Certified Personal TrainerFitnessFitness Professionals

Certified Personal Trainer Q&A: Renee Pickett

Each month, we’ll shine the spotlight on a different NASM Certified Personal Trainer who’s making a difference in their community.

For November, we spoke with Renee Pickett, a Health and Fitness Motivational Speaker, a STRONG by Zumba Master Trainer, and Zumba program developer, as well as a fitness model, and a mom to boot. She’s also in the final stages of becoming an NASM Certified Personal Trainer.

But wait, there’s more! Renee is also an NASM/AFAA-sponsored athlete for the 2019 Spartan World Championships.

This incredible athlete/instructor/model/social influencer/supermom was kind enough to answer some of our questions. We’re sure you’re going to enjoy what she had to say.

Renee, your list of credentials is, to put it mildly, pretty impressive. Can you tell us about how your fitness journey began?

My dream as a teen was to play for the U.S. Women’s Soccer team. Soccer was truly my first love. After three knee surgeries, all before the age of 16, life had a different plan, it seemed.

We had moved to a town with no female soccer teams, and sports fell by the wayside for me. Although living on a farm, there was always something physical to be done. So, I always got my exercise by merely doing daily chores.

I graduated and got married all within a week! Not something I would recommend for everyone. I got SUPER lucky! We had our first son when I was 20 and our second when I was about 22. I decided to leave my super-stressful banking job when we discovered we would have our second baby boy. I hated the high-stress and mundane office job.

Renee Pickett with her two sons

Fast forward a year after our second child’s arrival, and I remember my husband telling me a gym had opened up only five minutes from where we lived. I was about 40-50 pounds overweight, exhausted, and unhappy with how I had completely let myself go. Not just physically, but emotionally. I had put myself on the back burner as most new moms do, not knowing just how much better of a mom I could be if I was in better health.

I finally gave in and let my husband sign us both up for the gym. I would go in and usually end up on cardio equipment, as I didn’t know how to use anything else. Talk about boring!

One night, I was on the treadmill and heard a scream from the Group X room. I later found out there was a Zumba class going on. “What is Zumba?” I asked. 

The employee replied, “It’s a Latin- dance- workout-thingy.” Hmm, Interesting. I was on my treadmill again, and this time the people began filing in for Zumba.

A lady in the class leaned out and said, “Hey! You should come join us!”

I said, “Haha! Oh, no. I couldn’t survive. Thank you anyway.” She tried to coax me but eventually left me alone and went inside.

As the music blared, I found myself wanting to go in! Thankfully, my hubby was watching me and came over. “I know you want to go in. Go for it,” he said. I decided, WHY NOT? I went in, and the humiliation began almost immediately! If I was going right, they were going left; if I was turning around, they were already done. I was mortified! However, I had SWEAT MY ASS OFF! I vowed to never return for that voluntary humiliation EVER AGAIN.

About two weeks later, my pride had finally healed, and I was back on my treadmill. There they go! Filing in for Zumba class again. SAME LADY approached me AGAIN. I was apprehensive but thought, “It’s this or go home. I am bored to tears at this point.” I was shocked to realize I remembered a few of the moves from the one class I took! I felt accomplished, and like I had achieved something. I was hooked after that class. I became a regular, front row diva, and even would go to the front of the class and be a “back-up dancer” for my instructor. I loved it!

When did you – or what made you – decide to take fitness seriously and go pro? What brought you to NASM/AFAA?

My Zumba instructor approached me about becoming an instructor to sub her class while she was on summer vacation. She baited me with the offer of a free gym membership for my family and even score some money teaching the class. SOLD! I never had ANY goals except to be her sub.

Renee Pickett teaching Zumba

I had to borrow money from my brother-in-law to become an instructor due to money being tight. Never will forget his words: “If I loan you this money, you HAVE to do something with this. You MUST go out and teach.” I pinky-promised, even though I had so much doubt in myself to teach a class alone. I decided to reach out to a local gym that did not even have Zumba on the schedule. They agreed, and neither of us knew just how big it would get. I ended up teaching 5-6 classes a week there, alone. We would have so many people show up, and I had to teach back-to-back classes to avoid breaking fire codes.

One year into teaching, and I was teaching eleven classes a week, scattered between multiple facilities. I rocked the Zumba game hard for about eight years, and during this timeline, I became a Zumba Jammer (which is a Zumba choreographer) in 2011, and then a Zumba Education Specialist (ZES) in 2012. I rented a nightclub and would teach packed classes Monday-Wednesday, then travel on weekends to nine different states teaching Zumba Specialty Instructor Trainings.

The only problem was I was beyond burned out but kept on teaching. Battling injuries, sickness, and exhaustion became a full-time job, on top of being a mom and wife. I felt bored, hungry for something else to ignite my passion for fitness again.

