Seattle Culture

Tips From Seattle’s Top Trainers

Seattle’s top exercise instructors share their wisdom

By Sheila Cain February 16, 2017


This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Seattle magazine.

Brain Games
Orange Theory fitness pro preaches a mantra of mind over body 

It should come as little surprise that Darsenio Hunter puts a strong emphasis on mindfulness during his group workouts. He was a psychology major, after all. “The body does what the brain tells it to do,” says the Central Washington University graduate, who works as a group exercise instructor at the interval training gym Orange Theory Fitness ( on Lower Queen Anne. 

Hunter, 29, is known for delivering motivational speeches while his students are sprinting on the treadmill or holding the plank position. He encourages them to push beyond the mental constraints that can hold them back. “Before they even showed up here, they had to make that decision to sign in, set their alarm, get up and come down,” says Hunter, who lives in South Lake Union. “I’m proud of them—I let them know that—and I tell them to be proud of themselves as well.”

The vibe isn’t always so cerebral. Hunter often lightens the mood by breaking into dance during class (he was talked into joining the dance team during his senior year at Pasco High School) and injecting banter and jokes into the workouts.

When not breaking it down in the gym, Hunter serves as a Lululemon ambassador, promoting the athletic wear brand through in-store events and free classes. And last October, he participated in the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) “Real Men Wear Pink” campaign, raising nearly $4,000 by completing 500 push-ups in 30 minutes. That isn’t surprising for someone who participated in nearly every sport offered in high school and went on to play college football.

The opportunity to help a worthy cause hit home for Hunter, whose grandmother passed away from breast cancer when he was younger. “I never got the chance to grow up with her and see what her scars could have taught me,” says Hunter. “So it was a pleasure to help ACS. If I can help one person, then maybe they can help one person, and we keep the cycle of good going.”

Image by Haley Young
Ginger Saunders’ yoga classes veer from the traditional, just the way her students like

Some Like It Hot
Ginger Saunders turns up the heat at Queen Anne’s Hauteyoga

This isn’t your grandma’s yoga class. It might not be yours, either. “Half the people who take my class give me a 10, half give me a zero,” says Ginger Saunders, referring to the survey sent to new students of her class at Hauteyoga ( on upper Queen Anne. “I’m not for everyone.”

But if you like Queen Bey booming through the speakers while getting your downward dog on with a combination of traditional yoga moves and some of Saunders’ own, Saunders’ yoga might be just what you’re looking for. And if her almost 16,000 followers on Instagram (@justmeginger) are any indicator, a lot of people are. “When I started teaching basic yoga, I was over-cueing everyone’s alignment, as if I knew their bodies better than they did,” says Saunders, 39. “I wanted to do something more fun and dancey, where everyone in the room is free to be themselves.” Her 90- to 100-degree hot yoga classes (she teaches eight a week at Hauteyoga alone) veer from the typical vinyasa and hot hatha flow in a number of ways. Instead of meditative music or chants, Saunders leans toward R&B and hip-hop—Beyoncé’s Lemonade is a common request, along with tunes by Drake, Chance the Rapper and FKA Twigs. She also modifies the typical practice’s regimented moves, encouraging students to listen to their bodies and take her cues as suggestions. “I get the people who don’t like traditional yoga,” says Saunders.

When she’s not sweating it out at the studio, Saunders volunteers for the Make Yourself a Blessing fundraiser that benefits the Looking Out Foundation. Cofounded by local recording artist Brandi Carlile, the foundation donates money raised through concerts to various humanitarian campaigns. 

“It’s a great way to have more time with the community,” she says.


Body Positive
Personal trainer Kaisa Keranen brings fitness to the masses

Repeat after Kaisa: “I am more than my body.” If you can say this—and believe it—you’re exactly where personal trainer and social media maven Kaisa Keranen ( has spent her whole life striving to be. “My entire life, I have been seen for my body, whether it was a positive or negative thing,” says Keranen, 30, who grew up playing sports and excelled in track and field at the University of Washington. “I want to help women view their bodies for the powerful things they do for them, instead of [working out] just to look a certain way.”

