MINDSET – Road Less Traveled

Finding Your Team with Tone It Up’s Katrina Scott and Karena Dawn

By Melinda Fulmer

More than a decade ago when personal trainer Katrina Scott met triathlete and fitness model Karena Dawn on a lonely Friday night in a Southern California gym, she says she instantly knew they would become friends.

Both new in town, they had big dreams for sharing their love of fitness online, and over coffee and yoga dates, they hatched a plan to make it happen, posting videos of themselves working out on the beach near their homes.

What the pair couldn’t have known then was just how powerful their friendship would become in spawning a new online genre of “girlfriend-to-girlfriend fitness,” inspiring more women around the globe to get moving and take better care of their health.

“We started Tone It Up,” Scott says, “because we wanted a place where women could come and have fun working out and meet other women in a community they felt safe in.”

That online community now numbers in the millions between YouTube, Instagram and the TIU app, with huge crowds showing up two years ago when they took Tone It Up on tour to 15 cities around the country.

Portait shot of Katrina Scott smiling and leaning against a dark wall

A fitness community by women for women

While much of the online fitness content in YouTube’s early years took itself very seriously, with macho drill-sergeant-type instructors counting out reps, Scott and Dawn’s Tone It Up channel was a refreshing change—just two gal pals goofing around, working out, sharing recipes and talking about what was on their mind.

“Women want to feel good,” Scott says. “They want to be healthy, but they don’t want to take it too seriously. That’s what Tone It Up is about … just being your best authentic self and living a happy, healthy life and surrounding yourself with positivity.”

The channel popped up at the right time in the evolution of social media, they say, and grew quickly by word of mouth, as young women began recommending it to their friends.

Their cheerful, bubbly personalities and willingness to not edit out the slip-ups made followers feel like friends. And just as they wouldn’t try to “fix” a friend looking to get in shape, they were careful to keep the message on TIU one of empowerment, not shame. As Scott and Dawn are fond of saying, “Your vibe attracts your tribe.”

“We would never tell a best girlfriend you need to lose weight around your belly. You need to count calories … or you can’t have champagne at my birthday this weekend,” Scott says.

They had their first inkling the channel was taking off when they began seeing social media handles pop up with TIU in front of people’s first names. Followers were using these handles and hashtags to post about their workouts and meals and connect with other women.

“That’s when we started to realize,” Scott says, “that our community is really growing and something powerful is happening.”

Karena Dawn

A place to connect

It wasn’t just about the two of them giving advice. Its members were helping each other, providing accountability and encouragement to bust through difficulties and achieve their goals.

“You have the support from so many women who will always have your back and tell you, ‘Hey, I’ve been through this’ or ‘I’m going through this right now and you can do it, too,’” Dawn says. “It’s truly a support system.”

Because the TIU community has grown so large—from college-aged women to moms juggling work and kids—most people can find someone to identify with who’s going through the same things you are, Dawn says.

One community member who had cancer told Scott about other TIU women cooking for her and filling her fridge as she went through chemotherapy. “That’s the power of community. … She was like, ‘I’ve never felt so loved.’”

Indeed, many have used Scott and Dawn’s platform to find real-world friends, searching through a TIU city hashtag such as #TIUChicago when they’re visiting or moving to a city to find someone to work out with or just meet for coffee.

TIU members in Boston, for instance, had a welcome party for one member when she told them she was moving to the city and didn’t know anyone. “We saw all the pictures coming in on Instagram,” Scott says. “That was really cool because moving to a new place with no girlfriends is scary.”

Video still of Katrina Scott and Karena Dawn.

The road to global influence

Scott and Dawn remember what being without a community was like when they first moved to Southern California to build their fitness careers. And both wanted to share their stories of how fitness changed their lives for the better.

Scott, who was working as a group fitness instructor and master trainer when she met Dawn, has talked openly about being the heaviest kid in her class at elementary school before finding fitness and experiencing her own weight-loss success story.

Dawn, an athlete at a young age (she ran her first half marathon at 12 with her dad), rediscovered fitness after going through a particularly dark patch in her early 20s, ultimately becoming a triathlete, personal trainer, fitness model and spokesperson for brands such as Adidas, Oakley and New Balance.

Working on the channel brought them closer together and introduced them to a larger network of women. But, they say, it was a lot of hard work, with long days spent shooting content and late nights editing, learning HTML, graphics and accounting software.

Profits didn’t exactly grow in a straight line, they say, despite expanding into meal plans and fitness DVDs. An initial foray developing a protein powder made them “go broke.”

But ultimately, the Tone It Up Nutrition and fitness designed for women paid off in a big way, with sales of meal plans, DVDs, TIU gear and nutrition products soaring. Now everything from TIU protein powders to dumbbells can be found in the aisles of Target, CVS and on ToneItUp.com.

Karena Dawn and Katrina Scott on stage.

The evolution of Tone It Up

As the business scaled up, so did the team, with a range of different trainers now teaching live and on-demand classes on their app and YouTube channel—classes they didn’t typically teach such as dance cardio or kickboxing.

TIU’s programming evolved, too, with the addition of meditations, lifestyle advice, and even prenatal and postnatal workouts after Scott delivered a baby girl, Isabelle, last year.

Now, Scott says, she is more clear on how important it is for women—particularly new moms— to treat themselves with kindness and use exercise as a way to carve out time for themselves so they can maintain a better state of mind.

“It’s not just the physical benefits but the mental benefits,” Dawn agrees. “A lot of our community has opened up to us about how exercise has helped them with anxiety and depression. A lot of women hold these feelings inside, so now it’s becoming more of an open conversation.” 

While they regularly feature member transformations with those ubiquitous before and after photos, they always focus on how much stronger someone feels on the inside, not how they look on the outside.

And despite their very Instagrammable lifestyles, Scott and Dawn say that at the end of the day, it’s not about helping people look perfect. What they want for the women in their community is much more all-encompassing.

“We hope that they find success, happiness, empowerment, love and friendship and that they go to bed at night with a meditation and wake up inspired,” Scott says. “When we look at what everyone has achieved and done together, I’m proud … I feel like we are really making a mark in the world.”

Photo credit: Todd Cribari, inspirostudio.com
Hair and makeup: Ashley Kucich

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Author

Melinda Fulmer

Melinda Fulmer is a veteran writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience writing about health, food, and fitness. Her work has been featured in major media channels such as the Los Angeles Times, MSN, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Los Angeles magazine, Entrepreneur, HGTV.com, Prevention.com, and Details magazine.

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