2022 has been a year of accomplishments for Leanne Peña.
In May, she graduated from DePaul University in Chicago with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science.
She also completed an internship with Kinema Fitness, a company that works with athletic brands to provide fitness and wellness solutions to corporate companies. She worked as a trainer in one of Kinema’s Chicago facilities, where she was able to work one-on-one with many high-profile clients to meet their fitness needs.
“I even saw [rapper] 50-Cent come in one day!” she says.
Leanne says her degree has made her confident in being the best trainer she can be to help others.
Her family owns a martial arts studio and fitness academy called Ultimate Martial Arts in the Chicago suburbs, where she is from. Growing up, Leanne was encouraged to participate in sports and fitness activities.
The family business has been running for 28 years, and Leanne has been teaching there since she was 13. Since graduating college, she has been working full-time at the family studio as a head instructor and trainer.
As a teenager, Leanne discovered her passion for helping people while teaching at her family’s business and seeing people become more confident in themselves as a result of her training.
Leanne’s father has also been a huge inspiration for her. He always pushed her, as his only daughter, to be a strong young woman and athlete.
“He was always very aware of the hardships women went through,” Leanne says. “He always tells me, ‘The moment I saw you when you were born, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that you have good opportunities in life.’”
For Leanne, fitness is both physical and mental. When training someone, she always tries to gauge how they are doing mentally before getting to work on physical fitness.
Leanne has also been practicing taekwondo her entire life and holds a third-degree black belt, which typically takes three years to earn. Taekwondo has become a way of life for her.
“Self-discipline, self-confidence, perseverance — those are key concepts in taekwondo, and that’s applicable to life in general,” she says.
Leanne is passionate about sharing her fitness journey and workout routines online. She started posting about fitness during her senior year of high school when she was featured on a Chicago news segment about Total Body Resistance Exercise (TRX) training, a workout method that builds strength and flexibility.
Being featured on television allowed her to gain a large following on her Instagram page, which has grown to over 10,000 followers. Balancing content creation with school and fitness training has burned Leanne out at times, but she has continued to post fitness content at her own pace.
Leanne also deals with the stigmas around being a muscular woman, especially as a Filipina-American.
“There is that Asian perception of women, that we should be dainty and feminine,” she says.
But she does not want to fit into this mold. Though she sometimes receives negative and misogynistic comments, they do stop her.
“Why would I stop doing what I love for other people’s perceptions that don’t even affect them?” she says. “If you’re interested in something and you can see it really benefiting you, do it. Until you try a lot of different things, that’s when you can realize what really reflects you as a person.”
“She can be both” is a message that resonates with Leanne.
“My entire personality isn’t based on martial arts — it’s a complexity of things,” Leanne says. “The more we accept that, the easier it will be for other women to make their mark.”