These three fitness phenoms were all recently honored by their industry as the cream of the crop. They've shared a few of their most effective secrets to help you get motivated or refresh your workouts:
The 29-year-old Nichols, recognized as "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" by the American Council on Exercise and Life Fitness, knows about struggling. In college, she bounced from intense workouts to bagging exercise and gaining 40 pounds.
"I was miserable," Nichols, of the Cincinnati area, recalled. But as she learned more about personal training, she discovered "how to practice moderation, not just in food, but exercise," she said. "Fitness isn't about achieving a certain physique or going to extremes. It's about exercising in ways that are fun, fit into life easily and don't cause you to give up other things."
Nichols' top tips:
• Get up 15 minutes earlier to squeeze in a short workout. "It's one of the best ways to make sure nothing gets in the way," she said. Make it easier: Sleep in your workout clothes.
• Don't work out on an empty stomach. About 30 minutes before a workout, try a small snack of 100 to 200 calories, with 3 to 5 grams of protein and at least 15 grams of carbs.
• Walk — even if you can run. If your workouts are always intense, you might be setting yourself up for failure. If you're having trouble getting started, just do 10 minutes a day to start building a habit. "Then work up to three 10-minute chunks in a day," she said.
Karp aspires to be "the Jillian Michaels of running," if only because the broad exposure would help him reach runners of all abilities. "I've always been interested in what makes someone faster than another person and how they got there," said Karp, the 2011 IDEA Health and Fitness Industry Personal Trainer of the Year who works in San Diego. "People think running is so simple," he added. "But a lot of people giving running advice have no idea what they're talking about."
Karp's top tips:
• Polarize your training. Recovery is the secret behind improvement; it can mean taking a day off or working at a lower intensity. With runners, Karp stresses going all out on hard days and relaxing on easy days.
• Ease into it. If you've been sedentary for 40 years, don't sign up to run a marathon in six months. And never go out too fast during the first mile of a race. Run a pace you can maintain the entire time, Karp said.
• Make interval workouts harder by decreasing recovery time between intervals, making the interval period longer or increase repetitions.
Crews, IDEA's Fitness Instructor of the Year, has what her husband jokingly calls a "certification addiction." Over the last three decades, the 55-year-old dynamo from Alabama has taught everything from step aerobics and glide classes to her current favorites: TRX Suspension Training and Batuka, a new pre-choreographed dance fitness program.
Crews' top tips:
• Find what you like. Then do it — and pick something complementary. If you like to run, balance it with some yoga or strength training.
• Eat food as close to its natural state as possible. The whole orange is always better for you than the juice. Stay away from refined or processed foods and limit the amount of high-fat protein such as meat that you eat each week.
• Don't hang out in the back row. Group fitness classes can improve your odds for success, but not if your form is off. "Let the instructor know you are a newbie, and position yourself where you can see yourself in the mirror and see the instructor," said Crews.