Philly Fit Pro Jayel Lewis Just Launched a New Business. Here’s How She Got Started.
“The Fitness Curriculum” teaches trainers how to build and grow their fitness businesses.
Welcome to How I Got Here, Be Well Philly’s look inside the entrepreneurial journey of fitness and wellness business owners in the Philadelphia area. In their own words, they share their stories — including the triumphs and obstacles — of starting and running a business.
Movement has always been my medicine, my mentor, and my favorite form of therapy. It’s my love language, so to speak. I grew up an inquisitive child, one whose days were based around movement, as my mom was an aerobics instructor and my dad was the regional director for the YMCA. I practiced ballet for the majority of my childhood, ran track and field, and played both field hockey and lacrosse.
In 2007, I graduated with a degree in exercise science and nutrition, knowing full well that I couldn’t name a single person who had a successful career in health and wellness aside from P.E. teachers or athletic trainers who worked with sports teams. My college advisors didn’t seem to be of much help, as they too couldn’t paint a picture of success within the industry. I wasn’t convinced that my degree would turn out to mean anything or that I’d be able to live the life I’ve always wanted within fitness.
After college, I worked in sales at a gutter protection company where I was able to tap into how much I enjoyed connecting with people from all walks of life. At the time, I also manned the front desk at a small training studio, where I’d watch personal trainers work with their clients. I’d listen in as their clients would rave about the goals they accomplished and how they couldn’t believe they were actually able to do it, and would consistently witness the trainers being overjoyed by their progress. It was then that I knew I wanted to be a part of the fitness industry, that I wanted to help people get from point A to point B and share in their successes.
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After I figured out what I wanted to do, I had to figure out a way to do it. There was no real blueprint, no real strategy, and no one teaching the fundamentals of running a successful fitness business — or so I thought. In 2008, I took a road trip to Boston with my girlfriends. As we frolicked through Boston, we met a group of gentlemen who were in the United States Air Force and were in town for work. We joined forces and created a larger group that took the night by storm. Little did I know, I’d meet my future husband that night.
After a year of dating long-distance, I decided to make the move from Pennsylvania to Maryland to start the next chapter of my life. Having a difficult time figuring out how to start my life over in a new state, I also wondered how fitness would fit in. Though still not a personal trainer, I applied for a position at a local big box gym and was hired. Prior to my first day, we had a phone call and they spoke about hitting specific metrics, uniforms, and other expectations. It was on that call that I quit. The position wasn’t for me. They mentioned nothing about the people, nor how we could make an impact on their lives. I ended up working in a private gym for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I loved the people and the programming, and I finally began to feel like I was on my way to figuring it all out.
A couple of years passed, I was newly engaged, and it was time for my fiancé to get orders (which, in the military, means the announcement of your next assignment and duty station). He called me at work and told me we would be heading to Germany in just a few short months. When we moved as a married couple, he started work almost immediately and I was left figuring out what was next for me, where I fit into the mix, and once again, how fitness would play a role in my future. Life was fast-paced, yet also slow. I felt like I had been taken out of my previous life as I knew it in America and placed into a Disney film, yet none of the characters seemed familiar. I was constantly struggling with my identity and being a new military wife. I became resentful of the fact that my husband could just dive right back into work and had automatic built-in friendships with his new co-workers.
There were no jobs in Germany that aligned with my skill set, so I decided to go back to school for my Master’s degree. With each new course, I found myself questioning if that route was something I’d really want to go down or if it was just something I felt I needed to do. I didn’t put school on pause, but decided to simultaneously pursue my personal training certification. I studied my butt off and I passed! With my new achievement, I found myself going to the gym on a more consistent basis. I was starting to make “gym friends” (aka friends at the gym who you wave to or give a head nod to, but you don’t know their names). I would go through workouts while breaking down every single muscle group, insertion point, and exercise that could be done.
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I’ll never forget coming home from the gym one day and finding my husband with an odd look on his face sitting in our living room. He muttered that we needed to talk and asked me to sit down. I don’t remember all of the conversations as I’m quite certain I blacked out after he said, “I want a divorce.” I knew things were not great, but I didn’t know that things were this bad. It took me several days to process what was actually happening and come to the realization that the life that I signed up for — one that we vowed to share — was no longer a part of the plan. He moved out a few weeks later and I found myself living in our home in Germany trying to put the pieces together alone.
