If you’re ever reading or listening to something from Onnit and you can’t wrap your head around it, there’s a pretty good chance that Nikita Fear can. A highly experienced trainer at Equinox, Fear is also a natural leader, teacher, and problem-solver with a keen intuition. She’s long been a friend to our brand, as well as an ambassador who’s helped teach our Steel Club certifications in the past.
In a live interview for our ongoing Onnit Stories series, in which we feature people who have made inspiring life changes with Onnit’s help, Fear spoke to Shane Heins, our Director of Fitness Education, about how her background in art helped her develop as a fitness pro, how she learned to balance career, training, and life as a new mom, and what Onnit has done to help her find her center in any so-called “storm.” See below for the video and an edited transcript of the highlights. You can stay up to date with Onnit Stories by following Onnit’s Instagram TV (IGTV), where a new one appears every other Wednesday.
Shane Heins: How did Onnit and Nikita Fear first intersect? Please take the story from there.
Nikita Fear: I think it started in 2015. My husband is a follower of Joe Rogan’s podcast [editor’s note: Rogan is a former co-owner and current brand ambassador for Onnit], and he asked me, “Have you heard about Onnit? Have you heard about this gym?” At the time, I was looking for educational opportunities. I went to Onnit’s website, found the Onnit Academy blog, and I read through it. The principles it talked about really aligned with where my mindset was. My first certification ended up being Onnit’s Foundations cert in December of that year.
I had a pretty strong background in fitness education at the time, but Onnit just blew my mind. The way you guys delivered information, for one thing, but also the culture and the community. I went on to take the Steel Club cert next. I absolutely fell in love with that tool. From then on, I took every other Onnit cert that I could. Pretty soon, I started to assist the instructors at the Steel Club certs.
Of all the tools we teach, steel club is probably the most difficult for people to get a feel for and become proficient in. But when you came to the cert, I remember you were moving so well with the club right away. You helped engage other people in using it. I was like, “She’s got something there.”
Can you share a little bit more about your background and where you came from?
I am a health management coach and personal trainer at Equinox. When I found Onnit, I just wanted to branch out. I’m one of those people that likes to color outside the lines sometimes. I guess I’d been a trainer for about five years at the time when I got introduced to Onnit. So, for me, I do remember sitting in Foundations and just being in awe. I just wanted to know more. I needed to know more. What else is there? What are the deeper layers to this?
I remember asking you, “From an educational standpoint, what are a couple books that you would recommend?” And you said, “For the mind and body, Anatomy Trains. But for the heart, The Alchemist.” So I went out and read The Alchemist, and I still go back to it now. It’s about a journey, and I’m extremely grateful for my journey—having stepped into the world of Onnit— because it’s really opened up a lot for me in terms of how I see the world and how I serve others.
I was a conservation officer before I got into fitness, and [Onnit Chief Fitness Officer] John Wolf was in business and economics. For many of us, our backgrounds are not fitness related, and I happen to know that you used to be an art major before you got into training. I’m curious what that shift was like for you, and, not only why you made the shift, but how you feel your love of art has continued in spite of it. How does what you’ve done in the past contribute to what you do now?
Yes, I was an art major in college and I played college volleyball. It was injury that brought me to the fitness world. I tore my ACL, and, in my recovery process, I started learning about fitness. Also, the human body is just so incredible and really intriguing. With art as my background, it provides me the ability to see things differently or to solve a communication or movement problem differently. We’ve got science, we’ve got studies, and, of course, experience, but sometimes it’s nice to come at a problem from a different point of view. That’s what having an art background allows you to do.
Yes, your approach to health and fitness, like Onnit’s, is often thought of as a little unconventional, but the space that you work in and have grown in is more of your conventional fitness realm. Can you share how your unconventional methods have supported your work in the more conventional space? What makes them complementary?
Having that unconventional take helps you communicate certain things, certain principles, and it’s something that sets you apart from other trainers. In an industry where people are getting a lot of the same, I think it’s wonderful if you can offer unity and diversity. Onnit gave me something different to bring to my team at Equinox. What many people don’t realize is that Onnit offers these unconventional tools, but, at the same time, this basic approach to movement. So you learn how to use your body efficiently, but with tools that help you discover it and appreciate it in a different way.
