…we truly started this journey to create a better world. Over the past five years we have watched numerous men and women completely change their lives for the better. How you ask? By finding themselves again and by finding that spark again. As life gets crazy and busy with jobs, kids and responsibilities, we put ourselves on the back burner and in turn our quality of life decreases. By simply finding falling in love with exercise again and feeling those endorphins and health benefits you begin seeing changes on the inside. Being you is the only way to find true happiness, the minute people realize this, their worlds completely change.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Nelson and Amber Zenith. Emily and Amber are the Co-founders and Co- Creators of HIGH fitness — the workout that is reigniting love for aerobic workouts across North America. With a collaborative and inspired vision, and a lot of hard work, these entrepreneurs are helping women look and feel their best with the proprietary HIGH Fitness offering which can now be found in 350 cities across North America. The duo is redefining the aerobic experience and has caught the attention of some big names such as Julianne Hough, Rachel Parcell and even the LA Laker Cheerleaders. The class blends the structure of a traditional Aerobics classes but with HIIT training for a fun factor through the roof that ends with great physical and mental benefits.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
A chance meeting at a gym in Calgary Canada, sparked a chain of events that would lead into what has now evolved into HIGH Fitness. On paper, we never should have met, we are two different women from two different decades with two different backgrounds from two different countries. We are an unlikely pair that has evolved into an amazing partnership. We united on a common love for fitness, especially aerobics, that began as young women watching our moms do their morning workouts on tape.
Amber comes from a very humble background had worked her way up to marketing manager due to her natural knack for sales and marketing. Emily was new to Calgary and looking for a place to get her fitness fix. Blown away at the cost of a monthly gym membership, she took an administrative role that included a free membership.
Throughout their lives, we both had taken — and taught — hundreds of different fitness formats. With experiences as an athlete and trained dancer respectively, we designed our group fitness class to create enthusiasm for a healthy lifestyle while delivering results. HIGH is a marriage of both our athletic backgrounds and addresses some of the pain points of exercise offerings on the market particularly providing a standard experience for everyone, not sacrificing results for fun and a curated soundtrack that encourages movement.
As the response grew — class participants wanted to be certified in the offering. We were able to successfully meet this demand by scaling HIGH Fitness and streamlining the training process.
We rolled-out a subscription-based business where anyone can complete training, be mentored and in turn start their own small business for a minimal monthly cost. For creative consistency, we standardized the choreography to ensure it was taught the same by all instructors. This in turn created a network of instructors working together to deliver a consistent experience — a new model of collaboration for fitness instructors. A new track was released every single week to keep the format fresh and fluid and also to create a buzz for both instructors and participants. The innovative approach in an old school industry has received skepticism but we have stayed true ourselves, set up a dynamic and exciting approach like no other and have shifted the industry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Our story is a story of empowerment. An incredible example of how empowering someone doesn’t dim your light, in fact, it makes yours shine brighter and that is the fuel behind our business. Both of us were able to push each other to grow in areas we were struggling with — Amber in teaching group fitness and Emily in creative our own workout. Working together has allowed us to reach personal and professional heights that we would have been unable to achieve on our own.
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?
Oh absolutely! When we were first starting, we needed to shoot 40 different videos to have completed for our first instructor training — which was only three weeks from the shoot date. Already a daunting task — but Amber carved out 48 hours to film. After a stressful shoot — there was a significant delay in getting the footage back — only to find out the videographer was fairly green and couldn’t deliver the videos. Now panicking, Emily’s husband, Hank, built a makeshift studio in their garage and we reshot the footage, edited it and had it ready for our session. Stressful but we learned that we can do anything under pressure, and of course, to allow time to create resources that we need!
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
The social dialogue about mental health is at an all-time high and we’re becoming more fully aware about how all of our health systems — including self-esteem, societal pressure and a conformist culture can impact your life. With the pressures of life and the unrealistic standards from social media, it seems that the culture of comparison is breeding insecurities. Aerobics is scientifically proven to help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety. HIGH fitness uses the benefits of aerobic exercise and has taken it to another level by adding a fun factor that has social benefits. Our mandate is to get rid of this idea of perfection and empower people to be confident in their authentic selves because that is the only way to find true happiness. Shape and size are irrelevant — what’s most important is that you’re happy with yourself- and falling in love with fitness is often an important part of that journey. We’ve found that people meet up with a friend and meet new friends at HIGH fitness classes and form a bond that can’t be found in other social settings.
Incorporating exercise into your routine is beneficial no matter what your stage of life — moms are modeling the benefits of working out to their children and instilling the importance of self-care. And for all women, working out instills self-confidence, which serves women well in throughout their life.
Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?
