How A Chain-Smoking Journalist Became an International Icon for Aqua Fitness
If you are serious about #aquaticfitness, you likely already know his brand, Fitmotivation.
What you may not know about this video streaming service founder is his career in fitness began twenty-five years ago when Mark Grevelding walked into a gym, told the manager he was interested in helping people lose weight and was asked if he could teach a step-aerobics class.
"I said, 'No, but I'll give it a try!'...And that is unceremoniously how I started teaching fitness with no experience whatsoever," he shared with The Aquaholics Bootcamp. Since then, of course, Mark has learned a lot, investing countless hours in furthering his education and skill sets. It's how the chain-smoking journalist from New York transformed himself into an aqua fitness icon!
As you'll hear in the below episode, Mark's career with aquatic fitness began no where near the pool, but rather on the page, as a writer for the AEA. Listen to his incredible journey from instructor to mentor, what advice he offers new and old instructors, and what he thinks are the biggest misconceptions in the water fitness industry.
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Jenni Lynn: Joining us today is the one and only Mark Grevelding. For those who don't already know Mark, he is the founder of Fitmotivation, an incredible online video and streaming resource for aquatic fitness instructors, as well as PoolFit, a fitness app for fitness consumers. Mark has been in the fitness industry for the last 25 years and can be found currently teaching at the YMCA in Sarasota, Florida.
AJ: Before we dive in, just a quick heads up...We had a little issue with some of the audio in this episode, so please forgive the quality. Otherwise, enjoy.
Jenni Lynn: Mark, welcome to Aquaholics Bootcamp!
Mark: Well, thank you very much Jenni Lynn. I'm very honored to be here and even more honored to say that I'm a podcast virgin. So this this exciting.
AJ: We're your first podcast ever?
Mark: Yes. And hello to you, AJ, as well.
AJ: I'm so excited. And I'm so glad that we get to be your first.
Jenni Lynn: It's a special moment for all of us.
AJ: Yeah. So where are you calling in from?
Mark: I am in very sunny but very warm Sarasota, Florida. And I have some very exciting news. I just started resuming teaching my classes at the YMCA.
Jenni Lynn: Oh, congratulations.
Mark: Thank you. I'm not gonna lie, it was kind of nice having a little break on my body. I'm sure Jenni can attest, she also teaches way more than I do.
Jenni Lynn: It's hard.
Mark: I can't tell you once I was teaching how good it felt to be there. The people were so grateful. So I guess that's some good news, people are slowly getting back to teaching. How about you, Jenni? How's it going for you?
Jenni Lynn: Well being that we are in such a huge city. You know, with this many people on top of each other the precautions are going to be very strict.
Mark: Yeah, that's pretty sad. But it's not in our control, the virus is in control and we've got to wait and see. It's got to be done safely. Our YMCA is definitely utilizing the social distancing, and all that stuff to get back in action.
Jenni Lynn: So tell us, I know you teach water and everything like that, but how did you actually get involved with fitness or aquatic fitness altogether?
Mark: Oh, jeez. Well, gosh, I celebrated my 25th year actually, this summer. It was 25 years ago that I started to, you know, I had no background in any of this. I went to school for broadcast journalism. So it's been a long, circuitous journey. I was one of those people in my 30s who still had no idea what they wanted to do with their life. I was pretty much drawing careers out of a hat. But one thing that I knew was I liked to work out. So I was living in Rochester, New York, at the time and I made a list of 10 gyms and the first gym I walked into, I introduced myself to the owner. I said, "I'd like to be a personal trainer and I'd like to help people lose weight here," and she said, "Great. Can you teach step?" And I said, "No, but I'll give it a try." And that is unceremoniously how I started teaching fitness. With no experience whatsoever. We were still using blue wooden boxes for steps.
And so five years later, I was teaching at the Jewish Community Center in Rochester and had to get my CPR by the aquatic director. And that person, when she was doing my CPR said, "I saw you teaching kickboxing in the studio. Would you consider teaching kickboxing in the pool?" I said, "Well, I haven't been in the pool since the fourth grade picnic, but I can try!" And she goes, "Oh, well, you don't get in. You can be on deck," and I go, "Oh, cool. Definitely. I'll try that," and so that is how I unceremoniously started teaching aquatic fitness 20 years ago.
Jenni Lynn: Oh, I love it.
AJ: I love knowing that there was an aquatic kickboxing class 20 years ago!
