There’s so much more to health than your body weight. Instagram fitness superstar Kelsey Wells tells us how tossing the scale put her on an entirely difierent path.
Kelsey Wells is tearing up. it’s the end of her pWr Bootcamp session at fitness fest, where she led us through a satisfyingly sweaty session of strength training exercises. Between squat jumps, she cried out encouragement over the pounding music. But now that the pain is over, she’s visibly in the grip of emotion as she guides us through stretches to cool down.
“Thank you all so much,” she exclaims, voice cracking slightly. “Keep showing up for yourself, every day.”
After the session, fans rushed in droves to get a picture with her. That same day, Kelsey would share multiple instagram stories of her time in Singapore with her 2.1 million followers. What’s particularly incredible is that this is a woman who claimed she couldn’t do a sit-up four years ago.
Pre-pregnancy, Kelsey grappled with her body image. “My relationship with the scale back then was toxic,” she remembers. “I weighed myself almost every morning and the number i saw would dictate my mood.” She had heard the oft-repeated adage that muscle weighs more than fat, but truly comprehending that was another thing altogether.
In july 2016, her post on instagram changed everything. it was a collage of Kelsey at three different months, with three visibly different body shapes – she weighed just five pounds lighter at her fittest, compared to when she first started working out. The main difference? her fit self was packed with lean muscle, and her body fat percentage was at an alltime low.
This “screw the scale” post went viral, but aside from the tens of thousands of people that it impacted, the person who felt the most visceral effec was Kelsey herself.
HEALTH OVER AESTHETICS
“My initial mindset towards fitness was that it wasn’t for me. I saw it as a chore, something you did if you didn’t like yourself. I had no understanding about the power of fitness, and that it wasn’t about aesthetics but about health.
When I got pregnant, I told my husband that I was going to exercise and eat more healthily. But reality set in: pregnancy was hard. I was tired, and all I could do was go to work and get through the day. In fact, I gave in to my cravings. Looking back, I can say that I’m proud of myself for doing the best I could during my pregnancy, but back then I put so much guilt on myself.
“After giving birth, I had post-partum anxiety. Pregnancy changed me physically, and not recognising my body was hard. I struggled to look at myself with gratitude and positivity. I began exercising consistently, in hope that it would help me cope with my anxiety. And it did.”
CHUCK THE SCALE (MAYBE)
“My first workout was just taking my son out for walks. I was physically very weak after pregnancy – I couldn’t do a sit-up or a push-up. I would choose a workout programme that could be done at home, and do just 10 minutes of it.
“The whole process started so gradual and gentle, but the amazing thing was I saw changes in myself pretty quickly. I could cope better with my anxiety, I had more energy, and I slept better. Most importantly, I began to feel grateful to my body for what it had gone through, and I started feeling confident about myself.
“At this point, I had stopped weighing myself. My husband and I knew that looking at the scale wasn’t healthy for me, so I threw it away. Several months later, I had a doctor’s appointment where I got weighed. I went home and told my husband that I was so upset because I had actually gained weight despite months of exercising, to which my husband said, “Are you kidding? Look at yourself, you’ve never been happier or healthier.” It was then when I lined up the three photos of myself at different stages, and the truth hit me like a ton of bricks. It was like an epiphany.”
During the photoshoot, Kelsey is energetic, personable and precise. She listens to suggestions, but is assertive about what she thinks looks good. She’s conscious that people look towards her for inspiration. looking at the computer screen, she agrees with our art director that a particular pose looks a little too sweet. “Definitely want to look strong!” she says.
Looking like a real-life superhero is one thing (her body almost speaks for itself), but Kelsey also knows the importance of form. When we start shooting our step-by-step workout pix, she examines her body between shots – not for aesthetics, but technique. Her team constantly checks that her body is in proper form and alignment, and Kelsey moves incrementally until she hits the exact pose for the camera. It’s so important, she tells us later, because she wants readers to know how to do the moves safely and effectively.
UNPACKING THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE WORKOUT
“I started becoming passionate fairly quickly once I started on my fitness journey. It felt like magic: working out affected my mental and physical health in a way that I had not begun to fathom, so I wanted to learn about the science behind what was happening to my body. About six months in, I started studying to become a certified trainer – not even consciously as a career change but just because I loved doing it.
“When I started studying, I learnt about weight training, and the benefits it gives, such as improving your metabolic rate and bone density. So I would try out the techniques that I was learning, using just light weights. And I thrived. I started using heavier weights, and taking everything slower. That year, I just continued doing the things that I loved.”
