John Wayne is dead. That is to say, the era of the “strong, silent type” is over. These days, people are waking up to the fact that showing vulnerability and talking openly about our fears and traumas—rather than repressing them—is one of the best ways to conquer our problems. The Onnit Tribe, Onnit’s private Facebook support group, isn’t trying to provide free psychotherapy to anyone, but its members almost universally report that it’s helped them deal with a range of personal struggles that extend far beyond how to troubleshoot the Onnit 6 workouts.
Melanie Giles, 38, a massage therapist in Austin, TX, found the Tribe after the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and she credits the group for helping support her sobriety, rebound from the loss of her job, and cope with her husband’s sudden passing. We interviewed Giles to get her take on what this unique community did for her, and what it may offer you.
Onnit: You started on the path that led to Onnit when your husband died. Could you share a little about that experience?
Melanie Giles: I was a dancer living in Las Vegas, and I fell in love with a magician. We got married and traveled the world together doing a stage illusion show—levitations, sawing the lady in half, vanishing and reappearing, stuff like that.
Then, in 2017, my husband got pancreatic cancer. By the time he showed symptoms and was diagnosed, the cancer was so advanced that he passed away eight weeks later. He was only in his early 50s.
Not only had I lost my spouse, but I lost my business partner, my income, and my whole career—all at once. I had to start from scratch.
I used alcohol to numb the pain. I wasn’t out of control with it—I wasn’t an alcoholic—but I knew it wasn’t a healthy way to deal with my grief.
I had fallen in love with Austin [Texas] years earlier after a visit here, and I had always wanted to come back and live here, but it never came together. After my husband passed, I wanted to leave Vegas, change careers, and become a massage therapist. When I looked up which cities were best for massage therapy, Austin came up as number one for lucrative jobs and opportunities. In 2019, I decided to finally move here and start massage school.
When I got out of school, I immediately landed the best gig in town, working at a five-star resort. It was a perfect job, and I was so happy, but then the pandemic hit, and everything came to a complete stop with the lockdown. Suddenly, massage therapists couldn’t work at all. I lost touch with friends, clients, the whole community, and it was scary.
That’s when I saw an ad on Instagram for the Onnit 6 Challenge.
What made you want to take the Challenge?
I thought, “This is something positive I can do in the meantime while I can’t do anything else due to the pandemic.” My job as a massage therapist is very physically demanding. When that ended all of a sudden, my exercise options were… what? Sit on the couch and die a slow death? [Laughs] Or do I get my body moving?
The ad said the workouts would be bodyweight-only. I didn’t have an income, so I wasn’t going to buy a bunch of equipment anyway. It was perfect. I started the program in May 2020.
Doing an Onnit 6 program automatically gives you access to the Onnit Tribe, whose support can really help a person’s progress. Still, we find that many people are hesitant to participate in the group due to preconceived notions about who the members are and what they might talk about in there. What were your expectations when you first joined the Tribe?
I had done other workout programs and, when I first read that there was an Onnit Tribe, I thought that the Tribe might be another meathead forum—a place just for men who lifted weights. I thought it could be very superficial and I wondered, “Are women safe on this platform? Or is it going to be harassment central?”
Then, when I got inside the Tribe for the first time, I got so into reading everybody’s posts that I forgot to officially register for the Challenge! I thought I had clicked the “submit” button, but I got distracted by the Facebook page. As a result, I wasn’t technically in the running to be a finalist in the Challenge and win prizes, but I was able to do the workouts and interact with the group.
The Tribe was not what I thought it would be at all. It turned out to be a place where people could show up authentically and share the good and bad parts of their lives, and no one was judged for it. That helped free me of any shame I had about my own life.
When I saw that the community of the Tribe was the key ingredient in keeping me motivated and engaged in my workouts, I realized that I could join other communities too. I thought, “If I can be so honest in here, maybe I can do it in Alcoholics Anonymous, and then I wouldn’t have to quit drinking alone.” It didn’t take long. I was only in the Tribe about two weeks when I decided to go to AA, and I ended my relationship with alcohol for good.
That’s amazing. What was it, specifically, about the conversations in the Tribe that helped you find the strength to quit alcohol completely?
Many people in the Tribe have had their own challenges with sobriety, and they’re very open about them. We all have this illusion that we’re all alone going through whatever sadness is in our lives, but once you start hearing from other people, you realize they’re going through the same things. One of our Tribe members, Anthony Mejia, is very open about his sobriety journey, and he’s posted about how his sobriety and his journey with Onnit are closely tied. That inspired me.
