“When it comes to exercise, people are always looking for short cuts. I can’t tell you how many girls are like: ‘I wish there was some magic pill you could take which meant you never had to work out or eat healthy.’ I’m like, why? That sounds shit. Hustling for it sounds way more fun.” This pretty much sums up Kirsty Godso in sentence: up for a challenge and willing to work for it. Kirsty Godso is a Nike Master Trainer and trainer at Project By Equinox. In 2016 she moved from New Zealand to to New York City, where alongside her abundant energy and enthusiasm, she maintains a healthy dose of sarcastic Kiwi humor: a girl after my own heart. In almost every interview I read with Kirsty she’s asked the same thing: ‘What do you eat?’ Clearly her body is insane, but eggs and avocado only make for a sentence or two. I wanted to get to know the Kirsty behind the Instagram image, hear about the work that nobody sees, and learn about the dedication and discipline it takes to train like an athlete—even if you don’t call yourself one.
“I studied finance in New Zealand, and was really into high intensity fitness on the side. I started teaching at Les Mills gym, where I helped develop their high intensity program GRIT and filming fitness DVDs. After about a year of teaching in New Zealand, Nike got in touch with me. I thought it was a friend pranking me because I’d wanted to work for Nike my whole life. I had no idea how they’d found me—my Instagram at the time had like four photos of my cats. They said they’d heard about a young girl teaching crazy high intensity classes in New Zealand, and signed me on. Shortly after, Les Mills chose to sign a five-year deal with Reebok. I had to make a choice between staying with the program that I had worked so hard on and having stability for the next five years, or follow my heart and take a chance with Nike, keep working my ass off and hope that it would go somewhere. A lot of people said that by sticking with Nike I was making a terrible decision and that I’d go nowhere. But I thought, what if I did? It felt like heartbreak at the time to give up a lot of my responsibilities on a program I cared so much for, but I made my choice and sure enough my role with Nike proved stronger than ever. That was such a good lesson in learning to trust myself.
It was one of the first times where I had to take everyone else out of the decision but myself, and it was so rewarding in the end because I had to work for it.
Now when I’m faced with challenging decisions I think, is this a Nike or a Reebok situation? A few years into my relationship with Nike I started traveling more extensively with them globally on the Nike Training Club Tour. Despite a torn disc in my back, a fair amount of food poisoning and far too much time on a plane, this was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. It taught me strength to keep fighting for what you want and to prevail over any challenging circumstances.
Instagram can be so misleading—you’ll never see 98% of the work that goes into being a trainer.
You obviously need to train yourself, despite the fact that you’ve already given all of your energy to teaching classes. It takes a lot of of discipline and dedication. I’ve always been disciplined and I think I got that from my parents. They’re both professional golfers—or more accurately, my mom was a pro golfer and my dad was very good—but I watched the way that they engaged with the sport and I think I inevitably took that on. When I first started traveling with Nike, people would say things to me like, ‘You’re so lucky that you’re just on holiday all the time!’ And while it was an incredible experience which I loved, I was definitely not on holiday. On those tours you’re working every day, usually finishing at midnight, then going back to your hotel room for a couple of hours before packing up and moving to the next location. I can’t tell you the number of weddings, birthdays, and other occasions with close friends and family that I’ve missed to be away for work—it can be a very isolating experience. Like I said, this is by no means a complaint, but the lifestyle you see on social media is only the good moments. No-one’s seeing the times when you really miss your mum and dad, your boyfriend or your pets. You also have to be able to put aside whatever you’re going through when you’re in front of a group of people who have showed up to train. I found out my grandma died an hour before I had to teach an outdoor Nike workout in the rain. 10 minutes before I had been balling my eyes out, but thought, ‘I’m not going to let any of these people know that, because they showed up and this is their time.’ I remember thinking shit, maybe I’m too committed to my job to be able to just turn off like this? But I love what I do so much, and it continues to be worth the personal sacrifices.
I remember the Nike team asked me once, ‘Do you consider yourself an athlete?’ and I said no. Out of the six of us that were shooting for the Master Trainer Campaign, I was the only one who had said no. When they asked me why, I said just because I don’t call myself an athlete, doesn’t mean I’m not going to train like one. I don’t need the title to put in effort. And I try and pass that on to people in class.
It doesn’t matter if you’re going into a competition or a race, every single day is your goal to conquer.