Mark: If you really want to know the truth, when I look back at the history, and you can ask, you know, any people involved in the industry...that was a big transition time. Because up until then, as we know, the urban legend and myth that I know Jenni Lynn and Chris battle constantly, and they do a great job of showing it's not just for "older women." So that was a turning point when kickboxing and taibo became huge, back in the mid to late 90s, that it transitioned to the water, and that was a transition for aquatic fitness that finally gave it a new face. It definitely was my entry point because I taught more aggressively back then. And so it actually became very popular, yes, back 20 years ago in the water, but it was definitely a turning point. From that point on everything started going in the water -- cycling, anything we did on land we started putting in the water because we saw the success of transitioning kickboxing from the studio to the pool.
Jenni Lynn: Wow, sounds like you had a really good aquatic manager or fitness director
Mark: Yes. I always, to this day, I still keep in touch with her and I still say you're the one responsible. You know, I can't tell instructors enough if you're just teaching land, you really should be looking at teaching water because nothing opened doors for me like that did. That was huge for me. It just made me so much more marketable. I was able to go into so many more clubs, having the ability to teach both in the studio and in the pool and it just opens up you up to different types of populations. It was just the best thing I ever did.
Jenni Lynn: That's so awesome. So was that around the time you started to get involved with the AEA, the Aquatic Exercise Association?
Mark: It was, and it was exactly because of the kickboxing. So, you know, feeling guilty because my parents spent a fortune on my journalism degree, I was trying desperately to tie it into my fitness. And so I wrote an article in the '90s about my step ladies that always would gather with a group of 20 and have a coffee lunch for AFAA magazine, American Fitness. I think it was about 1999 that they published it and I was so excited that I finally got published that when I started teaching an aquatic fitness class, I thought that would make a good article to try to get published in AFAA's magazine, you know, my transition from land to water.
So I set up an interview with someone whose name was Angie Proctor. She was the Executive Director of the Aquatic Exercise Association, and I interviewed Angie for this article about aquatic kickboxing. She asked if they could use the article on their website. And I said, "Sure!" There was some good reviews on the article. And then she asked if I'd write another and then another and then next thing I know, she was asking me if I would write a column for the AEA. So, what a lot of people don't know is that my beginning with this was strictly as a writer, which is another thing I very much recommend to fitness professionals - think about writing as well. That's how I got on the radar with AEA, and well then next thing you know, a couple years later, she invited me to their International Fitness Conference in Sanibel, Florida, to come down and interview and write articles.
Jenni Lynn: Wow.
Mark: And so that was my first experience, and I kind of watched all the other instructors and I thought, you know, I think I'm pretty good. I think I could do this as well. So literally, me thinking I was all more than that applied to be a presenter and I don't even know why or how, but Angie let me and in 2003, I did teach at my first IAFC. And I got crucified in evaluations; everyone just thought I was a land instructor and teaching it like land, and you know what, they were right. So I learned and I don't even know why, but Angie invited me back the next year. And that's how I got started with the AEA.
Jenni Lynn: That is a great story. I love that.
AJ: Mark, I've known you for years, and I had no idea that's where it started.
Mark: Yeah, you know, I like to tell that story because I really think people struggle with trying to figure out how to become successful in their respective fields. And you know what? I wrote for free, I still write for free for AEA. All those articles were for free. But those articles, that free writing, made a career for me. Because next thing you know, I was teaching at their big conference, and then they asked me to be a trainer because I was successful. Jenni Lynn, you know, same thing, being a continuing ed provider, doing your own workshops. So when you want to do something, sometimes you got to start doing your passion and offering it up and doing something for free. Sometimes that's just what you have to do to get your start. So that is exactly what I did. I was just a writer.
AJ: So take us back, Mark. First memories. How did you and Jenni Lynn meet? Do you remember?
Mark: I do actually. I can almost...it's like a video in my head of her walking towards me at ECA. That's a conference in Fort Lauderdale. And I just remember Jenni Lynn walking up and introducing herself and just inquiring, "How did you get to this point where you can go teach workshops?" And I've always just been, as Jenni Lynn knows, I remember back in 2002, looking up and outward trying to figure out how to do all this. I had no clue how to do it. So I remember a couple people going out of their way to answer some questions for me, so it was always important for me, from that point on after I started teaching workshops and things like that, when other people would ask me, I always wanted to be a resource for other people to tell them how and to help them.
Jenni Lynn: Yeah, one thing I remember you saying the most was you can't hold on to it, you have to share it, you have to put it out there for people to see, to learn and grow. You've been such an advocate for that, and it is so true.
