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Jillian Michaels: The Biggest Motivator

Hear our interview with Jillian Michaels at YOUNG MONEY Radio.

At first glance, you’d think that everything in life comes easily for Jillian Michaels.  After all, she’s arguably the most popular star of NBC’s hit television series "The Biggest Loser," wrote two fitness books, produced a series of home workout DVDs and even hosts her own radio talk show. But the 34-year-old Los Angeles resident has also had to overcome some major obstacles on her path to becoming one of the country’s best known fitness trainers.

Michaels struggled with weight management and anger issues as a teenager. She was reportedly 50 pounds overweight before her mother encouraged the teen to start taking martial arts classes. Michaels soon developed a passion for martial arts and has spent 17 years practicing Muay Thai and Akarui-Do, in which she holds a black belt. Her interest in athletics also led to her earning two personal training certificates. After a brief career detour working for a major talent agency Michaels eventually returned to fitness training and gained the attention of producers casting for "The Biggest Loser."

The popular reality show pits overweight men and women against each other in grueling physical challenges to win cash and prizes. The players are split into teams and fitness trainers, including Michaels, are assigned to help them lose as much weight as possible prior to their weekly weigh-ins.  The contestant who loses the greatest percentage of weight during the season is proclaimed "The Biggest Loser" and earns $250,000. Show fans are used to seeing Michaels pushing her team members to their limits and inspiring them to lose hundreds of pounds. She also serves as a trainer in the Australian version of the show.

Michaels’ dynamic approach emphasizes strength-training methods that can be transferred from the gym to daily life. Her intense and effective technique incorporates the best of kickboxing, yoga, Pilates, plyometrics and weight training to achieve optimal results. She is also proficient in Reebok Core, injury rehabilitation, endurance training, muscle growth, fat reduction and sports nutrition.

Michaels suggests that young adults educate themselves about making healthier food choices when eating out and that those small changes will make a huge difference in their diet.

"When you really put it in perspective you’re going to say, ‘Do I want to have the donut or do I want to look hot in my skinny jeans at spring break?’ she says. "I think the skinny jeans are going to outweigh the donut every single time."

In an exclusive interview with YOUNG MONEY, Jillian Michaels shared her keys to career success, how wealth changed her life, and why it pays off to dream big.

You began your fitness career because you were considerably overweight as a kid. What did you hope to accomplish when you first started training?
I was an overweight teenager. Not only was I overweight but I was hostile and problematic. My mom decided to get me in martial arts because she thought it would be a really good outlet for me. As it turns out it was not only a means for me to turn my physicality around but also my state of mental well being. That’s really were I developed a passion for fitness as a means for people to change their life not only their body.

How did your life begin to change once you became stronger and fitter?
I think when people begin to feel strong physically it transcends into every other facet of their lives. They start being able to endure being afraid of failure, being afraid of loss, being afraid to look at themselves and make change. That stuff is not easy. It also changes your self image. For me, I went from being the fat kid in high school to being the kid who could break two boards with her right foot. It changes the way that you behave and your actions dictate your behaviors, your behaviors dictate your choices, and your choices create the outcome of your destiny.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while building your career as a trainer?
It was very natural. I graduated from high school early at 17 and I was just really looking to make some decent money while I was in school. I was always working out at the gym. People would come up to me all the time and ask, "Are you a trainer? Do you train people?" I sort of naturally fell into it and I began my career at that point. I did come out of the fitness industry for a few years from about age 24 to 27. I actually became a motion picture packaging agent. (Laughs) I’ve never been quite so unhappy in my entire life so I got out of the entertainment industry and went back into fitness. But it was that stint in the entertainment industry that led me to "The Biggest Loser" because one of my clients was an agent at the agency where I used to work at, so he put me up for the show and the rest of history.

What do you love most about your job?
What I love most about my job is that it gives me meaning. I don’t have any proof of an afterlife so as far as I know I need to make this one count the most. I need to find meaning in it. Getting letters from wives saying, "Thank you so much for giving me my husband back" helps me sleep at night.

