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A Conversation with Fitness Expert Andrea Marcellus on Exercise, Energy, and the Rule of Awesome


Back in the fall, I was invited to an event to hear Andrea Marcellus speak. Andrea is a fitness expert and wrote the book 5 Winning Strategies to Lose Weight, Get Strong, and Lift Your Life. Since I’ve taken my fitness activity up a notch over the past couple of years and added a fitness section to my blog, I get regular invites to these types of events. Losing weight isn’t something I’m interested in, but after reading up on Ms. Marcellus and her attention given to using exercise to free the brain of stress, I agreed to attend. Because, as a dad to 4, I got a bit of stress on my shoulders.

While at the event, Ms. Marcellus introduced us to her 5 Life Strategies, and I fell in love with them. They are:

1: Practice Personal Authenticity – Know who you are, what you like, and how you excel. 2: Live the Rule of Awesome – If it isn’t awesome, don’t do it. 3: Strategizing Habits – Narrow choices when possible. Indecision is wasted time. 4: Develop Oppositional Stability – Embrace obstacles to become stronger. 5: Allow in the Extraordinary – Create extra space and time to slow down and allow beautiful moments in.

(To read more about 5 Life Strategies, click here)

Number 2 stood out to me and I began adding it to my daily life and I felt better physically and mentally. If it was a time suck, then I didn’t do it. I asked myself, “Do I need to doom scroll? Will it benefit me? Is it awesome? Do I need to eat that? Is it awesome or just something to pass time to gnaw on?” As I asked those questions, the other life strategies seemed to come easier. More time became available for other things and I wasn’t eating junk food that really didn’t taste that great. I didn’t give up junk food, just the food that left me feeling empty after consuming.

I had a conversation with Andrea about how she got started in the fitness world, her thoughts on exercise, and how she is helping people meet their fitness goals.

(The initials JG are me and AM for Andrea)

JG: How did you get started in the fitness world?

AM: I started in fitness after an accident in college. I was going to NYU, and I was in an accident. I began exercising to make myself feel better. Then I thought, “Hey, I can do this!” So, I taught myself how to teach by going to one of the best studios in New York. It became something I did part-time after school. I went to TISCH and auditioned and was doing stuff and I also had a corporate job, but I always taught classes. Towards the end of my 20s, I started doing this as a full-time business. So, I’ve been in this industry for 30 years. I never thought I would transition to this being what I do for a living. It started out as something to save me and became what my whole life is at this point.

JG: Being an actor and choosing something else resonates with me because it’s what happened. What was that like, or do you still act?

AM: It’s funny, I got to star in some things and I realized I don’t like the spotlight. Shocker, because all I wanted to be when I was a kid was a star. As an adult, when you get some depth going on, things can change. I found the projects I was working on didn’t matter. They weren’t something I wanted to make a living by doing. And then I turned to screenwriting because I love writing. I wrote lots of pilots and TV shows and projects. I would write half of the day and train the other half. I had a movie that even got made 2 years ago and went out last summer. Lucy Hale stared in it called A Nice Girl Like You. It was interesting. I’m a comedy writer and I would like to go back to writing for fun. I can’t find writing anything that matters though that makes people’s lives better. Considering I can lift people in a way that would last for a long time instead of a moment. I’d like to focus on ways to help people. And honestly, that’s what’s given the career switch. It’s just a shift of focus. I still love everything I do. If somebody asked me to act in something, I would. It’s funny, like where you are now; if you switch to something else, going back to something you did before, you have a new perspective and a totally different experience because you don’t care the same way.

JG: It’s true. It goes with your “Rule of Awesome.” If it’s not awesome, then don’t do it.

AM: (Laughs) Can you believe I’ve never put that together myself?

JG: Thinking about my switch from acting. I was a new dad when I switched over 17-years-ago. I was auditioning for this role and it was a stupid alien movie. The director was a Woody Allen wannabe and very critical and I thought, “This is not for me anymore. I will not waste my awake time for something that doesn’t fill a need.”

AM: And that’s the whole thing. I felt my life ticking by and I did stand-up comedy for a while too, because I felt like I can’t get auditions or whatever and so I performed that way and I enjoyed it for myself, but then, to what end? None of this stuff matters. I only have so many hours in the day. At the end of the day, am I glad I made up that joke about X, Y, or Z? Considering there are other things I can do that are of value. People’s most precious resources are time, energy, and funds. I was pouring a lot of time, energy, and funds into childcare costs and into a career that wasn’t paying me back in any of those ways.