Jenni Lynn: So we know that you have obviously been fortunate enough to have your pool and be able to get in the water and work out. What is your preferred style? I mean, how do you work out in the water?
Mark: You know, it's funny you should ask...So I actually just got in this morning, and my preferred way is I brought out a deep water belt. And I love, love, love to get in deep water with my belt on because...as much as I want to try to progress my walking outside to intervals of jogging and walking, every time I try I end up with feet problems, with knee problems.
AJ: Yeah, I always tell people I don't run unless something bigger is chasing me.
Mark: Exactly. Today though, I have to brag I actually got to follow along with one of my own deep water videos because I have that wonderful app now that I can just prop up and put on the deck and follow along. And so I did follow along with Deep 321 this morning.
Jenni Lynn: Oh, nice.
AJ: PoolFit. Tell us a little bit about that.
Mark: Oh, my goodness. I thought launching streaming websites were a lot of work. It launched almost a month ago in the App Store. And obviously I don't have to tell you launching at this time, it obviously was rather prophetic with people looking for ways to socially distance exercise. I just feel good about it. What this app is, it's really just the PoolFit videos are pretty much the same ones you'll see on Fitmotivation. We have a separate website called PoolFit.tv. But the problem with the website only is that if you don't have Wi-Fi at your pool, the website was no good, you had to use audio downloads.
Well the app does one thing and one thing only right now, before we start adding cool things in future releases. It allows you to download a workout in the app. Right now, it's iOS only. That would be your iPad, iPhone. We will have an Android version in hopefully the next six to seven months. But it allows you to download within the app so that you could take your iPad, iPhone directly poolside and follow along. I really believe this is a game changer and the numbers that I've been seeing come in since we launched, the visibility in the App Store, I guess I didn't realize was going to be as huge as it is. So I'm thrilled and I love that I just picked a workout this morning and walked out to my pool and can prop up my phone...or I don't even have to; I could just put it in my bag if I think I can follow the visual cues, or prop it up on a stand and so that's the PoolFit app. I'm feeling really good about this. If people have a pool and they want to exercise in it, this is a good solution for them.
AJ: It's a great idea, first of all, because you are solving a major problem in the streaming world and you know...Especially, it's not like we're doing things where you could set up your computer with a speaker in your bedroom or living room or in your backyard... You've got the pool to work with. And so the fact that you can take your phone or your iPad and prop it up right next to the pool, do a full workout...
Mark: Yep, and earbuds work perfectly if you've got them and you're using a shared community pool like mine. So I'm not bothering anyone, I've just got my Bluetooth earbuds, waterproof and yeah, it works good.
Jenni Lynn: Yeah, this is gonna be huge.
Mark: Well, thank you.
Jenni Lynn: Talking about this kind of leads into the next question, which is what do you think the future of aquatic fitness looks like? With this app, I think we can see where the direction is heading.
Mark: When I was researching this, and I scrolled through the app store, there's nothing for water fitness because as AJ already stated, that's a different ballgame. You got to figure this out here because you can't just roll a TV monitor out to your pool. And so I'd like to think that this is definitely a little bit of a game changer. I hope that the PoolFit app will change things and will give people a different opportunity that they didn't have before to just take a device out and exercise in a pool. If -- and that's the other thing -- if they have a pool, or have access to one.
AJ: Right, yeah.
Mark: So yeah, I sure hope that maybe this just adds a new element or opportunity for people to exercise in water.
AJ: It's a good supplemental fix to what we're dealing with right now. And I think in the future, as you said, and I'm so excited that you've launched it and the timing is perfect. It is prophetic.
Mark: Yes. Thank you.
AJ: Yeah. So we talked about misconceptions a little earlier and I know that you know, aquatic fitness is filled with them. Do you have any opinions as to what they are and as a male in this industry, what advice you'd give to other men interested in either joining the business side of things or following in your footsteps, either as an instructor or someone who's launching a business like this?
Mark: Well, definitely when focused on just the professional first...As I said before, I can't emphasize enough what this did to my fitness career. Anyone, whether it's a male or female looking for longevity in this field should definitely -- if they're only in land fitness, activity should very much be cross training. Let's look at the aging market here. The Baby Boomers, the next one down below that, you know. People just want to be able to work out hard but not have so much impact on the joints.
