“Melanie Douglass is a true powerhouse in every sense of the word,” says Michael Babbitt, co-founder of Yes! Fitness Music®, Washington, D.C., where Douglass now serves as director of business development. “She’s knowledgeable but knows how to laugh at herself. She has the ability to juggle multiple projects at the same time. I’ve watched her film live TV for HSN [the Home Shopping Network], work on a marketing ad, tend [to] her child and order room service—while needing to board a plane in a few hours—all with a smile on her face and her signature laugh,” says Babbitt.
A 24-year fitness industry veteran, Melanie Douglass, RD, has built a career—and, in fact, a full, rewarding and inherently fun life—on these foundations, stoked by a fiery passion, ebullient spirit and a propensity to respond to new opportunities with a resounding “yes!” Her success comes as no surprise to her older sister, Monica Lindsay, who remembers Douglass’s early (and, even then, wildly enthusiastic) forays into fitness.
“When we were young, we would jump in and do aerobics with our mom. In our teens, we would do it at home to a Bruce Jenner or Kathy Smith workout,” says Lindsay. “She’s the reason that I became a certified fitness instructor.” Douglass, in fact, prides herself on having recruited multiple family members and friends to become group fitness instructors—a role she, too, has played.
Over the years, Douglass, now in her early 40s, has widened her sphere of influence. She’s taken advantage of diverse work opportunities and today is an international presenter, workout video producer, book author, television health-and-fitness expert, and social media leader. She embraces her role at Yes! Fitness Music. “I’m constantly pushing anyone I see with the right skill set to share this amazing journey with me,” says Douglass. “Fitness is a lifelong, rewarding experience, and I want to share it with everyone!”
Colette Davis Raymond, RD, an AFAA-certified instructor in Colorado Springs who grew up with Douglass, offers this insight as one who was personally inspired by this world-famous fitness firecracker: “Melanie is passionate about fitness and nutrition [and] about inspiring others to be healthy and to become champions of their own health. Though our paths have parted, I’m grateful every day for her encouragement and inspiration.”
Douglass didn’t initially set her sights on a fitness career, but every step she took seemed to bring her inevitably closer. “I was a dancer in high school,” she says, “but by the time I graduated, I realized I didn’t really like dancing, but I loved the way movement to music made me feel.” Immediately after graduation (“probably the very next day”), Douglass joined a local health club and “started going to aerobics classes to keep ‘moving to music.’ ”
Those were the days of “thongs and big, slouchy socks,” she says of her “Retro Aerobics!” video on YouTube, and Douglass still remembers her first fitness music purchase: Aerobics PowerMix 18. (It started with the song “Jump!” by Van Halen.) Little did she know that one day she’d work for a fitness music company. “I listened to that tape a thousand times and practiced aerobics in my basement for hours. I started making up routines and taught myself how to cue.”
In high school, Douglass’s other passion was nutrition and cooking, so she entered the dietetics program at Utah State University. “I needed to work through college, so I got the idea to teach aerobics.” Her family was skeptical but always supportive. “They knew I was really quiet and shy. But once I got this idea in my head, I was set on it.” The whole family accompanied her to California for her AFAA certification exam. When teaching her first class (step aerobics ending with pushups and crunches), she was very nervous. “I didn’t want to push them too hard. Ha-ha! A lady came up to me afterward and was like, ‘Five pushups!? That was not even worth getting on the floor for.’ I’ll never forget it. And then the fierce, playful instructor was born.”
Over the next few years, an increasingly confident Douglass continued her nutrition studies, while spending her spare time taking the NASM Certified Personal Trainer test, teaching aerobics and working her way up to become a fitness club program director. Though she completed her bachelor’s degree in dietetics, as well as her registered dietitian certification, Douglass says her heart was always in fitness.
“I kept getting offers—exciting adventures!—in fitness,” says the native of Logan, Utah. “I was fortunate to live in a small town with the largest fitness equipment manufacturer in the world, and they recruited me at age 19 to start fitness modeling.” That company, ICON Health & Fitness Inc., has built such brands as Pro-Form®, NordicTrack®, iFit®, Freemotion Fitness®, Gold’s Gym® and Weider® fitness equipment. It wasn’t long before ICON welcomed Douglass onto their product development team “because of the positive energy coming from my love of fitness—and my driven, bossy attitude!” She followed the work.
DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’
Douglass was soon working at ICON full-time as director of fitness accessories. The job offered diverse assignments: She supervised building the company’s first on-premise employee fitness center and traveled the globe presenting products to CEOs, retailers and celebrities (“A favorite was Steve Young, quarterback for the 49ers,” she says). She also “got to make up products”—such as new iterations on a step design and the first-ever fitness workouts broadcast over dial-up internet—and became a video producer for ICON’s fitness products.
Douglass describes becoming a workout producer as a natural evolution of all her skills. Her background in creating workouts for group fitness, as well as her opportunities to write scripts and manage people at ICON, put her “in a good place to direct the whole thing.” At ICON, she hired models and a video team, made travel arrangements, selected music, and edited the final product. All this prepared her to enthusiastically accept when a fitness music supplier approached her to create its first choreography videos in the early 2000s. Her experience at ICON would also enable her to check off another of her “if the sky was the limit” goals from childhood: Become a published book author.