JG: We’re the same age; things aren’t working like they used to and the recovery rate isn’t the way it was 20 years ago. What are some tips to be healthier and to recover faster as you get older?

AM: The thing is consistency. The number one thing I suggest is a standing desk. And walking as much as you can throughout your day. Don’t sit for extended periods of time. It doesn’t just slow you down physically, but also energetically. Sitting for long periods of time is detrimental. I encourage people to do short workouts throughout the day. I am literally on a mission to change America’s view of workouts. Forget the Peloton ad. Forget the Nike ad. Forget all of it. I have people who are super fit and never put on workout clothes. They take a brisk walk and do a desk workout in their plain clothes that take 5 to 7 minutes. If you’re doing that consistently. That’s what’s on my And/Life app.

I have this new platform on my website called the Connect Library. It’s something I’m selling to big benefits platforms and corporations because people do better in groups. If you’re doing things with someone else, it ups your chance of achieving that goal by 85%. On the Connect Platform, I have 2-minute workouts. At the end of that workout, just by using all your major muscle groups and getting your heart rate going; your heart pumps, your body is oxygenated, your brain gets oxygenated. And during that time, your stress level decreases because your brain center has shifted away from the amygdala, the anxiety center of the brain. These are strategies that not only help you physically during the day, but also mentally. People got used to this idea that a 2-minute burst workout matters and doing it every day, or a 5-minute weight workout at a desk. It actually makes a difference. And because you’re moving every day and you’re challenging yourself with a little resistance every day, you bounce back faster and your body feels like it did 20 years ago. We moved a lot more in our 20s and children are exhausting and I love mine, but my God, you’re needed all the time. Plus, you worry about them on top of it. You need relief from that. We need to train our brains each day. Resistance makes the body stronger. And resistance makes the brain stronger as well. However, you need rest. If you over workout, you plateau because you didn’t have enough rest in your training schedule. And the same thing with our brain. We need to work our brains, but we also need to rest our brains. And reframe it. So that’s part of it. Thinking about small strategies to be consistent with if you’re not a workout person. Short little workouts. Stand at your desk and have weights by your desk. Do a little upper body workout routine, a few squats, a few whatever. See how you feel in 2 weeks. I have those on my app for that reason. Because it actually works better to be consistent.

As you get older, you have to really think about, “How do I live now?” I have a neighbor I put on a program that’s in my book and he lost 25 pounds in 10 weeks. He’s a former college athlete and for him, he couldn’t get out of an old workout mentality and that he needed to eat certain foods in order to maintain his workout. And I said, “Dude, you’re not that person. You’re a wine distributor with 2 kids. You’re gone all day.” So I got him to embrace who he actually is and got him a program that fits that kind of person and he could do it.

JG: So true. I played sports growing up, and I worked out to be a better athlete. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was feeling the need to exercise, but I couldn’t go to the gym. I really wanted to get away from my kids, so I became a runner. I had to change my way of thinking about fitness that I never explored before by freeing my mind through exercise and having the goal of my exercise be just for me.

AM: You hit on something, it’s the “Why?” The “Why” is key to everything. If why you need to keep in shape is not a good reason, then you won’t be consistent. I’m going to make more money because I’m not in pain, so I’m going to work out better. Or, I don’t want to be distracted by my body, or feel bad about myself every time I pass a mirror. Those things matter. They set us up. It’s not shallow. When you feel like your outside does not match who you are on the inside, in terms of strength or capability, it hurts. You feel you can and should be able to, but can’t. It hurts. I’ve trained 50/50% men and women my whole life, so the issues are exactly the same. The men are going through the same things the women are. It’s just not cool to talk about it so much. Especially among the heterosexual male group. It’s a very dude mentality and athlete mentality, and especially men that were athletic before and identified that way, it’s a shift. The Why. So, when you had sports and a team, the Why is immediate and very clear. And the Why or taking care of yourself and fitness gets murkier. Nobody wants to feel shallow, but it matters. It really matters.

I have this thing called “7 minutes of self-respect” and I put myself together every single day. I never wear sweat pants. They depress me. Funny, I work alone in this studio house and nobody sees me. I make a lot of videos, but I put myself together even if I don’t make a video. Honest to God, it’s because if I go into a restroom and I see a mirror and feel like a mess, it pushes into my work and it doesn’t feel good to me. We take that on. We notice it. You know how when you get a new pair of shoes, you walk differently? It’s giving yourself that little boost every day. It’s that rule of Awesome in that get rid of the clothes that don’t make you feel energetic. Especially when you have kids hounding you all the time.