At this time is when I started diving into weightlifting and HIIT workouts. I loved being able to see physical gains in my body and loved how great I began to feel! I reached out to my boss, expressing my concerns that I just didn’t fit in Zumba anymore, and questioned my place in the company. He quickly assured me to hang on. Something was coming that he felt I would be in love with. He asked me if I had ever considered becoming a Certified Personal Trainer. I had toyed with the idea but was nervous about such significant certification. He nudged me towards it and expressed he felt I would love it. I decided to trust this new boss of mine, “Why not?” I asked myself again. (Have to do a shout-out to Darren Jacobson here. Thank you for believing in me and always giving me the push towards growth!) 

So, I signed up to get my NASM-CPT certificate. I just fell in love with the muscles and the body. What a powerful thing to know how to put everything together for maximum results, and I loved how much it pulled everything I taught together. I loved being able to program, even my Group Fitness classes, with purposeful movements due to knowing what is working, and how it’s working.

I chose NASM because I had heard it was so applicable and dealt more with real-time issues. I also loved that their content is more up-to-date than some other competitors out there.

Renee Pickett

The process has been great! I love the online guided-study program. SO efficient in how they team up specific chapters that go hand-in-hand instead of having just to read chapter after chapter blindly.

What is interesting is I don’t even view myself as a ‘Pro.’ I feel I am continually learning, growing, and still such a novice in the industry. I decided to jump in head-over-heels once I became a Certified Personal Trainer. I felt I had the knowledge to back up my experience. Coupling them together provides confidence.

My fitness journey is still in the making, though. I feel I have come SO far, but… STILL, have so much to come.

You were selected to help create the STRONG by Zumba. Can you tell us about that?

Shortly after receiving my certification, Zumba’s home office reached out to me to help them create a new program. They felt I had something to offer, and I was going to give them my best! We spent a week in Miami in 2015. A few other trainers, the education department, and I sat down and came up with what is now known as “STRONG by Zumba.” Talk about IN LOVE! I fell head over heels for this program and haven’t looked back.

I decided to step away from the dance-fitness side of the company, and solely work as a Master Trainer for STRONG by Zumba. It has been the best decision I have ever made. I love pushing myself past my limits, always challenging myself.

What is a typical day like for you?

I am NOT a super structured person. That would be my husband, who is strong in the organizational game. But, typically like this:

Renee Pickett with her husband and two sons
  • 6:30 AM: Wake to get our Boys (Dawson is a freshman in High School, Carter is in the 8th grade)
  • PUSH my kids out the door, drop both off to their schools
  • Come home, get dressed for the gym, and hit a workout or trail run
  • Eat brunch (I’m an intermittent faster)
  • Work on something work-related (emails, social media responses, etc.)
  • Pick up boys from school, feed them
  • Run them back to school for soccer, lacrosse practices, and marching band rehearsals
  • Return home to do some more work/emails/programming for upcoming classes/training
  • Attempt to clean my crazy mess of a house
  • Teach my classes
  • Cook dinner for the fam and catch up on everyone’s day
  • CRASH into my bed HARD

I travel on weekends to teach my STRONG by Zumba instructor training, master classes, and Spartan Races. The weekdays, I try to be as present as possible for my boys. I know the time will come all too soon for them to leave home. I feel so blessed to be able to be there for them when it counts. There are days I make 3-4 trips to their school for all of the after- school activities.

Are you interested in any specializations or other certifications?

YES! I have my sights on two as of right now: NASM-CES (Corrective Exercise Specialist) and the NASM Nutrition Certification are my goals for 2020.

Is there a particular niche of clients that you prefer to train?

Renee Pickett

Honestly? I love training women. (Sorry, fellas!) There is just SO much that women battle against, ESPECIALLY when it comes to the gym. A lot of women feel intimidated, going over to the weights and machines. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “I just feel like I look stupid because I have NO CLUE what to do, or if I am even doing something correctly.”

I love empowering women to take back their health, confidence, and their bodies. When you help someone reach towards their best selves, they begin to reach for their best person in EVERY facet of life. I encourage my clients to take what they use in the gym, and their fitness journey, and cross it into relationships, finances, nutrition. They begin to realize they DESERVE BETTER EVERYTHING!

Tell us about your experiences with Spartan races and making it to the World Championships.

My newest fascination is Spartan Obstacle Course racing. In just a little over a year, I have run over eight races, competed in the North American Championships in West Virginia, and qualified and competed in the Spartan World Championships in Lake Tahoe, California, just a few weeks ago. World Championships was the toughest thing I have ever athletically competed in my entire life! I loved it SO much!

Spartan quickly became my physical and mental workout. I have become obsessed with discovering new depths of mental strength. I needed to reach the place many of my students/ clients reach during my class the breaking phase. Where they DESPERATELY want to give up, but they shove on through that mental wall.

