The 30-year-old was in Dubai for a flying visit over the weekend, to teach two of those Pop Pilates classes to several hundred people at Kite Beach, as part of the Dubai Fitness Challenge’s 30x30 sessions
Pop Pilates expert Cassey Ho: ‘I’m so grateful every day for these opportunities’
Cassey Ho had no intention of becoming a social-media fitness star.
It all started after college. Ho had been teaching Pop Pilates (Pilates done to pop music) at 24 Hour Fitness in Los Angeles, and when the time came to leave LA for a job as a fashion buyer in Boston, she felt like she was abandoning her loyal students.
She told them she would put a 10-minute full-body sculpting video up on YouTube that they could work out to whenever they missed her. But the next time she checked, it had thousands of views and hundreds of comments – including demands for similar content. “I really did not mean for this to be anything bigger. It was only as a communication tool for me and my 40 students. Now there’s nearly four million subscribers,” Ho says.
The 30-year-old was in Dubai for a flying visit over the weekend, to teach two of those Pop Pilates classes to several hundred people at Kite Beach, as part of the Dubai Fitness Challenge’s 30x30 sessions. After the first sunset class, the jet-lagged but tireless Ho tells me: “I never planned any of this and I’m just so grateful every day for these opportunities, because I know that it probably won’t last. So I just keep doing what I do.”
A fierce advocate for a healthy body image, she took the American corporation Target to task on her blog in 2014, for aggressively Photoshopping a model’s thigh gap – forcing them to apologise. The next year, tired of the way people commented online about her shape – including criticisms that she wasn’t muscled or tiny enough to be a fitness star – she created a video called The Perfect Body, which uses special effects to implement the cruelest taunts. The video went viral, landing her a variety of national television appearances in the United States. “I’m just so happy that feeling attacked was for a reason,” she says. “And I think there always is something good out of something bad.”
Spending more time on her 17-hour flight back and forth from LA than in the emirate over the weekend, Ho still managed to fit in a 4.30am desert safari. And although it was midnight by the time she had landed on Friday, she hopped on a live Instagram chat, where fans asked countless questions, including whether it is better to exercise with weights or without. She recommends both, although one of the reasons her workouts are so popular is that most are short – about 10 to 12 minutes, designed to be stacked together as dictated by her monthly fitness calendars – and use only body weight and movement. “I think the more variety in fitness classes you have, it’s going to be better for your body,” she says.
During Friday’s session, the crowd laughs with recognition when Ho tells them her live workout will be harder because: “You can’t pause me in real life”. The tough session includes signature moves such as Candlestick Dippers and the Earthquake – “the reason I call this the Earthquake is because you start involuntarily shaking” – as well as lots of abdominal work and a good stretch.
Anastasia Kamenska, a 28-year-old from Ukraine, follows Ho’s abs and thigh workouts online. “I get a really good pain in my muscles for a few days after,” she says, still out of breath after the 30-minute class. “I can’t understand how she can talk and work out at the same time.”
Nikki Lagrosas, a 40-year-old from the Philippines, who follows Ho’s online workouts twice a week, says the star’s allure is in her enthusiasm. “The way she talks, it’s very motivating, so that you have to do it, it pushes you so much,” she says. “I like that.”
Ho wasn’t always so upbeat, however. On a recent episode of Sheroic, the podcast she hosts with her friend Lisa Bilyeu, the fitness entrepreneur spoke about the soul-crushing times when she clashed with her parents over her career path and then fell out with them – for years. “Now they are proud,” she explains, “but it took a lot.”
They wanted her to be a doctor, but despite excelling in sciences and earning a biology degree, Ho knew it wasn’t the path for her. “The problem was that I didn’t know how to make my parents and myself happy, and so I thought: ‘What’s the point of living anymore if no one can be happy?’” she explains. “The thoughts ran through my mind, but I was never at a point where I was going to do anything.”
As an obedient child who never questioned her parents, she finally realised they might not know best, after all. “The moment I felt, wait, if they are right and I’m not feeling happy, there must be something wrong here – when I realised that, that’s when I followed my passion,” she says.
Ho quit her job within a year, and headed back to LA, where her empire began to grow. It includes Blogilates.com, YouTube videos, books, DVDs, calendars, apps and a series of recipes and videos called Cheap Clean Eats. Last year, she launched PopFlex, her first activewear collection, and is working on a follow-up that will include lifestyle pieces. There is also a new app on the way early next year, based on her intensive Pilates programme, HIIT 28.
And there is also a wedding to plan. In August, the fitness star surprised fans by announcing her engagement to Sam Livits, posting a down-on-one-knee photo of his proposal in Kauai, Hawaii, on Instagram. The pair have been together since college, when Ho decided she needed a finance tutor, and Livits was the one she chose. Although family and friends have always known about the relationship, her students and fans did not.
Since the news broke, Livits, who is also Ho’s business partner and travelled with her to Dubai, has been getting stopped by her fans who want selfies with him. After protecting the relationship for so long – “I didn’t want to broadcast all of my life,” she says – it’s a relief to have it out in the open. “It actually feels really good, because now I can say ‘we’,” she says.