Is there someone in particular who has been a major influence in your life and career? I would definitely have to say that it was my mother and my martial arts instructor. The combination of those two people, I would venture to say, saved my life because my rebellious nature could have gone in the opposite direction in more ways than one. (Laughs) I think it was both their love and tenacity and caring that has made me who I am today.

How has the success of "The Biggest Loser" changed your life? What the show has done is give me a national platform. With that comes a certain sense of responsibility. You feel obligated to do everything you can to help people get healthy, change their lives and see their dreams becomes reality because I think its all connected ultimately. It has given me an opportunity to step into the position of being a motivator and in essence being a leader. For that reason it keeps me on the straight and narrow. I can’t say enough about how fortunate and blessed I am to have had the opportunity despite the fact that the show tortures me. (Laughs)

To what do you attribute your career success?
First of all, I always ask myself the question, "Why not me?" Why not me to be the most successful in this field? Why not me to be the number one motivator? Why not me to have my own website or my own radio show? I think a lot of people don’t feel worthy. You have to believe in your ability to do it and you have to be able to say it before you can achieve it.

What type of fitness advice would you offer college-age adults?
I like to be careful when it comes to anybody 21 and under because I don’t want them getting super obsessive with their bodies. I think that kids are very impressionable at this time and it can lead to all different kinds of disorders whether it’s over exercising, bulimia, anorexia, and body image distortion problems. So my best advice for kids is to find an activity in your life that you enjoy whether it’s cheerleading or sports of some kind. I’ve got an 18-year-old brother and a 15-year-old sister. My sister joined the swim team. She’s blissfully happy. My brother has gotten into weightlifting and he loves it. It’s a great outlet for them. It’s social. They’re around other young adults their age. It just gives them a way of incorporating a physical activity into their social life because that’s what kids want to do. They want to be social. They want to have fun. So make fitness part of a fun daily fitness activity for you.

How do you help people get motivated to live a healthy lifestyle?
People come to me with this issue and say, "I need motivation." I automatically say, "You’ve come to the wrong place." Of course, they look at me like, huh? The truth of the matter is that it has to come from within or it won’t last. It won’t stick. The changes won’t be permanent and therefore it’s irrelevant. What you need to do is write down all of the things that you want-all of the reasons why you want to go to the gym. How come you want to be motivated? What is that motivation going to bring to you? Why is it that you want to get started on a fitness regimen? It could be, "I want to look hot in my bikini" or "I want to be able to chase my three-year-old up the stairs." Whatever your reasons are, it doesn’t matter how shallow you think they are or how profound, write them down on a piece of paper because this list is going to keep you going when things get tough.

Are you constantly setting personal goals for yourself?
Oh, yeah. (Laughs) And they elude me on a regular basis! I think that’s one really important aspect of being successful. You need to be willing to fail. You need to be willing to fail a lot because success is a matter of attrition. One of the most successful businessmen that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with told me, "We’ve been lucky. We succeed more than we fail and we want to make new mistakes." So if you’re not failing, you’re not learning and you’re not really living. It’s part of the game. I’ve failed so many times. I pick myself up, dust myself off, look at what I can learn, how I can grow and then re-approach.


1. Imagine being successful. Know your goals and know what you want to accomplish. If you don’t know what you want, you have no way of charting a course of action or a game plan on how to achieve it.

2.  Believe in your abilities to achieve your goal. Fitness is a useful tool in transforming your life because when you’re feeling strong you’re also a potent person in other areas. Spend time exploring yourself, taking a hard look inside, and making the changes that you need to make.

3. Take action. You have to bring action to your intentions. You can’t "secret" your success into being. You have to do the work.

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2 Responses to Jillian Michaels: The Biggest Motivator

  1. Lexi says:

    This was an amazing article i think it truly can teach people that even if you are an outstanding trainer you can also struggle with weight issues.

  2. Pingback: ESPN Broadcaster Suzy Kolber: A League Of Her Own

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