Even in “still” photography shots, it’s clear that Kaisa Keranen is always on the move. In fact, her feet are on the ground in only one of the six images that cycle on the homepage of her website, kaisafit.com. (And that’s only because of the inherent danger of doing heavily weighted barbell lunges while airborne.)
It seems there’s almost always air under at least one of Keranen’s feet—whether she’s executing a flawless toe-touch split on a tennis court or making a handstand more core-challenging by hooking a bright pink suspension band around her feet. Even on vacation in a hotel room in Peru this July, she demonstrated that plyometrics are far from off-limits outside the gym. Her workout included lunges from bed-top to floor and burpee-style pushup-kickbacks. Oh, and that Instagram post was uploaded just prior to a 5-day hike to Machu Picchu. Given Keranen’s penchant for “making the world her gym,” we can only imagine how creative she got with elements from the tropical mountain forest and that ancient center of Incan power.
Her Peru post alone garnered Keranen more than half a million Instagram views, plus such positive commentary as “Her and her workouts rock!!!” and “Amazing skill!” These are sentiments echoed endlessly on her other social media channels, including Facebook, where followers have asked, “Anyone else wonder how she maintains that smile always?!” Keranen responds with motivational words and emojis: purple hearts, a biceps-curled arm and the like. But it’s her own message about her Peru workout that perfectly captures this fitness phenom’s philosophy:
“Having the BEST time . . . I am loving EVERY minute of it.”
At the Top and Still on the Move
It’s no wonder that Kaisa Keranen feels at the top of her game. Today, she’s a personal trainer, fitness educator and social media influencer. Her #JustMove campaign supports her mission in life: to make fitness accessible and fun for literally everyone (more on that later).
Keranen’s story has enlivened the pages of Vogue, Shape, SELF, Men’s Fitness.com, Harper’s Bazaar, Oxygen and other respected printed and online publications. Greatist named her as one of the top fitness influencers, and she was a go-to trainer for Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” fitness campaign. Her experience runs the gamut from coaching clients one-on-one to leading workouts for hundreds of people at fitness events. At this year’s NASM Optima Conference, she will keynote on Saturday, Oct. 13. And every day, she spreads her irrepressible spirit by posting motivational tips and workouts for her Instagram fans—all 771,000+ of them.
As if all this were not enough, Keranen also has (perhaps inadvertently) become a fitness fashionista, with an impressive collection of athletic shoes and enough colorful sportswear to make any fit girl envious. But who can be envious, really, because Keranen herself is so utterly un-hateable?
Her success today, she says, is the result of a mindset shift she experienced years ago. “My life changed when I decided to work on the most important relationship I will ever have: The one with myself.”
Off to a Rocky Start
Like many fitness professionals, Keranen began on the other side of coaching, as a student athlete. “I’ve always had such a love for movement, sports and competition. I grew up playing every sport I could,” says the Seattle native. “I did gymnastics, swim team, soccer, ballet—you name it, I did it. It was my survival mechanism.” It also was a survival mechanism for her parents, who were eager to help their ever-moving child burn off some excess energy. “My love of movement was intense, to say the least.”
Later, she turned to movement as a coping mechanism to get through some of life’s inevitable challenges. “Whenever I felt like I needed a break from everything that was going on, I turned to sports. It grounded me,” she says. “I think that’s where my deep love and admiration for movement really started. When you feel like something got you through the hardest times in your life, you create a bond with it and are forever grateful for all that it did for you.”
By middle school, Keranen began narrowing her focus to soccer, along with track and field, the latter of which she continued throughout her college years at the University of Washington. “Initially, I went to college as a student athlete,” she says. Though her major was sociology, much of her focus was on her sports performance. In some ways, that paid off: She placed sixth in her first-ever heptathlon in 2004–05, and her 2006–07 javelin throw bested her fellow Huskies’ scores by 27 feet, even though she competed only once that season.
However, it came at a price: By the time Keranen crossed the stage as a graduate in 2008, she felt “really broken,” both mentally and physically. “I was not very clear about what I wanted to do with my career,” she admits. “And I was injured all 4 years in college because I trained with the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality. After trashing my body, I was completely disconnected from myself.”
Keranen felt she’d been robbed of achieving her full potential, and she saw that, in order to heal, she needed to learn more about her body. She would take her recovery into her own hands, educate herself, and empower herself to do what was best for her health.
Leaping Into Learning
Keranen turned to the National Academy of Sports Medicine for her training, earning her NASM-CPT (and later her NASM Performance Enhancement Specialization, too). “Several months into my studies, I was asked to teach a boot camp,” she says. “In that moment, I fell in love with coaching and knew that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.”
