Get Healthy/ Fitspiration
Kristin Booker • November 20, 2014

Fitspiration: Bergen Wheeler of Exhale

As you may have gleaned from reading this site, I work out. A lot. My journey to weight loss started with a single step into a Core Fusion Barre at exhale class in 2010 where I could barely lift my body off the ground and has evolved to the point where I have a schedule of up to eight classes of some fitness activity a week. But I come back to Core Fusion every time because nothing challenges me quite like that class. I don’t think I’ll ever master it, which is why I keep coming back. It never gets easier, and I’m never bored.

If you ask anyone who takes group fitness what keeps them coming back, along with a serious addiction to the high of endorphins and a love of exertion comes one single answer: the instructor. Everyone has his or her favorites, and I have mine. But when it comes to exhale classes, there’s one name on the lips of everyone who wants to walk out of the class feeling like they just won the lottery, and that is our eternal girl fitness crush, Bergen Wheeler.

Bergen has a cult following at exhale. An instructor that teaches 20 classes a week who also developed their newest offering, Core Fusion Extreme (their answer to the High Intensity Interval Training craze) and is flying around the country rolling the class out in different markets. Bergen is the one who has gotten the most results out of me. I have flat out cried in her class before, arms shaking, muscles failing and she will get in my face and say, “C’MON BOOKER!” and suddenly where I had nothing I have ten more reps. I’m waiting for a doctor’s okay to return to my beloved Core Fusion Cardio with my beloved instructor so for now I take her regular Core Fusion classes. My mat is a river of sweat when Bergen’s done with me. I leave it all there, and we both like it that way.

As someone who sees about ten instructors a week, I wanted to share the wisdom of the most inspiring with you with a new series called Fitspiration. Before you blow off your workouts for Thanksgiving or shame yourself after eating them, why not check out some wisdom from my interview with Bergen?

How she got to exhale….

“I was dancing in New York and working on a Masters at Tisch for Dance Performance before I came to exhale. The classical/modern dance world is really intense, and it’s really competitive to find a job right after school, so I knew I was going to have to figure that out. In 2007/2008, I had heard about exhale from a friend and wrote Fred and Lis (the founders of Core Fusion) an email that basically said “I’m a great teacher, and you need to have me on staff.” It was a very ballsy email, but there’s a bit of desperation in dance that gives you a lot of confidence, so I just blindly went into it. I had never even seen the method, but my mom’s a dance studio owner and a teacher, so I knew teaching would come naturally to me. So, I did one class with Fred and sort of “overdid” it to impressive him; I used such heavy weights, I could barely move the next day. After that, they invited me to train and put me on the schedule while I continued to dance. It just happened that as I got more into teaching classes, I got less interested and involved in dance; I sort of naturally migrated to exclusively teaching at exhale. I knew this was a place where I could come and involve dance as part of the classes, where I could reach people emotionally and physically, and it just kept on going in that direction until this became my primary focus.”

What drives Bergen to drive her class participants….

“The people in the room are my primary motivation. You guys are what drive me with the motivation, the passion you show. I feed off the energy in the room, and if you make eye contact and are ready to go, we’ll go 1000% percent. Reciprocity is good: if I receive, it’s so much easier to give back.”

By the way, don’t compare yourself to other people in the room…

“I think everyone, including the people you think are perfect, have those concerns and issues. If you’re striving for something you see, it’s not going to be as inspiring or fulfilling as becoming the best version of yourself. I think people have to change their thinking around that need to be competitive or feel less than other people in the workout room. It’s got to be a positive thing for you, and you’ve got to realize there is no perfection. Everyone is beautiful, and you have to try find a way to flip the switch internally.”

Photo courtesy of Bergen Wheeler. Shot at exhale Chicago.

Photo courtesy of Bergen Wheeler playing with the TRX bands from Core Fusion Extreme. Shot at exhale Chicago.

By the way, if you’re scared of Core Fusion…

“You should be afraid. (Laughs.) It’s intense and it’s going to be really challenging. You just have to learn how to pace yourself physically. You have to learn your body and what speed you need to go in order to achieve what you need from the class that day. Some days, you’ll think you want to kick some ass, other days you’re barely hanging on and you just want to make it through the class. You have to make that decision for yourself and I’ll be there to support you. But you have to come in the room and at least try to make the effort.”

OK, so let’s say you’re new to any of the Core Fusion classes, or even fitness in general….

“Realize that first step is the hardest. Surrender to the fact that you’re there, that it’s not about anyone else or how they’re doing. It’s about you, me, and what we’re going to do to change your body in that time we have together in the room. My job is to help you feel amazing and get to your next level or to get whatever you need during that hour. I notice when people are struggling and I try to pay special attention to them because I know that they’re in a hard place at that time. I want to make sure they feel as confident and comfortable as the other people in the room. I’ll often tend to spend more time with them, especially if it’s their first time in the room; you can totally read it on their faces. I want to make sure they feel at ease and at home in the room and that I’ve got their back.”

Bergen wishes we’d all stop….

“(I wish we’d stop) Cutting ourselves down. Women’s brains are incredibly tense, and the negative thoughts about body image and comparison to others are incredible. If there were some vaccine to alleviate those thoughts of “I’m so stupid” or “I’m not pretty or smart enough,” I really wish they’d come out with it so we could administer it. The constantly cutting yourself down? I wish we could all stop that.”

Bergen wishes we could all start…

“First of all, I think every woman needs to drink more water. That’s incredibly important. But the other important thing women should do every single day is find a moment where they open their hearts to love and appreciate themselves before anybody else does. Look at yourself and find things that you appreciate. Especially in the exercise world, we have to let that physical comparison and constant editing of your body go and appreciate what we’ve got. The fact that we have bodies that allow us to do these things every day is a big deal; we need to recognize it.”

A fun moment with Bergen. Photo: Kristin Booker.

A fun moment with Bergen. Photo: Kristin Booker.

The moments in class she lives for….

“The biggest moment for me is to help people come through the journey with a serious illness, like cancer. Some of them pull me aside and say they’ve got something wrong, and I’ll work them through the stages of chemo: the weakness, the decline of physical strength, and then to see them come back to class completely healthy and ready to go is always a big moment. They may not have hair, they may not have the physical strength, but they’re present and they have the internal strength to get back into the game. The people who come back from facing death are at the bar after a fight for their lives, and standing behind these women who I have the honor of giving just that extra little push to reconnect with themselves is magical. That’s what I mean: I’ve “got their back” and they’re amazing. Those are real-deal survivors, the ones who have those moments where they’re lucky to be here. They have a whole different perspective than people who just want to lose two inches. They’re here for life. They inspire me, they push me. They’re the breakthroughs.”

What does a high-energy instructor like Bergen do to relax and unwind?

“I don’t. I teach 20 classes a week, so a treat to me is to maybe sleep in late. A really good dinner and a glass of wine, perhaps. And it has to be QUIET. I find that I’m “on” so much of the time that anything that gives me the chance to be “off” is relaxing for me. It’s so great to be this busy and have all this success, so I’m not really looking for a huge break from it, but those moments of silence are really right.”

What makes her happy….

“A lot of things: friends, family, moments of complete natural laughter in and out of class. Great food. Cheeseburgers make me happy.”

Bergen’s favorite body-changing move…

 Exploding lunges in CFX. Look it up.


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