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Fitness Star Jillian Michaels: “Be your own advocate”

Trust your gut. I think we so often doubt ourselves and think the other person is an expert and knows more. Or we worry they will think we are “difficult” or a “bitch” if we speak up. However, anytime I haven’t trusted my gut it has always resulted in a failure and often a hard […]


Trust your gut. I think we so often doubt ourselves and think the other person is an expert and knows more. Or we worry they will think we are “difficult” or a “bitch” if we speak up. However, anytime I haven’t trusted my gut it has always resulted in a failure and often a hard lesson learned. Bottom line, be your own advocate.


As part of our series about “Women In Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jillian Michaels. Jillian is one of the most prominent fitness experts in the world and a renowned life coach. Committed to helping people to be the best versions of themselves and to live their happiest and healthiest lives, Michaels has dominated the health and wellness space with hit televisions shows, extensively successful fitness DVDs, the foremost exercise streaming platform fitfusion.com, 8 New York Times best-selling books, an award-winning podcast, live speaking engagements, her App, My Fitness, that provides personal training and nutrition plans, popular social media channels and her personal website jillianmichaels.com. Through her platforms, she has built an international community of followers 100 million + strong.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I was actually a chubby kid and my mom got me into karate when I was 13 as a great outlet, confidence builder, and for the positive social environment. Through my time in martial arts and seeing the transformation it brought about for me, I began to appreciate that fitness was transcendent. When people feel strong physically it helps empower them in all facets of their lives. I became a trainer when I was 17 and have pretty much been doing it ever since.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Gosh this was so long ago, I honestly can even think of one. I mean I tried a few cardio dance classes. That was fairly disastrous as I have ZERO rhythm.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

My business has evolved. Everything in fitness has moved to digital platforms so the Jillian Michaels My Fitness App is really where I focus all my efforts. There I can provide people with total personalization when it comes to their dietary needs and fitness goals. I can customize everything from their workout that day to a workout program based on their current fitness level and goals. I can give them a recipe with all the foods they like and none that they don’t in a single serving or for a dinner party. The bottom line is that everything can exist in this medium in a way it simply couldn’t prior to this kind of technology. So instead of writing a cookbook, I have all of it in my app and can add recipes every day for all types of meal plans. And if people still want my DVDs we have my entire DVD library in the app as well. It’s essentially a one stop shop for anything and everything someone would need to get in shape. Yoga, kickboxing, weightless, prenatal, running, walking, weight lifting, etc. it’s all in there.

In other areas of business, I am very passionate about growing other wellness brands. Whether it’s another fitness talent, boutique fitness gym, or better for you food products I am always looking to invest in companies that provide people with the things they love in the healthiest most premium way while still keeping it affordable. Lucky Jack is a perfect example. People love coffee, myself included. However, coffee that isn’t organic is heavily sprayed with pesticide, herbicide, fungicide, and more, so it’s important to buy organic. Plus, cold brew not only tastes better, but it’s better for you as it has less acids and tannins and more antioxidants. Not only is Lucky Jack a premium tasting, organic, cold brew brand, it is also packaged in a glass bottle which means no plastic, no bpa, and totally recyclable.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are several, but I had a few private training clients back in the day that invested in my first gym and sports medicine facility. True “angel investors” in every sense of the word. Without them and their help, I doubt I would have had the opportunities I did and I am forever grateful.

Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that will help people feel great?

These really aren’t tweaks. They are more like ground rules.

SLEEP. No less than 7 hours a night and no more than 9.

Meditate 5 minutes a day. If you can manage more, great, but if not, try to grab 5 minutes before bed, first thing in the morning, in your car on the side of the road — basically wherever and whenever you can to just breathe and chill. This has been shown to help with everything from improving our mood, lowering blood pressure, slowing aging, and more.

Hydrate. Really. Drink until your pee looks like lemonade. Hydration helps boost immunity, increase our energy, improve the appearance of our skin, the list goes on and on.

Is there a particular book that made an impact on you? Can you share a story?

I love non-fiction — in particular books on cosmology. Not to sound like a pretentious jerk, but I do love Stephen Hawkings’ Universe In A Nutshell or Brief History Of Time. I also love Briane Greene and Michio Kaku. I personally don’t subscribe to an organized religion and these books are like church for me. Understanding as much as I can about how the universe works is as close as we can come to “knowing the mind of God” — Albert Einstein.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Again, not to sound like a pretentious jerk, but I feel I’ve done that already. I was at the forefront of everything from Organics to HIIT training. That said, I’d like to see people experience the transformational power of giving back. So many of us are so busy. Finding the time or the resources can sometimes feel impossible, but discovering a way to be more involved in making a difference — whether it’s raising money to fight cancer, raising awareness about the environment, rescuing a pup from the pound, teaching English to people in the developing world during part of your vacation, or other ways of giving back — can truly change the world. It makes us all “well” in the truest sense of the word, gives us meaning, helps us feel of use, and provides a greater sense of worth transcends into all facets of our lives.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Ultimately, what I do I do for me. I am not a martyr. However, when I give back it lifts my spirits and makes me feel a little less helpless and a little more connected. So while I think and hope it’s doing good in the world, I know it’s doing good for my head and my heart. While there are certain causes that are very close to my heart, I do my best to help wherever and whenever I can. Personally, I work very closely with the UNHCR (the United Nations Refugee Agency) to help raise awareness and funds for refugees across the globe. I also work closely with PETA as I am a lifelong animal lover. And in the past, I have done everything from USO tours to visit our troops, raising funds and awareness for Stand Up to Cancer, helping kids in foster care with The Dave Thomas Foundation, and helping combat childhood obesity with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

Ultimately, I think if you help you help. It might be as simple as not using a plastic straw to save the sea turtles or donating old shoes to Soles for Souls so someone without any resources can have a pair of shoes. Do what you can and we can all do something.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Trust your gut. I think we so often doubt ourselves and think the other person is an expert and knows more. Or we worry they will think we are “difficult” or a “bitch” if we speak up. However, anytime I haven’t trusted my gut it has always resulted in a failure and often a hard lesson learned. Bottom line, be your own advocate.

2. Don’t micromanage, but don’t take a hands-off approach to anything either. There are times I have micromanaged projects and it led me to drop the ball on other things. At the same time, there are areas of my business that had previously intimidated me, like contracts, for example. I trusted other people to do the job, and, yes, while I was paying for them to do a job, I learned it is critical to have an understanding of everything that is going on in your work at all times.

3. Be flexible. The world is changing at an extremely fast pace. It took the industrial revolution decades to affect the global economy, now industries are being shut down overnight by changes in technology. You can’t get too set in your ways or too attached a process. For example, earlier in my career TV was king, but now very few people watch TV in real-time and the majority of young people don’t even have cable subscriptions. Everything is moving to digital. So being able to pivot from a TV platform to an app and a streaming platform was instrumental in the continued success of my brand.

4. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know. The smart person admits when they lack knowledge or expertise in one area or another then puts their ego aside and seeks an expert in that field to complement their efforts in business. I’m great at fitness, but I was never a branding expert. I brought my business partner in to help me understand the business side of brand building and it was one of the best professional decisions I ever made.

5. Be authentic always. Never do anything for the money. Money is great and if you don’t make money in your business you are going out of business, but don’t make key decisions with money as your primary factor. Base your decisions off your passion and your truth — THEN check the financial viability of that idea. For me, I think the reason my brand has had such extraordinary longevity is because I have always been true to my word. My message has been consistent. I have never taken money from big food companies or big pharma, and I believe that whether people like me as a person or not, they at least know that I am trustworthy, that I believe what I say, and that my actions follow suit.

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