Rachel Nicks works as a personal trainer, actress, and doula, so no two mornings are the same. One morning, she may appear on the MIRROR leading a fitness class, the next she’ll film an appearance on a TV show. Nicks tells Thrive that her healthy routine keeps her energized

Nicks reveals the simple strategies you can use to stay healthy and at the top of your game, whether you’re on a plane, at your desk, or home with your children

Thrive Global: What is your morning routine? How do you set your day up for success?

Rachel Nicks: Let’s open with me being 100% honest. I’ve always envied those with a perfect morning routine full of tea and journaling and reading the paper. I need sleep, because I go hard when I’m up. So I get up with enough time to shower, pop on some mascara, deodorant, a swipe of shadow, blush, and perhaps a quick coat of foundation, if and only if I have to be on camera. Now, I always give myself an extra 20 minutes to prepare clothes and a meal for my son and husband, or cuddle time with my baby boy before mama runs to work. 

If I have the day with my son, we wake up together and make breakfast and ease into the day. I’m blessed to have some mornings where I don’t have to rush out of the house. As a fitness professional, I’ve paid my dues with years of 4:30 a.m. wake-up calls. No more of those for me! 

TG: What is your fitness philosophy?

RN: Self-love first and foremost. You must start with loving yourself as is, and celebrating what you love about yourself in the present. Then, set goals and crush them. Fitness is trendy. But ask yourself, do I enjoy this? Does it make me feel good? Don’t do something because you think you should. Delete “should” from your vocabulary now and forever. I don’t believe in diets. I believe in a lifestyle of positivity, happiness, wellness, and health.

TG: Have you ever fallen off the fitness wagon?

RN: When I was about three years into grinding as a fitness professional in NYC and I was teaching as much as possible, I was uninspired to work out myself because I was exhausted. I was teaching one type of workout and feeling a bit uninspired.

TG: How do you get re-inspired when you hit a lull?

RN: I remember at that time my husband looking at me like, “You need a change.” I ended up getting more training and adding new classes to my teaching toolbox. I love to learn! That, in turn, inspired me to work out. I also started to designate days for me. Grinding is a must, especially in NYC, but fatigue and burnout are real and not healthy or attractive. Balance is key. The motto I live by is always keep room on your plate to receive blessings. And listen, being bored is a blessing sometimes. Being bored every once in a while is just fine. Trust me. Having time to sit with yourself in stillness is essential for growth and self-care. Many of us have a bad habit of being overbooked. 

TG: What advice do you have for people who want to get back to the gym, but find fitness overwhelming?

RN: Just start. Stop waiting for the perfect time. Now is just right. Grab a buddy to work out with. Try something new. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Take the class you are afraid of. What we are afraid of is usually what we need. Challenges change you. Until you challenge yourself, you won’t grow or crush your goals. Or buy a MIRROR and workout with me in the comfort of your own home. 

TG: Are there ways you recommend to sneak in movement throughout the day? 

RN: Stretch at your desk or in the shower. Walk instead of driving, or take the train. Take stairs instead of elevators. Do some jumping jacks and air squats in the morning. You don’t have to have some perfect hour set aside to work out, just turn on some music while you cook and dance around. 

TG: How has your personal fitness routine evolved?  

RN: I have gotten stronger with time. I gotta say, after my son, it took time to really feel strong again. I breastfed for 18 months and it wasn’t until after I stopped that I realized not only how much stronger I felt but how much energy I was giving my son from pregnancy to birth to breastfeeding, plus the resulting lack of sleep. 

I love change. I love to be challenged, so I continue to throw myself at new things. I am constantly learning a lot about my body and growing as an instructor. Every time I try something new, I am reminded of the importance of cross training to stay engaged and build strength and flexibility in a balanced way.

I’ve been an athlete my whole life. I started gymnastics at age two, soccer at five, and then volleyball and basketball at 10 years old. I continued to be active in my adult life by going to the gym, and when I was 26, I did my first training and received my 500 hour hatha yoga certification, which was followed by the following trainings: barre, doula, pre/postnatal fitness and yoga, kettlebell, Pilates May, Pilates, reformer, spin, TRX, and lactation counselor. 

TG: What is your go-to healthy…

  • Breakfast? Oatmeal or boiled eggs.
  • Lunch? Salad, always lightly dressed — never creamy dressings.
  • Dinner? I love to cook, which is a great way to control what’s going into my body. I usually bake chicken with sautéed vegetables. I also love broiling salmon. I omitted cooking with butter years ago. Sometimes I add a roasted potato. Quinoa and rice mixed together is my new favorite, and I love red lentils! 

