The Top 14 Rising Stars in Fitness
Learn how emerging professionals are changing the way we think about inspiring the world to fitness.
Within the fitness industry there is a breed of up-and-comers who are redefining the way the world views fitness. These are true innovators—mavericks poised to become the next generation of thought drivers and path pavers. IDEA Fitness Journal reached out to top names in fitness to learn who they believe are the rising stars who will push the industry toward greatness. This list is by no means exhaustive; think of it as representing the kinds of talents and ideas that will strengthen the industry in decades to come.
Like many fitness entrepreneurs, Isaiah Truyman decided to start his own human performance company because he saw a need that wasn’t being met. A longtime personal trainer, he’d had the opportunity to work in an environment where his clients led what he calls the “billionaire lifestyle.”
“They owned huge, 30-plus-acre estates, and they would hire me to build them gyms and train their entire families and all their guests,” says Truyman. “Sometimes they owned professional sports teams that would come through, too. In addition to providing training, I would hire a team of experts to deliver my clients improved well-being; a massage therapist, yoga instructor, chef, nutritionist, etc.”
Truyman believes the “premium wellness” his affluent clients were privy to should also be available to the general consumer. And so, in 2009, he founded EZIA Human Performance in the seaside town of Carlsbad, California.
Aside from the billionaire lifestyle accoutrements available at EZIA, what sets the state-of-the-art facility apart is ESP (Endurance, Strength and Power), “a game-based program that rewards competency in movement with color-coded levels that acknowledge (and celebrate) your success.” Truyman and his team identified 12 benchmark exercises that “quantify elite performance.” Each quarter, EZIA members have the opportunity to test their skills and attempt to progress to the next fifitness rank.
Many great innovations arise out of necessity. In the latest case of “I wish I’d thought of that,” one of the newest fifitness products to make waves—literally—was invented by someone with little desire to produce the next big thing. Corey Jones, a 25-year-old firefighter from McKinney, Texas, simply believed there wasn’t a tool out there to adequately prepare him and his colleagues for the unique rigors of their jobs. And so the Surge™—a hollow plastic tube fifitted with
handles and filled with varying levels of water for increased resistance and load—was born.
“So often, the objects [that firefighters] move are not stable and well-balanced like the weights we use in our workouts. They have active movement or imbalances that challenge the body in ways that differ from what we train with,” Jones notes.
To divine a solution to his training problem, he looked to a firefighter’s greatest asset: water.
“The idea to use water came from seeing how it constantly moves and crashes from even the tiniest movement,” he recalls. “From there, it was just trying to figure out the best way to harness the movement of water.”
Jones is astonished at the attention his invention has gained since its launch at the 2013 IDEA World Fitness Convention™.
“I could not have anticipated such a positive response from
the fitness community. Introducing a product at the biggest fitness show in the world and having elite trainers say how great the Surge is—that was incredibly humbling.” Patented and trademarked by Rogue Wave Industries LLC, the Surge is manufactured by Hedstrom Fitness.
The Strong Women
Jen Sinkler has always believed in being physically strong. A former rugby player—she participated in the U.S. national sevens and 15s for 10 years—she knows that strength, power and packing a punch are assets on the field. Sinkler describes rugby as a “body positive” sport in which confidence is required to succeed.
However, mainstream ideals of feminine beauty aren’t synonymous with terms like power and packing a punch. Outside of rugby, Sinkler has noticed over and over that women are often encouraged to downplay their literal and figurative strengths. As a writer, personal trainer and co-owner of The Movement Minneapolis (together with her husband, David Dellanave, whom you’ll meet shortly), she makes it a mission to rewrite the script on how women view training—and themselves. She calls it being “unapologetically strong.”
As for her training style, Sinkler thinks of herself as “involved, but not pushy.”
“I ask a lot of questions of my clients, and the main one tends to be, ‘That looks pretty light for you. What do you think about adding a little more weight?’” she says. “I find I have more luck—and they have more PRs [personal records]—when the choice ultimately lies with them.
