Come rain or shine, Alex Beck is leading herself, her family, and her training team towards a life of being healthy, happy - and authentically yourself.
Photographs: David Engstrøm / Hào Phan Thanh / Martin Beck
Text: Michaela Medveďová
It must be a strange sight for passers-by. Yet, out in the Danish winter, there’s a group of people dressed in sporty clothes, each with a headset, carrying out intense-looking choreography of body combat movements. The almost complete silence is only interrupted by the instructions and motivating exclamations leading them in the exercise.
That trainer would be Alex Beck, and if you walk around in Copenhagen, you might witness one of her group training sessions.
Across the cultures - and the bridge
But seeing what she does now would be an equally strange surprise for Alex from the past. The Brit and Swiss national had been in the corporate world since she was 18 - working with senior management, focusing on communications, marketing, and organising events.
There was also nothing to suggest that Denmark would be where she would settle down. Born in the Cayman Islands to a mom from Guyana and a Scottish dad, the family lived in Switzerland for most of her life, and she became Swiss by naturalisation at 18.
But that wasn’t the end of her geographic journey. In her late twenties, Alex followed her then-boyfriend to Brussels and Malmö. She found a job in an advertising agency across the Øresund bridge - and after going through a break-up, it was in this Copenhagen workplace that she met her now-husband.
A hard country
As it turned out, having a job in Denmark was beneficial in more ways than one. Alex only realised after living in Denmark how tremendous of a burden the Swiss culture of comparing yourself to others was for her. “In Switzerland, there is the grind and the long, long hours people spend in the office. You can leave at nine at night and still be on call the whole weekend. When you have a job, it’s your identity.”
There, she was constantly living up to someone else’s expectations. Here, people were leaving their office at three o’clock, leaving her wondering whether they were not doing their jobs. “Danes are focused on their family and social lives, but it doesn’t mean they are not professionals. A job is just a job - if you don’t feel it’s the right place for you, it’s okay to make a change. I feel I am adapting to the mentality of not having to compare myself to anyone else. I can finally be myself.”
It still wasn’t love at first sight with Denmark. “I think about countries in shapes. The southern countries are softer, and the North is tough and rigid. There was no room for flexibility and spontaneity, which I was very used to from my Caribbean mother.” She missed the unplanned-drink-after-work mentality - in Denmark, everything needed to be scheduled in advance. Going from polite Switzerland and Sweden, she also felt that she found herself in an almost borderline rude country (or rather a culture of minding-your-own-business).
Like many internationals, she found it hard to make friends, as Danes have had their friend group forever. But so have the Swiss. Alex realised the locked-out feeling was coming from her, not the Danish culture. “We are grounded in our habits. Every time you’re new somewhere, your habits are disrupted in a way you feel is the wrong way. But every culture has its ways. It’s a question of being adaptive.”
"We are grounded in our habits. Every time you’re new somewhere, your habits are disrupted in a way you feel is the wrong way. But every culture has its ways. It’s a question of being adaptive."
Now she not only has Danish friends but a Danish husband, too. “He’s very laid-back. Had I not made the first move, we would have never met,” laughs Alex. “For any relationship, whether in the same culture or not, is about listening, understanding that this is the way the person is, and accepting them.”
Nisser, mix-ups, and competitions
Alex feels her husband adapted to her ways more than she has adapted to him - but she’s embracing a lot of his culture, too. For example, making dishes she can’t pronounce. Or putting up nisser, the Danish Christmas elves, everywhere - very much appreciated by their daughter.
As a child of an international household, she is fluently bilingual in English and Danish. “She’s very endearing at the moment because she sometimes mixes up the two. It breaks my heart to correct it because it’s just so cute.”
As Alex also speaks French fluently, three languages for her daughter were also on the table - but being a new mom was exhausting even without a trilingual upbringing. “I also grew up in an English-speaking home - everything relating to childhood stories and the like always come to me in English.”
While her daughter may be unhappy later that Alex did not pursue French, she can still pick it up later - after all, everyone in Alex’s family has a good ear for languages.
And in the meantime, she is picking up other good habits from her parents. Such as an active lifestyle. “We walk a lot. Every time we have to go shopping or go to brunch, we take our feet and walk kilometres. Sometimes she’ll complain, but we got our daughter a little step counter, and we have a competition of who gets the most steps per day. If she hasn’t got enough, sometimes she runs around the table. She also sees me practising my body combat, and she’ll do whatever she can next to me.”
Alex would like her family to have the same healthy lifestyle - but that hasn’t always been the case.