So for male professionals...We just don't have very many, so when there are male instructors, I don't mean to sound sexist, they sometimes do very well. But when we talk about the men attending the class, it's almost like an incredulousness, "Why aren't you? Why won't you try this?" Because anyone who works out in the water, including you, AJ knows, oh my gosh, how hard you can make this. It's intense. And that's just going to be an ongoing campaign that we are going to have to battle and work at, to get men, to just get them in. Because until they get in and try it they'll just never believe it. Until they try it -- and the thing is, the key here is they've gotta try it in an instructor like Jenni Lynn's class or someone who's going to teach to an upper level because we both know in our industry, a lot of instructors who tend to teach to a lower level and that's not going to appeal to a man who's looking to work hard.
Jenni Lynn: Exactly. You got to know your market, right? So if you could change anything in the aquatic fitness industry, what would it be and how would you change it?
Mark: Well, actually, that's quite ironic because if we dial back 20 seconds it's almost on that same, I guess, vein. I get frustrated sometimes over training instructors...I think I started teaching workshops 18 years ago, and I still see a lot of discrimination of aquatic fitness versus group fitness. We're just never afforded the same microphones and speakers and budget and respect that they give the studio. It's just a constant source of frustration to me and countless other professionals that this occurs. But I think aquatic instructors have to own part of that discrimination because we've allowed for far too many years, less than stellar trained instructors to be leading classes. Why they allow volunteers to teach water classes, but they would never ever in a million years allow a volunteer to teach a studio class. And that's just one example.
So you know, when you have instructors that maybe aren't going to workshops...they're still teaching in just kind of an old fashioned with old fashioned practices...They're propping up a boom box on a stack of kickboards and play the radio instead of playing, you know, fitness music...And until we collectively, as instructors, take our training and our certifications as seriously as they take them in the studio, until aquatic directors start mandating that kind of training and that continuing education, and they start looking at the fact that they did complete their continuing education every two years like every almost every group director does for their studio instructors, until we get on that same playing level..that's what I want to see changed. I want to see us on that same level of seriousness.
Jenni Lynn: I know exactly what you're talking about. And I could not agree more with that because it is up to us to really make those waves, literally and figuratively. Because we have the education, we have the knowledge, and it's our job literally to do that -- to educate people and to show them exactly what aquatic fitness is about.
Mark: Yes, absolutely.
AJ: You know, in a previous episode Jenni and I discussed why, as part of her S'WET™ Cert that is coming out soon, requiring people to have previous experience teaching aquatic fitness and also education, continuing education. We know it's going to limit the audience. We know it's going to cut sales because we're not just going to take a land instructor, give them a couple of hours of education and let them teach pool. And it's why we're insisting on that because it's so true. You go to any studio, any yoga studio, Pilates studio, you go to any CrossFit, you go to any of those places and you see how much time, money and energy they invest in their instructors.
AJ: And the same is just not given or afforded to aquatic fitness professionals. And I agree with you, I really hope that that's the change. And I think, honestly, I think what you're doing with Fitmotivation, with PoolFit the new app, what Jenni's doing with her certificate...I think that this is how we do it. We continue to show that there is not just a brand behind what we do, but that this is an entire industry that deserves your attention and your focus, and I hope that changes as the years go on.
Mark: I agree, and really under no certain circumstances should Jenni Lynn or you want any instructor winging a class that's branded S'WET™, right? If they're going to do it, if you're going to put material out there, you want it done the way that it's intended to be to draw in people looking for that kind of a fitness experience.
Jenni Lynn: Exactly.
Mark: And if there are instructors that hasn't been quality trained in your S'WET™ certificate, and they don't deliver that fitness experience, it's gonna all be for naught. That's the level that they have to aspire to, is this certificate that you're going to be putting out.
Jenni Lynn: Right. And it's difficult to make those cuts because I know some people are going to have a little push back, but at the same time, as we were talking about, you want that quality standard to be up there.
Mark: Yeah, absolutely.
AJ: Mark, this has been such a wonderful conversation and I'm sad that we're going to end it.
Jenni Lynn: I can't believe how fast this went by to be honest.
Mark: Well, I can't tell you, I'm really honored. I really appreciate it. It was fun. Maybe I've been in isolation too long. My goodness, I could have talked forever here.
AJ: We started the show with you admitting that this was your very first podcast. So how did you feel?
Mark: Oh, I loved it. Like I said, once you were just like teaching on you get up there and you just all the sudden you're on there was a lot of fun to chat with you both and to take some journeys down memory lane.
Jenni Lynn: This has been so fun. I can't thank you enough.