“The idea is to acknowledge there are lots of ways to get fit, and to embrace the ones you like best. I like providing spaces for that vibe and approach, which is why I teach and talk about a lot of different ways to approach resistance training: kettlebell training, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, calisthenics and DVRT [dynamic variable resistance training], with all sorts of different approaches to how to wield those tools well.
Like Sinkler, Los Angeles–based Neghar Fonooni believes strength provides a basis for better quality of life. She, too, encourages her female clients and followers to buck the common practice of lifting light weights. “Lifting heavier equals getting stronger,” she says. “Strength makes everything easier! It’s very important for a woman to be able to handle a lot of life’s more physical tasks on her own, and lifting heavy only makes this easier. Also, lifting heavy is a great way to develop a lean, athletic physique.”
Fonooni also believes that women are more likely to succeed when they shift focus from purely aesthetic aims to performance goals.
“Wanting to lose fat or gain muscle are both great intentions, but performance goals—such as increasing squat load or running a faster mile—are going to keep you wanting to exercise regardless of how harshly you judge your aesthetics,” she says.
What is Fonooni’s biggest dream—and personal mission— for improving the future of fitness? Acceptance.
“It’s my hope that our industry will shift from one that markets extreme weight loss, sex and shame to women toward one that encourages women to love their bodies through the transformation (as opposed to after). I plan to continue to run my business and represent my brand in that manner, because the best way to promote change is to lead from the front.”
Katy Bowman, MS
Biomechanics. Pelvic floor. Iliopsoas. These words may spark intrigue for fitness pros, but they’re like kryptonite for much of the general population. That’s where Katy Bowman comes in. A biomechanist and director of the Restorative ExerciseTM Institute, Bowman succeeds with a teaching and training style that is equal parts education and entertainment.
“I don’t go out of my way to make my presentations funny, as in, ‘Let’s add some jokes,’ but I’m one of those people who find humor in everything,” says Bowman. “I also don’t edit my internal dialogue much. Science is typically presented as a humorless, very serious topic, which turns a lot of people off. I keep my writing breezy and full of pop-culture references and horrible, self-created models and diagrams, to keep it accessible.”
While Bowman deals in humor, she charges fitness professionals and ambassadors with a serious challenge.
“If there’s one thing research has shown us this last decade, it is that [paradoxically] we can be both ‘fit’ and sedentary at the same time,” she notes. “Fitness leaders need to become advocates for movement—all-day movement—and lead discussions on how we can transition the public from thinking, ‘This 60-minute workout is enough,’ to thinking, ‘Where does my workout fit in the context of how I move all day?’ We tend to think of innovation in terms of technology, but there is a revolution brewing in human health science, and we don’t want to miss the boat on this one!”
The New Yogis
Philip Steir and Derek Beres
Yoga instructors Philip Steir and Derek Beres believe there is a missing component in contemporary yoga practice: music.
“Nothing affects as many regions of your brain at once as music,” says Beres. “Some hypothesize that music helped lead to the creation of language.”
Together, the two developed a program called Flow Play for Equinox. Flow Play incorporates yoga, music (Beres is a DJ, and Steir produces music) and the latest research in neuroscience.
“Flow is a psychological state where we become so focused on an effort in the present moment that everything else seems to disappear,” Steir explains. “[Combining] music and movement with focus can be one of the best ways to achieve this flow experience.”
Steir initially clued in to the brain’s response to music through its effect in movies and advertisements. “Music functions in a similar manner to shape the flow of a yoga class,” he says.
Steir adds that his experience as a DJ has played a huge role in how he teaches his students. He notes that a great DJ will read an audience and play what it wants to hear, whereas a subpar DJ will play what he wants to listen to.
“There is a symbiotic relationship between a DJ and a crowd, just as there is between an instructor and students. It has to work both ways. If you’re not paying attention to your students and just teaching what you want to teach, you’re missing the point, and you risk alienating people.”
When we think about innovation, the first things that spring to mind may not be strength and conditioning. While strength has been a fitness staple for eons, lately it’s taken a backseat to contemporary strategies and tools far fancier than bars and heavy weights. However, the past several years have seen a resurgence in the popularity of S&C, with a modern influence. For example, David Dellanave of The Movement Minneapolis incorporates biofeedback principles into training so that clients progress steadily and with minimal injury risk.
