When it comes to being active and motivated, Tara Emerson is at the top of the list. One of Los Angeles’ premier fitness instructors, Tara has years of experience teaching spin and TRX classes. In this interview, we ask Tara about fitness through the pandemic, the power of TRX, and how she has used her life and its challenges for personal motivation to become the best version of herself.
There is truly only one Tara
Q: Tara, thank you so much for taking the time today. Let’s start at the beginning of your journey. When did fitness start to play a crucial role in your life?
A: Well I have a little different story in that it’s probably in my DNA. My father is a professional tennis coach and when my brother was in T-ball, he was the coach for the T-ball team. So he did baseball and, and all the things that my brother wanted to be involved in. So I grew up a watching sports on the TV all the time. But also I grew up listening to him coach teams. I always really looked up to him and he was my tennis coach when I first started sports and always hear his voice in my ear. So I first fell in love with sports, through my father and through my family. We would watch tennis matches together or we would watch the Dodgers together.
So sports was kind of like a duh. I think a lot of people have that background, where sports is an important part of your family. But I think the different element for me was that it was a way of how you live your life and there was a spiritual element connected to that. Like how you perform, how you show up to train, how you show up when you’re either exercising or actually playing to win. That you showed up with the same mentality, with the right energy, and that you had a goal in mind that there was specificity to being there and doing this thing.
Q: What gives you gratification in being an instructor?
A: The people. The honest truth is, 2020 is so weird because this is never why I got into fitness. Like I thrive off of high-fives, sweaty hugs, the energy in a room when it’s crowded and everyone’s breathing heavy and working hard. And that sounds like gross right now. Right? Cause the current state of affairs, but that used to be like such a magical thing. Like it was like going to a great concert where you’re smushed in and you guys were all singing together. And in our group fitness classes, it was like, we were all in the same vibe and flow and the synergy was high. So I’ve had to figure out how to like pivot and translate that energy into a screen.
But with all that being said, I want us to go back to gyms and I want us to go back to the community aspect of fitness because I don’t believe that the screen community tells the full story. There is something about a high five or an elbow in-person. Right. So I hope we go back to that. I think we will. And I think people will eventually make their way back there and I’ll just be there waiting.
Q: Well, you mentioned 2020 and how challenging this past year was. What kept you motivated through the pandemic?
A: That we needed this so so much. And I’ve always said to my students that the world can get crazy and there’s a lot of things that can happen. That’ll stress you out and that you feel like you can’t control even in your family situation. And it’s in the times when you are the most stressed and things feel that chaotic, that the thing that is most important is that you take care of you and this vessel and this life force called your body, right? Like that is something I can control. I can control what I’m putting in my body and I can control what I’m doing with my body. And having that, um, that relationship with your vessel is really important for staying positive and happy and for being proud of yourself. Cause I feel like when things are chaotic out there and you’re not doing the things right to treat your body well, then it just heightens the stress level. So we really all needed to make sure we had a place to go. That was positive that we had, that we had carved out the time to say, even if it’s 30 minutes. 30 minutes to take really good care of myself, despite what all the other things are that are going on.
Q: How effective can the TRX band be, and what have you found as the secret sauce to TRX?
A: Well the history behind it is that it was born from the Navy seals. So for anybody who thinks that it’s not going to be hard enough, the Navy seals created it and used it while they were on mission when they didn’t have equipment available to them. And in fact, TRX still makes a military version. That’s actually a different color. The usual TRX is bright, yellow and black, and they make one that’s military grade, that has like reinforced handles and can like handle grime and dirt. And these guys actually put them in their backpacks and they travel with them because they’re very, very convenient and easy to hang up anywhere. I can take my TRX to the park. I can take it over to my friend’s house and we can both do it and we can socially distance. I can hang it up on a doorway, meaning I can take it with me to the hotel and just throw it over the door.
But the beauty of the TRX is it is for everybody. TRX is for everybody. I have a 75 year old lady in my class standing right next to somebody who’s in their early twenties. They were both doing the same workout and they’re leveraging their body weight. So depending on how close you stand to your anchor, the more you’re going to be using like forces of gravity and angles and physics to either make it feel like you’re lifting a lot of weight or very manageable and easy, and that you’re going through ranges of motion that your body needs. It’s very effective for posture strengthening, strengthening muscles that help your posture. And TRX says that it’s all core all the time. Meaning those straps were designed to be unstable so that you had to create stability within your own body. And the foundation of that is going to be your core strength. And then it’s also going to help strengthen stabilizers of your shoulders and other parts of your body.