How did the Tribe help with your training?
First, let me say that the Onnit 6 Bodyweight workouts are extremely challenging. Ground-based movements [exercises that have you close to the floor] were new to me. It engages every muscle and brings out things you need to work on. I have an old shoulder injury from my performing days, and I had tried to ignore it before, but I couldn’t do that with the Onnit 6 workouts. Onnit 6 makes you really honest with yourself in every possible way.
I’ve bought other workout programs from other celebrity trainers, and you just download the program or buy the DVD and that’s it. I was very surprised that Onnit 6 came with this Tribe and that John [Wolf, Onnit’s Chief Fitness Officer] and Shane [Heins, Director of Fitness Education]—the stars of the show—make themselves available to the members and get involved. I was able to ask them how to work around my bad shoulder, and they not only answered questions, but we had whole conversations about it. They’d say, “Maybe try this,” or, “try that.” “You can modify this exercise in the program,” or, “skip that one.” It didn’t feel so much like they were trainers and I was a client—it became more like a collaboration. Working together to help me get better.
You know, different people need different things to motivate them, and what resonates with me is that John and Shane come from a place of positivity and love. They don’t train you by trying to get you to channel anger and rage to work out. Instead, they have a kind and loving approach that gets you to push to your limit. They know how to translate and communicate ideas that help you understand what you’re supposed to do and do it with intention. They never say anything that would shame anybody or make them feel like they can’t do the work. John and Shane have a lot of emotional intelligence, and I love that.
What other changes did the Onnit 6 Challenge and Tribe allow you to make to your body and your life?
I lost about 12 pounds doing that first Challenge, and I liked it so much, I’ve done three more Challenges since then. But the best thing that came out of it was that I decided I was going to become a morning person. I’ve never been a morning person, but I knew I’d have to create that habit in order to keep getting my workouts in after the lockdown. It’s one thing to get up early when you’re in lockdown and there’s nowhere to go, but I wondered what was going to happen when the pandemic got contained and we all went back to real life. Would I be able to keep the habit then, when I had a physical job like massage therapy to do all day? I knew the only way I would be able to keep the habits I’d made with Onnit 6 was if I got my training in first thing in the morning—something I had never done before in my life.
But I trained myself to do it. I started waking up at 4:45 every morning, got my coffee, and I was working out by 5:00. A year and a half later, I’m still doing it, even though I’m doing massage therapy again. I used the Tribe to get me going. I started putting the hashtag “#EMOMsForBreakfast” on my posts [EMOM stands for an exercise that’s done every minute on the minute], and it became a running joke in the Tribe: “What’s the best meal of the day? EMOMs for breakfast!” Lots of the members started keeping the same schedule, and we motivated each other.
Have you used any supplements to help with your training?
As I got more in tune with my body, I decided to become a vegetarian. I thought, “I gave up alcohol. Why not give up meat as well?” I made the switch about eight months ago, but soon after, I realized that I was struggling to get enough protein. I made a post in the Tribe about it, asking for advice, and Shane mentioned that Onnit makes Plant-Based Protein. I’ve been taking it ever since, and I no longer have trouble getting the protein intake I need.
Has the Tribe helped you cope in any way with your husband’s passing?
Yes. Seeing other people posting so openly and so vulnerably helped me share my own story. When I got comfortable enough to share my story and my grief, many of the Tribe members reached out and shared their own stories and thanked me for my openness and vulnerability. Some people reached out to me privately in the Tribe saying, “I’m not as brave as you that I can share this publicly yet, but I’m so glad that you did. Please keep it coming because it helps me.” The Tribe taught me that the more we share, the more we heal.
You’ve also been giving back to the community with your Spotify playlists. Can you tell us about that?
Ecstatic dance is something I’m passionate about. You listen to different vibrations and tones that help you express yourself, and you get rid of whatever you need to get rid of on the dance floor. Typically, people choose a location, gather together, and dance in whatever way they want. But I created a way the Tribe can do it together even while we’re all remote.
Every Sunday in the Onnit 6 Challenge is an active recovery day, and I started offering a playlist for ecstatic dance that people could use for recovery on that day. I made a playlist on Spotify and said, “If you want to join in, just press play.” So people can listen to it and dance at home.
It’s just another example of how the Tribe can help people grow and feel empowered. There are so many ways it can help you other than by just lifting weights [laughs].