There's a little-known secret about Peloton instructors that even some of the platform's most diehard members don't necessarily know: the seemingly superhuman fitness pros aren't always stoked to work out either. Just like everyone else on planet Earth, Peloton's roster of elite cycling, running, and strength coaches occasionally have to fight the urge to hit "snooze" for the fifteenth time and lace up their sneakers (or clip into the bike — a workout in and of itself).
So what in the world does a professional motivator do on the days they are just not feeling it? I asked one of my favorite coaches, Jess Sims, to spill the tea on her foolproof strategies for getting pumped up and prepped for whatever her schedule has in store. Sims, a lover of Jock Jams-heavy playlists and sweaty workouts that induce a "glazed donut" glow, is among Peloton's most energetic instructors — but that doesn't mean she doesn't need her own boost sometimes.
"Oh my gosh, I feel like I want to write a book on this one day: 'All Fitness Instructors Are Actually Not Motivated!" she tells me on a call during a much-deserved holiday break in upstate New York. "I just think you really have to get to know yourself — there are days where you don't need to do the HIIT [high intensity interval training] workout because that's not what your body is asking for. We confuse the words 'exercise' and 'movement' and they're not necessarily the same. So: exercise less and move more."
Sims says that on the days she just can't fathom going hard on the treadmill, bike, or mat, she leans more into the "movement" side of the equation and focuses less on any ambition to hit a personal record. "On [those days] I might just go for longer walks with my dogs and that's movement," she says. "That's not a workout to me because the dogs are leading the way and I'm not pushing my pace or anything — I'm just going out for a leisurely walk because I know that fresh air and movement is healing for me. You don't need super intense exercise every day."
But Sims does acknowledge that there's a fine line between giving yourself grace to take it easy and opting out of exercise when it might actually be the thing to elevate your spirit. "We can talk ourselves out of it and say, 'I might not have energy for that meeting after class or what if, what if, what if…' But what if you have more energy after?" she says. "You have to figure out what the resistance is — is it self-imposed or self-sabotage or if it's something where you're like, 'I need to just take it easier today and move versus exercise'? For myself, it's really trying to understand who I am and what my body needs on those days, where movement is just perfect enough."
To the point of tuning in to her own unique needs on a daily basis, Sims joined fellow instructor Robin Arzón in a December challenge dubbed #3for31 (logging three miles on foot or thirty minutes of movement on each day of the month) — but she customized it. On days where her body was depleted from teaching a brutal hour-long bootcamp class, she walked the distance with her dogs, and on days where she was pressed for time, she split the miles or minutes into smaller increments throughout the day.
"I really loved this challenge because it was in December," she says of Arzón's annual year-end tradition. "It [was] the time of year with the holidays, with the stresses — and of course, with another round of COVID. So wow, the amount of power that you get by committing to your goals in the toughest month of the year, and then when January comes along, it's like 'great, it might as well be December 16th because I'm already making strides towards my goals.'"
But for those who missed the challenge or who are intimidated by the onslaught of "new year, new me" messaging that is so rampant in the first month of each year, Sims offers compassionate words of wisdom and voices her disdain for one particular Pinterest-friendly fitness phrase.
"'Never miss a Monday' implies that Monday is a magical day and it's like, no, it's not," she says. "Here's the thing: not everyone starts their workweek on a Monday. Maybe my Monday is a Saturday. And if Mondays are super hard for you, then just start strong and do what's best for you — fit in your workout [when you can] because you're not going to regret it."
And if it is one of those days where you know a more intense workout would do you good but you just can't muster the motivation, here are some of Sims' tried and true tips for getting amped:
Pump up your playlist
Sims is a music connoisseur, and when she's not belting out '90s R&B, she's diving into newer tracks in Peloton's extensive library. I mention to her that three of her most-played tracks have given me a second wind during more than one tough workout: "Friday (Dopamine Re-Edit feat. Mufasa & Hypeman)" by Riton and Nightcrawlers, "The Business" by Tiësto, and "Pump it Up" by Endor.
"It's so funny that you bring up those three songs — even just thinking about them, I get a visceral reaction," Sims says. "Like, I feel my heart is pounding, my body's heating up, I'm getting a pre-glazed donut look right now sitting down on this chair! They kind of evoke a little sense of pride and that competitive edge. One of my mantras is, 'line 'em up, knock 'em down.' For me, that is very motivational like, 'yeah, why not? Line that shit up, let's go, one at a time.' It's really up to you, what music you choose, but go for the songs that evoke that reaction where you feel it in your body and you can't deny it."
A few more Sims-approved tracks:
- "My Power" by Beyonce
- "Calabria 2008" by Enur and Natasja
- "Head & Heart" by Joel Corry and MNEK
- "Lose control" by Missy Elliott
- "Wish Wish" by DJ Khaled and Cardi B.
- "Boom BAM" by Team Salut
- "Have Mercy" by Chlöe
- "Blessed" by Shenseea
Put on a ‘fit that makes you excited.
Sims isn't just one of the faces of the Peloton Apparel brand — she's also a Reebok brand ambassador and a big fan of the brand's athletic gear. "I have a color-coded closet full of just sports bras and leggings," the former college basketball star says. "I like to keep it fresh and I also love to donate. If I feel confident in what I'm wearing, I feel confident in the workout, I feel happy, I feel like I want to be seen, I want to be vulnerable," she says. "The thing that I love so much about Reebok and Peloton Apparel is that both of them to me are team-related. There's nothing better than having 'Peloton' across my chest and one of my favorite pairs of leggings are orange with the Reebok logo on the leg. It's like, 'oh wow, I'm part of something bigger than myself' — and that is super motivational for me."
One question that Sims fans have been dying to know the answer to: What kind of shoes does she wear when she's switching between the tread or bike and the mat during bootcamp classes? "I always wear the [Reebok] Nanos," she says. "I have them in a bunch of different colors and they're really great because they are designed to do exactly what I'm doing: running short distances and lifting. Traditional running shoes are fantastic, but they have more cushion which makes you more off balance when you lift. The Nano has the perfect balance of those two things so that I feel super confident."
Find a motivational mantra.
Sims fans know she's a big fan of inspirational sayings, but she has a few favorites. One she is particularly drawn to is 'I can do one small thing to completely shift my day.'
"That one takes the pressure off," she says. "Doing one small thing — going for a walk, doing a meditation — anything can completely shift your day. So if you're sitting on the couch, just feeling super overwhelmed, you can just be like, 'What's that one little thing? What's that one little thing I can do?'
And if you're still struggling to get moving, here's one more phrase Sims can't get enough of: 'Being ready is a decision, not a feeling.'
"Being ready is not something that we should wait around for," she explains. "I like this one so much because it empowers you like, 'I'm making the decision to be ready. I'm not waiting for something to happen to me. I'm not like a victim — I'm going to choose to make it happen. And I think that for me, really helps and drives me towards action.'"
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