Forbes “Top Influencer” makes her passion a successful reality.

If you were the parent of a bright, young woman studying to enter the field of medicine, you might be shocked when your daughter informs you that she’s going to quit that path for a career in design. You might even be dismayed when she quits her first corporate job to teach Pilates full-time. Yes, she enjoys it—but surely, she must be lost in a fantasy world.

Cassey Ho was that young woman. And she’s done her parents proud. Blogilates, the No. 1 female fitness channel on YouTube, has more than 3.8 million subscribers and a half billion views. Lines of gushing fans wrap around city blocks whenever Ho makes a personal appearance at a POP Pilates class at 24 Hour Fitness. Ho reigns supreme on Forbes magazine’s Top Fitness Influencers list year after year, and she’s expanded her empire to include Popflex, a signature line of apparel and accessories.

It’s all thanks to the fact that Ho chose not to write off teaching movement as a deeply satisfying hobby or a daydream to get lost in a few times a week and instead determined to make it a way of life. “I knew that if I went along my path of design and fitness, somehow it was going to work out because I was going to figure out how to make it work out.”

When she’s asked about her success, Ho cites another influencer: “Success, according to Oprah Winfrey, is the intersection of opportunity and hard work, and I’ve been a hard worker my entire life. And I also am someone who follows my gut—I know that when I don’t, things just don’t feel right, and my results aren’t as good.”

Trusts her gut

Her first gut feeling came when she was 16. “I saw an infomercial from Mari Winsor Pilates. I just fell in love with the fact that I didn’t have to compete with anyone else.” Ho was on the tennis team but says, “I just didn’t really like winning, losing, battling and my coaches yelling at me if I didn’t get a certain serve right.”

Four years later, she started teaching Pilates informally to friends in her college dorm. Then she auditioned for a job teaching Pilates at a nearby 24 Hour Fitness and began adding her own twist to her classes: pop music.

But Ho was heading to Boston for her first corporate job after graduation, much to the disappointment of her faithful Pilates participants. So she posted one video for her classes to encourage them to continue their practice. “It was meant to be only for my 40 people at my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, whenever they missed me. But that video started to spread, and other people started to watch it, and the comments were asking, ‘Can you please do another video like this but for butt and abs and arms?’”

Nevertheless, Ho thought her first corporate job would be an outlet for her creativity. Instead, she found the company’s culture to be toxic. So she quit. “I was teaching Pilates maybe two times a week. I had no plan and no other money coming in, so I decided to teach Pilates 12 times a week.”

It was a huge risk, but Ho says, “That moment was one of the most transformative for me because I became a better fitness instructor. I was more in tune with my students and my movements, and also I had more time to make these YouTube videos.”

Asks the community

Even as she grew as an instructor, the response to her first video made an indelible impression on Ho. It established her business ethos. Whether or not an outsider might question the ability to scale, Ho says, “We run our business the same way today, and it’s always about asking what [the fans] want.”

Ho immerses herself in the POP Pilates community from the moment she wakes up, checking social media to stay in touch with what fans are thinking and feeling “because that’s the most important thing.” Even the creative process for POP Pilates programming starts with feedback from instructors, followed by music selection. Music is essential to the program’s immersive experience, which eliminates the traditional focus on counting reps.

It might not be surprising that Pilates Intense Interval Training or PIIT28, Ho’s take on HIIT (high-intensity interval training), adds cardio to the strength and flexibility that Pilates builds—and more. PIIT28 also reflects the deep value she places on community: The PIITstagram Challenge features a series of daily challenges, but “they aren’t all fitness related,” Ho explains. “Sometimes it’s post a picture of a makeupless selfie. It’s getting you more comfortable in your own skin.”

Participants share their photos and thoughts, and Ho says, “That tight-knit community is what makes these programs successful. If you don’t have someone who’s cheering you on at home, or maybe you even have people who want to tear you down, you have a community of people online who want to see you succeed.”

She adds, “Yes, you’re going to see someone lose weight, someone become more defined, more toned. But the true transformation is what’s happening inside.”

Champions body positivity

Today, Ho’s enterprise has grown far, far beyond its beginnings as a workout resource. Still, she pays close attention to the fans’ input as she designs her new Popflex collection and gives the clothing her own full test run. As she talks about putting ideas onto paper; bringing them to a pattern maker; and then putting the designs through squats, burpees and more, she’s clearly pleased and proud to offer a collection that performs—and in sizes from 2 to 16,which other manufacturers don’t offer. Ho says, “Until it’s perfect and we’ve tested it on all different types of bodies, we won’t release anything.”

With her Popflex line, as well as with her cooking and nutrition ideas and candid video posts about her expanding horizons, Ho remains authentic to her fans as she leads what has become a lifestyle movement. And now she’s a champion for body positivity too.

Ho describes how she entered this sphere: “I never thought I’d be a leader in the body positivity space because I am a group fitness instructor. I put up my first YouTube video to teach. I thought that my first negative comment would have been, ‘Oh my gosh, her form is so bad.’ But one of the first mean comments was, ‘Why doesn’t she have flat abs?’”

After the initial shock, Ho thought, “This is really weird because my core is obviously super strong. I’m a professional instructor, yet you’re still critiquing me on the way I look. So I guess involuntarily it became a mission of mine, but now [it is] voluntary, to show that your body is simply a vessel for you to get through life.”

Ho concludes, “As long as you are living up to your potential, you are strong inside and you’re doing what you’re meant to do in this world, it doesn’t even matter how you look.”

Photo credit: Tom Casey,
Hair and make-up: Tiffany Lee