How Fitness Expert Jillian Michaels Optimizes Her Mind & Body For Peak Performance

Truthfully — there was no individual in fitness who I modeled my career after, because my passion isn’t fitness — it’s empowering people. Fitness is just one tool I employ to do that. I can say that there are many individuals who’ve built incredibly strong businesses that I admire and attempted to model my business off of — Suze Orman, Oprah, Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray were just a few of those.


As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewingJillian Michaels. Jillian is one of the most prominent fitness experts in the world and a renowned life coach. Committed to helping people to be the best versions of themselves and to live their happiest and healthiest lives, Michaels has dominated the health and wellness space with hit televisions shows, extensively successful fitness DVDs, the foremost exercise streaming platform fitfusion.com, 8 New York Times best-selling books, an award-winning podcast, live speaking engagements, her Jillian Michaels Fitness App that provides personal training and nutrition plans, popular social media channels and her personal website jillianmichaels.com. Through her platforms, she has built an international community of followers 100 million + strong.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up? What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

Well, in order to make a 30-year story a paragraph, I’ll do my best to give you the highlight reel. I struggled with weight as a kid — for so many reasons. Food represented comfort and control, and it was some of the only common ground I had with my father. My father and I would often eat together to bond — be it our favorite burger place or schwarma place, etc.

When my parents divorced, I was 12 years old and ended up topping out weight-wise at about 175lbs at 5’0 tall. I was struggling in school, being bullied and picked on — which didn’t help. At this time, my mom got me into martial arts to help me find a healthy outlet, which was the turning point for me.

My martial arts studio put me in an environment of supportive people who role modeled health and fitness for me. Over time I lost weight, but more importantly I began to appreciate fitness as a means of improving self-worth and self-confidence. I realized that when people feel strong physically, they feel stronger in all facets of life.

I fell into fitness training at 17 years old — purely by accident. I was training for my black belt and people at the gym began to ask me to train them. So I got my first training certification and to make a long story short — the rest is history. I opened my own sports medicine facility by 29 and I was on Biggest Loser by 31. From there I managed to surround myself with highly intelligent business-savvy individuals that helped me build a strong brand with staying power.

Truthfully — there was no individual in fitness who I modeled my career after, because my passion isn’t fitness — it’s empowering people. Fitness is just one tool I employ to do that. I can say that there are many individuals who’ve built incredibly strong businesses that I admire and attempted to model my business off of — Suze Orman, Oprah, Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray were just a few of those.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Gosh, it really depends on which time in my life I look back to. I had a teacher in 8th grade who helped me tremendously during my parents’ divorce. There was a blackbelt at my karate studio who took me under his wing that I adored who helped build my confidence tremendously. I had a personal training client who believed in me and gave me an angel investment to open my first gym / sports med facility. I’ve been incredibly fortunate.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Ha! I can’t think of one that was funny. They were all a small slice of hell AND there have been so many of them. However, they provided me with learning opportunities which prepared me for better opportunities down the road. For example, I was originally up for a show called Flab To Fab on VH1. It was pretty much a done deal that they were going to cast me. Then, last minute, they changed their mind and decided they didn’t want a “celebrity trainer”. A year later when Biggest Loser came around, I was far better prepared, nailed the interviews, showed before and after photos of my soccer moms and dad bod transformations, and ended up getting the job. Flab to Fab didn’t get past season 1. Biggest Loser was a decade-long global phenomenon.

What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?

The world is a very different place from when I was coming up. For me, the opportunities to get on the field were few and far between BUT once on the field, it was wide open. Now, there are no gatekeepers and anyone can create a platform via social media. However, differentiating yourself amongst all the noise is MUCH harder.

My best advice is to be well educated, consistent with your message, and deeply authentic. Use social media to get yourself out there, but make sure the content you put out there is honest, fresh, passionate, and powerful.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

The biggest thing I am focusing on is The Jillian Michaels Fitness App which I think has been especially helpful for people to have a resource to stay in shape during the quarantine. The app is totally customizable for everyone depending on their fitness goals, equipment available, dietary restrictions and more. My meal plan offers recipes with all the foods they like and I’m able to constantly and consistently add new recipes to the app to keep things fresh and new. Because of this kind of technology, I’m able to bring every element of personal training to one place and make it widely available. For people who followed along with my various DVDs, I’ve added my entire DVD library to the app as well so there are literally thousands of different workouts you can do on any given day. Depending on your mood, you can do yoga, kickboxing, 5k training, and so much more. I’m grateful to be able to offer this platform for people who are struggling with their wellness with so much more time at home and gyms and other fitness classes closed or unappealing right now.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

These are the habits I never compromise:

I always prioritize my sleep. PERIOD. I have to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep. It’s truly critical for immunity, anti-aging, metabolism, athletic performance, etc.