At that point in my life, I lacked confidence and didn’t believe that I could be successful on my own terms. One day, I received a phone call from someone named Maya Smith. I had never met Maya and still don’t know how she got my phone number, but she had heard I was a personal trainer and wanted to start working with me. I didn’t even have my own pricing or training agreements figured out, but we started sessions two days later. Within several months, I built up my client book, mostly of business owners, contractors, members of the United States Air Force, the Army, and the Marines. They taught me a lot about mental toughness and resilience. I loved every second of training and teaching them the foundations of success in order to achieve their goals. It wasn’t just about building someone up from the outside, it all started from the inside. While it was in part my responsibility to help people change the way they looked, it was more so my responsibility to change the way they felt.
After a little over a year, the time came where I had to make the difficult decision to move back to the States. By the time I left Germany in 2013, I had developed a brand and business known as JL Fitness, had a waiting list of clients, and finally felt like I was laying the groundwork for my career. Yet, I had to leave it all behind. I hopped on a plane with one of my best friends, said goodbye to my soon to be ex-husband, and moved back in with my parents. Once I settled back in, my first step was hiring a therapist — my mom encouraged me to talk to someone, to develop a support system, and to be open about my feelings. My second step was to figure out how to replicate a business that I had just built. I used Skype, spreadsheets, and Facebook to continue working with my clients the best way I could. I was in America and they were still in Germany, Dubai, and Iraq. It was not the most seamless process, but we made it work for quite a while. Essentially, this was my first experience with online training.
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Within a month of returning to the States, I was fortunate enough to have landed a news segment discussing fitness and goal setting. Then I was featured in Philadelphia magazine, and within a year, I had brand partnerships and paid sponsorships, had been featured in over 20 publications, and had grown my business enough to have yet another waiting list. While all of that sounds like a dream come true (it was and still is!), it didn’t come easily. Success came as a result of me deciding to leave something that no longer served me. It came in a very messy package of trying to understand my true value and my purpose in life. It came at the price of working very long hours and training non-stop. It came in the form of imposter syndrome and learning to rebuild from the ground up. It came down to me believing in myself enough to know that I had to keep going — that when I wanted to quit, I knew I could help someone, and through that, I was able to help myself.
I knew I was in a very good space and wanted to keep the momentum going, so I hired a business coach that would teach me the importance of knowing my worth and investing back into my business. I was still working full-time as a personal trainer, yet knew I needed to scale my business in order to continue to be successful. Another year had passed and I invested in my second business coach who would teach me the importance of brand identity and having an online presence. This is when the idea of creating my own course for fitness professionals came to me. Yet, as life would have it my career took a different route.
In 2018, I was recruited to join a pre-opening team as a senior executive to spearhead a 25,000-square-foot health and wellness department from the ground up for a private lifestyle club. I was responsible for purchasing the equipment, helping with the layout and design, implementing the fitness programs, recruiting, hiring, training the team, and building a well-rounded personal training, group exercise, and health and wellness offering. Having this opportunity is one of my biggest learning lessons and proudest experiences to date. Not only was I able to do something that has never been done in Philadelphia before, but I was also able to build an incredible team, and afforded the opportunity to coach other fitness professionals along the way.
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Since the onset of COVID-19, I’ve been reminded of my true calling: teaching. I knew that when studios were forced to close and began to stream their workouts online that a new business model for fitness professionals would soon follow — one with little to no roadmap and one that would have an increased rate of burnout, as in-person movement, not screens, is what previously set the tone for fit-pros most days. Having been a full-time personal trainer, I understand the importance of learning how to work smarter, not harder while learning how to monetize your brand, and scale your business so that you’re not working with clients all hours of the day and pouring from an empty cup.
That’s why I decided to build a resource myself so that others in the industry had more concrete guidance and support as they navigate this new way of training. I call it The Fitness Curriculum. It’s a 90-day group coaching course for fitness professionals who are looking to monetize their brand and develop a profitable online fitness business to create more impact and generate more income. It’s a comprehensive road map with access to a private portal for self-study, live weekly group coaching calls, and a community of like-minded individuals created from a culmination of my decade within the fitness industry, my own successes, failures, lessons learned from my business coaches throughout the years, and everything I’ve spent way too many hours Googling.
Just as individuals hire personal trainers and fitness professionals for their coaching, expertise, and accountability, The Fitness Curriculum will have a team of expert coaches who do the exact same thing, plus provide help with and insight into finance, branding, and mindset — all things anyone wanting to build an online fitness business can benefit from. It all began on July 20th, and students are still applying and enrolling.
From my journey, I’ve learned that we adjust as we grow, clearing the way for our calling, passion, and purpose. Though a title may change, locations may change, and significant others may change, when you know your life’s purpose, you will always find a way to pivot and proceed accordingly.