If you were to ask me, ‘Who has got you through the pandemic?’ I would say two people. Firstly, my best friend Mikey. Secondly, Courtney Black.
Why? Because doing Black’s intense home workouts every morning has had an enormously positive effect on my mental health at a time when I’ve needed it most – and I’m not the only one.
“It really rocketed when I started doing the live [Instagram] workouts and went up to 30,000 viewers one day. It’s crazy,” says Black, who now has more than 785K Instagram followers, a massive leap from the 267K she had before the first UK lockdown started last March.
Not only that, with 65,000 paid subscribers on her Courtney Black Fitness app, the 24-year-old is raking it in, too.
Known collectively as her ‘warriors’, fans of the London-born trainer are evangelical about the workouts, sharing on social media their impressive before and after photos whenever Black runs one of her regular 28-day challenges, setting a gruelling schedule of daily (or sometimes twice daily) sessions.
That may seem like a lot of success at a young age, but it’s been a hard road for Black to get to this point. At the age of 17, while working a nine to five job in finance, she developed an eating disorder and started obsessively exercising for several hours a day.
“People cottoned onto it, because I wasn’t eating in front of anyone, I was really, really skinny, I was losing lots of weight and I was going to the gym really early,” she says.
“One day, I went to the gym at about half four in the morning, it was a 24-hour gym, and personal trainers were coming up to me and asking me if I was OK.”
She eventually admitted to her mum that she was struggling and, over the course of two to three years, recovered. While Black didn’t seek medical help, you should speak to your GP if you are experiencing symptoms which may suggest an eating disorder.
“You definitely need to speak to someone, like your mum or friends,” says Black. “The first thing is talking to someone.”
After doing a personal training course in her spare time, Black started taking on clients, eventually taking the plunge and becoming a PT full time.
“I just hated my job. I always thought I wanted be in finance, but then I thought, ‘Do you know what, this is not the life for me’ and I quit.”
After gradually growing her Instagram following, her fitness career really took off during the pandemic and now, the Instagram star has published her first book, The Pocket PT. Detailing a 28-day fitness plan, it’s the perfect beginner’s guide, with illustrated instructions for each exercise.
What would Black say to anyone who’s yet to try a home workout or is nervous about having a go?
“It’s literally the best decision you’ll ever make. You don’t have to worry about anyone around you, you don’t have to worry about what you’re wearing – you could literally do it in your knickers if you wanted to.
“And the good thing about being at home as well, is you don’t have to be embarrassed about going to a gym and, if you are out of breath, stopping for a minute.”
With her perky personality and barrage of motivational quotes (‘What doesn’t challenge you doesn’t change you’, ‘Remember why you started’), Black seems to have boundless energy, but admits she has days when she lacks motivation.
“Even on days when I’m feeling like I really can’t be bothered, I always think, ‘No matter how I feel now, I always feel better after’.”
Living alone during the pandemic has also been challenging. Black says the hardest thing has been “the loneliness. I’m such a sociable person, even though I’ve only got two really close girlfriends. I love doing things with them and seeing them.
“I remember in lockdown, I rang my friend and I was literally bawling my eyes out, because some days you just feel s**t about yourself, you put yourself down, and you keep saying you’re not good enough.”
Not only that, having built up a huge online community, the fitness guru is painfully aware of how so many people have been suffering, but she’s determined to keep using exercise as a way to support her workout warriors.
“When people are messaging me saying they’re sad, it really upsets me,” she says. “I just really want to make people as happy and positive as possible.”
The Pocket PT by Courtney Black, photography by David Cummings, is published by Harper Thorsons, priced at £14.99 (harpercollins.co.uk)