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How Jillian Michaels Became an Icon in the Fitness World

Jillian Michaels has revolutionized the way America thinks of fitness. From her 10-year gig as a trainer on NBC’s The Biggest Loser to workout programs like Jillian Michaels Killer Abs and BODYSHRED, she’s built a fitness empire based in the belief that everyone’s capable of greatness. Rather than keeping the secrets of how to make it as a fitness entrepreneur to herself, she’s taking her wisdom to the small screen on Spike’s Sweat Inc., an upcoming entrepreneurship-wellness mashup reality show. Here, some takeaways from Jillian's climb to fitness stardom.

1. Think of Fitness as Empowerment
Jillian grew up in a time when the fitness discussion revolved around what she calls “a false message of lethargy.” As you might guess, she wasn’t a fan. “It was really just placating people and saying, ‘I know you’re not capable of much, but if you just do the bare minimum.’ … I really hate that,” says Jillian, who thinks that mindset is a well-intentioned but misguided source of inspiration. Instead of limiting yourself, she’s all about bypassing your boundaries. “I think the message is that you’re far stronger than you ever believed yourself capable of," she says. "It’s about really pushing women to get out of their comfort zones and find their greatness." That attitude can make you stronger everywhere from the weight room to the boardroom.

2. Work Out Smarter, Not Longer
Maybe in the past it was frowned upon to spend anything less than an hour at the gym, but times have changed. High-intensity interval training is all the rage, and Jillian was one of the fitness figures who brought it to the forefront. “What I love so much about [my] programs is over the last several years, we’ve seen a trend toward high-intensity training, a trend toward metabolic conditioning, and a trend toward 30-minute workouts instead of 60-minute workouts,” she says. It’s no surprise that Jillian is focused on efficiency above all, given that she isn't exactly exercise’s biggest fan. “I don’t really love working out," she says. "In fact, I actually hate it. I work out because I want to have a better life, not just a better body. When you’re physically strong, it transcends into every other facet of your life.” Work out because it improves everything, not just your abs: words to live by.

3. Show Yourself Tough Loveand Self-Compassion
If there’s one thing Jillian is famous for, it’s what some may think of as a harsh training style. She owns up to that—and then some. “I wouldn’t say my approach was exaggerated on The Biggest Loser, but I would say it was misrepresented,” she says. If you were a viewer, you may have missed out on the empathy that Jillian considers the foundation of her fitness approach. “Empathy is: I get it, I know it sucks and that it’s physically and emotionally painful," she says. "But you can do it. I demand that [people] step up and explore and express their potential. I don’t think doing anything otherwise would be doing anyone any favors.” That mixture of high expectations and understanding is part of what’s given Jillian major staying power.

4. Do Your Research
Jillian's approach has resulted in loyal fans—her Instagram boasts 311,000 followers—and plenty of business opportunities. She’s signed on to host and executive produce Sweat Inc., premiering on Spike October 20 at 10/9 central. “It’s like Shark Tank meets fitness,” she says. “We’re taking all of these fitness entrepreneurs and saying, ‘Okay, who has the next fitness phenomenon? What’s the next CrossFit? What’s the next Flywheel?’” Even better, instead of just jumping on a bandwagon because something seems like it’ll take off, Jillian and her team will be performing science-based fitness tests, along with evaluating the applicants’ business plans. She explains that even when it comes to her own programs, she asks herself questions like, “Is it a great workout because it’s scientifically sound?” and “Have we looked at the techniques that we’re employing to show that this is the best approach to achieve an end goal?” That level of intense, results-based scrutiny has helped make Jillian a success.

5. Set Realistic Goals
You won’t come away from a Jillian Michaels DVD with promises that she’ll completely transform your body into a supermodel’s. Into its own best version? Sure, if you put the work in. But Jillian has never been about smoke and mirrors that make it seem like unrealistic goals are actually within reach. “I’ve always been really transparent about my flaws, like having cellulite,” she says. The best part is that pretty much everyone can achieve what Jillian sees as the real be-all and end-all. “It’s not about being skinny, it’s about being strong and it’s about being healthy," she says. "I think I can accomplish that without being perfect." Talk about a serious breath of fresh air.

6. Bounce Back Like a Pro
It’s impossible to get to where Jillian is without a few terrifying, this-might-kill-my-career moments. Luckily, she had a plan to overcome them. “I’ve had some tremendous professional setbacks, like when the Los Angeles Times said I was an actress, not a trainer,” says Jillian. Next time you’re facing professional adversity (or any kind, for that matter), take a page from her book. “I think the way you get through it is by being transparent, taking responsibility for the part that you played, and learning from it,” she says. “If you do all those things, there really isn’t much you can’t overcome. In fact, you can become wiser, smarter, and stronger because of it.”

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