Updated Aerobic Class Has Cult Following in Utah, Idaho
Emily Nelson is teaching a High Fitness class in Bountiful, Utah, while the rap song “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot blares over the speaker. The class of 35 women erupt into cheers to the iconic lyrics, starting with “I like big butts.” Nelson shouts: “We like big butts! We like small butts! We like round butts! We like little butts! We like all butts!”
In a toxic wellness industry dominated by body shaming, High Fitness’ positive message of confidence is refreshing. The energetic, aerobic fitness classes are motivating, supportive and fun.
“We created High Fitness because we felt like there was a niche missing in the fitness industry,” says Nelson, who is certified in dozens of fitness styles like Zumba and BodyJam. She found fitness classes were either difficult boot camps, easy routines with no sweaty workout or overly technical with too much choreography. “We wanted a class that was as intense as it was fun. And in High Fitness, you always leave remembering the fun.”
High Intensity, High Endorphins
High Fitness was created in 2014 by Nelson and co-founder Amber Zenith. The two bonded while teaching classes at a gym in Calgary, Canada. They began swapping ideas for a dance fitness class; Nelson would choreograph a routine and Zenith, a nondancer, would “dumb down the moves.”
What they created was unlike other fitness classes. The pacing of alternating cardio tracks and toner tracks — set to a variety of music genres — is a style of high-intensity interval training that pushes the body into the critical peak anaerobic zone, crucial to burning fat. This formula is the mainstay for High Fitness. Each song only has four to five moves, making it simple enough to appeal to the masses.
The two launched High Fitness in Canada, but it exploded when Nelson, a Utah native, moved back to her home state and started teaching High Fitness classes.
“Big credit to the people of Utah — they latched on like wildfire, they were so supportive and they truly helped us make it take off,” Nelson says.
Certification sessions to train new instructors sell out in 20 minutes in Utah. On any given night, dozens of High Fitness classes are taught throughout Utah and Idaho. Certified instructors pay $30 a month for an online video subscription service where Nelson and Zenith release a new song weekly. The new songs keep the classes fresh.
Nelson surmises Utahns embraced High Fitness because it attracted a lot of moms hoping to find themselves again physically, mentally or emotional, after giving birth or raising kids. The endorphins created are mood boosting and classes become a supportive community.
“The sad truth is that most women deal with or have dealt with eating issues and unhealthy body image,” Zenith says. “In the fitness industry, there is so much pressure to look a certain way and it’s our mission to change that.”
Instructor training strictly enforces High Fitness’ standards. High Fitness social media posts never feature ab shots and before-and-after testimonials focus on inward change, like overcoming depression and learning to love physical activity.
The self-care mission has helped High Fitness become a fast-growing fitness trend. There are currently 2,300 High Fitness instructors (1,800 active) teaching classes in 350 cities, 33 states and four Canadian provinces. Nelson adds, “This is only the beginning.”