In the seven years that we’ve known each other, you have become a mother twice over. I myself am a father of three. I am very passionate about parenting and have such joy being a dad. Could you share any insights about going through that process, and any impact Onnit may have had on it?
Yes. There was a moment where my husband and I weren’t quite sure if we were going to be able to have a family in the way in which we wanted to. Every birth, every pregnancy, is a miracle. I felt like the year I had spent with Onnit before that was like preparation for what was to come—not only the birth of my daughter, but also a re-birth of myself in a sense. I actually found out I was pregnant at a steel club cert!
I always thought it was cool that you got that news when you were at the cert, because there’s a theme we like to incorporate when we teach the club: storms. We liken training with the club to the energy generated by massive storms. A storm can be disruptive and destructive, but it can also be balancing—just as giving life can be. When you’re using the club, it can pull you all over the place, so we talk about learning to control it like finding your center in a storm.
Ironically, up to that point, every steel club cert we taught seemed to time with a hurricane or other massive storm. I think that weekend, when we were teaching in California, they were having the worst storm they’d seen in 50 years [laughs].
I just remember that being extra meaningful to me—to witness you transitioning into this phase of life and thinking, “She’s going to make an amazing mother.” Here we were, coaching and educating together around a tool that was kind of like a storm in its own way, and both you and the club bringing about new energy and new life. Pretty cool.
As we wrap up, we like to ask some questions that our viewers send in. Let’s start with which Onnit products you have used. What has made a difference for you?
As far as workout tools go, of course I love the steel club. As a mother, picking up my kids puts me in a bad posture a lot of the time, so I like the steel club and mace to counteract that. It helps strengthen the upper back and grip.
For anyone watching this who has done the Onnit 6 Steel Mace program, that’s right—Mrs. Nikita Fear is the model demonstrating the Level 3 exercises in those videos. Can you share what it was like shooting that program with us?
My daughter was very young at the time. I was still nursing but had slowly gotten into a rhythm of getting back into consistent workouts. I remember John [Wolf] feeling really confident that I could handle the movements, even though my heart rate was just some otherworldly number [laughs]. I remember, Shane, you had my husband come stand in front of me while we were filming to help calm me down and tell me I was going to be OK.
Is there anything you’ve gotten out of the Onnit 6 or Onnit in 30 programs that you like to use in your own training or with your clients?
There are so many Durability principles that I try to encourage. Things like movement snacks throughout the day. As an art major, I love to work with my hands. One of the components I love about the steel club is just how active and alive your grip is holding it. I think that allows me to get reconnected to my shoulders and just where my body is in space. I have something feeding my proprioception for my hands and really challenging my central nervous system.
Do you have a favorite steel club exercise?
As of late, side pullovers. Those feel amazing.
How do you juggle family, work, and fitness?
That I learned the hard way. It’s not like one thing is ever in opposition to another—they’re in unison. One of the hardest things for me to do is give myself some time. I had a hard time saying no to things, so, I stretched myself thin after my first child was born. Now I know that it is best for me to be present wherever my feet are and know where my toes are pointing—that’s the direction I’m about to go in.
I have to lean into those around me and ask for help. I mean, it’s all about community. Your tribe. For me, it can mean that I’ve got my nine month-old on one side of my hip while I’m doing squats and making dinner at the same time. Or sometimes it means I ask my husband, “Hey, I just need a few minutes, can I go for a run outside?” I’ve even done some kettlebell swings using my four year-old as the weight. She’s a good 30, 35 pounds [laughs].
I know how to set boundaries now. But mainly, to balance your life, you have to be present 100% wherever you are at. So, if it’s at work, be completely present there. If it’s with your spouse, your significant other, be present there. With your children, be present there. I think that’s what’s helped me. Also, know that you are more powerful than you think you are. That you are capable of so much more. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t even try to define it. Because I think once you start to define things, you confine them as well.