To celebrate the launch of our new high impact sports bra, Catalyst, we’re sharing the stories of inspiring athletes and what motivated them to get where they are.
Jess Sims is a New York City fitness instructor who trains hundreds of students a week. She has been featured in SELF Magazine as one of the top trainers to follow on Instagram, and in Cosmopolitan for advice on how to get a six pack like hers (spoiler alert: it doesn't say anything about hiring someone to slap donuts out of your hand).
But she wasn’t always a fitness instructor. Just two years ago, Jess was a teacher and assistant principal. And though her career was falling perfectly into place, she still didn’t feel fulfilled. So she made a drastic decision and flipped her career on its head.
Now, she runs around New York City teaching 26 group fitness classes and six private sessions a week. Below, she tells us why she made the switch, what she loves about her job, and how to fall in love with fitness.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your work as a trainer.
I was a teacher and assistant principal. I got my Masters. I did that for about six years and then I realized I really missed the active part of my life. I had played college basketball and played every sport growing up. And so I did a lot of self-reflection and realized I’m supposed to be a teacher, that’s for sure, but maybe I’m in the wrong setting. I switched over two years ago and started teaching group fitness classes at a boxing studio. Then I started teaching high intensity interval training at another gym, and I also have a couple of private clients as well.
What motivated the shift to change your career? Was there an “A-ha!” moment?
I was in education for six years and I worked nonstop; I didn’t have a summer off. I did a different job every year, pretty much. I was really hungry to learn and grow, but there was something that was missing. When it was busy season, I wasn’t able to go to the gym and I’d feel badly about myself, and if I wasn’t eating healthy I’d feel badly about myself. But during the times when I was really on it, I was helping other people.
So the moment I realized maybe I’m not in the right setting is two-fold. One, I was the assistant principal [at the school I worked at] and everything was functioning beautifully there. It was the most ideal situation ever, but I was still unhappy.
So that, combined with the other parallel moment, is my boyfriend is a Soulcycle instructor. He also owns his own dance studio on the Upper East Side in New York and teaches dance to kids and adults. I would see how fulfilled he was. And I would take his classes and I would leave so happy and inspired. He was the one who said to me, “Maybe you should quit your job.” I was like, “No, I got my Masters. I’m a teacher!” And he said, “I agree, so am I, but maybe you’re in the wrong setting.” So that was my big “a-ha” moment. I miss the kids, of course, but I don’t miss teaching because I’m still teaching!
What do you do to feel your best when running from class to class?
It took me awhile to figure out. I don't have a day off. I was feeling fulfilled because I was helping other people, but then I was bummed cause at the end of the day I wasn’t getting my own workout in. So about 8 months into my new career, I finally started working out more. I wanted to go harder in my workouts, but the last thing I want to do is plan my own workout when I’m already helping everybody else. So I have two trainers. I have one for boxing and one for weightlifting, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. That’s really been the key to my success: When I feel fulfilled, when I feel good about myself, I’m able to give to other people. You have to take care of yourself. Therapists will say they need therapists, and trainers need trainers. That’s my 90 minutes, that’s my time. I literally have it in my phone in all capital letters, “MY TIME”.
What do you tell your clients to motivate them?
I say the same thing to them. I say, “This is your time.” I say, “You’re not tired, you’re uninspired.” One, if you want it badly enough you’re gonna find the energy. And two, it’s your time. So you can be bummed out and say you don’t have the energy but really, nobody has ever regretted a workout. The toughest part is getting to the gym and once you do that, then the magic happens.
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Yea it’s raining and was hard to get out of bed this morning, but the grind is a journey and you gotta commit to it. Move forward no matter what. There are def days I slowly walk forward (like today 🐌) and other days I run or sprint, but regardless, I’m moving. Some people get tired and give up due to temporary circumstances. Stay rooted in why you started. No excuses, get your day going! Big inspo by @kevinhart4real yesterday 🙌🏽🙌🏽🙌🏽 #sharingnotestoself . . . #liveFHIT #keepmoving #movement #kevinhart #inspo #monday #mondaymotivation #motivation #inspiration #nycfitness #curls #braids #braidstyles #curlyhair #naturalhair #mixed #curlyhairstyles
Is that what you tell yourself too when you’re having sluggish days?
Oh always. Always! I literally give the advice I give to myself. Everything I post on Instagram, if it’s an inspirational quote or whatever it is, it’s something that I needed to hear that day. And that deepens the connection as well because you’re relating to other people.
Any advice for people trying to start at the gym and stick to it?
Just do it. Just move.
What I’d always say as a teacher is there’s no such thing as a kid who doesn’t like to read, they just haven’t found the right book. And I feel the same way about fitness. There’s no such thing as a person who doesn’t like to work out, they just haven’t found the right workout. Try different things. Maybe you’re petrified of dancing but then you take a dance class and you’re like, “Holy sh*t, I loved that dance class and I didn’t even realize I was working out.” You want to do something that you look forward to.
And once you start to establish that routine, you’re gonna feel off when you don’t do it. Put it in your calendar as a non-negotiable, just like you would a meeting with your boss. If you have a friend, great. So maybe one day you’re not feeling it, but your friend is like, “Nope, we signed up for this, let’s go.” Just get there.
If you’re fixated on an end goal, you’re gonna hate the process. You have to become obsessed with the process, and sweating, and buying fun workout clothes, or meeting new people, or meeting people for coffee after your class, or going for a run outside along your favorite river. You have to fall in love with that—and once you take the focus off, “Oh I have to lose five pounds”, then you’ve really reached it.