How to Create a Powerful, Purposeful Life, According to La’s Most Inspiring Fitness Instructor

Photo: SoulCycle/Sarah Kehoe
There aren’t many experiences that can compare to competing in the Olympic trials—and making it to the finals—but for Angela Davis, her SoulCycle audition ranks right up there.

“There’s something that happens when you’re in your flow—it’s an out-of-body experience and you’re like, ‘What just happened?’,” recalls the former World Champion team runner, Olympic trial semi-finalist, and 5-time All-American. “For me, my SoulCycle audition was that... It was pretty powerful.”

Oh, and did I mention that at the time, she’d never even done a single tap-back or a Soul class before? That didn’t matter—the brand’s founders knew a star when they saw it. They quickly wooed Davis from her gig teaching yoga and Spinning, making her one of the launch instructors for SoulCycle’s debut on the Los Angeles scene in 2012.

Fast-forward four years and not only has that teaching team made SoulCycle quite possibly the biggest fitness juggernaut SoCal’s ever seen, but Davis herself continues to be one of its most in-demand instructors. (Her classes are routinely sold out.)

You can't help but feel her words come from her own deeply held beliefs, not a fitness instructor manual.

It's warranted: Davis' deeply rooted spirituality and background as a motivational speaker and elite athlete all come together to create an experience that’s mentally, physically, and emotionally empowering—when you leave, you feel like you want to simultaneously collapse into an ice bath and conquer the world.

“Angela sees you…. she speaks to your soul,” says Chill by Will activewear co-founder Christina Powter, a regular at Davis’ classes. (The instructor's other fans include Lea Michele, Kerry Washington, and Oprah, just to name a few.) “I don’t go to Angela to get a workout; I go to hear a message. The workout is a bonus,” says Powter.

Indeed, Davis is full of inspiring messages—often repeated over and over again, preacher-style, with her voice lifting over the beats and the base and the whir of the bikes. You can't help but feel her words come from her own deeply held beliefs, not a fitness instructor manual. Meanwhile, she paces the floor, and, revealing her athletic expertise, steers the choreography in ways that feel incredibly challenging. It's no wonder time in her class is often touted as a kind of religious experience.

So what's Davis trying to impart to students? As she puts it: "Focus, discipline, integrity, faith." Sounds like a gold medal-winning combination.

Keep reading for 6 of SoulCycle instructor Angela Davis' keys to living boldly and attracting success, both on and off the bike.

Photo: Instagram/@shapewithangela
Photo: Instagram/@shapewithangela

1. The way you do one thing is the way you do all things

One of Davis' biggest inspirations is her father (pictured above), a respected Major League Baseball manager who took time out to help coach her for the Olympic trials. "What was most important to him was not only the success of the athlete but the success of the man," she says. "The man was just as great as the athlete, the husband was just as great as the athlete, the father was just as great as the athlete."

This idea that work and fitness and life are all connected is a major theme of her SoulCycle classes. "Me coaching you is not about [the] physical," she says. "It’s about you outside of this room, it’s about you off of the bike. The way you do one thing is the way you do all things. If I can train you a certain way in this room and inspire you to push harder and stretch wider, these are the same things that are going to bleed out into your life—into the way you mother, into the way you father, into the way you are in relationships, to the way you show up in your life."

Photo: Instagram/@shapewithangela
Photo: Instagram/@shapewithangela

2. Hope deferred makes the heart grow sick

"Angela reminds me to focus on my goals," says stylist and Bikini Cleanse founder Nicole Pollard, a regular in Davis' classes since the beginning. "I have put dream after dream at the end of each ride, and channeling my energy towards my dreams has actually made many of them a reality."

The idea that you're never too old to dream big is a major message Davis wants to impress upon her students. "There’s a saying that goes 'Hope deferred makes the heart grow sick,'" she tells me. "Somewhere along the way in our adulthood, we lose hope—we think, well, this is it for me. We stop dreaming. But understand that downloaded in your DNA is the capacity to be all that you were called and created to be. And don't lose that desire, because that dream is part of your purpose."

Photo: Instagram/@shapewithangela
Photo: Instagram/@shapewithangela

3. If you can always be in a position to give, you always have

Davis is also a co-founder of Urban Fitness 911, a non-profit that educates inner-city kids on nutrition, exercise, and wellness. "We’re working with kids that never even had a chance," she says. "If you can always be in a position to give, you always have. I’m raising my children to always come from that posture."

Photo: Instagram/@shapewithangela
Photo: Instagram/@shapewithangela

4. Stand unashamed in your truth

Davis' advice for fitness instructors—or any leader—is finding their true voice: "Identify what you stand for and stand unashamed in your truth. Bring your stories and your experiences to the table in a way that isn’t ego-driven, but more like 'This is what I’ve gone through and I’d love to show you some things I’ve learned along the way.'"

She also stresses that it's important to always stay open to learning from others, especially when you're in a position of power."It’s not just you leading or teaching," she says. "If you can really create a give-and-take experience, you will always be in a space where you can grow. If you’re willing to remain a student, if you’re okay with not knowing everything, you will always be a good coach."

Photo: Instagram/@shapewithangela
Photo: Instagram/@shapewithangela

5. We’re all in this together

Ask any of Davis' students how her class is different from others, and they'll all say it's not just a workout—it's a tight-knit family. "Angela creates a community in her class that I have never experienced before," says Pollard. "These people who all gather for Angela have become my tribe. We support each other, we root for each other, and we love each other."

According to Davis, that's no coincidence. "I’ve said this before in class, but there’s an intimacy that happens in that room," she says. "My mom taught me a long time ago that intimacy means 'Into me you see.' If I can come into the room and we can lay out an even playing field where we realize we’re all in the trenches with each other, bonds are built that can’t be broken... and you build authentic relationships that are so beautiful and long-lasting."

Photo: Instagram/@shapewithangela
Photo: Instagram/@shapewithangela

6. Sell out to who you’re supposed to be

Above all, Davis wants her students to have the confidence to be who they really are—a concept that hits close to home.

"My proudest moment as a SoulCycle instructor was when I stopped trying to be what I thought they wanted me to be, and I sold out to who I was supposed to be as a coach and an instructor and a leader," says Davis. "When I stopped trying and I just was, it all came together for me. I had to believe that I was enough, I had to believe I was equipped, I had to believe I was capable." And thanks to her, countless  others now feel the same.

For more inspiration from badass babes, check out 6 of Emma Watson's finest feminist moments, Demi Lovato's guide to tapping your inner strength, and 8 things successful women do every day

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