Scroll through your Instagram feed and there’s no shortage of perfectly toned bodies made for double taps. For those of us who don’t have peach emoji-shaped buns or a six-pack that doesn’t relate to beer, it’s easy to design goals for the body you want—instead of embracing the body you have.
For Anthony McClain—a fitness trainer, the CEO/founder of the McClain Strong brand and a former SoulCycle instructor—his journey to wellness began with a pair of comments about his physical attributes when he was 12 years old. Both his homeboy and girlfriend at the time individually expressed that his legs were attractive like a woman’s. While he had no shame in having his scrawny gams, those remarks from his inner circle motivated him to flip others’ perception of him. He then tried out for the football team at Parkland High School in his native Pennsylvania and instantly became addicted to the process of progress.
“My love of being able to control something and actually see results on a consistent basis—daily, weekly—kind of grew,” he tells her sweat. “[It’s] something that I could be very, very intentional about, that could make me better and that regardless of what else was going on in my life, I had control over this progress and I kind of fell in love with that process.”
Football practice eventually transitioned into working on a degree in physical therapy. When his collegiate plans didn’t translate into a career (more on this later), he eyed a gig with the spin class-oriented fitness company, SoulCycle. He took three classes for free as part of his audition, and it was a session with Senior Master instructor, Janet Fitzgerald—the woman who turned The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” into a mantra (“I got a soul, but I’m not a soldier”) for her class—that opened his eyes to a new fitness format. Eventually, McClain became a part of the SoulCycle family and jokes that he would turn his own classes into JAY-Z concerts.
Though he was helping clients achieve their dream bodies both as a trainer and SoulCycle instructor, McClain yearned for something more. With Mental Health Awareness Month approaching in May, her sweat. will be launching a Mental Wealth campaign, where individuals with empowering stories will share how they overcame the obstacles in their minds in order to accomplish physical feats. We also tapped McClain to be our resident wellness expert to hone into the different ways mental health can translate into physical strength. For four weeks, he will pen a column about a specific topic to help train your brain to be the engine that keeps your body running. It was only right we get to know the entrepreneur, who frequently drops gems on his Bout That Time podcast, which has featured a wide range of guests from SoulCycle queen Angela Manuel-Davis to his girlfriend and very own mother.
Get acquainted with McClain and his brand of contagious positivity below.
her sweat.: At what point did fitness become an inside job?
Anthony McClain: It happened when I needed to take a year off between undergrad [at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania] and grad school [at New York’s Columbia University] because I didn’t have enough money to confirm my placement into one physical therapy school while I was also on the waitlist at the University of Miami. The total [cost] would have been like $750, but at the time, I didn’t have the coin. I just graduated from college, was trying to be an adult and not ask my mom or my fam for any more dough.
I didn’t put down the money to secure a spot because I wanted to get into Miami, and if Miami opened up, I wanted to have the money for it. Miami never opened up so I was forced to be out of school for a year and I had this degree in rehabilitation science that didn’t set me up to do anything greater. I just remember my friends who went to school for business and engineering were driving Audis. They were out here doing it and I was the exact opposite, just crippled with debt. Long story short, I think that’s probably like the first time in my life I was ever depressed and my [fit] body started to go away.
It became that one thing, once again, that I needed to control ‘cause it seemed like everything else wasn’t going the way that I wanted it to. So I fully poured myself into myself and I was in the gym for a minimum of two hours, and sometimes four hours twice a week. I don’t regret that moment because I reached a new level of fitness and strength. I found that in my control and something that was once so dark, I could create something so great. I knew that that physique, that hard work and that determination wasn’t going to go to waste. So that was when it became inside work for me. It was when essentially, I felt like I had no more control over anything else.
What workouts were helping you fight through the funk?
A lot of resistance training, a lot of racquetball, which is random but fun. It wasn’t specifically cardio. I had this routine that I called “The Perfect” and whatever number I chose to do that day. And around those times, I was doing “The Perfect 30,” which is 30 push-ups, 30 rows on each arm and 30 crunches. And then you do 29 [push-ups], 29 [rows] 29 [crunches] all the way down to zero. It was real. But when your warm-up is like 27 minutes of calisthenics, that’s pretty serious.
When did you become aware of the way that you talk to yourself?
There was this time in college where I vividly remember enjoying what I was perceiving as debating and getting my point across. During these moments, I would realize that I would actually really be stressing myself out. Like, “I’m just having a conversation but why is my heart beating so fast?” I’m aware of that the way I feel emotionally and the way I feel physically are tethered. If I want to allow myself to be my best self, I need to do my best to be able to control both of them.
That’s something that’s really, really important in reference to emotional intelligence from a standpoint of being mindful that the way you feel has physiological effects. I’m super intentional in doing my best to rid myself of undue anxiety and that’s in the physical form, my social life, even when it came to the way I would do workouts. I would spend less time telling myself I can’t do things and just give myself more chances [to do things] sooner. That was my practice and that’s something all people struggle with. Like, is your pep talk an actual pep talk? Just being really mindful about the energy you give your dreams, goals and aspirations.
How did being a former SoulCycle instructor and a personal trainer extend into having your own clothing line and hosting your own podcast?
One of my favorite humans who is also an instructor, Melanie Griffith, her classes were so human and personal. She made herself so vulnerable in a way where you had nothing but respect because it takes courage to be that vulnerable. You know that you can go in there and be your absolute self, and she’s there to do nothing but lift whatever your best self feels like. It was that level of connectivity that everybody marveled at. There was this one time where she was having troubles with her marriage and her husband was in the room. It didn’t feel like she was like spilling tea but you were just like, “She is really about this life.” To me, it made fitness something that could also be so cathartic.
Watching that, I knew I wanted to integrate something similar into my classes just because I already mastered the fitness shit. I got the form, I know the technique. Like I’m a master at that, but happiness isn’t just about being fit. Happiness isn’t just about a six-pack. And I realized that the majority of people, especially those who came to SoulCycle, wanted to be fit, look good, this, that and the third. But I wanted to speak to the emotional, mental and spiritual reasons [people showed up]. I realized that in some of my classes, I had made everybody fit but everybody wasn’t necessarily happy. It was one of those things where it not just forced me to pivot but to expand my purpose. It’s not just about being physically healthy but really helping people self-actualize, broaden that platform, change that messaging and just make sure people were on the right track toward progress and not just distracting themselves. SoulCycle gave me the platform to develop, establish and hone my skills and also broaden my purpose, and that’s something I’m eternally grateful for. It also allowed me to come into contact with some really remarkable human beings that are like dear friends and mentors of mine now. And from a fitness apparel standpoint, I just like fly shit. [Laughs]
Talk about the importance of dedicating time to training your mind as well as your body.
[Training your mind is] something that’s as, if not, more important than physical fitness. We don’t talk about spiritual wellness every day and finding ways to fill ourselves up on a regular basis but those things matter and those things should be practiced. Those are things that we shouldn’t take for granted or view as some people have it and some people don’t. It’s a craft that we all need to develop.
Stay tuned for more from Anthony McClain in his column on her sweat. starting this May. In the meantime, check out his apparel line and podcast here.