I met Rachel when she was at Exhale in Meatpacking. It was the BurnThis event and consisted of two parts – outside running followed by a barre class with Rachel at Exhale. I opted out of the running portion for several reasons and Rachel stayed back to set up her room. Later that year, when I was working out at BFX, I saw Rachel again. It took me a while to pinpoint from where I remembered her face, but the moment I did, it brought back one particular thought. She never judged me or made me feel a certain way because I chose not to run that day. There were a few people, complete strangers actually, who said,”Oh, so you’re not running? You should just try.” From that moment, I assumed that the ones who hadn’t spoken up felt the same way, including Rachel. But she didn’t.

And that’s what fitness should be about – support. The best studios I’ve been to in the city have supported their students, pushed them to be better for themselves, and understood that true health and well being is both internal and external. Hence why Rachel Nicks should be our next Women’s Health Next Fitness Star.

Why did you get into fitness?
For me it was never about being skinny or having a six-pack. I think for me it’s important for people to realize I was born thin so it’s easier to maintain a thin body versus having to overcome being heavy or overweight or anything like that. I was always active, too, so my life are those of athletes. I was a gymnast starting at the age of 2. I did that for 12 years. I played soccer for 8, and then basketball 5, volleyball 4. After my first year of high school, then sports stopped.

Why? I know a lot of people continue throughout.
I think it was that you enter puberty and it’s kind of like what’s next if you’re not playing a sport to stay active, and that’s when I started realizing my body is a little different. If I eat, then I probably have to maybe work out, so then kind of learn like how to work out. Do you run? Do you spin? Do you lift weights? How do you lift weights? Those are newer things when you’re on your own at 16 trying to figure out. Then acting took over and when I graduated from Julliard it was kind of like okay. Well, when you’re not acting, what would you do? I was taking some yoga then some hot yoga then I kind of like really got into Mat Pilates. Then someone took me to a yoga class. That kind of changed it for me. It was more like a spiritual class, not very full of massive chanting or anything but it was a room with no mirrors, so I think it was more that spiritual side. It wasn’t about looking at yourself and how you looked. It was what you were feeling and where your body was in a space and you have to feel that versus see it which I think is a really big thing in fitness. It should be present in your body from the feeling standpoint, not from a visual.

But studios live off of mirrors. It seems that people are always telling you look at yourself rather than feel.
I don’t really believe in mirrors. I think a beginning class, mirrors are good, so it’s like oh yeah. That (points to shoulders). Yes. My shoulder is above my head. Then you have to remember that feeling in your body. Athletes, they don’t play a game with a mirror. They have to feel that things are right, or know that things are right.  I think that’s kind of where I started to realize I could give you a little deeper than just a physical workout. Then I started to take barre class with my girlfriend who was doing boot and it was really, really hard. That was in LA. I enjoyed it. Then I was between Dallas and LA in a relationship and I started taking hot yoga. Little did I realize I was … It’s not that it became an addiction but I was going a lot, like everyday, and the relationship wasn’t so great. It was pretty stressful. Then I was starting to realize I was calm at yoga and then will be stressed on my way home. So I’m like okay, well, I probably shouldn’t be stressed on my way home but the yoga is taking the stress away, so okay, so fine, not fully putting all pieces together. Then one day I saw they were doing their yoga training, so I was like, I think I want to do it so I asked me ex, “Can I do the yoga training?” He is like, “Cool.” I didn’t know it was going to be such an easy conversation.

I did a six-month, weekend-intensive, 500-hour yoga training. Then during the meditation portion, literally I cried every single time I had to sit still. There was this fireball in my upper left shoulder, like in my shoulder blade. Then I’m realizing learning about chakras that my heart and my throat chakra are blocked, so we talked about my relationship. It made a lot of sense because I didn’t really have a voice in the relationship and my heart was hurting. I was heartbroken, so I’m like, “Oh. This kind of yoga stuff kind of makes sense.”

