Growing up in upstate New York, fitness coach, workout studio manager and NPC bikini competitor Miranda Guerra says she used to skip PE class because she hated working out.

“I was never taught about fitness … I was the kid who took 20 minutes to walk the mile whenever we had that in physical education class because I refused to run. I didn’t like it,” she says.

Nutrition, Guerra says, also wasn’t something she was educated about as a kid. And when she moved to Florida for college, Guerra’s unhealthy habits worsened after she discovered fast food and drinking, and she started gaining weight rapidly. Then one day, she found herself out of breath and shaking after walking up the stairs to her second-story apartment.

“I felt so uncomfortable. And I was only 20 years old,” she recalls. “That was the moment I started to rethink my life and my choices, my habits. I realized that’s not how I wanted to live. If I’m only 20 and I’m feeling sick and unhealthy, then I’m obviously on the wrong path. That’s when I decided I really wanted to change my life.”

Starting from scratch

But Guerra says she had no clue what she was doing or where to start, especially as a young adult working in a restaurant and surrounded by unhealthy food. She started what she called the “cardio diet”—doing hours of cardio and restrictive dieting in which she thought she couldn’t eat anything.

“I did all different fad diets. I lost weight, I gained weight, and I eventually lost all the weight and I cut down to around 115 pounds, and I didn’t look how I had imagined. I was definitely smaller, definitely skinny, but I had no muscle mass. I had no shape—I was like a stick,” Guerra says.

So she started doing her research—her first stop was the gym.

“I was getting into weightlifting, but I had no clue what I was doing. I just knew I had to do something. I knew that it started with the gym, and I knew it started with nutrition and with fitness,” she says.

Guerra dabbled with the equipment in her apartment gym but didn’t feel motivated since she was alone, and furthermore, she felt clueless as to what to do. So she joined a gym and started observing others.

“I was super embarrassed and super shy,” Guerra says. “I used to just watch other people who were really fit and kind of see how they did things because I was afraid to go up to them and ask them.”

She would also watch YouTube videos for inspiration, trying to find the best movements for weight loss or strengthening different body parts, and she would Google exercises at home so she could learn how to execute them properly.

Eventually, Guerra befriended some of the people at her gym, who took her under their wing and helped her get more comfortable. She even met her husband at the gym; he was instrumental in helping Guerra learn basic movements, proper form and recovery.

Keep it simple, and get help

The biggest thing, Guerra stresses, is not overcomplicating things.

“The magazines, TV, celebrities—they always try to make things complicated and shove all these fad diets down your throat,” she explains. “And what I learned was that if you’re changing your routine or your life drastically, that’s not realistic. I know because I tried that and I bounced back, and I ended up at square one so many times. So just start small: We all know that we need to eat healthy. We all know that we need to work out.”

She cut out fast food and alcohol and started incorporating more whole foods like salads instead of a side of french fries, or water instead of milkshakes with her meal, or black coffee instead of Frappuccinos.

After years of trial and error and learning from her mistakes, Guerra used her knowledge of what not to do to her advantage and decided to pursue an education in the fitness world so she could help others not make the same mistakes. Her advice for first-time fitness-goers?

“I wish I had worked with a coach or a trainer back then because it would have expedited many of those years of trial and error,” Guerra says. “Always pick out a qualified person in the fitness industry to help you. It’s going to really speed things up. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help, and don’t be afraid to get into the gym and just try things, even if they feel awkward or uncomfortable. That’s the first step, and that’s going to be the most important step.”

Guerra underwent certification as a personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and says that when she found out she had passed, she “bawled her eyes out.”

“It was a really life-changing moment,” she says.

Next came her corrective exercise specialization and a nutrition certification. And while she’s been in the industry for a few years now and shares her own training and fitness regimen with her followers on Instagram, Guerra says she’s still a work in progress.

“My goal is to obtain as much information as I can so I can share it with others,” she says. “My biggest passion right now in life is just living a healthy life myself but also educating others about how to live a proper, healthy life, as well, because I know there’s a lot of false information out there.”

Guerra isn’t finished in her pursuit of helping others. She says she’s already looking ahead, hoping to go back to school to pursue a master’s degree in nutrition and public health.

“I would love to help establish the health and wellness foundations on a large scale for society, maybe even helping determine what children are eating in their schools and what the physical education standards are, as well,” she explains. “That’s something I would really love to be a part of. I really just want to help society as a whole be better at educating about fitness and nutrition.”

Depend on habit, not motivation

When asked about motivation, Guerra wants to clear up what she sees as a common misconception.

“A lot of people wait for motivation, or they only do things when they feel motivated. People need to come to terms with the fact that they’re not always going to feel motivated,” she says. “It’s very easy to do things when you want to do them, but it counts the most when you don’t want to do something and you still go out and do it. Those are the days that really, really matter.”

Guerra recommends scheduling time in your calendar to go the gym, planning and prepping your meals in advance, and creating other habits that keep you on track, so when days come that you just don’t feel like it, you’re going to do it anyway, as it’s a part of your lifestyle.

Her personal motivation comes from remembering how sick and unhealthy she felt all those years ago after climbing the stairs.

“I always refer back to that and how I felt in that moment,” she says. “The days when I kind of don’t feel like going to the gym, I’ll think about why I started in the first place.”

And even if you get off-track, Guerra says, tomorrow is a new day. “I think about how there were so many times that I wanted to quit. And if I had quit, I would never be where I am today.”

She says the fear of failure shouldn’t hold you back, either, like it did her in the early days of her fitness journey.

“I would hold myself back because I was afraid. I was afraid to go to the gym because I thought I’d get laughed at. I was afraid of using equipment incorrectly and hurting myself. I was afraid of failing,” she says. “And I realized at the end of the day, if I don’t ever try, then I’ll never know what could happen. And look at what happened.”

It’s not about having a perfect routine or workout plan all the time, Guerra says. When she first started, she would pull together random movements to form different workouts. “I never had a routine or a schedule that I stuck to,” she says. “I went out there and I moved. And you know, going from nothing to something, your body is going to see changes. It is going to see results.”

You can do anything

At the end of the day, she says, it’s your mindset that matters most—and her message to the world is simple: “You can literally do anything.”

Guerra says it all starts with mindset. If you tell yourself you’ll never get there, you’ll believe that and you won’t even try. But if you believe you can and you go after what you want, you’re taking the first step and not taking no for an answer.

“Yes, you’re going to fail, but then you’re going to try again and you’re going to learn,” she says. “And every time you try, you’re going to get a little bit better, a little bit closer. And one day, it’s inevitable that you’re going to achieve that thing it is that you wanted. So just believe that you can do it.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Miranda Guerra