“I wouldn’t argue that S&C is a new trend, but I think we are really starting to get smarter about how we approach it, as well as circling back to what works rather than getting lost in a lot of the silliness of the past few years.”
That silliness, he says, involves a mind-over-matter attitude that he’s looking to squash.
“The big innovation that I’m putting forth is the idea of allowing your body to lead the way,” he explains. “One of the prevailing attitudes in the fitness industry is that the body is something that should be forced to submit to the will of the training or the mind. I think this is demonstrably flawed. On the other hand, when you use techniques like biofeedback to assess moment to moment what is going on with the body and how it’s responding to training, you can take advantage of the natural propensity of humans to adapt and get better.”
The Movement Revolutionaries
“I don’t do fitness,” says Israel-born Ido Portal, who now resides in Berlin. “Fitness is a limited concept that does not serve us well anymore. All the isolated and fractionated concepts we have developed in fitness will not amount to the full picture of movement and health.”
A self-professed movement teacher, Portal travels worldwide to share the Ido Portal Method with the hope of helping others gain freedom through movement. His message is simple: “Move because you can. If you won’t, tomorrow you might not be able to.”
A long history of training in martial arts, followed by capoeira, sparked Portal’s obsession with understanding movement. Despite the education, he still felt limited. Each of his teachers looked at a specific discipline—such as dance or circus performance. Portal believes that the scope of movement is much bigger and incorporates all disciplines.
“It is important to note that originally the world of fitness was a small fraction of the big world of movement, which included dance, martial arts, mind/body systems, object manipulation, explorations, hunting, locomotion and more,” Portal says. “But the order has been destroyed. I have made it my goal for some years now to bring back the right order to things, make people realize that movement is for every [human being] and provide quality tools for movement education.”
Words can’t truly describe Portal’s passion. It’s best understood by watching him move. Check out this video to see him in action: www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeAQnYhrolQ”
Danny Weiland’s story starts with a damaged back. “All the heavy lifting I was doing wasn’t helping,” he recalls.
Weiland traded his heavy weights for planks and other prone-based exercises on the floor or using the BOSU® Balance Trainer. As his pain diminished, he started to experiment with movement, incorporating the BOSU Ballast® Ball into his weekly sessions. Weiland’s world opened up.
“I tried to go from a seated position to kneeling, then seated to prone, all without touching the floor,” he says. “It became a game. I challenged myself to take all of the training movements I used that originated on the floor and to incorporate them using the Ballast Ball and BOSU Balance Trainer. You can then connect the movements together and you get a ‘flflowy,’ mentally engaging program. And it’s fun.”
The result is Corbing™, which to some might look like a circus act, but Weiland describes it as a carefully planned series of movements designed to enhance the mind-body experience, inspire individual creativity and improve physical performance.
“The whole journey has been about connecting the mind back to the body—and feeling as a unit without the mind running around all over the place. I’ve found a way to attain that mental state that I’ve been searching for—and also get the fitness benefit and cosmetic stuff that come with being in good shape.”
Watching him flow on the Ballast Ball might give the average fit pro pause, but he insists that with baby steps Corbing can be safe, productive and enjoyable. “Take it slow. If you go too fast, it’s not going to be fun. Allow your body and mind proper time to acclimate to the stimulus.”
The Positive Motivators
Group exercise instructor and WellCoaches® health coach Caroline Jordan has a simple fitness philosophy: “Positive thoughts equal positive results.”
“You cannot live a healthy life without a healthy mind first,” she asserts. “With a strong, positive mind, you can free yourself to live the life you want. We practice strengthening the mind with ‘mental push-ups’ (positive, affirming thoughts) in all of my classes and workshops.”
Jordan imbues everything she does with positivity because she feels she has a responsibility to make everyone feel comfortable in her presence.
“A group class can be an intimidating place! When I am teaching a class, my mission is to lift up the spirits of [people in] the room. I think it’s important to do that through positive, powerful cuing and maintaining an approachable attitude that makes every individual feel welcome.”
Skeptics might wonder how Jordan manages to remain upbeat throughout her day, but she insists that, with a bit of work, anything is possible.