Is that when you started teaching?
You’re going to think yoga can seem like a really big concept, but when you’re actually able to break it down and use it in your life, it’s helpful. Then I started to teach and I realized that I love to teach and I didn’t expect that. Then for a couple of things, the yoga training allowed me to accept the relationship I was in and that I needed to leave, that it wasn’t healthy. Two, it provided me a means financially, to exit an unhealthy situation. Then it provided me tools to heal from it, from the principles. I think that I started to realize … because everyone, when I was in that relationship and in that chapter, would not say I wasn’t fit. I was thin. I was fit. I looked good externally but my insides were a mess.

How so?
I think you have to be really careful if someone looks perfect and skinny with a six-pack. Are they fully healthy? Because you can be unhealthy and skinny and attractive, but for me, I want my heart and my mind to be healthy, with an extra few pounds. That was that chapter.

So what brought you back to New York?
Then I went back to LA. I did the Exhale training with the goal to move back to New York. I was doing Exhale for six months in LA. I came here and then it was my full time thing and it allowed me to stand on my own two feet. Fitness then became the way I was able to be an independent woman for the first time. I was able to take care of myself. I wasn’t relying on a man. I wasn’t relying on my parents. That felt great! Then I was also helping others and then healing on my own, too. For me, it just became more than just a workout. I think when you enjoy what you do, then good things come to you. A door is opened. I was still auditioning and acting and whatever but I started to really master my craft in teaching, so it was yoga. Then it was barre. Then it was prenatal and postpartum fitness. Then I did my doula training. Then that was leaving Exhale, coming to BFX, and that opening another door of opportunity and different styles of training. I did training with the TRX training. Then most recently I did my prenatal yoga training. These last couple of years have been kind of different years of mastery, growth, and just like learning, both like learning different techniques but also filling my toolbox to help other people.

That’s definitely not how I thought you got into fitness.
See, I think it’s kind of a different way that I got into whereas some people are like, my whole life has been fitness and this is what I was born to do. I mean, clearly, I’ve been fit my whole life. I’ve been active my whole life, but my career path shifted focus from acting and fitness, and acting more is like part time and the fitness is more full time, which is good.

So how did Women’s Health Next Fitness Star come about?
Yeah, it’s funny. Oddly enough, I had heard about it because Exhale works a lot with Women’s Health. We partnered and do outdoor programming with them or do Fusion Fest or activities, events. When I was working there, I was kind of like, “Oh Women’s Health. That’s cool. Next Fitness Star? That’s kind of cool,” but I didn’t really dig deeper than that. Then when I was atBFX, everyone was like, you need to apply for Women’s Health Next Fitness Star and I was a little put off by the star. I was like no, that’s okay. I’m not going to win. Who’ll win this? I’ve been telling people I never win the raffle. I never win a free soda. I never win anything, so I’m like it’s cool, like let the other girls at my job apply. New York is so competitive in fitness anyway. I was just like, have it. They’re like no, no, no, no, no. Do it. You’re doing it, so I did it. I owe them a lot. I wasn’t going to do it.

I basically filmed some of my class and I kind of told them my journey, what I believe in and what fitness needs to be. Then I filled out an application about my background, all my certs and stuff. Then I remember I was under the hair dryer, deleting e-mails and I swiped to delete and I go Women’s Health. Then I swiped to the right. Then I opened it and I was like no way. Then I found out that I was one of the finalists and then it was like this big secret. Then of course I immediately e-mailed my whole family and then I got another e-mail like don’t tell anybody and I was like, okay except for 10 people I already told, right? (laughs). Then I e-mailed them like, don’t tell anybody. Then it was like this big secret for three months. I kind of did a good job on not telling too many people.WH0715FOB_TOC03_SM-Rachel-logo-1

Tell me about the others girls and what the experience has been like so far.
Meeting the other girls was fun. Everyone at Women’s Health was awesome. Being at this big magazine and all the women being great women, confident, independent, fit, conscious women, that part for me was inspiring. To see the behind-the-scenes and it being substantial and grounded in some truth. I literally have to say Lindsey Benoit, their PR, and Jen Ator, their Fitness Director both sat me down and really encouraged me to just stay true to Rachel. They’re like, “we got you because you’re you, so just be you,” like there’s nothing else because I was really anxious. I’m not like maybe a typical trainer and I’m like, I don’t know if I need to be something else or like put on the happy show and dance. You know, it’s like, all right, time for your nugget. They kind of pushed me to develop my brand and really go deeper and it’s like, why are you doing this and what does it mean to you, which I think is always good to meditate on and figure out.