I NEVER miss a doctor’s appointment and maintain ALL my routine fitness appointments. From my internist to my dentist, I am constantly monitoring my health. This allows me to always know where I’m at health-wise. While I have not had any health issues, early detection helps me prevent a small problem from ever becoming a big one.

I am a supplement junkie. I find that supplementation gives me an edge in all areas of health from immunity and anti-aging to metabolism and athletic performance. Personally, I love a company called Alaya Naturals because all the products have premium formulations, are ethically sourced and from organic, whole foods. I take their multi-collagen with MSM glucosamine chondroitin, krill oil, a green superfood blend with antioxidants and adaptogens (turmeric, cordyceps, spirunlina ashwaganda, maca, etc) and a pre/probiotic product!

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?

When running, I practice 2:1 (two strides per inhale / 1 stride per exhale)

When meditating, I practice 4:8:4 if not falling into my natural breathing pattern.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions? How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?

The way I train is methodical. I utilize the most effective fitness techniques (plyometrics, HIIT, circuit training, calisthenics, free weights) to train every modality of fitness from mobility to power. I make sure to strategically periodize my workouts (progressing my techniques every two weeks) so my body never adapts to the workouts and is always challenged. I’m also careful to program rest and recovery into my fitness programs.

These ideas are excellent, but for most of us in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?

Making healthy habits part of your routine is critical. Scheduling time for self-care is a must. I practice my 12 hour rule and it works as follows: If you sleep 8 hours a night, that leaves you with 112 waking hours in the week. If you spend 50 of those hours with family and running your household and 50 of those hours on work, conservatively that leaves you with 12 hours to carve out and schedule for yourself. This allows for four 30-minute at home workouts. One two hour hygiene / doctor appointment per week be it the dentist, hair salon, internist etc. A couple of hours for a hobby. A couple of hours for a date night with your significant other. A couple of hours to spend with friends at a brunch or drinks. Bottom line is: scheduling those 12 hours for JUST me time never gets overlooked. That’s how I stay sane and how I manage to balance my self-care despite my busy schedule.

Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

I answered part of this by talking about the 12-hour rule. As for bad habits, I can only speak for myself, but I quit them cold turkey. Flat out. I don’t mess around. It works best for me personally. And what helps me do that is building support from others by telling them what I’m doing and what I need from them to help me do it. I also engage in contradictory behaviors. So for example, if you’re trying to quit smoking, tell people in your life. Ask them not to smoke around you. As them to engage in other activities where smoking isn’t involved. And then, pick activities that engage you in your health like a spin class or a hike. You are far less likely to go for a hike and then want to blaze up a smoke. Contradictory behaviors help you create different positive behaviors that combat destructive ones.

As a high performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?

Personally, I pay attention. I look at what’s working in my life and what isn’t, what is getting traction and what isn’t — be it personal or professional. If you’re dating someone and it’s a constant game of cat and mouse games, that is NOT flow. Walk away. On the other hand, if that person texts you back, initiates spending time, meets you at least half-way, THAT’S flow. If one of my projects with work is working, I pour my resource into it (time, staff, money). If it isn’t, I pivot, take what’s good from it and apply it to what is working. I never swim upstream for the sake of swimming upstream. That to me is listening to the universe.

Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.

I practice quick hits of mediation throughout my day. I take 5 minutes to chill and focus on my breath, no matter where I might be. It helps me ground myself, put things into perspective, and generally calm down. I also practice mindfulness as I go about my daily life, which keeps me present allowing me to ease worry and anxiety while taking in all the wonders of life I might otherwise take for granted.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

Again, there are so many. “Feel the fear and do it anyway” is a big one for me. Life is filled with risk, but nothing ventured nothing gained. Having the courage to take educated risks is the only way forward, so I allow myself to feel the fear and then remind myself that I’m not going to die and what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. How do you like that? Three in one!


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