MINDSET – Raise My Game

Kira Stokes Sweats the Small Stuff—And Keeps Fitness Fun

By Lashaun Dale

“I’m a bit of an Energizer Bunny,” Kira Stokes admits while visiting with 24Life in a New York studio.

But her massive success as a celebrity fitness expert is built on more than stamina: Her own standards for mastery, her deliberate path when fitness was not a career, and her attention to detail have paid off in a huge way for Stokes, her clients who are athletes, artists, dancers and celebrities, and anyone who’s experienced the Stoked Method.

Stokes was a Psychology student minoring in Health Science at Boston College when she discovered her calling. At the time, she made a practice of getting her roommates moving in their dorm room’s common area before they’d go out. Stokes wanted to join a gym—and had to work at the front desk to pay for it (since her parents paid for college). She fell in love with the environment and with movement.

Her slow-but-steady progress toward expertise is unusual in an industry where everyone, including would-be trainers, want instant results, but there’s no other way that Stokes would have it. “You are dealing with people’s bodies, which is no small thing, because someone is giving you their most prized possession to work with,” she says.

Nonnegotiable details

Without a path, Stokes had to learn from Tim Brewster, a master, and bartended four nights a week to pay her rent. Brewster took her into active mentorship, which meant Stokes would observe his work with clients, field Brewster’s questions testing her understanding, and eventually offer her thoughts on why he was doing something specific with a client.

After two years, Brewster pronounced Stokes ready to take on clients, and another 10 years passed before Stokes began calling her approach the Stoked Method. “I was always confident but didn’t feel I had the knowledge until 10 or 12 years of doing it,” she explains.

As Stokes worked as a personal trainer, she came to the conclusion that “people really do communicate better through movement,” she says. “Rather than having them sit on a couch, I was having them jump rope and tell their story. And they really opened up, and I really enjoyed that.” But she found that the most she could handle was 10 to 12 clients a day. With a personal mission to impact as many lives as possible, group fitness began to seem more appealing.

Her fundamental understanding of programming gave her an edge, and so did her attention to detail. For Stokes, the most difficult aspect of the transition to group fitness was balancing attention to detail that was possible with an individual client and serving a group of people in the same room.

“When people say don’t sweat the small stuff, I don’t agree with that,” she says. “I 100 percent believe that the small stuff is what takes you from good to great. There were certain nonnegotiables that I had as a trainer. I was never going to let that focus on form not be part of my method.”

Energy maker

That’s where Stokes stands apart. “Finding a way to communicate to someone to engage their glutes in a way that they’re going to understand—and so will 30 other people—is what I found incredibly fun and challenging,” she says. “Will you tell them to squeeze their butt like they have a check for a million dollars in between and they have to hold it there?”

Now Stokes works like an orchestra conductor: She knows when everyone in the room has arrived at the peak of the workout and needs a break and when they need to be brought back together again. Her philosophy? “In a group setting, the energy is so high,” she explains. “I always say be an energy maker, not an energy taker. I say it a lot during my classes, and I feel like it resonates with people where they’re like wow. OK.  What you give is what you get, right?”

Science-backed flow of movement

Stokes had the chance to open her own studio, often the next step for an established trainer and expert. But she was full of anxiety—even after she’d signed a contract on a space. It took her husband to point out that she literally was losing sleep, and question whether it was the right thing to do. Stokes pulled out and started work on the thing that fit best with her passion to reach as many people as possible: a fitness app.

Stokes still had to find a way to build in the kind of detail that is nonnegotiable for her. “I think what always deterred me initially from going virtual was how I could be sure that somebody using the app was [moving correctly],” she explains. “The Stoked Method is a science-backed, functional flow of movement. That means the transitions matter.”

For meaningful flow, Stokes made a point of designing her cues to be clear even without images. But just as important as movement-to-movement transition is the order of the movements themselves. “Your entire workout is like a story or a novel,” she says. “Every circuit is like a chapter in the book. When you read a book, there’s a beginning, there’s a middle, there’s an end. There’s a reason and a purpose for every word. The same applies to how I put circuits together: How you get into a move and how you come out of a move are as important as the moves themselves.”

Stoke the fire

Stokes’ regard for movement adds dimension to her namesake method. “I’ll be honest. I don’t think I’ve ever said I’m tired at night. I say I feel fulfilled,” Stokes admits. The reason, she says, is because “your ability to move is not guaranteed. And so when you start to remember that on a daily basis and wake up grateful to move and [you] get out of bed and challenge your body, it’s like you can’t help but smile and be so stoked to actually move.”

“All of a sudden one day it just clicked, and I was like stokes, stoked,” Stokes adds. “This is it. This is my brand. So ‘stoked’ to me is an energy. It’s a physical and emotional and mental energy.”

And while functional training is designed to support everyday activities, Stokes says, “‘Fun’ is a part of functional. Fitness should be fun. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing and you don’t find it challenging yet fun and informative, what’s the point?”

When Stokes sees people are struggling or focusing hard on a challenging move, she says, “Now add a smile.” She explains: “Your body can do this. During the most challenging part if you add a smile to it, it changes your whole perspective. It’s not ‘I have to.’ It’s ‘I get to.’”

Supporting dreams

Stokes’ authenticity extends to her marriage and understanding how being true to herself includes knowing not only what she wants to give but also what she needs to receive. Stokes says she and her husband Gary are a team, although he is not a fitness expert. “People always say, ‘I can’t believe you don’t have somebody that’s as intense as you are about fitness.’ I think I knew … I didn’t need somebody to make me work out more,” she explains. “I needed somebody who would yell out the window onto the driveway, ‘You’ve been out there for two hours. Time to come in.’”

Likewise, Stokes doesn’t try to change her husband. “I support him. He works his butt off and am I going to force Gary to go to the gym? No. Gary goes to the gym because he wants to go to the gym,” she says.

“I think the biggest thing is don’t try to change somebody. Let them be who they are. It brings out the best in both of you.” Stokes can’t resist adding, “I HIIT the jackpot. I did. I’m very fortunate.

Ready to get Stoked?  Follow Kira on Instagram and check out the Stoked Method on demand.

Video & photo credit: Mark Kuroda, kurodastudios.com


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Lashaun Dale

Lashaun Dale loves yoga and fitness and finds magic in movement, music and mobs of people. She holds degrees in International Relations, Philosophy and Applied Anthropology, as well as an MPH from the School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York. With two decades of group fitness programming experience, Dale is former editor-in-chief of 24Life magazine, a regular contributor to SELF and Women’s Health and Fitness, as well as popular blogs and podcasts. She’ll teach yoga anytime she is given an opportunity to get her om on.