The shoot was great. The other women are great. They’re shooting a cover. You feel very fancy, so it’s awesome. I’m really thinking about what workouts I want to put out into the world and have on the website. I now know how politicians feel because I’ve had to self-promote everything. Last month, which is an interesting chapter … It’s different. Being actor Rachel then teacher Rachel is still different than, like, follow me on Instagram and vote for me daily from all of your devices.

Has it been hard embracing that “Go Vote for Rachel” side?
Everyone, honestly, I’ve been telling to vote. If this happened, just to know that people had my back, that’s cool! From my brand new student, to high school friends, to elementary school friends, to my boyfriend Sam, to my boyfriend’s mom and her friends, his sister and her friends, everyone has just been great. To my neighbor who was willing to shoot pictures of me outside in the 100-degree weather, to my church, that was crazy.  My boyfriend was pretty friendly with one of the younger, like more housemen, so he goes, “Rachel is on the cover. Can you ask Reverend Butts [from Abyssinian Baptist Church] to announce it in church?” Cool. He stands me up. I’m, like, blushing and he’s like, “Next Fitness Staaaaar! Everybody vote for Rachel Nicks!” Then I have that moment. I was like, “Oh that was a great moment.” Then I was in church yesterday and it was in the bulletin.

No way!
It’s going to be in three bulletins and he announced it twice, so I feel very … I don’t know … It’s awesome! To have Abyssinian and Reverend Butts. I mean, Charles Rangel was there talking about how he is like, change our city, our country. He and the church have done a lot to make us better. For him to care about my journey, that was kind of cool. I have to say, it’s a great chapter. God is good. I feel very blessed. I’m tired but I’m happy. I’d much rather be tired and happy than miserable and tired.

There’s no better word to describe it.
I feel good. Then literally the same week I shot the cover, I found out I was a Nike Trainer. That was an audition process that my agent from Wilhelmina sent. With that, after doing this, I was like, “What the hay. Let me just try.” I was like, at this point if got the cover, let’s just go.

What was that process like?
I had to write an essay about why do I like their brand or why do I think I’d be a good trainer for Nike and all those things. Then I had an audition and a very thorough interview process with the panel, probably six women. It was really like, “So why YOU?” I felt good about being like, this is what I think of me. And now being a part of this team of women and innovators, they’re trying to grow their women’s business, by $2 billion in a year and a half. They’ve hired new trainers and they realized that women … We spend money and we work out and we need some more light shined on us, so to be training with them, so I teach direct to consumer, theN+TC workouts at Nike Town in a field every Tuesday and Friday. Then they opened a studio just for influencers. So I’ve been doing classes for editors, bloggers, and then one-on-ones with the likes.

How has that been different if at all?
That has been inspiring in a whole another way, but what’s beautiful about it is … Say you have the editor of Self, or the fashion director from the New York Times, or the editor from Elle. They’re just who they are. They’re just women or just people who probably are tired because they have really big jobs and they just want to sweat and be normal. They don’t want editor or be blah, blah, blah, blah, blah or that woman. So to be able to just level with them and support them on their journey is a gift. They’re just that, just two human beings working out. No title. No makeup. No funny business. Then from that, if other things come, great. In that moment we get to have an honest human experience and that’s really important and I think we have to be careful. With the way fitness is going now, it’s very trendy and I think people need to drop it and really ask, “Am I doing classes because it’s trendy or am I doing it for me?”