Q: I want to touch on an aspect I think is so beautiful in your life. You are one of nearly 3 million people that have a neuromuscular condition, Charcot Marie Tooth. How does having CMT keep that fire lit inside you given, you weren’t necessarily the best athlete in the room?
A: Oh, I was definitely not the best athlete in the room. In fact, the reason we found out that my brother and I both had CMT was because we were competing at high levels and tennis at a very young age. My father noticed that both of us were moving a little bit abnormally as far as the way we ran and would pick up our feet. Something seemed to be off. We told him it felt like our feet were really heavy and that we didn’t have a good sense of where our feet were underneath us. So my father and mother took us to a neuro doctor and they did their testing and they came back and said, both of them have Charcot Marie Tooth. And I remember so vividly because I was very young and impressionable, like I was in middle school and middle school is like rough as it is. You’re very self-conscious and I had this doctor say that it’s very likely that both Tara and her brother will be in wheelchairs by the time they’re 30. And if it’s not wheelchairs, they will need some assistance to walk.
Growing up as an athlete, that’s shocking. To hear that not only will you not be able to play your sport, but that you might not be able to walk on your own. And there was a fire lit very early on, where I didn’t want that to be my story. And I was very stubborn that that would not be my story and that I didn’t want to look in the mirror, the rest of my life and see all the things that I wasn’t able to do. I mean, they coined this a disability, right? Like all the things you cannot do, you are unable.
And I never wanted to view myself that way. So I was insistent on finding the things that I was able to do running did end up becoming very, very challenging and hurtful in my body because my legs were not meant for it. That’s how I found cycling because I have to find something that makes me feel strong. Weightlifting made me feel strong, like lifting weights, building my upper body, my core. Then I found cycling and I was like, Oh, I can’t fall. CMT is known as like the trip and fall disease. You really don’t have good control of your lower limbs. Um, and there’s a lot of atrophy involved, but I had these shoes that were like clipped into the bike and like I knew where my feet were because of the clip. And I felt like a real athlete.
I don’t want to let go of that feeling ever. I believe if you can move your body, you’re an athlete. And if you’re moving your body and you are an athlete, there is a certain amount of pride that goes into it. This is your vessel, your life force, this body is a gift. And I am an imperfect trainer and that I do not have a perfect body, but it was because I don’t have a perfect body that doesn’t function optimally, that I became so interested in finding things that I could do.
Q: What message would you have to anyone that is trying to get active or change their lifestyle this year?
A: I am a big fan of being patient with yourself and giving yourself grace. This stuff does not happen overnight. I think it was Einstein that said the genius is in the engine, and sometimes it’s just about turning the engine on. There’s mornings that I wake up and I put my feet on the ground and I go, dang, I do not want to work out today. Like why did I sign up to do this class? There’s been times that I’ve gone to the gym and I walked in and I told myself, you’re going to warm up. And if you still don’t feel like working out, I give you permission to go home. And what I find is that if I do that warm up 90% of the time I end up staying and I leave feeling really good about it because it’s just getting it going. And once you get going, you start moving and your body starts to get that adrenaline. You always feel good afterwards.
So my, my suggestion would be for most people is commit to something manageable, be patient with yourself. Because if you set your expectations way up here for yourself, you’re always going to be upset with yourself if you don’t reach them. And that’s just like a tumbling effect of like, I can’t do it, I didn’t do it. So give yourself something manageable. Maybe that’s just like, I’m going to go for a 10 minute walk. And if I come home and I still feel good, maybe I’ll do more of a workout. Everybody can do 10 minutes of something every day. So commit to your 10 minutes and then see what magic transpires after that. Again, I think the commitment part is big. Get somebody else involved, whether that’s a friend or your spouse or a roommate, your teacher, and start to make commitments. Write it down, tell somebody, get committed and start. And you’ll be surprised that once you start, that motivation continues to flow.