Emily and I met up at Dunn Brothers Coffee on Elton Hills Drive, a hotspot for entrepreneurs and artists alike. Inside there’s a big city vibe that mocks its suburban strip mall exterior. She wore black athleisure and sipped a latte as we conversed about everything from business to standard mom advice that we should’ve listened to when we were younger.
Emily Watkins didn’t always love exercise. Her path to becoming a personal trainer with her own business is one of my favorite kinds — the sort with its share of twists and turns. “Life takes you on a different journey sometimes,” she said.
Her journey has included beginning college with a major in music, graduating with a degree in French instead, teaching English in France, teaching middle school in America, becoming a Zumba instructor, a business owner, a personal trainer, and nutrition coach.
Becoming an Exercise Enthusiast
Eleven years ago Emily and her family moved to Rochester. First on their to-do list was joining the Y. “The friends that we knew here loved it,” said Emily. “And I discovered Zumba. That was the huge-est thing for me. I’ve always loved to dance.”
Her passion for Zumba led her to become a certified instructor for fun. “I started to see some changes in my body and thought maybe I could try some other types of exercise. I tried strength training and yoga and discovered they weren’t that bad.”
From Exercise Enthusiast to Entrepreneur
“It definitely has all along been a lesson in flexibility,” said Emily about the seven years she’s spent as a business owner. “Most of the times when I’ve been flexible it’s because I’ve had to be flexible. Be flexible or be done.”
In addition to making four location moves, Empowered Wellness went from being a business partnership to a sole proprietor business. “It’s scary, because I never thought in my wildest dreams I would be a business person.” The change has also been exciting. “I’ve had a lot of ideas that I thought would be fun to pursue.”
Back when Emily first earned her certification in personal training, she felt like a fake. She stuck with it, kept learning, and found her niche. “Now I feel super confident in what I offer. I serve a real purpose.”
“What I like to do and I think I’m really good at doing is starting with the basics,” said Emily. She works with her clients on muscle endurance, establishing the base, and developing a nice, strong core. Most of her clients are women between the ages of 40 and 70 who are new to exercise and intimidated by the idea of going to the gym. Many have worked with her to overcome chronic pain or injuries.
When it comes to nutrition, Emily meets her clients where they’re at. If a client is a sommelier and must drink two glasses of wine a day, or if a client cannot get through the day without eating at least one candy bar, she helps them find a workaround.
“It’s who she is and it’s part of what makes her her,” said Emily. “I’d rather help them come up with other ways. I’m also really realistic. You probably are not going to get down to 15% body fat [if you’re eating candy bars every day, etc.].” She also shared that she isn’t giving up her lattes anytime soon.
What do you think defines a woman as stylish?
I’m attracted to a more European way of dressing. I’ve spent a lot of time in France (her junior year in college, a year teaching English, a week and a half trip, and last year she spent 7 weeks there with her husband and two sons). They dress up a little bit more than we do. Athletic wear isn’t seen as much on the streets. I enjoy the thought of looking sort of fashionable in my trainers clothes. For me fashion is taking what’s generally accepted as in style and then adding flair to it. It’s not being afraid to try something new.
We wandered into talking about the fact that people in France tend to be more slender than people in the U.S. The key differences that Emily has noticed is the quantity and quality of food being consumed.
Q: How do the French eat?
A: They just don’t eat as frequently as we do. There’s not a lot of snacking between meals. French people also eat a lot less at their meals. When you eat at someone’s homes it’s small portions. It’s all really good quality. There are still eating disorders in France. It’s as big of a deal for them as it is here to think about being thin.
Q: What’s your favorite exercise?
A: I always really loved Zumba. I would still do it, but I got a little burned out on teaching. I’ve found exercise that for me is more efficient than Zumba. In the past it’s been weightlifting. At this moment, I’d say running.
Q: Since we’re talking running, I have to ask how important do you think running shoes are?
A: I am a barefoot exerciser. Not important at all. It’s not like you can just shed your shoes and start running barefoot. That’s super dangerous. I’ve learned a lot about strengthening the muscles of the feet. There’s an improvement in balance when you do barefoot. Bigger nerves on the top of our feet. Smaller nerves on the bottom of our feet. The messages travel faster. When we wear padding on our feet we dull those nerves. When those nerves get padded, those nerves get dulled, and those messages don’t travel as fast.
I wear the 5 finger shoes. My five finger shoes are five years old. I embrace that they’re really old and breaking down. I’m the weirdo in the 5 fingers. It doesn’t really matter.
Q: For runners who have ankle, knee, and hip issues, what do you recommend?
A: Strengthen glutes as much as possible. You can do bridge, single leg bridge, and hold your balance on one foot. Those muscles are working to support you. Core strength. I constantly have to remind myself to use my glutes. They really should be doing a lot of the work when you’re running. Running more upright is better. That tends to take some of the pressure off your knees and ankles. Keep your feet underneath you.
Q: How does a person overcome a plateau?
A: Your body constantly needs change to change. Our bodies are really good at adapting. If you’re constantly throwing something new at your body that’s when your body changes.
Q: What’s your favorite piece of advice?
A: Strengthen your glutes. There’s nothing bad that can come from having strong glutes.
Other bits of wisdom..
Emily and I talked about how there are a lot of “dumb” cliches that are meaningful.
“Honor your individuality and focus on that. For a long time I didn’t want to claim my ideal client. I wanted to be the personal trainer that trained really fit people. Now that I have come into realizing who my ideal client is I am so happy. I just feel like I am where I need to be. I feel like that’s true in so many areas of my life. Instead of worrying about being different or weird, I’m starting to embrace those things about me and focus on them. My five finger shoes for example. I feel like I stick out. Trust yourself. Have high self-confidence,” said Emily. “I think that’s an age thing. I’m going to go for what makes me happy, content. Not worry about what other people think.”
“It sounds like mom advice that I should have listened to when I was younger,” I said.
“That’s because our moms were in their 40s then,” said Emily. Good point.
Also, a good reminder! Mother’s Day is coming up. This year it’s on May 13th.