Emily Cook Harris, Founder of EMPOWERED
We met Emily on social media, per usual, and at random. From there we took it to email, where we express our interest in meeting this fabulous and peppy woman. From initial conversations she seem receptive to these two random gals hen we were guests to her HIIT class where we both died and won a lot of prizes. It was one of those organic relationships where we are so happy to meet one another and continue a relationship.
We are excited to get to know Emily, and we hope you are thrilled, too! Read about this week's badass #GIRLBOSS below:
We start every #Girlboss Spotlight interview the same - what did you want to be when you grow up?
I wanted to perform on Broadway. The stage was always my happy place - where I felt the most alive. I grew up dancing at a local dance studio where we had a big revue once a year which was absolute heaven. I competed nationally with my high school dance team on an even bigger stage, traveled around the US to teach dance, and performed with a contemporary company in college. I did musicals along the way (The Music Man, Once Upon A Mattress, High School Musical). I discovered my power and strength through dance - developing a healthy relationship with what my body could DO (not just how it looked) and the stage was where I learned that it was OK to take up space. To be confident. To be seen. To let yourself shine. What’s cool is that dreams evolve as we grow up and while I still LOVE going to see Broadway shows, my stage has changed to a fitness audience and helping people learn how to tap into their own power and go after their dreams.
So, you used to live in New York, and now you're in LA. Why did you leave and choose to come back? (Obviously for Fit Week?!)
I moved to NYC in May 2009 for my two loves - the dance / theatre community that is so vibrant there, and my passion for helping others find their fire through fitness. The literal leap was when I scored my dream internship at the NBC Fitness Center at 30 Rock which was the final “class” for my Kinesiology degree. It essentially launched my NYC fitness career. I was in NYC for seven years and had the joy of doing personal training and teaching class at various studios, completed a dance program at Broadway Dance Center, toured with a musical, connected with the most amazingly passionate & talented people across both industries, and even started my own company (EMPOWERED). It wasn’t until last summer that I made another big leap, this time to the West Coast.
I’m a believer in trusting your intuition and I knew I was ready for a new adventure (and a little more sunshine). I felt ready to create again, and the move has allowed me to do just that. To get a fresh perspective on what I want and be able to take action to bring that about. I still have clients in NYC that I train remotely as well as my favorite week of the year - NYC FITWeek! So I guess I’m bi-coastal now? It’s new and challenging in many ways, but I’m not one to shy away from a challenge. That’s where the good stuff happens. Plus NYC will always feel like home to me, so I love going back quarterly to stay connected to the pulse.
When was your "aha" fitness moment to launch Empowered / Fit Week?
I founded EMPOWERED in September 2010 and the idea just sort of came spilling out. I had just left my full time job at Metlife (exercise specialist at their Bryant Park fitness facility), and I was entering into Broadway Dance Center’s Professional Semester program. I had been doing personal training in the city for over a year but I felt like the way I saw fitness - as a launch pad for finding your confidence & strength to be your best self - was not the widespread messaging for fitness. The personal training space was also male dominated at the time and I felt like there was a need for a different perspective. To me it’s not about six-pack abs and a beach bod. While it’s OK to want those things, that is just SCRATCHING THE SURFACE of the power fitness can have in your life. They are a byproduct of taking care of yourself. The vision was so clear to me that I had to honor it. No one’s purpose in life is to lose weight. Rather it’s about prioritizing your health & happiness, and having that ripple out to all aspects of your life. I started coaching clients with this perspective, and one by one it caught on.
The idea of FITWeek was born out of a one-off fitness class I taught in Central Park years ago supporting girls’ education. I called it RECESS - a playground inspired boot camp. That one class lead to a slightly bigger class at a rental studio… then an even bigger class at Uplift Studios… and then the light bulb moment of WHAT IF… I teach my one class, and the studio down the street teaches a class, and the studio down the street from them… and BAM! The idea caught fire. I felt like we could leverage the power of community and bring this amazing fitness world together for a good cause. And the good news is that it worked :) It’s grown a lot over the 4 years since I started it in June 2014 but the heart is the same. If we all do a little - contribute proceeds from one class during the week - together we can accomplish a lot. I see fitness & education as parallels. They both have the power to unlock your greatest potential and give you the tools to rise above your current circumstances to succeed. FITWeek celebrates the power of fitness in each community (currently NYC & Dallas) while paying it forward to the next generation through education.
