Mikel Blount is a personal trainer, yoga teacher, and the founder/owner of Make You Wanna, an online fitness platform where she leads live and pre-recorded to students around the world.
Mikel is also the lead designer and coach of Sustainable Strength – our brand new, 8-week, energizing at-home strength training program designed to build functional strength for life. Enrollment for Sustainable Strength is currently open through January 1st.
In this conversation, we talk to Mikel about common misconceptions about strength training (especially among women), the qualities of a good coach, the music she is currently loving, and more.
Enjoy! Comment below if you have any questions for Coach Mikel.
The name of your company is Make You Wanna. Can you tell me about that name?
I came up with Make You Wanna in a giant brainstorm session with my partner. We came up with a bunch of different things, but honestly, I got it from looking at an old camp shirt. And I thought, oh my god, Make You Wanna! It feels like something I would say. And it resonated because my goal is to deliver workouts, exercises, and movements that people want to do. I want to create workouts that are so fun and satisfying that you want to do them. That’s how I view exercise and movement in general – whatever you choose to do, and however you choose to move your body, it should be something that you want to do and something that you enjoy so that you keep on coming back and you keep doing more of it.
What is the hardest part of running your own business?
Oh my gosh. I would say staying organized. I ping pong between things all the time, which is why I previously always worked in a lot of different studios and environments because I like to change things up. And now being my own manager, I really have to stay focus and organized. I second guess myself all the time and I have to make 18 different decisions about one thing and there’s nobody else telling me what I need to be doing or when I need to get it done.
It’s been hard to figure out my own structure because it’s always easier when somebody else is just giving you that structure. Right? It’s challenging when you have to flip the script and say “OK, I need to be the one building this business and figuring out what my company needs and when it needs it. What are my goals? What am I working towards? Thankfully I have a partner at home who is very invested in all of this and he’s very goal-oriented and works in a corporate setting. So he’s been great about helping me set goals and create structures and asking me the appropriate questions to get me where I need to go. I truly don’t where I would be without him.
I hear you! I can attest to the value of having a partner at home who supports your business ventures. What was your first job in fitness?
My first job in fitness was with the first CrossFit gym that I ever went to, back home in Florida. The owners at the time were named Ailne and Rob LaBar, a husband and wife duo, and they were the ones that really got me into fitness in general. Ailne was my first inspiration to show me that I could be feminine, yet strong, and really capable in my body. They were a huge catalyst for me getting into the fitness world. I think they saw something in me before I even saw it in myself.
I got CrossFit certified, and they said, we want you to work for the gym and to start you can run the office and we’re going to help you become a better trainer. I apprenticed under them for months and I worked in the office and I helped run their side CrossFit t-shirt business. I just got to live, eat, breathe, everything in that gym and it really threw me into this world. I haven’t since looked back and I was 20, 21 at the time. Which is crazy!
When you think about coaching, what are the characteristics of a good coach? What does a good coach do?
To me what makes a good coach is somebody that takes the time to understand how your body works and also has spent the time to really understand how the human body works in general.
I’m all for encouraging vibes. You know, when you’re working with somebody, you want to mesh with their personalities. But more than anything, I find that what I respect most in a coach is somebody that is willing to take the time to understand where my body is and how my body works in order to help me achieve my goals, whatever those are. I think this is so important and oftentimes can be overshadowed by just having good music and good energy, which are all great, and which are components to a good coach, but if you don’t know how to help me squat properly, and now I have knee problems or back problems and all these other issues, then you haven’t done your job as a coach.
That’s what I strive to be as a coach. I want you to like me, of course, but I’m also aware that we won’t all like everyone. But at the end of the day, if you take my class and even if I’m not your favorite person, but you feel like you’ve done something good for your body, then I feel like I’ve done my job.
“I think that a lot of times people think that strength training will cause them to gain muscle and build bulk. But I don’t think that beginners realize you can also do strength training and be lean.”
What would you say are some common misconceptions people might have about strength training?
Unfortunately, I think a lot of the most common misconceptions about weight training come from women and this idea of femininity and what that means and what that looks like. I acknowledge that, of course, that’s different for everyone.
A lot of times people think that strength training will cause them to gain muscle and build bulk. But I don’t think that beginners realize you can also do strength training and be lean. You don’t have to look like The Hulk at the end of your strength training program. You can get big if that’s your primary goal, but that takes a long time and a lot of work before you get to that point where you’re building so much mass. That is a very common misconception with strength training in general – that it will automatically make you super muscular and bulky.
I can say from personal experience, I was afraid of getting big when I first started doing CrossFit. And it was not until my eighth year of CrossFit when I started to bulk up, and that’s because it was on purpose – because I changed my goal and my program to see if I could get really strong and powerful. I started focusing more on lifting really heavy things beyond what you’re going to do in any normal strength program.
I think a lot of people, and especially beginners, are concerned about injuring themselves if they use weights. I know I was nervous when I first started. Even the idea of just picking up a lighter weight, but using it improperly can be scary. I’m curious to get your thoughts on that?
I talk about this a lot in my classes and with my clients. I think most people underestimate how intelligent and intuitive our bodies are. Oftentimes, we’re not in tune with our bodies. We have all of these things going on in our heads and all of these ideas. But what I encourage my students to do is to step out of your mind and pay attention to what your body is telling you. That can range from how you’re eating to how you’re moving your body.
