By Andrea Poteet
Since she first appeared on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” in 2004, Jillian Michaels has earned a reputation as a tough – and even intimidating – trainer.
But for Michaels, who stops May 9 at the Fox Theatre during her Maximize Your Life Tour, that attitude isn’t over the top. It’s necessary.
“It’s a job that involves a life-or-death intervention on a time frame,” Michaels, 39, says of the show and her resulting reputation. “In all other aspects of my business, it’s about providing information and inspiration.”
And if Micheals comes off as harsh, it’s because she can relate. As a middle school student growing up in Los Angeles, Michaels was nearly 180 pounds at 5-feet-2 and the target of constant bullying and harassment from classmates. She found solace and change in a martial arts class at 14 that helped her transform her body and her circumstances.
“I think many kids are bullied,” she says. “Not just kids that are LGBT. I would simply say to any kid struggling with bullying that it does get better. People pick on and belittle others because they themselves feel small. Stay strong, respect yourself, set boundaries and stand tall.”
Her love of martial arts inspired her career choice. At 17, Michaels was living on her own after her mother kicked her out of the house. While earning her black belt, she discovered her love of training others – and after a brief stint at a talent management company, she quit to become a full-time personal trainer. In 2002, she opened up Sky Sport and Spa with trainer Jackie Warner of the Bravo show “Work Out.”
“I’m a firm believer that when you do what you love and live your truth the universe conspires on your behalf,” she says. “Health and fitness was transcendent in my life. It’s my passion to share that info to empower others in every facet of their life.”
For most of her career, Michaels has been fiercely private about her personal life and sexuality. But after she and partner Heidi Rhoades adopted a daughter, Lukensia, and Rhoades gave birth to son Phoenix in May 2012, Michaels said visibility became more important.
“I do feel my personal life is irrelevant with regard to the information and message I share,” Michaels says. “With that said, I would never want anyone to misinterpret our desire for privacy as shame. It’s important to me my kids know I’m proud of them and our family.”
Since becoming a mother, Michaels said she has had to find innovative ways to fit in time for fitness, from squeezing in a workout DVD while the kids are with a sitter or incorporating biking and hiking into family time. Despite her intense approach, she said her message is more about health through manageable life changes, not extreme diets or workout plans.
“I don’t live in the gym or subsist on a diet of chicken and broccoli,” she says. “Extreme diets or fitness regimens are unnecessary. It’s about simple math and common sense.”
And for Michaels, it’s about getting to change people’s lives for the better, guiding those struggling with weight-related health issues into healthy, active lives.
“It’s a true honor to be a part of someone’s journey to health and happiness,” Michaels says, “to know that in some way – no matter how large or small – you’ve played a part. It brings meaning and purpose to my life.”
Michaels will take that journey a step further when she hits Detroit’s Fox Theatre, bringing the energy and intensity of her workout DVDs to the stage.
The idea, she said, came from her sporadic motivational speaking engagements and the desire to reach more people in an intimate setting.
“I fell so in love with it and the direct connection to the audience that I wanted an opportunity to do it in a concentrated, energetic interactive live show,” she says.
And for Michaels, who has risen from private trainer to household name in under a decade, her career goals don’t reach much further than where she is now. The opportunity to change lives is all she needs.
“I’m actually quite content changing lives one person at a time,” Michaels says. “I don’t need more than the gifts I’ve already been given. I just want the silly cliche of leaving the world in a better place than I found it.”
7:30 p.m. May 9
2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit