GGS Spotlight: Karen Knowlton


Name: Karen Knowlton
Age: 34
Location: San Francisco, CA

What does being a Girl Gone Strong mean to you?
To me, this means that I am always pushing myself to become better, stronger. That growth is a guiding principle in my life. For me, part of that is also learning to strike the balance between striving and being content. There will be times when I’m not able to push forward, when what I need most is to just relax and regroup. Knowing that overall, I am moving forward, I am better able to enjoy those periods of retreat.

How long have you been strength training, and how did you get started?
I took my first Pilates class 10 years ago and that got me hooked. I always loved sports, but I never liked going to the gym. The first time I went to a Reformer class with a friend, I realized that exercising could be really fun. I left the class feeling amazing, and I haven’t looked back since.

What does your typical workout look like?
I don’t really have a typical workout right now. I’m having some issues with a number of injuries, so in the last year I’ve really scaled back. I ride my bike out to the Golden Gate bridge a few mornings a week, and do at least one yoga class per week. I also take myself through some rehab-type Pilates exercises on my own, whenever I have spare time at the studio.

Where is your favorite place to work out?
If possible, I love to exercise outside. Being outside always makes me feel so much better, especially if I am in a funk, and adding some exercise to the mix is even better. I spent a big chunk of 2014 travelling, and I loved going for runs and doing TRX on the beach, practicing yoga by the ocean, and taking advantage of the different outdoor gym facilities I found in different cities.

Most challenging exercise you’ve mastered:
There’s an exercise called the Walkover that can be done on the Cadillac (Trapeze Table) that had always intimidated me. It’s scary to be hanging upside down, and I’ve had shoulder issues, so the range of motion involved worried me. Last August I was teaching an Advanced course with this exercise in it, so I had no choice but to learn how to do it. A colleague and good friend of mine took it upon herself to help me master it, and I felt so proud of myself when I finally nailed it.

What must you always have at the gym or in your gym bag:
Schmidt’s Natural Deodorant in the Bergamot & Lime scent. It’s completely natural and aluminum-free, and it actually works! It took me forever to find it, and now I am obsessed.

Do you prefer to exercise alone or with others? Why?
I love to be part of a group class setting. It is so motivating to know you’re pushing yourself with an entire room full of people, to feel that you’re all in it together. This definitely gives me added motivation and pushes me to try harder than I would otherwise.

Most embarrassing gym moment:
I was teaching a class one time and I was so into what they were doing, so focused on watching them and correcting them, that I didn’t really process where I was in the room. I was watching them really intently as I went to sit down on this bench we have against the wall, and I totally missed the bench and crashed to the floor. The whole group kept trying to get up and make sure I was okay, and I just wanted them to ignore me, so I just got them right back into their workout.

When is it hardest for you to push yourself out the door to go do a workout?
When I am stressed and feel that I don’t have enough time, I always try to talk myself out of a workout. Every single time. What I’ve learned is that it is exactly when I feel the most stressed and busy that I need to force myself to go. I always come back from a workout feeling calmer, happier, more capable of handling whatever it is that I am worrying about in my life. It’s still a struggle every time, but I am getting better with it.

Most memorable compliment you’ve received lately:
Someone said to me recently that I “have a lot of self-confidence”. It struck me that someone I’d just met would see this in me. I felt flattered but also a bit mixed, because humility is a quality I think is really important, and I would never want to come across as over-confident. I decided to just take it for what it was, and it made me happy to know that this is something about me that comes across immediately.

Most recent compliment you gave someone else:
I recently gave my best friend a list I’d written of qualities I admire about her. I had been journaling about people I admire, and had written about her. I cited her strength of character, her courage to live life her own way, that she is an amazingly positive role model as a mother, and also that she is deeply kind. I realized that it would be so nice for her to know that I see and appreciate all these things, so I shared it with her and made her cry.

Favorite meal: 
Chicken pesto pasta. It’s probably the first meal my husband ever made for me, back in the early days. Creamy pesto sauce with sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, chicken and lots of parmesan cheese. So good. I don’t feel great if I eat pasta too regularly, but this is a go-to when I’m craving something tasty and cozy, a good winter meal.

Favorite way to treat yourself:
I love to spend time at home alone. Being alone really calms and centers me. When I have these days, I love to do a coffee body scrub, take a nice long shower, and then use this amazing nut oil all over my body. It makes my skin feel incredible, and there is something so relaxing about just taking my time and doing something to care for myself.

