You might not expect to get career advice from your personal trainer. But Ariel Belgave, the founder and CEO of Gym Hooky, has a background in HR and a passion for preventing burnout. As far as she is concerned, setting boundaries — professionally and personally — is just as important as exercise and nutrition.
"Think about energy management as opposed to just time management," Belgrave says. "If someone asks you, 'do you have 30 minutes?' you can look at your calendar and see that you have time. But do you have the energy?"
As a health and fitness coach and House of Wise's resident Strength expert, Belgrave is empowering women to make time for movement and prioritize their health.
After more than a decade spent working in corporate HR at companies like JPMorgan and Facebook, Belgrave understands the challenges that professional women face when it comes to fitting in workouts and eating well, and her holistic approach to wellness includes inspiring women's ambition and confidence.
Simply put, says Belgrave, "I want to be your healthy hype woman."
Feeling at Home With Fitness
An ACE personal trainer, Belgrave was designing home workouts long before a global pandemic prompted many of us to start exercising in our living rooms. Her passion for home workouts grew out of her own struggles as she transitioned from being a division 1 college athlete to working 80 hours a week in the finance industry.
"I played rugby at Boston College, and I went from having a coach telling me what to do and holding me accountable to not having the time to take care of myself," says Belgrave.
Although she had a membership at a conveniently located gym, she rarely made it there. "When it was time to go home, I wanted to go home," she admits.
Thanks to her background as an athlete, Belgrave knew how to work out in a way that was effective, so she took matters into her own home. She bought some dumbbells, a yoga mat, and a yoga ball and started squeezing in workouts before going into the office, even if it was just 15 minutes.
"I felt like myself again," Belgrave says. "I felt energized and confident in my body."
Her co-workers noticed the difference and started asking Belgrave to be their gym buddy. Of course, she wasn't actually setting foot in a gym. Instead, in 2015, she started a Tumblr page that was the precursor to her wellness brand, Gym Hooky.
"What I quickly learned was that there were a lot of women who were in my position, who were really focused on their careers," Belgrave says. "They wanted to show up and bring their best, but they were struggling to fit in time to take care of themselves, whether it was how they ate, how they moved their body, or their confidence and how they spoke to themselves daily."
A Career Evolution
Belgrave had the opportunity to observe women working in all sorts of corporate environments. She left finance to work at a startup, then made the jump to the HR department of Facebook, where she created inclusive employee engagement programs from the ground up. Her goal was to make sure that every employee (particularly women in a male-dominated environment) felt like they belonged.
But toward the end of 2019, Belgrave began to feel like she might be ready for a change; she was straddling too many roles. She was a sponsored Under Armour athlete and fitness model, an HR executive, and a fitness and health coach. She loved all of it, but she was starting to feel burned out, so she started going to therapy and examining her life.
"I wanted to make sure that, whatever decision I made, I wasn't running from something but rather running to something," Belgrave says.
One of the questions Belgrave asked herself was: "What impact do I want to have made if I leave this world tomorrow?" Her conclusion: she wanted to do more for women, which is how Gym Hooky landed at the top of her priority list.
In February 2020, she gave her employer a month's notice and —you can probably guess where this is going — her last day at Facebook was the first day of Covid-related shelter-in-place orders in California.
Belgrave knew that women during the pandemic would be facing an incredibly difficult time, tasked with parenting, teaching, and caretaking. "I had already built a brand around home workouts. It was my time to shine," she says.
Gym Hooky's Guiding Principles
Now, Belgrave leads virtual group classes and one-on-one training sessions, and she also offers fitness and wellness consulting to corporations looking to build inclusive wellness programs. Turns out, Gym Hooky is the perfect culmination of her passion for fitness and her deep knowledge of HR. Using the knowledge she gained developing employee engagement programs, Belgrave has designed a signature plan for women, called the 28-Day L.E.A.N. Method, which incorporates elements of lifestyle, exercise, attitude, and nutrition.
With Gym Hooky, Belgrave espouses three guiding principles. The first is progress, not perfection.
As she points out, "it takes time to unlearn that 'all or nothing' mindset. You are making progress day by day, and the small wins are going to get you to the big result. This journey is never going to be perfect. You have to be ok with shifting as your life shifts."
Her second principle: all movement matters. She urges her clients to find a method of movement that's enjoyable for them, because if you feel like working out is a chore, it's just not sustainable. "Just because your coworker goes for runs and your husband goes for runs, is a run for you? Maybe not! Maybe you want to do Zumba or dance or strength training or HIIT or barre or yoga, you name it."
"Any movement you can do matters, and any amount of time that you can do that movement matters."
What also matters, however, is prioritizing workouts, and that's an area where Belgrave isn't afraid to offer tough love. But she also believes strongly in the importance of self-love, which is the third pillar of her practice. Among her followers, Belgrave has become known for her positive methods of motivation, and she includes affirmations in every workout.
"My goal is to be a realist but also to instill so much confidence," she says.