Emily Cook Harris Is Uniting Fitness, Philanthropy, & Empowerment
They say true health is when the mind and body's intentions meet. Well, Emily Cook Harris has proven that and so much more. Starting off as a Louisiana State University student studying kinesiology and going on to pursue a career in dance, which took her on national tours and as a character in DisneyWorld, Emily is now the Founder of EMPOWERED and FITWeek. She built EMPOWERED from a one woman business into a budding bicoastal fitness empire, which combines personal training with empowerment to create a game changing health program. Catapulting from her experience with EMPOWERED, she launched FITWeek three years ago in an effort to unite the fitness community to support local and global education. Read on to learn about the fitness superwoman behind these two game changing wellness brands.
All About Emily
Name: Emily Cook Harris
Location: Recently moved to Los Angeles! However, I spent the last 7 years in NYC and my business is still there, so I feel like I’m in both cities. :) #bicoastal
Education: Louisiana State University, majored in Kinesiology with a focus on fitness & a minor in Dance
Current job: CEO of EMPOWERED: Personal Training & Lifestyle Coaching. I oversee the EMPOWERED NYC team of trainers + personal training here in LA + remote coaching! I love what I do. I get to help light a fire in others through fitness, and then watch them go take on the world.
You have had such a fascinating career so far. What was your first job after you graduated?
The job that actually got me to NYC was a full-time summer internship at the NBC Fitness Center in 30 Rock. It was the final course of my Kinesiology degree and allowed me the opportunity to make a leap to NYC with a specific purpose. And that lead to my first full-time job post graduation at MetLife [Bryant Park] where I worked as an Exercise Specialist doing personal training, teaching group classes, creating wellness challenges, etc. It was an awesome first job and I got to put my degree to work right away.
What was it like being a character in Disney World?
Pretty magical actually, lol. Alice in Wonderland and Wendy Darling (from Peter Pan) were my good friends. ;) It was part of the Disney College Program – which I highly recommend. I got paid to perform, make dreams come true, work with awesome people, and go to the Magic Kingdom for free on my off days. Total win.
You pursued a dance career, touring nationally with a musical and appearing in commercials and magazines as a dancer. What made you transition from performance into a full fledge fitness career?
Dance was my first love and introduction to the power of movement, and I’ve had some pretty awesome experiences throughout my life as a performer. I also come from a fierce lineage of coaches & health educators. My 89 year old grandfather has a PhD in Kinesiology and still teaches full-time at a University because he loves it so much. And my mom has her Masters in Education, instilling in kids a love of movement for 30+ years. So needless to say, coaching is in my blood. I LOVED school. The science of exercise, the psychology of behavior change, my first weightlifting class at the LSU football stadium – I knew I was in the right field. The more I learned, the more it fired me up.
The major transition moment from performance to full-time fitness was when I shattered my tailbone during a performance of The Music Man National Tour. At the time, it seemed like the absolute worst thing that could have ever happened to me as I was out of dance for almost a year. But I can see so clearly now that it was the absolute BEST. It created time for me to focus on my other passion – helping others through fitness – and shift my energy to building EMPOWERED (which I had actually founded 8 months prior).
How did you get your start in the fitness world?
My very first job in fitness was during college at the YMCA in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I instructed my first group fitness classes, gave assessments to members, taught them how to use the equipment, and during the down times…put on rubber gloves, filled a bucket with soap, and scrubbed the machines. The cleaning part wasn’t so glamorous, but the staff & members were great. Plus, it set me up perfectly for the internship of a lifetime in New York City.
The fitness world can be intimidating. How did you go about finding your place within it?
I think I just dove in. You learn by doing – being a part of different environments, working hard and keeping an open mind. By taking action you are able to determine what you enjoy and want more of, and what you’d be OK moving on from. And I guess in my case, I found my place by taking all the experience along the journey and creating my own world of EMPOWERED within the fitness world.
How did EMPOWERED come about?
EMPOWERED was an idea that dropped on me that just wouldn’t go away. I felt like the way I viewed fitness wasn’t being widely represented. It’s bigger than just improving your appearance. There’s nothing wrong with wanting an aesthetic outcome (and you can 100% achieve that!), but it’s so much more than that. The goal with any client I work with is for them to live a life they love in a body they’re proud of. And that begins by making health a priority and creating a lifestyle of good habits. Moving with intention, eating clean, being well rested – these are the building blocks to your best self. Once you give energy to these things, you’ll find clarity and new confidence to take on your bigger life goals. And crush them.
Why did you want to have a focus on health transformation for both the mind and body?
I don’t think you can have true transformation with only one of them. If you want true lifestyle change, you’ve got to integrate both the body and mind. I felt the power in my own life, first through dance – how it made me feel strong & confident in my physical body, but how that transferred to outside the dance studio as well. When I was injured and couldn’t move the way I was accustomed to, I found a deeper appreciation for the power of movement and its positive impact on my life. I knew that if I could teach people to love movement, to tap into their own power, to push their boundaries and prove they were stronger than they realized, then we would be on our way to real transformation. Taking control of your health, mind & body, is powerful stuff. It’s the foundation to kicking ass at life.
How do you go about making that transformation happen?
We begin with the foundational components of health & fitness – exercise, nutrition, hydration, rest & recovery – and take it one week at a time. It’s a process of creating new habits by setting specific action based goals, pushing yourself just a little out of your comfort zone, and being held accountable. You’ve got to know the big goal and the WHY so you can get clear on where you’re going. But a big goal without a plan is useless. The secret to success and lasting transformation is in the small weekly action steps that bring the dream to reality.
