People talk all the time about exercise as a type of therapy, but what happens when you get a therapist who can back that approach up with some real-life, first-hand experience? Turns out indoor cycling really is a form of stress relief, read on to find out how!
Meet Madi Harper: therapist, cycling instructor and Bad Athletics Ambassador
Tell us a little about your health and fitness journey so far! Have you always been interested in fitness and working out? Were you an athlete in high school? What brought you to where you are right now?
Fitness has always been an integral part of my life. When I was young, I tried dance, baseball, swimming, diving, karate, soccer…you name it.
I ended up playing competitive soccer for 16 years and finished my soccer career winning the state championship in my senior year of high school. Throughout undergraduate and graduate school, I attended various group fitness classes but never felt I truly found my “thing” like soccer had once been for me.
I obtained my Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling in 2018 and spend most of my time working as a full-time therapist. The field of mental health counseling can be very emotionally taxing and physical fitness has always been my main coping skill. I’ve always worked out as a hobby but never considered the idea of working within the fitness industry until I took my first rhythm-based indoor cycling class at Rebel House in downtown Salt Lake City.
I was HOOKED immediately. I loved how the instructors incorporated and considered the physical demands that come from a workout, but appreciated even more that they integrated the mental and emotional journey fitness can inspire. I rode for over a year at Rebel House and then auditioned to be an instructor. I passed auditions, went through a tough training process, and began teaching indoor cycling at Rebel House in July of this year. I never expected this to be a part of my journey but I am SO grateful I was vulnerable and willing to come out of my comfort zone because it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
What kinds of activities do you enjoy, tell us your favorite ways to break a sweat.
I have always had a difficult time doing “solo” fitness. It is a challenge for me to motivate myself in a gym environment and never feel super accomplished after running on the treadmill or lifting weights. I think this is because I was surrounded by a team playing soccer for so long and we constantly were motivating each other. Group fitness is my favorite way to break a sweat because I love the team mentality. Outside of indoor cycling, I also enjoy boxing and yoga classes (conveniently Rebel House has both on top of cycling!).
Take us through a normal day. How do you structure your time and balance your different responsibilities with your hobbies and interests?
Most weekdays involve me seeing 5-6 clients at a private practice, and leaving straight from work to go to, or teach, a cycling class. If I have more clients than usual, I try to hit a 6 or 7 am class before work. It has been tough to hold my boundaries and not schedule clients consistently during times I could take class. For me, I need to work out and engage in that self-care, or else I feel I am not as effective of a therapist. It has been helpful for me to plan out my week in advance as far as what classes I am going to attend, food I will eat, and social time. It makes me stay accountable and feels much more manageable.
What advice do you have for people who are just getting started or are just getting back into it from taking time off?
There have been times when I have “dropped off the wagon” and not engaged in physical fitness for months. I lost the motivation and had a very difficult time finding it again. When I returned to the gym, I was frustrated with myself for not wanting to run longer on the treadmill or wanting to leave after 15 minutes. My advice would be to go easy on yourself. Five minutes doing something fitness related can be enough. Do not compare yourself to those around you because you will just end up feeling negative about yourself. If you are looking for something to judge yourself for, you are going to find it. Try to contradict the negative thoughts of “I am not doing well enough” by thinking “I motivated myself to get to the gym and that is enough for today.”
Who are your favorite people to follow on social media and why?
Of course, @kaytlinkatnissmma on Instagram. I have been friends with Kaytlin for over 20 years and it has been so fun to watch her journey from cheerleader to professional MMA fighter (and to give her a hard time along the way).
@_rebelhouse is another page I have longed enjoyed following on Instagram. Obviously, they promote their classes, but I like how they highlight members of the studio and interview them about their own experience at Rebel House. It helps me stay motivated and reminds me of what a great community I am surrounded with.
I am obsessed with Trader Joe’s, so I love watching @traderjoeslist Instagram for all of the new products and recipes. Fall is my favorite season because that is when Trader Joe’s releases the most new things 🙂
What is your biggest win (when it comes to your own health and fitness)?
I consider myself an outgoing person and have always been personable. However, after being a therapist for a few years now I have noticed my overall demeanor becoming more professional and finding myself “letting loose” a lot less often. Training to be an indoor cycling instructor took me extremely out of my comfort zone.
Therapy is a radically different type of motivation than being a fitness instructor and it was difficult for me to find a balance. The training was emotionally taxing on me because I struggled with negative thinking. I had never been any sort of a coach before, why would I think I could do this? Can I do this? Do I belong here? Who am I kidding? Once I passed my final audition ride, I have never felt more proud of myself for pushing through and overcoming my own negativity.
Tell us about the hardships and challenges you’ve overcome and the lessons you’ve learned along the way.
My father passed away unexpectedly when I was 18 years old. I had just moved to Washington to start my freshman year of college and ended up missing the first week of school to attend his funeral. After this experience, I found myself disengaging from my social supports and any hobbies I found pleasurable. I struggled with depression and anxiety and lacked coping skills (or was unwilling to utilize them). When I pushed myself into taking group fitness classes, I felt myself coming back to life. I was engaging in a social atmosphere and made my way back through my main coping skill/tool which has always been fitness. This experience taught me the importance of surrounding yourself with people that are passionate about things similar to you and finding your own outlet for the tough feelings you may experience, whether that is fitness related or not.
What (or Who) inspires you and why?
My mom is my main inspiration. She is the definition of a “strong independent woman” and always has been. Watching her cope with her husband dying at a young age and becoming a single mother was a huge source of motivation for me. She took that new and terrifying journey in stride and showed me what being vulnerable and stepping outside your comfort zone looked like. Whenever I try new things, such as instructing, she has always been my biggest cheerleader and support. I absolutely would not have been able to accomplish the vulnerable things I have without her by my side.
In your observation, what do you think is the biggest road-block people face when it comes to reaching their health and fitness goals?
Comparing yourself to others or assuming others are criticizing you. I have always struggled with this in solo and group fitness. The first thing that drew me to indoor cycling was how dark it was in the studio. It made it a lot easier for me to block out those thoughts that people were thinking negatively of my abilities because if they cannot see what I am doing, how can they criticize!? Now, even when the lights come on, I find myself having positive thoughts more often than negative.
If you help other women understand one thing about health and fitness, what would it be?
Every woman’s fitness journey is different. Every woman’s body is different. And that is okay. Don’t get frustrated if you are not losing as much weight as someone else who is doing the same exercises, or be jealous of someone else’s muscle tone or abs that you can’t seem to develop. Be grateful for the body you have and what it allows you to accomplish. Focus on the positive of your fitness journey.
What makes you Bad?
I consider myself “Bad” because even when I was settled into a career and was “sure” of what my life path looked like, I still allowed myself to be open to new opportunities and challenges. I gave myself permission to be vulnerable, even when there was the possibility of failure. Now, I am more confident in myself than I have ever been and absolutely LOVE my job as an indoor cycling instructor.
Bonus: What’s your favorite Bad Athletics product and flavor combo?
You can find Madi’s on Instagram @rebelridemadi,
all images by @roslyn.smithers
So much of what Madi talks about in regards to being brave and stepping outside of our comfort zones resonated with me and I hope with you too! I found myself in an indoor cycling studio last year and since then have ridden about 3x a week. It’s become a source of stress relief I never expected. If you haven’t tried it, find a studio and go now!
When you do, bring along your Bad BCAAs for the ride. Give those sore legs the amino acids they need to rebuild and repair, letting you come back stronger and better than before.