Fitness has become trendy and not in a good way.
If it’s not good for you, and not everything is good for you, and you don’t need to prove a point to anyone, then you need to be present and that’s a factor like, are mirrors the best. It’s not about how you look. It’s about how you’re feeling. If things are moving too fast, then it’s all about how you look other than … Then you’re outside of yourself. To me, that one hour or 40 minutes of your day should be more internal, about you, because we’re always, especially women, giving and putting out. When you go to work out, I think that needs to be more of a receiving experience than a giving. It’s not a proving a point.

I think they’re focused on mirrors because there’s a lot of narcissism in society today where fitness isn’t correlated with health anymore. It’s correlated with beauty…
And there’s always that one standard of beauty, right? For me, I really want to emphasize for one, this is my job. If I’m thin, I’m literally burning calories left and right all day long. I don’t sit down. If I were overweight, that would be kind of weird because then clearly I’m selling you a dream. Clearly, this stuff doesn’t work, but it’s worked really well for me because I do it all day, every day with one day off…if that. I always have to dial it back when people are like, I suck. This woman told me that the other day. I said, “Girl, there are things you do that I suck at, okay, but if I sucked at a standing split, you probably wouldn’t want to spend another $32 to come see me.” I need to have a great standing split. You will have a great standing split tomorrow or next five years from now. That’s not your priority in life. You’re here to try new things, to get out of your comfort zone, and yes, to stay fit, but what does that mean? Fit for me is healthy, not skinny, not a six-pack. It’s strong, confident. To me, it’s more the intangibles.

Inner strength, inner beauty, self-love, acceptance, loving who you are right now. Yeah. Those sound like sound bites but it’s the truth. It’s not like, oh, I’m going to love myself when I put those jeans back on that I wore five years ago. If those are the jeans you wore when you were 16, then you have 35-year-old hips now. So why are you trying to look like you’re 16? Not attractive. Honestly, most men would like a 35-year-old hip or a 60-year-old hip for that matter. We think we need to look like that but nobody is asking us to look like that but ourselves. For me, it’s like loving and accepting where you are and setting obtainable goals, achievable ones, not this whole I’m going to die, I’m going to starve myself for a week, and then I’m going to be skinny enough for the dress for next week. Then I’m going to eat hamburgers and drink beer all day and never work out, and then the next event or reunion I’m going to starve myself again.

Just be healthy. Live a healthy lifestyle and when you have that cookie, it better be a good one. Then enjoy it, and then have one or two.

I think it’s also about finding workouts you like! Some people are like,”CrossFit is the only way or like, this is the only way. I’m kind of like, but that doesn’t work for everyone.”
To me, I’m sorry, like intense is great but not for the long haul. You’re not going to be flipping tires and cars when you’re 80. It’s about strength, flexibility, mobility, functional training. Right? So that you can squat to pick up your groceries or squat to sit on the toilet seat or pick up your baby or push the stroller, carry groceries up into your walk-up, like things that … I don’t know that you’re going to need to lift a car. Or like, I don’t know that you’re going to really need to do 800 burpees. Ten, great for burpees, or 20 maybe one day, or maybe 25. I don’t know, but this whole like, I’d rather just push it to the extreme and like be the Incredible Hulk from zero is like, we’re not going to go from 0 to 100 real quick. There’s a lot of injury all through that.

Woah, how often is this happening?
A lot of people are coming to me like, sorry, my knees are bruised and I’m like, oh my gosh. What happened? “Oh burpees!” Uh, no … they’re not supposed to be injuring. You should be able to walk after a workout. You should be sore. You should be aware of the muscles you did work, maybe the day before or the day before that, but you should be able to move. Not being able to move is not a sign of success, which I always say faster is not better. Alignment first, then speed and power. Not speed and then, oh yeah, maybe I should think about alignment. No. Because then that’s the thing. People get really frustrated and I get lots of eye rolls, but alignment. Alignment, alignment, alignment equals success.

To meet the other competitors, or just to vote for Rachel click here. You can vote everyday, until August 3, 2015. So set that calendar reminder now! And if you want to experience Rachel, visit her at BFX Studio in Chelsea or Financial District of New York City.WH0715FFL_FITNESSSTAR11-logo