I try to teach students to try to pay attention to their body when they are moving, exercising, and strength training. Your body will tell you when something doesn’t feel good. There is a difference between something feeling challenging or difficult and something feeling painful or not right in your body. And if you listen, you will know this difference intuitively.
I’m a firm believer that if you take the time to clear your mind and pay attention and slow things down when you’re moving, then your body will tell you if something is wrong. It’s like when your back is rounded in a deadlift: it just doesn’t feel right. You will notice when things don’t feel right or if you’re feeling a bunch of strain somewhere in your body. My advice is to slow it down and to come back into form. Form first and foremost, over everything else. Once you’ve got that down, then you can start to add on weight or pick up the pace. But if you’re not moving with proper form, then everything else that you’re going for is probably not going to turn out the way that you want it to.
It’s simple but true: listen to what your body is telling you and how it’s responding when you move.
“I think most people underestimate how intelligent and intuitive our bodies are.”
Let’s talk about Sustainable Strength. Can you talk about the philosophy behind the design of the course?
When you both approached me about creating this strength program, our first conversation was about trying to create an approachable program for everyone. Whether it was someone like one of us with strength training experience or someone that’s never picked up a dumbbell before. How do we make something that’s appropriate for all levels?
When I was designing the program, I really tried to throw myself back into a beginner’s mindset. Then we tested the workouts and the program evolved with some trial and error. I also solicited feedback from various people in my life of different ages and fitness levels, such as my lovely boyfriend who is a man in his 30s, and my mom, who is is a woman in her 70s. I assigned them movements and asked them: How would you feel about this? Would you be able to do this? Can you try this out for me? Getting feedback from them as I was creating this program was really helpful.
Ultimately, I think we were successfully able to come up with something that is truly approachable for people at all levels of fitness. We made it scalable so it can work for you no matter where you are on your own strength training journey and we created opportunities for people to add on if that’s something that they want, but also places for people to kind of peel it back a bit and not feel like they’re losing out at any point. That’s a big thing for me when people are beginning, I don’t ever want them to feel like they’re left behind or like they’re not getting the most out of something because they’re not at a certain level yet. I wanted to create something where it is tailored to the beginner, but also has a lot of room to add on so that somebody with experience will also get a lot out of doing the program.
So now we get to the fun part: Rapid-fire questions! What are some underrated exercises or movements?
Glute bridges and calf raises. I don’t think people pay enough attention to their calves and their ankle stability, and I am saying this as someone who has sprained her ankles multiple times. Those are not the most exciting movements, but I think they’re so underrated and so necessary.
You have some pretty awesome musical taste and you make some nice playlists. What’s an artist or an album that you’re loving right now?
This is not at all workout inspired music, but I have been going really deep on Maggie Rogers the last few weeks. I just have been belting it out. It makes me feel so good. Just on full blast, dancing it out around the house. [Editor’s Note: We recently enjoyed this episode of the Song Exploder podcast with Maggie Rogers, in which she breaks down the writing process behind her hit song Alaska]
Is there a book that you have either gifted or recommended often throughout your life to people?
The book I’ve probably recommended the most in the past 10 years is You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s a mindfulness book, and it’s all about stilling your mind and being really present with where you are. I’ll come back to it and flip through it and go through excerpts of it every now and again when I just kind of need a little help settling things back down.
What’s a favorite show or movie of the past year or so?
Well, my guilty pleasure is medical dramas. They’re exciting, and I kind of feel as if I’m a D-level doctor by the end of each episode. So I’ve watched Gray’s Anatomy from the get-go. It’s not fantastic but I cannot stop coming back for more.
I also really love documentaries and docuseries and we just watched one docuseries called The Imagineering Story about Disney World and Disneyland. Growing up in Florida, going to theme parks was a thing that I’ve done my whole life. And so watching this was just so nostalgic and it is so inspiring how they’ve created all of these different lands and the trials and tribulations and the waves that they’ve gone through as a business. And all the creativity that’s gone into making these incredible worlds for people to experience.
“You will get to experience the joy of your entire body gaining strength with this course”
What is one of your favorite comfort foods?
Probably it’s either french fries or pasta. And if when I say pasta I mean gnocchi. So there’s still a potato involved.
If you had to articulate a mantra for your year ahead for 2021, what would it be?
Oh gosh. All I can think of right now is, “Go With It.” Go with it. Yeah. Last year was so challenging. We just need to figure out how to go with things.
And finally, why should someone join Sustainable Strength?
I think you should join mainly because I’m biased and I designed the program [laughs] and because I believe in the people – you guys – that I’ve created this program with. But aside from my biases, I think that if you’re looking to build strength, and you would like some structure in your home workout routine, and you want something that’s well put together and dialed in that will give you a clear pathway for building strength, then I think that Sustainable Strength is the best program for you to sign up for.
This course gives you a bit of everything, and you will get to experience the joy of your entire body gaining strength. And beyond that, you’ll also get to dive into mobility without having to take a separate yoga series or a whole different class. So it’s kind of like a one-stop-shop, which I love. Overall, I just believe it has everything you need to make meaningful progress in your fitness journey and feel successful.
Besides, it’s only eight weeks of your life, right? So you do eight weeks and then you can go back and do something else you can come back to Sustainable Strength again in the future whenever you want. We’re not asking you to stay dedicated to this for a year of your time. You just get to explore it for a couple of months and learn a lot and get stronger along the way.
Enrollment for Sustainable Strength closes at the end of the day on Friday, January 1st.
Join now at SustainableStrength.Today.