EMPOWERED has grown exponentially since it first started and now, you have other trainers using the EMPOWERED method. What was it like to see that growth and how did you make that happen?
It has been an organic, slow and steady growth over the years. Our business has been built mostly on referrals. Happy clients tell their friends. And fortunately, we’ve had lots of happy clients. :) As my personal training roster grew and I had more requests than hours in the day, I hired a trainer to help carry out the EMPOWERED way of doing things (Nikki, who is still with our team today!). And that continued on with adding more trainers to our team along the way to keep up with the demand. Now, we also offer in-home yoga & pilates in addition to our signature EMPOWERED cardio+strength training programs.
What is your advice to women interested in pursuing a career in fitness?
Do it. Just begin. The hours can be rough, but the work is truly so fulfilling. You get to help others feel good on a real, rooted level – not just when they are with you, but long after you leave. Like a metabolic effect, but on their happiness. :) And as a bonus, your professional work attire will be athletic clothes. Double win. But seriously, it has been the most rewarding career. I feel inspired by both my fellow fitness professionals and my clients on a daily basis to be better and aspire for more.
Giving back is a huge cornerstone to EMPOWERED. Can you tell us more about that? Why did you choose to focus on sponsoring girls’ education in the developing world?
We donate 10% of our net proceeds to girls’ education and we’ve done that from the very first client. I wanted giving to be built into the core of EMPOWERED and what we stand for. The value of education was instilled in me from a young age–that you have the ability to work hard and achieve anything you put your mind to. When I learned that girls in other parts of the world weren’t even being given the chance to GO to school, 66 million girls to be exact, it seemed terribly unfair. That I was given this gift of being able to attend school just by virtue of where I was born. But across the world, a girl my same age was facing unbelievable obstacles just to be able to sit at a desk and learn. And I wanted to do something about it. The research has proven that if you invest in a girl’s education, she will invest that back into her own family and community, thus elevating her own life as well as her world. The positive ripple effect is exponential.
FITWeek combines so many of the things that I love: my passion for fitness, my love for the group fitness community, the power of education, and the ability for us to unite together to make an impact. The seed of the idea was planted years ago when I taught a bootcamp in Central Park for girls’ education. We had a blast and in a short (sweaty) hour, we had raised enough money to sponsor one year of education for a girl in Sierra Leone. I taught a couple of additional classes in the years that followed, and then it hit me: What if I hosted a class, and the studio down the street hosted a class, and so forth. We could amplify our efforts by joining together and make a much greater impact. Plus fitness and education both have that transformative, change the trajectory of your life kind of power. They were a seamless match for FITWeek.
What does FITWeek look like today?
This is our 3rd annual event in NYC, and we’ve raised over $10,000 for education to date! We are excited to be launching our second city this year, Dallas! We have some amazing studios participating with 15 classes in NYC and 9 in Dallas. And 100% of the FITWeek proceeds support local & global education via She’s the First, DonorsChoose.org, and Commit2Dallas! We’ll have awesome giveaways and raffle prizes from our sponsors in each city, and look forward to an all-around fun week of fitness and philanthropy.
How can New York City and Dallas locals get involved?
Sign up for class and spread the word!! 100% of FITWeek proceeds support our 2016 education nonprofits (She’s the First, DonorsChoose.org, Commit2Dallas!). Visit www.fit-week.com to learn more. You can also jump straight to each cities booking page here:
New York City: www.NYCfitweek.com
We have now sponsored the education of more than 50 students solely through EMPOWERED, and that number has grown even more through our FITWeek efforts. And while I’m very proud of that growing number, every single scholarship is a milestone to the individual who receives it, who is then given an opportunity to rise above her circumstances and aspire for more. And to the EMPOWERED client who has a breakthrough moment and discovers she is stronger than she realized, that’s a milestone, and it’s incredibly humbling & inspiring to witness. These are the things that drive me to continue on.
Where do you hope to take EMPOWERED and FITWeek in the future?
We would love to expand FITWeek to other cities in 2017 to make a greater impact. And EMPOWERED will continue helping people kick ass at life through personal training + lifestyle coaching in NYC, LA, and beyond. I guess you’ll just have to stay tuned and see what else we have up our sleeves. ;)
From what you’ve experienced with EMPOWERED and FITWeek, what is your top advice to someone who wants to make fitness more of a priority in their life?
Dream big, but start small. True lifestyle change happens through daily & weekly actions, done consistently over time. Exercising today vs not exercising today. Drinking water today vs not drinking water today. It’s about keeping the promises you set with yourself and knowing your “why.” Motivation will falter, but if you remember WHY this lifestyle shift matters to you – the real guts of it – then you will find the strength to continue on. And when in doubt, find a coach or fitness community you can be a part of that will encourage you to be your best.
Behind the Scenes
Who was your first girl crush? Who is it today?
Beyonce is my past, present, and future girl crush. She wins every time.
Who is on your power playlist?
Such a mix! Fierce female powerhouses + rap + electronic + pop remixes + acoustic feel good stuff. Depends on the day.
What are your favorite fitness classes to take when you’re not leading them?
I love a variety! Keeps it fun. You’d likely find me in a HIIT class, pilates, cycling, yoga, or dance.
Do you have a personal mantra?
Work hard. Dream big. Give back. Live empowered.