JG: Speaking of kids and their time commitment, I enjoyed your video where you talk about coming to the point in the day when it’s time to make dinner and you haven’t had the time to work out. With running a business and family demands, how do you budget that time in your day devoted to yourself and fitness?

AM: I kept a couple of clients just so I got to a gym. In between, I book a 30-minute slot where I would do my 20 minutes of cardio every day during that time and do a Stair Master so that I could stand up straight and be on my phone or doing whatever; so, I was working, but working while moving. So, I get my cardio in every day. I bit the bullet and bought a massive Stair Master. It’s in my living room and I pretend I don’t see it. That’s what I did and worked on my Stair Master 20 minutes a day. It’s how I put things together. If there are calls I need to make, I put the AirPods in and go for a walk. And then I do resistance. I keep a couple of clients that I do stuff with. And I might see them for only 30 minutes, but I get something in with them. Or if I didn’t do a video, I do 5 to 10 minutes of my resistance work. Like my clients, I don’t have time. And here I am the fitness expert for 30 years and don’t have an hour to work out. Sometimes I end up on my Stair Master for rare occasions for 35 to 45 minutes. I love it, but I’m pulled in 16 different directions like everybody else and it’s okay. If I turn on the Insta Pot and after putting in the ingredients, I got a minute for my upper body routine and I’ll do a 10-minute workout.

JG: That must be hard because for me, working out is my escape. But for you, it’s your business. Your career. Is it hard for you to fall into the enjoyment that working out brings, or is this just your job?

AM: That’s such a good question. For me, it’s separate. It’s funny, it’s a creative thing. I have the ability if someone hurts or needs to move, I can make up a sequence or pattern for something that I’ve never done before. I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I never know what I’m going to do. When I make a new exercise that I’ve never done before, I write it down and give it to a client. So, it becomes a discovery process for me. There’s no time limit and there’s no outfit that I have to wear. Because I deleted those parameters, it leaves me really, really free to just enjoy moving. So here I am in jeans and a sweater and boots today, and I’ll pop the boots off and do a yoga series or do something with weights and balance. I don’t know. And then I’ll come up with something. Every day I come up with something new. And it’s like finding a new hot sauce for your favorite dish and thinking, “This is so cool!” For me, making it a discovery process and removing parameters that would make it oppressive, it’s allowed me to be free and kept it from being a burden as just a job.

JG: Those are excellent parameters.

AM: All of my fitness strategies are permission-based philosophy. You know your amygdala gets set off by 2 things: scarcity or threat. They’re afraid food is going to be taken away from them or that they won’t have the time. Some people are afraid they’re going to be hurt or sore. My food strategy is, you don’t eliminate things unless you have a medical reason. We don’t take away a thing. And permission with workouts; by trying to do a minimum of 20 minutes to get your heart rate up, that could be a variety of things. So, that allows people because it’s a permission-based approach and trying to set really hard parameters for yourself, that I find works better for people and find individually what works best for them. I totally get for you; the running becomes the escape.

JG: What will parents get out of the app?

AM: I call it “Self-Care Scaffolding.” And it’s really what you need. It’s a four daily goal method. Take care of yourself. If you can’t hit all of them; if you just hit one of them, you’ll feel better. It helps you feel in charge. And the way I designed the app is to help you release happy hormones in your brain; dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. There was a research study done on using the app with a group of men and women. It was a 30-day program. It occurred during the middle of the pandemic between November and December of last year when everyone was locked down. I was praying 10% of people would finish the program. 93% finished unsupervised. I usually help. If someone does my shape-up course, they can find me on my forum and I do these things for corporations that have my help every week. 78% hit personal fitness targets and 82% said it was easy. And the most important was 100% of the people finished felt leaner and stronger. 100% improved on using the 5 mental wellness measures used: Calm, confidence, productivity, the ability to focus, and energy. I have a group going with ABC in Dallas. They’re doing my 6-week shape-up program with viewers right now and the program is going well. I don’t have people changing a single food they eat; it’s how they eat and the portions and the timing. And energy goes through the roof. It’s incredible, and it happens with me with group after group after group. And the same thing with this group, Energy, energy, energy. And with parents, the number one thing you feel is that your energy is zapped. So, the food section of the app, without even cleaning up your diet, increases your energy because it’s metabolically advantageous. And everything flows from energy. If you have the energy, then you can get your brain right.

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