Kelsey Wells has one goal: to empower women through fitness. The 29-year-old SWEAT app trainer and Instagram star uses her platform daily to educate her followers with easy-to-follow workout videos, expert advice, and words of encouragement.
And it’s working. Since launching her account a few years ago, fans (more than 1.8 million of them) have fallen head over heels in love with Kelsey and her accessible, authentic approach to staying fit and healthy. In 2017 she joined forces with Australian fitness icon Kayla Itsines and became a trainer on the mega popular SWEAT fitness app where she showcases her signature PWR training programs.
Here, our latest cover star shares her unexpected journey into a career in fitness, her struggles with postpartum anxiety, and why empowering other women is the heart and soul of her brand.
STRONG Fitness Mag: What was your childhood like?
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Kelsey Wells: I was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. I had a great childhood in a very loving home with supportive and encouraging parents.
SFM: Were you an active or sporty kid?
KW: I was a dancer, starting in ballet when I was 3 or 4 and continued dancing until I was 16. Then I got patellar tendinitis in both knees and had to quit. I was pretty bummed out after that and didn’t really exercise regularly anymore. When dance was gone, I wasn’t active. I graduated, went to college (BYU for interior design), and got married. Exercise wasn’t a part of my adult life because I didn’t know anything about it.
SFM: When did your personal journey into fitness begin?
KW: After I had my son Anderson (he’s four now) I was in a really hard place, which is kind of confusing to say, because motherhood is an incredible time. But there’s also a lot of hormones and life changes. I struggled with postpartum anxiety, negative body image, and a negative relationship towards myself.
My doctor suggested exercise as part of treatment. I honestly thought it was kind of a joke. How could exercise help this overwhelming, all-encompassing thing I was facing? But I decided to try, and I started with walking, pushing him in a stroller, or doing basic at-home workouts in my living room.
It was amazing how quickly I saw progress, and I’m not talking physical. Way before my body started to change, I slept better, I had more energy. It was not some magical cure, but it was a way for me to cope.
Then I found Kayla Itsines’s Bikini Body Guides through Instagram. I just modified everything because I was at a basic fitness level and I was still healing.
SFM: How did it evolve into a career in fitness?
KW: It’s crazy because there was never a time when I thought, ‘Hey I’m going to change my career into fitness.’ It was just a very natural progression. The first year of my journey was so private and personal and I just fell in love with fitness. I was incredibly in awe of simply being regularly active and nourishing my body with food that made me feel better and empowered me.
I started to educate myself. I had a really good understanding of the mental and emotional side of it, and I wanted to pair that with the science of exercise. I went back and did a CPT course through NASM. I loved making sense of what was happening in my body. I started weight training and experimenting with different techniques. I was just following my passion. After that I went on to get my pre- and post-natal certifications. I felt there was such a lack of information for a new mom in that stage of life.
SFM: Why do you think your brand resonates with women?
KW: My Instagram following is 90 percent women, which I think is very cool. I hope the reason women engage with me is that at the end of the day, we might be from all over the world, or in different stages of life, but we’re all women. I think that’s such a powerful connection. Regardless of where we are in life we can be empowered through fitness and encouraged by lifting each other up.
SFM: You've talked about experiencing body image issue in the past. How did you change those perspectives?
KW: Growing up, I had stigmas in my head based on how I thought I should look: and that was thin. I never wanted to be strong, I never wanted to have muscle definition, I just wanted to be thin.
Flash forward, I'm in such a better place mentally. I took some photos of myself flexing and some old negative connotations about women looking too masculine came flooding back. I recognized that, and then I laughed about it. I realized how silly that was because there I was, I had never felt so good about my body. I love my body.
I started to realize that strong and healthy looks different on everyone. Women have all body types and shapes and colors—the ideal body is your body. Whatever you look like when you’re taking care of yourself and feeling your best. Learning to view your body from a place of gratitude and what you're capable of, that’s the way to learn self-love. When you're loving and caring for your body, you’ll start to believe it’s worth being cared for.
SFM: Why do you think strength training can be so empowering for women?
KW: When women go into the gym and pick up weights with confidence, it’s incredible to see how that confidence flows into other aspects of their lives. It’s about what strength allows you to do and understanding that strength comes from you. Nobody can do that for you. At the end of the day you can be motivated, you can research, someone can teach you how to exercise, but you have to go and put in the work yourself. You start to respect yourself. That’s a very empowering thing.
Check out the behind the scenes video of Kelsey’s cover shoot below.