“I believe you must marinate the mind with positive influences on a daily basis,” she explains. “From surrounding yourself with positive people to reading inspirational blogs or watching TED talks, it’s important to be proactive about what you put into your mind. Regularly putting positive things (words, messages, people, conversations, stories, pictures, etc.) into my life helps me to stay inspired and to maintain a positive attitude.”
Australia-based Andrew Conolly’s introduction to fitness seems a natural progression. “I represented Australia at both the junior and the under-23 world championships [in rowing],” he says. “It was during this time that I became fascinated with, and wanted to learn more about, the types of training my coaches had me doing.”
He would eventually earn certifications in group exercise and personal training, and from there he launched himself into the indoor cycling world.
“For the first few years of my fitness career, leading 20+ cycle classes per week was normal. I wanted to focus all of my time and energy on becoming the best indoor cycling coach possible before exploring everything else the fitness universe had to offer.”
Conolly’s brand of instruction is based in psychology, which he studied in college.
“My workouts do not fit the traditional group exercise model of demonstration to music, but rather a coaching style of instruction built on psychological strategies,” he notes.
In 2013, Conolly joined Jay Blahnik, Julz Arney and Josh Crosby and the rest of the ShockWave team to expand programming throughout Australia.
“It was my first big program launch, and I am proud to have been able to bring such a wonderful program to Australia—it brought rowing to the masses.”
Several fitness industry veterans insist that Conolly’s star is only beginning to rise, but he prefers to focus on what’s right in front of him.
“As for the part I play in the future, I have never been one for big dreams. I personally advocate a passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals.”
The Social Media Rock Stars
When IDEA presenter Cassey Ho first entered the online arena, she had no idea what impact she was about to create.
“It all started with an innocent Pilates routine I filmed and put up on YouTube for my real-life students as I was moving away to the East Coast after college,” says the instructor and creator of POP Pilates. “It was the only
way we could still work out and have class ‘together.’ Little did I know that people all across the world were going to be watching this video too.”
Ho now boasts more than 1.2 million YouTube subscribers; several of her videos have well over 3 million views.
She believes she is successful by being herself instead of projecting a manufactured personality.
“I’m real, and I’m not afraid to be me, which can be weird at times! I am grateful every day for the opportunity I have to inspire millions across the world, so I make sure I do the best job I can to serve my fans in every way possible.”
Ho is also the creator of Blogilates, which earned her the title of Best Healthy Living Blogger in 2012 from Fitness magazine.
She believes that fitness should be accessible to everyone and that the online world is a great place to find like-minded people who share similar struggles.
“Fitness can be fun, entertaining, and still very intense and effective at the same time. It’s all about the community and the support network you have to help you reach your goals. If you can’t find that in your current circle of friends and family, it’s possible to create trustworthy relationships online with others focusing on a common goal.”
Danny-J Johnson, MA
Danny-J Johnson, or “Danny-J” as she likes to be called, has built a significant online following based on her sense of humor and tell-it-like-it-is personality. She describes her business, The Sweaty Betties—which is “liked” by more than 250,000 people on Facebook alone—as an “irreverent group of women who are looking to get fit and have a whole lot of fun along the way.”
Danny-J started The Sweaty Betties as a forum for women who were tired of the concept of fitness being a means to perfection. A former fitness model and figure competitor, she felt that the industry spread significant misperceptions about what it means to be fit and healthy.
“We see a lot of ‘fitness models’ and fitness celebs doing the same thing,” she says. “Everyone is happy and positive, and they eat perfectly. Well, the real world isn’t like that!”
In a space where carefully controlled “images” prevail, Danny-J isn’t afraid to put her whole self in the spotlight. And she believes this is the main reason why she has developed such a large, passionate following.
“I think when I started to be more real and talk about my struggles and share stories of others, it really just opened the vault, so to speak, on what ‘fitness personalities’ were allowed to say.”
Danny-J, who has a master’s degree in health promotion and who is an IDEA Inspired Blogger, works to develop a supportive, inclusive environment.
“The Sweaty Betties is obviously marketed to women, so it’s about joining together as a community and lifting each other up, not tearing each other down.”