Image by Haley Young
Kaisa Keranen, pictured on a pedestrian bridge over Elliott Avenue W, posts workouts vidoes daily on social media

The Capitol Hill–based Keranen has in recent months shifted her efforts from one-on-one and group training to sharing her message via social media. Her daily workout videos (she prefers “movement” to “workout”) and body-positive messages are seen by half a million Facebook (KaisaFit) and Instagram (@kaisafit) followers, and even got the attention of Michelle Obama, who selected Keranen as one of the go-to trainers for her “Let’s Move” digital campaign. “It was definitely the highlight of my career thus far,” says Keranen.  

Keranen’s daily video posts focus on using body weight to be strong and heighten awareness of one’s physical potential. The 30-second clips—which are designed to inspire viewers to craft their own workouts—feature core- and balance-focused exercises such as lateral lunges, single leg pushups and squat jumps. “I think people are getting little sick and tired of the image of the ‘perfect’ body,” says Keranen. “I want to change people’s concern about having perfect arms or a six-pack to: ‘I am proud that I woke up and moved for 30 minutes.’”

Fit Fighter
JabX Kickboxing studio owner says it’s in the bag 

When Sheila Kim opened her kickboxing studio, she wanted the Bellevue gym to be a place for people to gather, socialize and—above all—have fun. It seems her students have fully embraced her philosophy. “At the end of class, we kind of have to kick them out because they are all chitchatting,” says Kim. 

Image by Hayley Young
Students call kickboxing instructor Sheila Kim a “drill sergeant,” but they also use her gym as a social gathering spot

Kim opened JabX Kickboxing Fitness ( last year in a 4,000-square-foot former CrossFit studio north of Bellevue’s downtown core, after three years as a manager and program director at a Kirkland gym. JabX instructors offer as many as six classes daily, Monday through Saturday, during which 25 students at a time can sweat to hip-hop and dance tunes while punching, kicking and uppercutting the gym’s hanging and weighted bags.

Kim, who practiced tae kwon do as a child and taught kickboxing for three years at Kirkland gym, is known for cracking jokes and making her students smile, but once class starts, it’s all business for the next 60 minutes. “Once I step on the mat, I’m a completely different person,” says Kim, 34, whose students refer to her as the “drill sergeant.” “But as long as you’re doing your best, I’ll take it.”

Kim’s popularity in the studio has caught the attention of the Movemeant Foundation, a national body-positive nonprofit that encourages women and girls to embrace physical movement as a means toward feeling powerful and confident. As the Washington state Movemeant Foundation Ambassador, she has led several kickboxing classes for women at her studio, aimed at spreading a body-positive message. She’s also partnered with Ivivva—a girls’ athletic wear line associated with Lululemon—to offer classes in self-defense and kickboxing for girls ages 10–15.

Fly Guy
Mat Koelsch turns up the torque on indoor cycling 

Flywheel instructor Mat Koelsch likes his music loud, his energy level high and his connections to his students tight. Those are the likely reasons why each of his 12 indoor cycling classes per week at Flywheel’s studios in South Lake Union and Bellevue are consistently booked to capacity.

Koelsch, 26, is inspired by the SoundCloud tunes he listens to during the day while working full time as a vendor manager for Amazon. He adds those songs he feels will be most motivating to his library of 4,000, and spends what little free time he has creating a different playlist for every class. “I never repeat them,” Koelsch says. While his schedule often has him out of bed by 4:30 a.m., his busy lifestyle keeps him motivated. “Teaching, coaching, inspiring is what I was meant to be doing,” he says. “It’s my number-one passion.”

Image by Haley Young
Want to take one of Mat Koelsch’s classes? You’ll have to get on a waiting list for the instructor

Koelsch started taking fitness seriously when a friend challenged him to run the Columbus (Ohio) Half Marathon. (He finished in 1:22, beating his friend handily by 20 minutes.) He later took a job as a personal trainer at a gym in Columbus, but got into trouble with his supervisor for spending too much time visiting with his clients. After accepting a job with Amazon, Koelsch moved to Seattle and found his place at Flywheel, where that personal connection is encouraged and his students are willing to add their names to a waiting list for a chance to sit on a bike in his classes. 

“I learned early on that everyone has a ‘why,’” says Koelsch, who remembers the personal fitness goals of his students and checks in with them regularly. He even trains a group of three students for free once a week, with only one caveat: If they don’t show up, they owe the others $1 each. “I want to make that connection with people and bring out the best in them.”

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