The Face of Fitness

Jul 01, 2007

With over 16 million workout videos sold in the last 25 years, Kathy Smith is one of the most recognizable and enduring legends in the industry. Her secret for success: She just keeps evolving.

On Kathy Smith’s website, , she narrates a timeline of her projects, beginning with her first Sunset Boulevard billboard ad for leotards in 1980. Just listening to the year-by-year account is exhausting: $50 million in infomercial products; innovations (she had the first workout DVD in 2001 and helped to launch the first downloadable personalized audio workout system,, in 2006); countless media appearances (from Oprah to the Today show to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno); honors (she’s in the Video Hall of Fame, is a recipient of the IDEA Lifetime Achievement Award and has been invited to the White House); and service work (currently she’s on the board of the USC Davis School of Gerontology and the Women’s Sports Foundation).

It’s clear that Smith hasn’t let much grass grow between projects and that she’s mastered the art of reinventing herself, with work ranging from aerobics to personal training, weight training to yoga and Pilates, walking and hiking to kickboxing, pregnancy to menopause health.

The constant stream of success has not been an accident: Smith is determined to make things happen, and she loves the process. “I’ve had so many people over the years tell me their great ideas, but the truth is ideas are easy. The real challenge comes with taking action to see [an] idea become a reality,” she says.

For Smith, taking action has meant learning to face fears and doubt. “I love this quote: ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway,’” she says. “My career has taken me through on-camera video shoots, television appearances, launching a club and writing a book. I have a voice of self-doubt, but I now know that if I’m afraid of something, there’s just something new to learn.”

Smith won’t let perfectionism get in the way, either. “It’s overrated, and it can lead to inaction or not wanting to start something unless you can do it perfectly. But you have to just get started and then enjoy the process. The fun is in the journey, not the end result.”

Smith’s balanced, commonsense approach may explain how she’s navigated the wild world of infomercials and media-driven fitness trends. “The biggest challenge has been competing with the hype,” she admits. “In a world where it’s easy to overpromise and sell ‘instant’ weight loss and ‘instant’ body makeovers, the goal is to maintain your integrity, so you can deliver a message that’s realistic.”

Smith advises fitness professionals to find their own place in the industry and then get educated. “Get the training for the skill sets that you need,” she says, speaking from personal experience. “My intuition told me that I would need public-speaking skills, on-camera experience and the ability to write content. So beyond fitness education, I took a writing class at Loyola University, a sports broadcasting class at UCLA Extension, and a television commercial workshop to learn how to talk to the camera. I used opportunities to talk for free at local clubs to improve my confidence. So when opportunities arose, I felt ready to seize them.”

Today Smith is excited about her “Kathy Across America” tour, which she’s launching in 2008, going to communities around the country with the goal of getting 1 million families to live a healthier lifestyle. “Our industry gets an A+ for continuing to come up with innovative techniques to keep the die-hards interested. But I would like to see us spend more time on how to motivate the uninspired. Easier said than done! Once we figure this one out, our industry will have truly succeeded.”

Smith remembers when people doubted the future of fitness, but few people have done more than she has to prove them wrong. “I’ll never forget talking to a group of doctors in 1979 about exercise, and hearing one of the doctor’s say, ‘Oh, this exercise thing will never last—it’s only a fad.’ Well, that fad became a trend and the trend became a lifestyle. This is an ever-evolving industry, but it’s here to stay.”

Fitness Journal, Volume 4, Issue 7

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© 2007 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.