Many people ask me if I have won one yet. My answer is always truthful and probably not what they expect. I don’t run to try and win. I run to try and beat out any laziness I have. It’s quite astonishing how many of us don’t push until we have NOTHING left. We hold back, we say we CAN’T when we don’t want it bad enough.

Running in the Spartan World Championships wholly altered my perception of Mental Grit. I heard 100 women in my Age Group Heat were at the start line, and only 54 of us finished. The weather conditions quickly deteriorated upon arriving from a paradise, to my own personal Winter Hell. It snowed overnight; winds were 25-30 mph, 30 degrees at the start line, and upwards of 9,000-feet elevation, PLUS the dreaded SWIM. People were dropping like flies during the race. I remember hearing a fellow Spartan Elite who won the North American Championships, did not finish due to hyperthermia.

As soon as we took off from that start line, I KNEW that race was going to be about FINISHING and Me vs. Me. I shifted my focus from what my placement goal was, to pure SURVIVAL. Many do not know, I have a medical condition called Raynaud Syndrome, which causes spasms of arteries and episodes of reduced blood flow in my fingers, and sometimes my toes. During any significant temp changes or exposure to unusually COLD, some fingers turn white/blue and become completely numb and useless. This can be a BIG PROBLEM for a Spartan Athlete! Because, if I fail an obstacle, there is a 30-burpee penalty each time. 30+ obstacles YOU DO THE MATH! I kept slipping off of obstacles that required grip strength due to this and did 120 burpees total that race.

Renee Pickett Outdoors

I had a panic attack at the swim, but decided I didn’t come this far not even to attempt it. I was SO nervous. Many people were being carted off by medical, screaming, borderline convulsing from the cold chills and hyperthermia.

After a motivational speech from a volunteer, I just took off running and dove in before I could talk myself out of it again. Funny thing, the water was warmer than the air outside thanks to a prior week 70-degree weather.

When I got out, that is when the real panic tried to jump on me. The wind cut me in two. I began shaking uncontrollably, and I remember thinking, “OMG, I knew better than that. I am going to get hypothermia for the first time in my life.” My hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t even get my dry shirt out of my ziplock bag. I had to use my teeth and the crook of my arm. I quickly covered my head first, changed shirts, and took off up the mountain to try and warm up as much as possible. That was the lowest point of the race for me. I ran in the clouds due to elevation.

At one point, I remember looking up and just asking God to PLEASE bring me some sunshine! PLEASE! I looked out across the vast mountains and saw the Festival Area (start and finish line), and it looked like the Golden City. It was lit up bright with sun rays. I decided right then and there, “We won’t stop till we get there.” And I DID! Although we heard rumors of some racers skipping the swim due to fear, and others not doing all their penalty burpees due to lack of course marshals, I am proud to say I completed the swim. I did EVERY DAMNED burpee plus three more in case I had left out one or had bad form from the exhaustion. And I placed 30th in my Age Group Heat. It was a very proud moment for me. Before you even ask, YES! I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Wow, that’s quite an experience! Thank you for sharing it with us. You have a fairly strong following on Instagram. How important do you find social media to be for your career?

Renee Pickett

Social media is such an incredible tool. I find it VERY important to remain relevant in the industry. But more than that, it is SO amazing to be able to connect, learn, teach, and positively impact people from all over the world with the click of a button! There are days it feels like a job, and then, there are days you get a message of how you have helped someone in their life, and it all feels worthwhile.

Any advice for up-and-coming fitness professionals?

My advice would first be to be AUTHENTIC! Nothing wrong with being inspired by someone else, but remember that YOU ARE THE SECRET SAUCE. The world needs more people who are on fire for something, and GENUINELY passionate about something. Share that! Pursue that!

Second, BE HUMBLE. Always be willing to be the student and learn a better way.

Third, don’t sell out for brands and companies that you don’t believe in. Your audience TRUSTS YOU. Don’t take that lightly. Someone else is trusting your faith in a company/product/brand, so choose carefully in what you’re attaching your name to.

Renee Pickett

Lastly, I would say, BE PATIENT. You will be tempted to pay for followers and take shortcuts. Success lies not in the destination but the journey. Life experience is INVALUABLE. Be patient and build an organic audience in your space. It will be SO worth it in the end!

All of us at NASM/AFAA wish Renee continued success in fitness, teaching, influencing, competing, and inspiring thousands. Thank you so much for answering our questions, Renee!

You can follow Renee’s Instagram page at instagram.com/reneepickettfitpro.

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Do you know someone who might be worthy of a Q&A with CPT? Tell us about him/her by emailing Meiti.Prang@nasm.org. (Only requirement is that this person must be an NASM-CPT.)

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National Academy of Sports Medicine

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