TG: What are some easy food swaps?

RN: Oil instead of butter or salad dressing, water instead of juice or soda, and carrots or cucumber instead of chips. 

TG: What are some ways to avoid snacking/grazing?

RN: Make sure you eat! Try not to wait to eat until you are starving. Also, make sure you eat slowly and really ask yourself if you are still hungry before you keep eating. I usually make small portions, let the food digest a bit, and if I’m still hungry, then I’ll get more food. Many of us overeat and wait too long to eat.

TG: Any solutions for stress eating?

RN: If your grandparents don’t know what it is, don’t eat it!  I don’t buy bad snacks for my house. If there is no crap to eat in the house, you won’t eat it. If stress eating is a habit of yours, try buying carrots or celery. The crunch may help you work through your aggression without the empty calories. I love food. But I also am a bit of a food snob. I want the food I eat to be good, fresh, and satisfying. I don’t believe in “cheat or bad foods,” it’s all about moderation, and truly if it makes me feel good, I’ll eat it. I do not believe in punishing myself for eating something that tastes good. That goes back to my point about approaching health and fitness with a positive and loving attitude.

TG: What are some easy, small things we can do to improve our nutrition?

RN: Shop on the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid packaged foods. Try to cook so you can control what you are putting in your body. Focus on a plant-based diet, and try to make that your go-to choice when you can. Start to notice how it makes you feel: Your body will stop craving processed foods when it starts to have a relationship with the fresh foods. 

TG: What are the benefits of stretching? 

RN: Stretching releases tension, connects to the breath, allows energy to flow through the body, shifts your energy, and increases flexibility. 

TG: Are there a couple of stretches that can energize us if we are feeling the morning or mid-day slump?

RN: Cat/cow: It can be done seated, standing, or on the floor. Side bends: They’re great for opening the ribs. Big arm circles to the back will open your chest and adjust your posture. Doing a neck release with circles massages your own neck. It does wonders.

TG: How do we move more and sit less?

RN: Stand at your desk. Schedule meetings in different locations within the office. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Take a call and go for a walk. 

TG: Can technology help with your fitness goals? 

RN: Yes. Many people find inspiration, help set and achieve goals, and work out through technology. From fitbits to MIRROR, tech has had a major positive impact on fitness.

TG: What are a couple quick and easy ways we can encourage our families to be healthier?

RN: Try to work together to set goals. Grocery shop together. Cook together. Work out together. I do all these things with my son already. He loves to help me; he knows how to check out at the grocery store including paying with the credit card. He chops and stirs and seasons the food while we cook. And we move together. He’s two, and he knows to say “Mommy, exercise! Let’s do jumping jacks Mommy!” I try to view my son as my helper and my partner so I get less flustered. I don’t try to cook and keep him out, because that would not work and cause stress. My attitude is to incorporate him in all that needs to be done.  

TG: How do you stay focused?

RN: I’m a busy bee and I am super competitive with myself. Grinding is in my blood and I now have a son to make proud. Becoming a mother has made me a better businesswoman. My challenge is to not worry about keeping up with all the balls I have in the air. When I have trouble focusing, I try to take a deep breath and know that everything will always work out — even if it doesn’t look like I thought it would. My faith is also huge. If I didn’t have that, I’d be crazier than I already am.

TG: How do you stay hydrated? 

RN: I chug water in the morning to get my day started. I drink water throughout the day and evening. I love water, so it’s not hard for me. I’m a fan of sparkling water to make it more exciting.

TG: When you are traveling, do you have any small tips or tricks to move your body on a plane if you are on a business trip?

RN: Do the alphabet with your feet while you fly. Do at least one lap to the bathroom. Stretch in your seat by doing cat/cow and side bends.

TG: How do you sleep? What is your winddown routine?

RN: I never have a problem falling asleep. But lately, I wake up during the night. I try not to grab my phone and scroll — that’s a weakness of mine. I usually close my eyes and take deep breaths to fall back asleep. Once my son is asleep, I usually give myself a little time to chat with my husband or watch a show that I enjoy. “The Crown” has been my recent obsession. I also never stay up late. 

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  • Lindsey Benoit O'Connell

    Deputy Editor, Entertainment + Partnerships at Thrive

    Lindsey Benoit O'Connell is Thrive's Deputy Editor, Entertainment + Partnerships. Prior to working at Thrive, she was the Entertainment + Special Projects Director for Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, Redbook and Woman's Day booking the talent for covers and inside features. O'Connell currently lives in Astoria, NY with her husband Brian and adorable son, Hunter Fitz.