Tonal coach Paul Wright shares the Black heroes who have inspired him growing up and on his path to a career in fitness.
Men and women of color have played a pivotal role in sports since the beginnings of time, even if history books aren’t always filled with their names. In celebration of Black History Month, we’re sharing the story of our amazing Coach Paul Wright who’s been kicking down barriers and paving the way for active Black men in the world of athletics from a young age. Known for his advanced moves and powerful Tonal workouts like Total Body Build, Coach Paul goes full-throttle with the challenges. We asked him to share his fitness inspirations and what led him to Tonal—the world’s most intelligent home gym.
Who were your biggest inspirations growing up?
There were three big ones: Maya Angelou, Muhammad Ali, and Bob Marley. Learning how Maya Angelou turned her struggles into triumph taught me that I have a choice to either let my failures defeat me or use them as a learning experience to grow. I take that mindset into each workout and each day of my life. Muhammad Ali showed me that there’s a greater purpose beyond the sport you play. He made a stand by choosing not to go to war and sacrificed his career to do so. I want to be remembered for that kind of strength—not just as an athlete, but as a good person.
Bob Marley hit close to home because he’s Jamaican like my mom. Even though the Rastafarian religion was looked down upon in Jamaican society, he walked around with love in his heart. By moving to the beat of his own drum (literally), he became the global icon he is today. That’s how I approach fitness, it’s not a one-size-fits-all thing. You’ve got to do what works best for YOU to make yourself feel good and protect your happiness.
What inspired your journey into physical fitness?
I’ve always been athletic. My parents valued health and movement so they encouraged me to play sports year-round—swimming, karate, soccer, baseball, basketball, and later on, football. These team sports not only kept me busy, they helped me develop the physical, emotional, and mental skills to be a strong, well-rounded person. It was important to my parents—both immigrants from Jamaica—that I grow up to be the best man that I could be.
At age 16, I decided to drop my other sports and focus solely on football. My football talent eventually led me to a Division 1 scholarship. After chasing pro ball in the NFL, AFL, and CFL, I made it overseas playing in Germany, Poland, and Serbia. I traveled a lot during this time, experiencing different cities and cultures, all while getting paid to play the sport I loved.
When did you realize that you wanted to become a fitness professional?
After playing football, my first trainer job was at a big box gym. I worked my way up there and eventually transitioned into small-group training at various outdoor parks. That led to my first few personal training clients and into my next trainer role at Barry’s Bootcamp. The fast-paced, big-group atmosphere of 40-50 people per class got me comfortable motivating large crowds. It was during this time that I felt a shift, as if my skills as a coach, leader, and trainer were all coming together in a new way.
I didn’t always have access to a gym before I became a trainer, so I found inspiration in my surrounding environment, using benches, swings, poles and more to exercise. I’d share these fitness experiments on Instagram to show others there’s no limit to the ways you can move. My followers know this about me—I’m constantly challenging myself with new, innovative ways to stay fit. I suppose it’s only fitting I was so intrigued by Tonal.
How did you start your relationship with Tonal?
Tonal discovered me on Instagram. I was intrigued by its creative possibilities—anything that can be done with cable machines, dumbbells, or barbells can be done with Tonal in your home. Its ability to transform people’s lives is truly limitless.
What is your favorite part about working out with Tonal?
My favorite part about Tonal is its intelligence—its Coach A.I. gets to know you and interacts with you just like a real-life personal trainer would. The more you strength train, the stronger you get, so Coach A.I. adjusts the weight as you go. It’s really motivating when you see how much you improve over time.
Another game-changer is the “on/off” feature of the digital weights. For someone who likes to go heavy with big compound lifts, now you can get in position easily and safely with the weight “off.” Once you’re ready, you can turn the weight “on” by pressing the Smart Handles. That’s it. Tonal also keeps tabs on your performance like a spotter, temporarily lowering your weights if you’re struggling.
How would you describe the workouts you’ve built for Tonal?
All of the Tonal workouts and programs are created by coaches like me with years of combined experience. All nine of us have our specific areas of expertise, from yoga to high-intensity; for example, I’m the “athlete” coach who inspires you to push past your limits. If you’re someone new to strength training, we have beginner formats to get you started. Wherever you are in your fitness journey, we have a workout for you.
That’s what I love most about Tonal—it’s everything you need to unleash the best version of yourself. And I’m there to help you every rep of the way.