite workout spot: “I like going to City Place for outdoor workouts in the summer because they have a big set of stairs, a turf field and a hill.”
Wellness motto: “You need to be flexible and adaptable with your training.”


“Sports have always been a big part of my life. In high school I got into rugby, and at the University of British Columbia I played on the varsity team and represented BC at the provincial level. When I graduated, I was still in love with fitness. Friends kept asking me for workout tips. And after I moved to Toronto, my Instagram following started to grow. I went from giving out free programs to feeling confident enough to start charging for them.

“What keeps my audience interested is that, no matter what, I stick with the same values and I share it all. I show them how hard I work out but also when I have a greasy brunch.”

 

Raquel Benitah, @raquelbenitah

Primary platform: TikTok
Followers: 26,200
Workout specialty: Crossfit and weightlifting
Favourite move: Squats and cleans
Favourite workout spot: “Vaughan Strength and Conditioning is amazing. I’ve never been to a gym that has such supportive members.”
Wellness motto: “Keep fitness and nutrition as simple as you can.”


“I grew up in a large body, and I got bullied for that. I’ve gained weight, I’ve lost weight, I’ve had an eating disorder.

“I started a basic fitness Instagram account back when I was in university, but during the pandemic, I switched it up and created one that was about body acceptance. I wanted to show that all bodies are able and welcome to participate in the fitness and nutrition space. We don’t all have to be one size. I’m very into weightlifting and promoting that. I show women, especially, that weightlifting won’t make you bulky and that it feels so empower­ing to lift heavier each week. A lot of my followers are motivated by that content. I love how the wellness industry is getting rid of the fat-free era, when even healthy fats like coconut oil and butter were demonized.

“In the past, I wasn’t as focused on body acceptance and authenticity. I used to gear my content toward what I thought people wanted to see rather than what I genuinely wanted to show. It felt forced and I wasn’t enjoying myself. It’s not about following the trends or looking at what other people are doing and recreating that. It’s about doing what feels true to me.”

 

Brian Nguyen, @brian_neyugn

Primary platform: TikTok
Followers: 268,000
Workout specialty: Weight training and calisthenics
Favourite move: Push-ups
Favourite workout spot: “I’ve been going to Sir Casimir Gzowski Park for 10 years and have made lifelong friends there. It’s a great place to meditate and reset your mind.”
Wellness motto: “Do it whether you feel like it or not.”


“I grew up watching movies like Troy and wanting to have the same confidence Brad Pitt seemed to have. So I got into weightlifting and took it seriously. After college, I wanted to use my fitness knowledge to inspire others. I know most people want to build muscle, but if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, there’s no point in doing it. Say you get your results—it doesn’t end there. It’s about choosing to prioritize yourself and building lifestyle habits that will last. You’re the temple. If you take care of yourself, everything else will come together.

“Right now, TikTok is giving me my biggest reach. I just started posting what I’m passionate about and people began following me for motivation.”





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