Kelsey’s workouts and ethos can be found on Sweat, a fitness app that features female trainers such as Kayla itsines and Chontel Duncan. When Kayla’s husband approached Kelsey about the app in 2016, she described the invitation to join as both an honour and a no-brainer. “He described it as an app to help women all over the world to train however they want and take care of themselves,” she says. “and that’s what i believe in and what i want.”
She launched a post-pregnancy workout in 2017, because she recognised the need for such programmes. “Whether you’re an athlete or someone who’s never worked out, pregnancy and delivery changes your body, and you need to be so patient with it,” she explains. “My programme attends to those needs, such as regaining pelvic floor strength, and working on abdominal separation and postural alignment.”
Once the programme planning concluded, she started work on pwr, because it was representative of how she personally trained.
A GOOD WORKOUT IS AN INTENTIONAL ONE
“I named the programme PWR because my mantra is to empower yourself through fitness – that’s what happened for me. I wanted to show women that weight and strength training is an everyday option, and not just for men, bodybuilders or people who have lots of time.
“PWR consists of classic, proven weight training exercises. I haven’t invented any new exercises, but what I’ve done is to blend them in a way that really maximises your time and effort – from the muscle group splits to the workout structure, to the mix of compound and isolation exercises, and even the order of exercises. There’s reason and science behind it all.
“It took me 10 months to design PWR, but I am very proud of it because it is so sound and purposeful. If I throw in a cardio move or stability training, it’s all in an intentional way.
“Yes, you’re building muscle, but it’s just as much about uncovering confidence and inner strength. Time and again, I see how my clients and members of the community have so much fear when they start, but as they keep going, that fear transforms into confidence that spills into other areas in their lives.”
EAT TO NOURISH YOUR BODY
“My main goal for social media is to create content the same way I did when I had 500 followers. The only thing that matters is that every piece of content is authentic. I can’t control how people perceive me, but I can control my intention. I try to communicate with my followers – I post on days where I can stay online for 20 to 30 minutes to answer questions. I set aside this time because I’m a mum, and I don’t want my son to see me always glued to my phone.
“The question I get asked the most often is what I eat. My view on nutrition is similar to exercise – it’s holistic. I have a high-protein diet with lots of fruit, vegetables and water. I don’t believe that anything is an absolute no, so there are things that I do still enjoy that aren’t as nutritious, like a doughnut. It’s one of my favourite treats, but I eat it less frequently not because I think I should feel guilty, but because I know my body wouldn’t feel great after eating doughnuts. It’s about moderation and eating to fuel your best life.”
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
“Women need to take their focus off how much weight they lose, and the desire for quick results. Physical change takes time, and varies among individuals – there are too many factors, like how you eat and what your goals are. What’s universal about fitness is that you’re taking care of yourself. Changes such as having more energy, better sleep, and more confidence will come quickly. When your priorities are aligned, physical changes are the icing on the cake and not what matters.
“Give yourself grace when you’re trying to inculcate discipline. You’re going to have days where you have setbacks. The problem comes when you pile on guilt and compound the negative. Focus on what you did do, and feel proud. Understand that fitness is a lifelong journey – you can’t fail because there’s no finite goal.”
"MY RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SCALE BACK THEN WAS TOXIC. I WEIGHED MYSELF EVERY MORNING AND THE NUMBER I SAW WOULD DICTATE MY MOOD."
"GIVE YOURSELF GRACE WHEN YOU'RE TRYING TO INCULCATE DISCIPLINE. YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE DAYS WHERE YOU HAVE SETBACKS. FOCUS ON WHAT YOU DID DO, AND FEEL PROUD."
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KELSEY’S DAY ON A PLATE
Pre-pregnancy, Kelsey’s diet consisted of a lot of soda, refined sugar and fried food. Today, she sticks to a balanced, varied diet, having everything in moderation. Here’s a sample of her daily meal.
BREAKFAST Scrambled eggs filled with vegetables and vegetarian sausage
PRE-WORKOUT SNACK Iced latte
POST-WORKOUT SNACK Protein shake
LUNCH Chicken salad
AFTERNOON SNACK Cheese stick with vegetables and hummus
DINNER Crock pot meal of chilli con carne or shredded chicken with vegetables
DESSERT Fruit with almond butter or Greek yogurt
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