The fitness and wellness industry has been growing massively - all part of the social media growth. How do you and your brand differ from other friendly competitors out there?
I feel like I’ve never really concerned myself with the “competition.” The more true I can be to myself, and focus on what I want to create and put out into the world, then it will naturally differentiate itself as every person is different. I think our benchmarks as a brand are the fact that we believe in using fitness as the foundation to change your life.
There are no diets or quick fixes, but rather teaching our clients how to make smart, sustainable choices so it’s a lifestyle.
I want everyone that works with me to have the tools to live a life they love in a body they’re proud of. And that pride comes from the actions. Making healthy choices on a daily and weekly basis. We incorporate this coaching into every client we work with. It’s all from a place of body positivity. Especially as Summer approaches and there are lots of talk of “bikini body ready” and other verbiage which can be really harmful to your self worth. I’m sure I have been guilty of using the verbiage at some point as it’s so “normalized” that we almost don’t catch it. And while it’s intended to motivate, I find it can do more harm than good. I’m committed to being part of the voice that changes this. What I wish for all my students is for them to make their health & fitness a priority because it has infinite benefits to their physical, mental, and emotional well being - not because they feel pressured to look a certain way. Crushing a hard workout will help you feel more confident, in the gym and in the rest of your life. Reaching your goals will show you that anything is possible - and maybe you’ll seek out that new job you really want or find the courage to go after something on your bucket list. To me fitness and life are so intertwined you can’t talk about one without the other. How you approach your workout is how you approach your life. Prioritize your self, move your body in a way that makes you feel strong, choose healthy meals that give you energy to do the things you love most, and find down time to just be. These are all parts of a well balanced life. And no matter where you are in your health journey, we can ALL make some small daily & weekly upgrades to live better.
What is your best advice to stay motivated in the face of body positivity?
Well, motivation comes and goes. I think knowing your WHY is key. So why are you even wanting to make these lifestyle shifts in the first place? The more you can identify your driving force, the better you can be at tapping into it when things get tough. But I am also a believer in creating a new routine and making things CONVENIENT so it’s less about “will power” and more about automation. For example, if sticking to your workouts on your own is difficult, then sign up for some classes as a way to schedule them in and hold yourself accountable. Finding you aren’t getting many veggies in your week? Take time on the weekend for a little meal prep so your healthy foods are ready to go once Monday hits. It’s about creating new habits so you’re not having to be “motivated” to make good choices all the time. But rather it’s part of your new normal. These are the things I work with my clients on - layering in new habits one week at a time. It’s extremely effective and sustainable.
So you won’t have to yo-yo up and down, but rather you will be creating the new balanced you. And side note on body positivity - 1) you are enough just as you are, right now. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. And 2) we can strengthen our self confidence by keeping the promises we make to ourselves. So when setting goals that matter to you, I encourage them to be action based (like I’m going to jog outdoors 3x this week) rather than outcome based (like losing x pounds). And the trick is to make them just slightly above your current norm so it’s a stretch but still attainable. You can gradually raise the bar as you crush them one week at a time.
6. Lastly, what is next for Emily Cook Harris and Empowered / Fit Week?
Ahh so much! Well, I live in L.A. now so lots of sunshine summer pics on instagram lol. But seriously, I’m excited for what’s to come. I’m an entrepreneur at heart and I absolutely love creating and connecting with like-minded people. FITWeek 2017 just wrapped so I’m taking a breather from that (it was a doozy with 34 classes in two cities).
I’m super proud of how it all went and how the mission of uniting the community to support education resonated with people. Makes my heart sing. I am looking to expand FITWeek to other cities as well, and I’ll be doing personal training & lifestyle coaching with my students in NYC, L.A. and everywhere in between. I have some other exciting things in the works for speaking engagements and events with PUMA (I’m an Ambassador), but you’ll just have to wait and see about those.
Life, what a wild ride.
Interviewed by Chary & Emily