Soon, Keranen enrolled in an internship at Seattle-based ZUM Fitness, where she worked for several years as a trainer. “I set out to learn everything I could about the training world,” she says. In 2015, 3 years after striking out on her own with her company KaisaFit, she earned a master’s degree in sports performance and injury prevention.
KaisaFit is both the name of her business and the name of her unique method of movement. At its root is the idea that you don’t necessarily need expensive equipment and accessories to get fit. “Moving is getting out there and doing anything you want to do,” says Keranen. As her social media following blossomed, she realized that her quest to connect with herself had actually connected her to others, too. “We are so disconnected from ourselves, and I think movement is a really healing tool to create that connection again,” she adds. Ultimately, however, she wants to get her followers to the point where they no longer need her. “My goal is to give someone the confidence to take care of themselves on their own—to believe that they are worth it and to teach them the tools necessary to move through this life without me,” she says. “You have to be able to do things on your own, and it’s my job to set you up for that success.”
A Beautiful Mission
Like most (if not all) fitness professionals, Keranen found that clients were constantly asking how they could change what their bodies looked like, but she was more interested in showing clients all of the amazing things their bodies could do. “It became my mission to help educate and empower people that they were far more than their exterior, and it was time they stopped defining themselves as such,” she says. “Health is not a look; it’s a feeling.”
The former heptathlete also wanted to shift the focus—theirs and hers—away from traditional measures of performance. “Performance isn’t about how hard you go in the gym,” she says. “It’s about how well-rounded your program is. Do you spend enough time on your preworkout, nutrition, mental game, recovery, etc.? Too many times, we’re focused on what people are achieving in the gym rather than how they are taking care of themselves in order to perform and feel their best. Performance is much more well-rounded than we tend to believe, and I think it’s an important aspect to start coaching.”
Keranen began setting up opportunities for clients to experience how “incredible” their bodies were. “I wanted them to see that anything was possible if only they shifted their focus and started to believe,” she says. “I asked them to set performance goals (rather than aesthetic goals), and I started to shift their perspective.”
Organically, a three-pronged approach emerged: Educate, motivate, empower. In her words: “I had to educate clients that their bodies were so capable of achieving anything their heart desired, they just needed to be motivated to take steps in the right direction and empowered to believe they could—and that they would be supported and encouraged every step of the way!”
Making Training Accessible to All
As Keranen moved from athlete to student to trainer to fitspiration personality, she became painfully aware of another flaw in the traditional model of fitness training. “From my gym experience, it was obvious that unless you had a certain income level, you didn’t have the luxury of personal training, and it really bothered me,” she says. “I felt everyone deserved the opportunity to get guidance from a professional, so early on I made it my mission to bring personal training to the masses.”
To that end, Keranen developed a style of small-group personal training called SMARTraining, or Specialized Movement for Accelerated Results Training, which she still offers on her website today. As she rose in social media status, she realized the powerful opportunity she had to share her message and get hundreds, then thousands, then hundreds of thousands, of people moving. It was both humbling and empowering for her.
“As trainers, we only have a certain number of hours in the day to work with people, so when social media came along, I saw it as an opportunity to grow those hours,” she says. “I poured so much love into my page from the very beginning because I believed wholeheartedly in its power. Should I spend some time creating a workout that I could share on Instagram and get 10 more people moving that day?! Absolutely! My page was always rooted in that belief. From there, the rest is really history!”
In addition to her daily motivational social media posts, which include hundreds of free workout videos, Keranen offers a premium monthly membership to #TeamKaisa, which is for a “beginner/intermediate mover.” This autumn, she will release an At Home program for all levels of fitness, and on the horizon is a line of KaisaFit products and apparel.
One thing’s for sure: Keranen won’t be resting on her laurels. One of her movement goals is “never to get bored,” she says. “I pride myself on keeping my clients intrigued with movement and curious about what their bodies can achieve. I think there are really no limits to what the body is capable of, and my programs fully honor that. It’s all one big challenge!”
Another thread throughout Keranen’s posts is the backdrop: More often than not, it’s shockingly non-gym-like. “I love making the world my gym,” she says. “I think that there are so many opportunities to be inspired by what’s around us.” The freedom of this also gets her creativity flowing, she admits, which keeps boredom at bay for her and her followers.
“I think my creativity with movement gives people freedom and encourages them to think outside the box,” she reflects. “Our industry is pretty rigid in our definitions of what it means to exercise and be healthy, and I like to challenge that. If I can get the majority of the population up off the couch and moving around, I feel like I will have succeeded in my life’s purpose.”
It doesn’t hurt, either, that fulfilling her life’s purpose has made this ever-smiling athlete even happier (if that’s possible).
“I never in a million years would have thought that life would take me to where I am today,” she says. “But I am so incredibly thankful. At the end of the day, all anyone really needs is their body and the willingness to ‘Just Move’!