Cassey Ho always seems to hit the right note. But it’s always in her own voice.
It all started when Ho brought music to the hushed air of the venerable Pilates format and left her class of 40 people at 24 Hour Fitness a goodbye present—a YouTube video—when she graduated and moved to the East Coast for her first corporate job. That video was the seed of Blogilates, which now has 4.3 million subscribers. Whether she’s sequencing the next POP Pilates release, designing next season’s POPFLEX activewear, building a killer app (more on that later) or advising budding entrepreneurs on the “Today” show, her instinct is spot-on, without exception.
Ho’s talent, enthusiasm and acumen make her a hero to many, the envy of some—and a trolling target, as well. Despite being an early champion of body positivity, she has been criticized for creating a bridal boot camp (born of her wish to feel great for her October 2018 wedding). She’s even been shamed for having a “soft” body. (Watch any of her videos and it’s clear that Ho’s brand of “soft” must be the new strong.)
But Ho is not afraid to talk about how all this makes her feel. In February, she took the Valentine’s Day photo that she knew would make Instagrammers happy, and then she spent the evening the way she really wanted to celebrate with her fiancé, Sam Livits: in matching comfies and eating takeout barbecue—and she documented that, too.
When she’s asked about her relationship with technology now, years into her success, it becomes clear that Ho’s focus on serving her audience—rather than servicing her image—is her golden touch. She says her Blogilates stardom “happened because of technology, because I was able to serve, to give, without even thinking about anything else with social media.” While social media today is a far more complex environment, Ho uses her principle of service to guide her great instincts and remain a trusted expert to her millions of followers.
Take her new PIIT Pocket app. She says PIIT28, her Pilates Intense Interval Training program, was an obvious candidate for entry into the app space with a program of 28-minute workouts. To the outside observer, she could have just launched a mobile version to great success. But she has prioritized app features that put the user in control, such as dragging and dropping moves to build personalized workouts.
A counterintuitive design move, when her ardent followers and fan base expect her leadership? Ho says no. “People need to realize that when it comes to fitness or nutrition, it’s a prescription for your own body,” she explains. “I wanted to give my fans and the community the tools to create, to empower them to make their own workouts and their own meal plans, because we all need such different things.”
She also believes this approach will banish boredom. The rigid instructions in live classes, streaming workouts and DVDs are great for beginners, she observes. “But after a while, you may realize that you don’t like jumping because it hurts your knees, or you prefer another type of arm exercise to push-ups,” she says. With PIIT Pocket, Ho explains, “You can put together burpees and other moves and make it hard for yourself. Or maybe you’re having a slow day and you want to put graceful Pilates moves together.”
That’s not to say that Ho is abandoning her fans. The app launches with a video introduction from Ho that reminds users she is always there with them, demonstrating entire workouts and delivering encouragement and advice. And not surprisingly, fans found a beta version of the app, which spread like wildfire. Ho is thrilled that users can create their own “custom fitness lifestyle” and take it on the go. “It just makes fitness that much more attainable,” she says.
When it comes to social media and her personal life, Ho is both open and measured. The reaction to her engagement last year was eye-opening for her. “When Sam proposed to me last August in Kauai, obviously it was really exciting,” she says. “I had no idea and of course I said yes. But the other thing I thought was, ‘Wait, I’ve never told the fans that I even had a boyfriend.’” Sure enough, even media outlets such as Cosmopolitan and People zeroed in on the surprise to her fans and the world.
At first, Ho says, social media was a place where people could “get away with posting real life”—from a meal to a sweaty, messy post-workout selfie. But—possibly thanks to fashion bloggers—the pressure increased to be less candid and show only perfection, and even Ho began to worry about whether she’d worn the same dress twice. At that time, she also noticed her fan base became less engaged. Fortunately, Ho says that new platforms like Snapchat and Instagram Stories allowed her to feel she could just be herself again instead of working for the “likes”—much to her audience’s appreciation.
While Ho has chosen to share her thoughts and feelings on her blog and social channels, she and Livits made a conscious decision not to bring their relationship to the same scrutiny of social media. “I did not know that getting engaged unlocks a different level of love with your partner,” she says. “I felt shy, a little bit nervous, and that was really special.” But we can look forward to more from Ho and her Pomapoo pup (and fur baby), Sir George the Magnificent—and, she says, “I can’t wait for all the other adventures that Sam and Sir George and I will find on this journey of life!”
Photo credit: Tom Casey, box24studio.com
Hair and make-up: Jessica Licata