We are humbled with the response to our format has elicited from the recovery community. Our instructor Jami Wright has a personal connection with recovery and HIGH Fitness has been a key component in her journey. Jami has taken her love for HIGH and her recovery to another level and teaches classes at the Fit to Recover gym, volunteering her time to help her peers stay sober through fitness.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
The Diet Rich Culture is something that has to be more understood and better regulated. With the rise of social media, pressure has increased to fit into society’s definition of “fit.” We want to empower everyone to believe themselves and realize that they are enough just the way that they are.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership to us is about empowering others to rise and be the best version of themselves!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
Hire slow, fire fast: I mean it’s as easy as that right? Wrong. Like many businesses we have made the mistake of hiring too fast or even too close of friends and then realizing that it’s not a fit for either party.
It pays to take the time to wait for the right person and we learn a lot during a trial period to determine a fit. On the flip side — if goals and vision don’t align — it’s best to move on quickly. You can’t always be everything to everyone — but once you find your tribe of people — there’s nothing that can stop you.
Saying NO to things is actually saying YES to better opportunities
You don’t have to say yes to everything, be choosy and ensure that it aligns with your overall business and marketing plan.
Stick to your Vision: There will be setbacks as you start your business — but remember: your vision and inspiration about why and how you want to create your business and how you want it to go are CORRECT. Everyone may not understand your vision or your grind — and that’s ok. In the beginning we were told countless times that our name “HIGH” and our Vision for the company was dumb, too edgy, and not clever enough. We also were subjected to plenty of unsolicited advice on how to run our business — and to tell you the truth — we are so glad that we stuck to our guns! Just because someone has a business degree or has run a successful business does not always mean they know what is best for you and your company or idea.
Empower people that believe in your product: There will be people along the way who just get you. They will believe in your product wholeheartedly and want to be a part of the journey. Bring those people on board and empower them to be the best they can be — they will be your best employees! Our entire staff is comprised of HIGH Fitness instructors. They not only have amazing skills for their particular job but also understand the business and live, breathe and sweat the product every single day. This has created a passion and a unity within our employees and business and its infectious for those that take our classes.
Forcing people into your product never works out. Focus on those that reach out to you with interest:
You’ve got to own your grind — hustle and work hard all day everyday reaching out to everyone and anyone that will listen! That is the key…spend your time on the people that WANT TO LISTEN, that see the vision, your potential, and your worth. When you meet a brick wall of interest, move on and head in the direction of an open door!
Be strict on your brand, protect it. The cleanup is much harder after the fact then just being diligent about how you want your product delivered:
In the beginning we were so excited that anyone was willing to teach our format that we wouldn’t address issues about how it was being delivered out of fear we would lose them. THAT WAS A HUGE MISTAKE. You only have one reputation and if one person isn’t delivering your product the way it is meant to be, entire communities and cities can receive a fundamental misunderstanding of the core offering. Bad habits also spread like wildfire between instructors, creating confusion about priorities. A commitment to the experience is key to foster growth.
You are people of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Ahh we love this question because we truly started this journey to create better in the world. Over the past five years we have watched numerous men and women completely change their lives for the better. How you ask? By finding themselves again and by finding that spark again. As life gets crazy and busy with jobs, kids and responsibilities, we put ourselves on the back burner and in turn our quality of life decreases. By simply finding falling in love with exercise again and feeling those endorphins and health benefits you begin seeing changes on the inside. Being you is the only way to find true happiness, the minute people realize this, their worlds completely change.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Since there are two of us on this interview, we would love to each give you our life lesson quote!
First up Emily: “All Ships Rise with the Tide.” I firmly believe there is room for everyone at the top of the mountain. There is room for every person out there to be successful and smart — the more we cheer on those around us the HIGHer we rise. I am so lucky to have four big sisters who have cheered me on my whole life realizing that because I am good at something does not make them less than and vice versa. We need more cheerleaders and less naysayers in this world!!
Amber here, my life lesson quote is: “Be Your Own Hype Girl” Girl (or guy). If you can’t believe in yourself, how is anyone else going to believe in you? Being your own cheerleader has nothing to do with ego, Being your Own Hype girl is internal confidence not external validation. Once you decide to be who you actually are without apologies, your life will change before your eyes.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Without a doubt, both of us agree 100%, the person that we would want to have breakfast with more than anyone else is Richard Simmons. We feel pretty confident that he would most definitely come out of retirement as soon as he caught wind of HIGH Fitness! He is the ultimate icon when it comes to all things Aerobics and creating a community that is all about inclusivity. His passion for group fitness and his ability to empower people is unparalleled. We are absolutely obsessed with his lack of ego and his insane ability to be 100% himself. We want to emulate Richard Simmons within our business. He taught at the same studio for decades every class and never missed prior to his sabbatical. His money, fame never changed him. We would do anything for the opportunity for him to see what we are doing, we know it would make him proud.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find us @high.fitness on instagram and facebook.com/ilovehighfitness
Alternately you can follow us personally on our Instagram channels @highfitnessemily @goldiehighfitness
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!