Leading by example
She has always been sporty, but the spirit of “skinny is the new black” took over. She was overdoing cardio, thinking that the thinner she was, the better she looked in her clothes. “I felt guilty if I hadn’t done my spinning or didn’t go twice a day. When I was eating, I thought - do I deserve this food?” Just as with her career, she put her body under the same pressure.
Every January brings out the commitment to exercise in people - but keeping up the motivation proves hard. That’s where Alex can come in.
The tipping point came when she was pregnant with her daughter at 35 - or even before when she suffered two early miscarriages. “It had nothing to do with my health, but it made me think. Why is this happening? How am I eating - how am I treating my body? That’s where I felt the switch - I needed to feed my body what it needed to function.”
When she was ready to get into physical activity again after her daughter’s birth, she did that differently. She started thinking about what would help her recompose her body and be vital for her family. That was strength training and eating the right way.
“I had a click in my head. Is that how I would like my child to live? Like me, in fear of gaining weight? Or would I want her to feel happy and energised, understanding the need to eat for energy?”
Now that she has a daughter, they don’t restrict her from eating anything. They don’t force her to eat everything on her plate, trusting her when she says she’s full. “If she wants to have a treat, she, of course, can have it.” But they also let her discover that if she overeats on chocolates, she is not hungry for dinner - and if she doesn’t eat dinner, she will be hungry later because her body didn’t get what it needed.
“It’s about discovery and listening to your body’s cues. But who we become also depends on the examples around us. We have a balanced diet and move a lot, and I’m hoping this is something she’ll take away. People always follow the leader. In this case, as her parents, we are her leaders until she’s old enough to fly away.”
But food is not the only component of healthy lives people struggle with. Every January brings out the commitment to exercise in people - but keeping up the motivation proves hard. That’s where Alex can come in.
Finding the right (silent) fit
The thirties were a transformational period for Alex. After she struggled with a healthy lifestyle, an “existential crisis” of sorts came her way at 39 and left her wondering if she was on the right path. “I always thought I had to have a desk job for it to be a real job. I never considered doing anything related to sports or physical activity. But my independent husband encouraged me: ‘So many people ask you about how to achieve their physical goals. Why don’t you take an education?’ And I did.” Alex is now an internationally certified personal trainer and nutrition coach.
Alex decided to open their own gym with one of her new classmates. The bad news? The calendar was showing January 2020.
Their gym had to close down two months into the business for lockdown, and they filed for bankruptcy in September 2020. But Alex is not a person who accepts defeat readily. Instead, she is a person who adapts.
When their gym closed in the first lockdown, she was contacted by SilentFit - a provider for audio technology for workouts - to be an ambassador showcasing the possibility of outdoor classes. She started with her body combat classes, full-body exercises incorporating martial arts or boxing elements, and expanded with more training options. She continued outside when the gym was allowed to open again between lockdowns as her clients were older and did not feel safe inside.
She started with smaller groups to comply with corona restrictions, which led to her spending many hours in a row outside in the cold to accommodate her teams. It was hard to get people to learn about her training, but she wanted the right people for her team. So instead of the traditional approach of sponsored ads, she encouraged people to come and try her training out. They did - and she now has a loyal, committed client team.
"Nobody compares themselves to others. And we don’t take ourselves seriously at all. We are here to move and to have fun."
No mirrors, no worries
Besides body combat, Alex also offers strength and circuit training. Right now, she has about 50 people in the teams. The most significant advantage of her outside class compared to a gym is that there are no mirrors. You can learn the choreography at your own pace, do legs or arms, take a break, or quietly remove yourself from the class without anyone watching you. “Nobody compares themselves to others. And we don’t take ourselves seriously at all. We are here to move and to have fun. I want them to feel happy when they leave and want to come back because they had a good time.”
So while she was initially thinking about the outside training as a temporary solution to lockdowns, she came to view it as something her clients wanted to stay. “When it’s just us outdoors, they feel they can be themselves and ask all the questions they want. So I decided - why would I go back to the gym if I have a group of people that want this outside?”
By now, she knows her clients very well and caters to all, knowing their injuries and level and adapting the programmes.
The right snowstorm
This has all paid off. Her business is more successful than she’d imagined, and her clients are responding to her commitment in kind. “The team dynamics are extraordinary. If a team member brings someone else, I will almost automatically trust that person will fit in. I want people to feel they belong somewhere.”
With their social bond, the team now has accountability towards Alex and their teammates. “This makes people want to come back. Even if you don’t feel motivated, if you don’t go, people will wonder where you were.”
This makes Alex motivated, as well. So motivated that her decision to remain outdoors was right and also that she left her corporate world security behind. “I can do it in snow storms and the rain. I feel that this is where I’m meant to be.”