I try to train people for the feeling, not the aesthetic result. If you train for the feeling you’re going to be far more invested in the long run and you’ll get a much better return. Whereas, if you’re just judging your progress by what you see in the mirror, you’re not going to be as satisfied. Even the best trainers who put in the most work might not be as genetically blessed as the person in the room with the perfect body putting in half the amount of effort. We all can relate to that. I look at other girls stomach’s and think damn, I wish my stomach looked like that when I get toned, instead of looking masculine, but it’s not in the cards for me. You know? I’m never going to have boobs, but I did luck out with skinny legs! It’s give and take. People might assume that I have no worries about my body, but I’m not actually that confident in a sports bra. When I had to do a global Nike campaign and expose my body, I wanted to cry, I was so nervous. I don’t like images of myself where I look too thin—I’m always more proud of a photo where I look really strong, or I’m flying off a wall or something badass like that. I’ll wear short shorts though! Nike Pro’s are my signature. In terms of confidence in general, I’ve always been a really loud person. But when I first started teaching and doing fitness DVD’s, I was like, holy shit, it’s very different to stand up here with a headset on and tell people what to do. I found it so intimidating and it took me a long time to get the hang of it, especially stepping onto a stage at Nike Tour and leading 3,000 people. So I started asking myself: What’s the worst that can happen? Maybe I forget a move for a second? They don’t know routine and it will be fine. What if I just went out there, had fun and was in the moment? Now I’m the one talking all the time, ha! Maybe it’s a New Zealand thing—we’re from a small country, we get to make some extra noise!
It has been really cool to embrace this movement of people wanting to be in control of their health and fitness. I mean the whole booty obsession has been pretty interesting to observe! I think the biggest (and greatest) change that I’ve seen is people going from wanting to be this unhealthy frail frame to wanting to look strong and be proud of that—but also wanting the performance side of things to. I don’t buy into the whole ‘strong vs skinny’ saying though—why is it a ‘vs.'anything? Let’s embrace everyone because some people are going to be thin their whole life, and some are going to be a bit bigger. Let’s not ostracize anyone. It’s also way more fun as a trainer to be like, ‘Come on! We’re going to try this!’ rather than being like, ‘We’re just going to pulse gently and we’re not going to touch any weights and we’re going to use this little bar over here…’. I try and use social media to show the types of training that I personally do at Project by Equinox, like box jumps, pull-ups, battle ropes—in hope that they’ll be encouraged to get after it too. I’ve definitely noticed a shift in what people ask for.
Instead of saying ‘I want skinny legs’, more and more people are saying, ‘I want to do a pull up.’
And I’m like fuck yeah, now we’re talking! Once someone does one pull up, it’s likely they’ll want to try for two next time. For people who have a goal like getting in shape for a wedding, that’s just your loophole to get them going. The real challenge is creating the next goal for them, and the next. Ultimately, how do you create something that becomes a rolling system for their life?
In terms of knowing what kind of fitness or food is going to work for you, there is no one rule that’s going to apply to everyone. The best thing that you can do is to pay attention to how your body feels after you train or eat a certain way. It’s a process and it takes time to figure out. When I found the right way to eat for my body, it made such a difference to my energy and performance. I’m the most routine eater you’ll ever meet. Most of my diet is made up of eggs, avocado, veggies and meat, with some low fructose fruit thrown in there, like berries. I’m very disciplined, but I’ll also have a tequila or chips and guacamole now and then. One thing I can’t have is candy—or what we call lollies in New Zealand. I just have no sense of portion control when it comes to lollies so I stay far, far away.
The move to New York has been awesome, but I think I really underestimated how hard it is here. The thing that I love and appreciate about this city is that you can’t fake your way through… you can, maybe, for a little bit of time at the beginning, but you probably aren’t going to last too long. It’s taught me a lot about myself. I think at times I can be someone who stays a bit too long in the space between identifying the problem and figuring out a solution (I’ve listened to Jen Sincero’s ‘You Are A Badass’ audiobook three times, and she talks a lot about losing your excuses). Or instead of just stating my worth, I feel like I have to argue my worth. Being in New York, you don’t have the option to not figure it out. It’s on me to get things taken care of instead of being like, that’s kind of hard, or I don’t know how to do that (I even put a burpee tax on my complaints for a while!). My Visa to be here was a whole other challenge, and you’d think with a finance degree I’d be able to figure out how to get a Social Security number, but even once you get a SSN, you still can’t have a phone account or get a credit card.
I think that from an outside perspective New York looks really dreamy, and while it is dreamy at times, when you live here it’s hard work.
It’s no joke. In New Zealand, you might drive your car to the gym then stop off at the supermarket on the way home. Here, you’re on the subway before 6AM seeing things that no-one should see that early, and then on your way home you’re sandwiched between a million people on the train lugging a giant bag of gear and groceries. I’ve always been proud of New Zealand (and Australia because I’ve spent so much time there), but being here has made me even more proud of home. Connecting with Kiwis and Aussies here is so grounding too—you’re like, these people get me.
Friends, family, fitness (and avocado) are my non-neogtiables. I get a lot of joy from watching people I care about do well. A lot of my fulfillment comes from those moments. Like—my heart is smiling for you. Fulfillment, for me, is being able to celebrate other people achieving their goals, but also supporting them through the shit times too. It sounds a bit cringe but it’s true.
The big moments in my life would mean so much less if I didn’t have my support crew there campaigning for me—to look out at them and be like, this happened!
And to have them know how much you wanted it, how much you worked for it. So it goes both ways. I love to celebrate my friends, and I’m always the annoying person that’s like, ‘What’s next? Where are you going to go from here?”
Nike Master Trainer
As told to Amy Woodside, May 2017
Photographed by Amy Woodside