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An Exploration of Branding, Design and Cultural Trends

Tête-à-Tête Tuesdays with Molly

Introducing Karen Nuccio. I've taken a few of her classes at Crunch over the years and we've become friends. I'll never forgot her funniest line in spin classes 3 years ago when she played Nine Inch Nails, "Closer" and claimed they played this at her wedding. Everyone had a look of shock on their face until she admitted she was kidding, but that her mother said if she got married, she could play whatever she wanted. She yeah, she approaches fitness instruction with humor and delights her students with her vibrant personality. Check out her new classes at SPiN NYC on 23rd and Park Avenue South. They're in the mornings and don't involve ping pong but do involve exercising while in a fun environment. What initially attracted you to the fitness industry?

I have been teaching fitness-based classes for 14 years, but I can’t say I was attracted to fitness from the very start. What I mean by that is - I grew to love teaching before I grew to love fitness. The exercising was an afterthought for me. I loved connecting with people, loved getting to know them, loved watching them become more confident, become happier and healthier. I think I started to take the fitness part more seriously 7 years ago. I had found a lump on my thyroid gland and had to have it removed. To make a long story short, I now have a hypoactive thyroid gland. That’s the "slow one" and roughly what that translates to mean is that fitness is now a challenge for me. My metabolism is now slower, my energy levels not always perfect, my hair and skin are sometimes even glitchy - but keeping active and being healthy consistently helps keep my thyroid in check. So now fitness is not just a social medium to me, it’s a necessity!  It sounds cliché but you don't know what being healthy really means until your health is in jeopardy! Getting "sick" made me have a really profound respect for what it means to be well! Teaching is still my first love, but teaching people to respect their bodies and be healthy, that is a definite focal point. Fitness is an amazing tool that helped me to be well and healthy again!

With regard to the fitness industry within itself, I think in many ways it’s lacking. I think there should be a focus within the industry on teaching people to listen to their bodies and finding their right path rather than offering up countless "answers." I think the industry needs to teach people to ask more questions, teach people to be responsible for themselves so that they can take better care of themselves and lead healthier lives. The industry, at times, focuses too much and what is wrong with people and on what they are not doing rather than focusing on what they are doing right and on how they can build on that.

But that’s just my opinion.

You've worked with people who have been successful in getting in shape or losing weight and people who have yet to reach their goals. What qualities and habits have the successful people developed that has enabled them to achieve their goals? Is there a commonality or trend?

I think when it comes to success, a goal and drive is key. Some people want to be that much more fit for their wedding, some want to train for a marathon, some are actors getting ready for a part. The goal usually drives the behavior; the end point.

I think the end point will automatically fuel the success...or at least short-term success. But when it comes to long term success, long term health and fitness - I think the goal needs to be secondary to the realization that exercising and eating well are a way of life -not a path to a goal. If you maintain a regular exercise program and eat well, you reach a level of healthiness that your goals just fall into place and they become icing rather than the cake.

I think anyone can reach a goal with the right motivation, but continually being healthy and fit - that is the mark of true success to me.

Recently, you founded LITA Integrated Fitness, where you design custom fitness programs for individuals and companies - a holistic approach combining fitness expertise and physical therapy. In your experience working in the fitness industry, what did you feel was missing?

My big complaint with the fitness industry was that the industry itself many times failed to "walk the line.” A prime example of this would be having less than fit instructors teach classes, or having trainers sit behind the desk at a gym eating McDonalds!! NOT COOL!!  I mean, if your prime candidates of fitness are not setting the example, how motivated can the students be!?

My other gripe with the industry is that the industry had more performers than it has teachers. I think the fitness industry needs to focus more on teaching people to be healthy and fit and less on finding new ways to keep people entertained. The industry obsesses over the new entertaining trend but fails to effectively teach what actually works! I created LITA to bridge the gap between teaching and entertaining. Classes are meant to be fun and entertaining, but they are also meant to teach people correct form, correct alignment and teach people how to lead a more healthy balanced life - for that matter.

Can you give any sort of overall advice for achieving a more effective workout that you find most of your clients don't initially know.

I think the best advice I can give is to do activities that you like. Just because a class is the hot new trend and because Madonna loves it does not mean it’s right for you. Fitness programs are very personal and finding the right one, the most effective one, like any relationship, takes time to figure out. But once you find the right one, it flows and if you really hit it right. It’s love! I can honestly say that my fitness routine that I do for myself is hard work, but I am absolutely in love with it! And that love is what keeps me motivated.

You've worked as personal trainer and group instructor for years, often going from one class to another. How do you maintain your energy? Any secrets?

You know I gave up crack years ago...just kidding. My espresso in the morning is a must! But that’s an Italian thing rather than a fitness thing.

I guess I maintain energy by eating well throughout the day, hydrating and most importantly by respecting my body's limits. By that I mean, if I have three more classes to go and I just feel shot, I take time to regroup rather than pound a Redbull. I give my body recovery time if needed. On those tired days when I teach, those are the days I spin a little slower or use lighter weights. Your body has a "when" point and it needs to be respected otherwise when you need it to be there for you, it will cop out - I assure you!

Can you give me a short story of someone you've helped achieve a major goal; success story?

Years ago I had a client who I describe as my favorite "fitness addict." I remember meeting her at Macy's and she asked me how I got my "Madonna" arms. I told her it was part genetics, part free weights. She asked me to be her trainer, but I don’t take on strangers as clients. I only work on referral, so I declined but told her where I taught and asked her to come take a class one day. She became my stalker!  Came to every class!! Front row, did everything. And after I got to know her, she asked me again to train her personally and I did. When we met for the first time, she told me - I want to be this weight, have this percentage of body fat, be this flexible, this strong, etc. etc.

So I responded to that by saying, “so what you’re telling me is you want to be a machine?  I don't work with machines. I work with people - so you’re shit out of luck!” She laughed and said, seriously, I want this and that...and the other thing...etc. etc.

And I said, “Seriously, I think the best service I can give you is to train you to not be so driven, to train you to have a little balance. I told her “I’m not going to be your trainer, instead, I'll be your friend.” I took her to brunch. We had wine in the afternoon and we didn’t count calories, and laughed a lot. I told her that working out should not be your life. It adds to the quality of life and what would be the point of being super fit if all that exercise took up the whole day and left no time to enjoy the day and enjoy the body you worked so hard to get?? I have to say; it was more work getting this "client" to not feel guilty about wine or bread than it would have been to get her to look like Madonna. But ten years later, she is one of the healthiest, most balanced people I know. I consider her to be a great success story:)

And finally, is there anything else you'd like to share about fitness or your company LITA?

I created LITA because I wanted to create a fitness company that really took responsibility for its students and clients, a company that actually cared about teaching people how to be healthy. In fitness, from a business standpoint, you always want your client to need you. Then they keep buying sessions! But the goal of LITA is to teach people how to not need us, so to speak. To teach people to learn their bodies and teach people effective ways to be healthy.

For the past 14 years, I have fallen in love with what I do and fallen in love with my students. That love is what has made me want to see them succeed - made me want to see them thrive in my class and outside of it. LITA is an acronym for Love Is The Answer. And I believe that to be true. When placed in an environment where you are truly cared for, how can one not succeed at anything?