Top trainer Jessica Smith records workouts in her parents’ Sarasota living room
Jessica Smith looks out past the LED lights set up in her parents’ Sarasota living room and speaks to the video camera propped up on a tripod.
Electronic music pulses from the laptop on the kitchen counter and her French bulldog, Peanut, casually struts in and out of the frame.
Smith, 34 — a Sarasota native and Pine View School graduate — often returns here, to her parents’ home at the end of winding, scenic road just east of the Interstate, to film fitness videos for her YouTube channel, Jessica Smith TV.
Jessica Smith a Sarasota native, is a Miami-based fitness expert. Smith, 34, makes fitness workout videos. (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Thomas Bender)
Sarasota has played an important role in Smith’s burgeoning career. Her best-selling DVD walking series features her mom, Debbie, as well as sparkling views of Sarasota Bay from Golden Gate Point.
Infusing her personal life with her passion for fitness has paid dividends in boosting the brand of the Miami-based trainer with her own DVD collection, YouTube Channel and Internet following. This year, Shape Magazine named Smith No. 9 on their list of the “50 Hottest Female Trainers in America” and Glamour Magazine named Smith’s channel a “top workout you can stream.”
Smith’s workouts fuse a personal touch with fun, easy ways to get fit. Viewers can expect a cameo from her dog, Peanut, while she coaches her audience through ab work or resistance bands workouts from her bedroom.
Her approach to fitness? Something fun, safe and quick.
And viewers, she says, quickly feel like they know her.
“They’ve met my dog. They’ve seen my home,” Smith said earlier this month. “There is such a more personal connection, even though I haven’t met them.”
A LOVE OF MOVEMENT
It was her dad Craig’s old, rusty stationary bike that first led Smith to fitness.
Smith had wanted to be a dancer, and dance she did from an early age and through high school, when at age 16 she gained more than 40 pounds and began a “yo-yo cycle” of dieting.
One summer she spent a lot of time on that rusty bike. The progress she noticed after pedaling away in the Florida heat encouraged her to skip out on treats like ice cream. Soon, she had joined a local gym, taking spinning classes because they felt “safe” and unintimidating.
“I had always had a love of movement,” Smith said earlier this month. “But that sparked a love of fitness.”
She started college two years later at Fordham University in New York City in a dance program. It was a rigorous few months, full of auditions and worrying about maintaining weight. By the end of the first semester, Smith decided she didn’t want to pursue a career with such instability, and spent another semester working at a real estate office and living at home.
But Smith longed to return to New York. Her parents weren’t so enthused. If you go back, they told her, the cost is on you. She returned to Fordham, getting a job as a trainer at the New York Sports Club and working as a secretary in the housing office to take advantage of the tuition breaks.
By the time she graduated with a communications degree in 2003, Smith had picked up multiple fitness training certifications and soon began personal training, moving to Miami for a job opportunity a few years later. There she taught a variety of fitness classes and worked as a wellness coach.
It was at this time that Women’s Health magazine wanted a trainer to film workouts for a fitness series — and a contact from New York recommended Smith audition.
She shot the first audition tape by her parents’ pool, performing some basic movements and talking about her personal struggle with weight loss.
She heard nothing for months, until she got the call that she had been chosen for the video, which would be directed by acclaimed fitness director and producer Andrea Ambandos.
“You don’t know what you are doing, but I can teach you,” Smith recalls Ambandos saying to her, their first day on set. And Smith was hooked.
“I had never thought about doing that until this opportunity,” Smith says.
KEEPING IT FUN
When shooting a video, left and right are reversed. Trainers count repetitions in their heads or through the music, which is often made up of various counts. And the trainers need room to move — which is why Smith often chooses her parents’ spacious living room for her video set.
At her latest rehearsal in mid-September, she practices a “total body sculpt express with weights” and a “plyo power” workout in front of that familiar fireplace. Peanut chews noisily on a bone.
She giggles at the dog as she leads an invisible audience through a dumbbell row.
Between coaching and filming more fitness videos, Smith’s career took her to Los Angeles and back to Miami, where she lives with her husband, fourth-degree black belt Guillermo Gomez.
This year, Smith filmed her best-selling walking series at Golden Gate Point with her mom and a family friend. She tries to do her workouts in one take and tends to ad lib her performances because her eyesight is too poor for her to read cue cards.
She thinks the casual, unretouched approach — staying away from the videos where “everybody looks great and no one sweats” — has helped build a rapport with her following. And engaging viewers in Q-and-A sessions and funny blooper reels — in addition to quick, free workouts — has helped expand her fan base.
“It’s really helped me connect to my audience in different ways,” Smith says.
While she has been posting workouts to a YouTube channel for five years, it wasn’t until 2013 that she focused hard on building an audience. More than 90,000 people subscribe to her fitness channel.
“Some people say if you are a jack of all trades, then you are a master of none,” Smith says. “But this allows me to fuse them all together.”
She is certified in a variety of fitness regiments, from prenatal workouts to dumbbell workouts to Pilates. But her favorite exercise? Long walks.
“Hands down, the number one thing you want to look for in the workout is something you want to do,” Smith says. “Consistency is everything.”
JESSICA SMITH’S FIVE EASY LIFE CHANGES FOR A FITTER LIFE
1. Enlist the help of a friend.
Team up with a friend who’s looking to start getting in shape, too. The two of you can help hold each other accountable and cheer each other when your motivation wanes.
2. Use social media for inspiration.
On Pinterest, follow health and fitness boards from experts (check out fitness magazines like SHAPE or Fitness, and websites like SparkPeople.com ). Search for personal trainers on Twitter (like @bornfitness and @joedowdellnyc) for workout tips, or even follow companies like @nike or @underarmourwomen on Instagram for motivation to move.
3. Take a daily time-out.
Every day, aim to take 5-10 minutes for yourself to do absolutely nothing. (No, zoning out in front of the TV doesn’t count). Find a quiet space and sit comfortably with your eyes closed (set a timer if necessary) for up to 10 minutes. Disconnecting from a busy schedule, buzzing phone and overflowing to-do list is one of the fastest, easiest and cheapest ways to improve your health and wellness.
4. Spend more time outside.
Spending time in nature (even if it’s just walking down a palm tree-lined street) is a great way to boost your mood and could help ward off anxiety and depression.
Believe it or not, sleep trumps exercise and diet — because without a good night’s rest, you won’t reap the full benefits of a good workout and it’s harder to stick with a healthy diet.