Kelli and Daniel Segars could be anywhere in their Fitness Blender videos. During no-frills clips that have attracted more than 6.5 million YouTube subscribers, they stand and stretch and squat against a blank backdrop, as if they're exercising in the clouds. But the couple is actually just working out at their home north of Seattle. A cyc wall unfurled in their garage studio creates the effect. "It looks like you're just standing in infinity," says Daniel. "It's a weird feeling to film it."
As with any exercise, reps help. Over the past decade, the Segars have filmed hundreds of full-length, at-home exercise videos. In the process they've developed a certain comfort on camera and built a multimillion-dollar business in advance of a boon time for two-dimensional training: With in-person gym activity limited during the coronavirus pandemic, workout warriors have increasingly turned to Peloton instructors and other virtual fitness gurus to help sculpt their work-from-home physiques.
Fitness Blender's workouts are certainly suited for the remote realm. Many of them, such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) circuits, don't require any equipment, and some don't venture from a mat. That's a major draw when people are confined to their living rooms without weights and machines. Even with an established audience, Fitness Blender experienced a 36 percent bump in video views during 2020.
That audience was global. Only about 1 percent of viewers last year hailed from Washington, and Seattle ranks 15th among major metros for consuming Fitness Blender content. But in less socially distant times, local interest in their work was apparent. Daniel recalls restaurant-hopping in downtown Seattle a couple of years ago and being stopped by a number of fans. "There's definitely a good population in the Seattle area," he says.
Streaming celebrity was far from a given when the couple started the venture shortly after the financial crisis in 2008. At that time, full-length exercise videos were hard to find. Kelli was already creating health and fitness content for third-party providers, "so we thought, let's cut out the middleman," she recalls.
Still, it took the couple several years to get the project off the ground—"trial and error," Kelli says. "It seems like, retrospectively, we should have had more doubt than we did."
The couple filmed in front of a white background back then. When they moved to a new house, they re-created that ambience with the cyc wall and a more professional studio setup in their garage. They also preserved the early videos' simplicity; the soundtrack for the Segars' videos isn't hip-hop but the trainers' huffing and puffing. Effortful, not effortless. "Our goal is to make health and fitness attainable, affordable, and approachable," Fitness Blender's website notes.
A focus on bodyweight exercises (free equipment!) helps the company live up to those words, as does the varied difficulty of the couple's workouts. Some seek out the punishment. Fitness Blender's most popular HIIT videos last year—Daniel's "Brutal HIIT Ladder Workout" and Kelli's "Ultimate HIIT Workout for People Who Get Bored Easily"—are bound to leave you breathless. Typically, HIIT pushes people into their "red zone," or 80 to 90 percent of their maximum heart rates, with only brief recovery periods in between exercises like burpees and squats.
But Kelli stresses that beginners can always pull back during HIIT exercises based on their own exertion levels, and the barrier to entry is low. With minimal space and time needed, HIIT's the type of bang-for-your-buck workout that has helped Fitness Blender long since outgrow its garage space, even if it chooses to remain there. "You don't need fancy equipment," says Kelli, "and you can get a lot done in your own living room."