HEALTHY LIFESTYLE BY THE BOOK
Douglass was just 8 years old when she attempted a novel (“Handwritten. I made it to page 4!”). In her first postgraduation job as a clinical dietitian, her passion for writing bubbled to the surface when a manager asked her what she’d like to do in the next decade. Her answer—“Write a book!”—took him aback. It also showed Douglass the writing on the wall. “I realized I really didn’t belong in [the field I was in].”
A few years later, Douglass was at ICON when her aspiration to write reached fruition. The Utah-based Deseret Book Company approached ICON to co-sponsor a live health tour. ICON personnel asked Douglass what she thought about the idea, and she said, “You know what goes great with a live tour? Book sales!”
Over a 6-week period, Douglass set down her thoughts on making healthy lifestyle changes that support mind, body and spirit. “I spent my days at home writing—and playing the piano to give my brain a rest. I loved it!” she says. Douglass tucked her 240-page book under her arm and took it on the “Time Out for Women” tour, where she inspired crowds as large as 3,000.
That year, Douglass was recognized by the American Dietetic Association as an “Industry Mover” for “her work in developing innovative fitness and nutrition programs for the consumer market.” (Her follow-up guide, Tip-a-Day Guide for Healthy Living: 365 Simple Ways to Improve Your Health, One Day at a Time, also published by Deseret Book, hit bookstores in 2007.)
As ever, Douglass’s signature willingness to rise to the occasion would open yet another career door: this time placing her in the role of TV personality.
In 2006, the producer of Studio 5, a new weekday program on local Salt Lake City NBC-affiliate station KSL 5, reached out to Douglass. The program delivers lifestyle content to a target market of stay-at-home moms. Douglass accepted the invitation, initially to discuss her book. The feature went well. Douglass became the program’s health and fitness contributor, a role she maintains to this day (photo on page 36). Her weekly segment is “New Move Monday,” during which she presents an exercise of the week.
In 2010, to continue to build enthusiasm for her TV audience, Douglass pitched the idea of promoting an online “10 Pound Challenge,” to launch in January 2011. “They thought I was kind of crazy, but they let me do it!” Most of all, she wanted to address the myth that it’s bad to diet in January. “I wanted to change the dialogue,” she says. “It’s okay to get excited and start a new program in January. It gets people on the right track and, along the way, they learn things that affect them for the rest of their lives. They may or may not lose 10 pounds in January, but because they got caught up in the ‘new you’ excitement, they take a leap and learn new things, and they’re in a better place.” She recruited friends and colleagues to run the operation as a team.
The 10 Pound Challenge started with a Facebook page, support from KSL 5 and 500 participants. The second year, that number leapt up to 1,200. In its fourth year, television-viewing participants reported a collective loss of more than 11,000 pounds. And today, the program is stronger than ever, boasting more than 10,000 followers. (See “Stoking Excitement With Social Media Challenges,” sidebar, for Douglass’s tips on achieving success with social media challenges.)
WANNA BE STARTIN’ SOMETHIN’
Science holds that a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and Douglass’s body is no exception to that rule. As she added each new role to her resumé (TV contributor, video producer, author, wife, mother), she continued juggling those that had come before (fitness model, consultant, nutritionist, trainer, instructor). In 2009, she put her unbridled optimism and enthusiasm to work in a new way, adding yet another role that built on all of her previous experience: She became an entrepreneur.
Douglass quit her job at ICON and founded Tonic Fitness, a company that developed a series of branded workout videos, including StepTonic, DanceTonic and SculptTonic. The concept was to create turnkey workouts, including choreography and music, for instructor training as well as in-home use by everyday exercisers. Her venture, while rewarding, took a toll on her family and finances, and she learned that “you don’t have to be a ‘full-time’ entrepreneur.” Her advice to others similarly inspired? Try “baby entrepreneurship” first.
“You can do small projects here and there that add to your skill set and help you be more adaptable in future endeavors. You learn things like sacrifice, humility, perseverance, critical thinking and self-awareness (of strengths and weaknesses)—and, yes, a few projects are sure to be hallelujah accomplishments!”
Douglass returned to ICON, where she worked until 2015. Then, she says, “after I had my fourth baby, I for realz needed a job with less travel and pressure. That’s when I started working for Yes! Fitness Music.”
WALKING ON SUNSHINE
As director of business development at Yes! Fitness Music, Douglass couldn’t be happier—or more excited with her diverse role. Current projects include helping fitness pros start their own businesses, inventing new formats with custom music, and navigating legal and tech issues like licensing and digital distribution. “And they are just dreamy to work for,” she says of the people.
Even so, she’s never far from her fitness roots. “Teaching is still the highlight of my day,” says Douglass, who leads four classes a week at Logan’s Sports Academy & Racquet Club. They are Pound, Pump and “a couple of formats I made up because I’m always trying new things.” Of course, she has also turned her inspirational efforts toward her gym-going kids, who accompany her to the club to shoot hoops, swim or just spend some time as a family.
“When I started teaching, it was a natural fit, and I quickly knew that this was my destiny,” says Douglass, reminiscing. “I wanted to create a positive environment where instructors build each other up and aren’t in competition. I loved this career so much that I wanted to help people learn to teach.” It would be stating the obvious to say that she has met that challenge thousands of times over. “And I have loved it every step of the way,” she says.