Fitness and wellness inspiration is everywhere, being thrust at us in the form of magazines, IG accounts, and curated Pinterest boards. No one can deny its limitless supply. But when we really dial in, we start to wonder: What of this actually inspires us to be our best selves, without attaching some futuristic ideal to our body shape or version of perfection?
We found precisely that in Jo Encarnacion of GoFitJo—a true, sincere source of inspiration. If you peruse her beautifully curated Instagram account (we see your photog skills, Jo!), you’ll find she’s often sharing more of the #highlightreal aspects of her wellness journey than that of the #highlightreel—pictures and words that are perfectly filtered and often lacking in substance.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Jo and chat about her journey—what she’s learned and what she passes on to her clients and those of us following along from afar.
HealthyWay: Thank you for taking the time to hang out with us! Let’s start by talking about strength. As you know, our summer campaign, Strong For Summer, is a guide to getting strong, however you define that. Can you share what strong means to you?
Jo Encarnacion: Strong takes on so many different meanings for me. Ultimately strong to me means having the ability to overcome any challenge mentally. Some days that strength is what you need to get up out of bed because you’re having a hard day. Some days strength is that mental toughness to deal with a hard task at work. For me being strong will always equate to having the internal power to overcome your own personal challenges.
How do you help your clients define strong for themselves?
Everyone defines strong so differently… For a lot of my clients, teaching them to be vulnerable is a sign of strength. I only coach women, and a lot of my clients are high-performing, goal-oriented women who simply just tackle their to-do list like no other. However, this can also bring on an overwhelming sense of having to keep up with the Joneses. For a number of them, finding strength in asking for help or being vulnerable to letting others in is where we insert that internal power.
Let’s talk about what movement looks like for you these days.
So this varies week to week depending on what I crave. Some weeks it’s two to three days of SoulCycle intermixed with three days of full-body circuit training. Some weeks I’m all in five days a week of lifting and one day of yoga. No matter what my movement looks like, I aim to move my body for about an hour five days a week and a day where the only movement I do is yoga.
We know you’re a proponent of HIIT training. Do you have a go-to workout?
My go-to HIIT if I’m in the gym happens to be a StairMaster HIIT cardio session. I do this for 30 minutes, working on a high interval of between [level] 8 and 12 for a minute and a low interval of [level] 5 for 30 seconds.
Recovery is so important, especially when you move as frequently as you do. What does your form of recovery look like?
I try to do a little bit of restoration and recovery every day. This is typically in a form of mobility, stretching, and foam rolling. Active recovery is a light walk or bike ride with my little one.
Okay, we’ve gotta know… You once said in an interview, “Exercise is optional, movement is essential.” What did you mean, and can you expand on this?
This phrase is such a beautiful phrase to me. Every single one of us were designed to move no matter what body, shape, size, form, skin color, etc. And I believe that throughout the course of the fitness craze, we’ve slowly focused on more regimented forms of exercise, heart rate training zones, and calories burned. Instead of focusing on these metrics, we need to focus on movement, because to me movement equates to feeling good in your body.
That’s such a beautiful way of looking at movement. How has your personal movement journey evolved through the years?
I only started exercising a little under five years ago. Health, wellness, and fitness [were] not a part of my upbringing outside of school. It wasn’t [a] topic of discussion in my household nor was it a priority for my parents to teach me. As I got older, busier, and more consumed by my own life as a mom, I started to go down a spiral of unhealthy habits and poor mental health. I was dealing with anxiety [and] depression and had a low opinion of myself.
[From there] my movement journey has evolved from the extremely rigid to a little bit more free flowing. When I first got into fitness, I had this perception that it needed to be one way and only one way in order to be healthy or that I needed to be a lean body type in order to do yoga or Pilates. …Ingrained in my mind was this singular perception of what fitness was meant to look like based on societal examples and the small range of role models we were given to follow: If you wanted to put on muscle, you had to lift weights, [and] if you wanted to have a lean, long body, you needed to do yoga or Pilates. There was just so much confusion….
So I found something that I fell in love with, which was bodybuilding and weightlifting. From there I started a short-lived two-year hobby of bodybuilding competitions, which was not only competitive but also extremely rigid. There was a meal plan and workout plan, and outside of that, there was no room for other forms of movement. The reason for this is because in bodybuilding, everything is meticulously calculated to a T. So in order to incorporate another form of movement into your week, you had to balance out your macros to make sure you were yielding the results you wanted. It was draining, but it also taught me so much about myself, what I was capable of, and what goals I could accomplish if I was hyper focused. Which, at that time, I very much so needed.
But now I’ve been able to define my health around how I truly feel in this present moment. Defining my health this way has allowed me to view exercise as optional—but movement [is] essential to one’s body and health.