Favorite quote:
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage — Anais Nin

Favorite book:
That is such a tough question because I love to read and have read so many great books over the years! The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver really stood out to me when I read it. I’m really into fiction because I love stories, but I am always most impressed when an author manages to teach you so much, and to convey so many lessons in a novel that is also deeply enjoyable to read.

What inspires and motivates you?
I am motivated by the idea of my future self, that I need to take care of her and do everything I can to make sure she has the freedom to live how she wants to live and do what she wants to do. Freedom is really important to me, not being held back by things. To me this means having a healthy body so I can go on amazing adventures, keep surfing, and one day be a fun mom who can run around and play with her kids.

What do you do? 
I am a Pilates Instructor at Blue Sparrow Pilates and a MERRITHEW Instructor Trainer for STOTT PILATES. I am also in training to become a Wellness Coach.

What else do you do?
I love to write, so I’ve been doing more of that lately and sharing it through Medium. There is something so powerful about the written word, and I love to be able to connect with other people that way. I love to surf, and since moving to California that’s something I get to do in my regular life and it makes me so happy. It is the best feeling in the world. I have a whole girl surf crew now, which has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. I also love yoga and how relaxed I feel in my mind and my body after a good class. I’m taking guitar and Spanish lessons right now, which are both super fun, and challenge my brain in new ways.

Your next fitness goal:
I have a lot of joint pain and injuries right now, so 2017 has been all about trying to get to the bottom of this and fix it. My next fitness goal is simply to be able to get back to doing regular Pilates and strength training workouts without being in pain. It’s been really hard to lose this piece of myself, to lose something that simultaneously calms me down and makes me feel strong, and I am very excited about getting back to it.

For what are you most grateful?
I am most grateful for the reality of my daily life, that I live in a place that I absolutely love, and that I have a partner who builds me up in so many ways. These things give me so much strength to go out into the world and be my best self.

What is a recent accomplishment you feel proud of?
I wrote a blog post a few months ago about a topic that is very close to my heart. The post went viral and was seen by more than half a million people, and ultimately resulted in Billabong changing their website and making a public statement. Although I found their statement disappointing, I felt so proud that I’d had the courage to speak my mind on this topic, and grateful that I had been heard so widely. Most importantly though, it helped me connect with so many other people, specifically other women. This is a huge passion of mine, connecting with other women so we can empower each other and work together to improve the world.

Which three words best describe you?
Kind. Idealistic. Determined.

What’s a risk you’ve taken recently, and how did it turn out?
Just over a year ago my husband and I moved from Toronto to San Francisco. We sold or gave away almost all our stuff, packed up a trailer, and drove across the continent. It was so scary to leave behind everything we knew, but we both felt that it was the right move. Now, over a year in, I couldn’t be happier with the choice we made. I love our apartment, I love my friends here, and I love all of the new directions opening up to me as a result of getting such a fresh start in my life.

What’s the coolest “side effect” you’ve experienced from strength training?
Strength training, Pilates specifically, really brought my awareness back into my body. I spent a lot of years only really seeing my body from the outside, being aware of how my body might look to others, and whether or not it was “good enough”. Developing body awareness through Pilates and later yoga and surfing really shifted that for me. Now I am much more in tune with how I feel, and that really guides my choices in terms of food and exercise. Now I do the things I “should do”, not out of a sense of guilt or self-loathing, but because I know they make me feel good in my skin, and that is what is most important to me.

What do you want to say to other women who might be nervous or hesitant about starting an exercise program?
Start where you are. So many women I’ve talked to seem to think they’re not fit enough to even step into a gym or a Pilates studio, like other people are going to judge them. My heart goes out to them. That is a terrible thing to feel, and I wish it wasn’t that way. But you’ve got to start somewhere. So often we put off the very things we need to do the most, simply because we are afraid. So I would say just start, that’s the hardest part, that very first time doing something new. Then all you need to do is keep up the momentum, and before you know it, it’s part of your life and you couldn’t imagine it any other way.

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About the author:  GGS

GGS is an organization dedicated to empowering women. We do this by creating world-leading resources, and educational materials that help women, and health & fitness professionals who work with women, take their skills and knowledge to the next level.

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