The interplay between creativity and fitness is unhealthfully underappreciated. Too often, they’re...
Separating bs from progress: An Interview with James Nemecek, the fitness agent
Meet The Fitness Agent
If you've spent any amount of time scrolling through your TikTok FYP and have trained the algorithm to show you fitness content, you've probably come across one of James' videos already.
James Nemecek, often referred to by his handle, The Fitness Agent, is a personal trainer and coach with 2.1 million followers on TikTok.
He's amassed such a huge following by creating science-backed fitness and wellness content that doesn't pull its punches. Whether he's dismantling nutrition myths, responding to toxic gym bro attitudes, or going live with his cat, you can expect James to be James– and we love it.
I recently sat down with James to talk a bit about his fitness journey and what advice he'd have for folks looking to learn more about exercise. Here's what he had to say.
Blake: To kick things off, I'm wondering if you could start by telling me a little bit about yourself and your fitness journey.
James: Absolutely. My fitness journey started with dance. I was in color guard, performing arts, musical theater, sang in high school, and the color guard has a lot of dance elements to it. I did that for several years, which helped me realize I love dance.
I went to school for dance at Columbia College in Chicago, and they incorporated a lot of anatomy and kinesiology into it. I graduated, danced professionally, and through a couple of other life experiences– working other jobs, doing real estate, getting divorced– I discovered that exercise and fitness was what I wanted to do.
I started with a CrossFit gym actually, and I had a lot of dancer friends who were coaches at that CrossFit gym. After a couple of months of doing like lifting heavy weights that I've never done before, I was like, wow, this is actually really fun. I really like this.
Who would have thought that skinny little dancer wanted to lift heavy weights and eventually segway into teaching more of what I'm learning to other people and fitness, right? I always loved working with the body. . It was a very passionate thing that I love to do. So it translated really nicely from dance into what I'm doing now. And I don't regret it.
Blake: That's really, really cool. I'm curious: do you still participate in CrossFit? What does your current routine look like?
James: No, I don't do any CrossFit. It was really like a year and a half of me being in a very LGBT-friendly box in Chicago called CrossFit Defined. I had a couple of dancer friends, as I said, that were there.
After about a year of training, I actually wanted to just get more to bodybuilding physique style training. And that's when I ended up getting my personal training certification with NASM. That obviously helped me a lot with my own self-development and also made sure that I could coach clients effectively through science and evidence-based information.
The type of training I do right now is mostly heavy weightlifting– bodybuilding-style training. But then I work with mostly functional clients doing a mix of everything: strength training, weight loss, kind of all of it.
Blake: Thinking about when you first made that transition from having a background as a dancer to getting into weightlifting was there anything about that transition that surprised you or caught you off guard?
James: Honestly, it was the idea that as a dancer, I wanted it to be more on the slender side– long lines, very flexible– and abandoning the idea of having this hyper flexibility to build bigger muscles.
And not ever thinking that I wanted that, but also in a way, realizing that in my dating life at the time, I was kind of idolizing and chasing after these guys that were a little bit on the buffer side, and realizing that I wanted to look like that. I didn't know it, but all of a sudden I was like, wait a second... I actually kind of want to be, I want to have a big chest. I want to have big arms. I don't want to be a skinny dancer.
I actually wanted to be something completely different and I never expected in my life that I would say that to be quite honest with you. I thought dancing was my calling.
Blake: For someone who's brand new to exercising and just getting started, let's say they come to you for coaching and training. They've never stepped foot in a gym or maybe they haven't exercised since their last high school PE class. Where do you start?
James: Oh boy. Where, where do they start? Well, when clients first come to me and I go through an interview process with them.
I usually do a 30-minute chat just to get to know them a little bit better, make sure they're a good fit, and make sure I'm a good fit for them. But I ask them a lot of questions about why they want to do this. And usually, my biggest tip for people is to make sure you're doing it for yourself.
Honestly, make sure you're not doing it because someone is forcing it on you or telling you that you need to do it. Like you really have to want this for yourself. Otherwise, you're not going to continue for very long, truthfully. And then, also, once you figure that out, knowing what your goals are– specific goals, long-term goals.
Maybe you want to lose X amount of pounds. Okay. How do you do that?
So, I use SMART goals to track how much time it's going to take you, getting very specific. Is it a measurable goal? You know, two pounds per week, one pump per week, maybe you're doing circumference measurements and progress photos on top of that.
And then also knowing how you're going to approach your weight loss, whether it's going to be through nutrition and exercise or just one or the other. You know, those are all really important questions that a lot of people don't ask themselves, and when people come to me, they're like, "There's all this information and I don't know where to begin."
So I help them break it down a bit. Because there is a lot of information.
But that's where we start. You've got to figure out what you want first and you have to figure out what's going to work for you to get there.
Blake: Speaking of a lot of information and thinking about nutrition and exercise... one of my favorite topics (and based upon your TikToks, a topic that you probably have quite a bit to say about) is that there are a lot of diet and nutrition trends and myths that circulate on social media constantly– whether that's weight-loss teas, lemon water, keto, or whatever is trendy at the moment.
I'm curious: for someone who doesn't have a great background and understanding, in nutrition or what it looks like to eat a balanced diet, what are some things that people should look out for in terms of "this could benefit me" versus "this is probably BS or a scam."
James: You know, as much as I am very like in my own way of sustainability, honestly, if it works for you, I'm happy for you. I don't necessarily agree with all of it, but whatever works for you works for you. That being said, if it sounds too good to be true, if it sounds magical, it's probably garbage, honestly.
Usually, those short-term fixes, while they might yield some results, they're not sustainable. With weight loss– keto, all these different diets, ketone teas, detox, teas juice cleanses 1200 calorie diets– yeah, you're going to see results, but do you want to lose the weight just to gain it back? Or do you want to keep it off?
The more you can see yourself doing this long-term, the more effective it's going to be.
How do you apply what you just did for a month into the next six years? And that's a big conversation I have with a lot of my clients all the time.
Blake: For sure. For sure. And I know from a couple of your TikTok videos that one of the things that I've heard you say on a couple of occasions is that when you're thinking about weight loss, it should be slow and steady, I believe is how you described it, which sounds like that fits in well with "is this something I can sustain" versus" is this something that might produce some results in the short term?"
Similar to this idea of identifying valuable nutrition information from BS. There's also there are also quite a few people on some of these social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram who position themselves as fitness and wellness experts in a somewhat predatory way.
For someone who is either dealing with bodily insecurity or is intimidated by fitness, what should someone look for as a red flag in a potential trainer or source of information?
James: Yeah. The first thing that comes to mind is fear-mongering. If they are speaking and using very strong words, like "this is toxic" or "this is poison," or if it's a very clear cut "don't do this" and "do this."
Or, you know, "this is hurting you, but my method will save you."
If you're hearing those, it's a red flag. Many red flags, like woo alarm.
There is also the conversation of many creators with very good intentions that have tried things that worked for them that want to help people, but they don't realize how dangerous what they're doing can be. When you're looking at someone's profile, don't just look at the first thing they say and run with it because it sounds good.
Ask your friends, do research on these people, look up their credentials. Because half of these people have no certifications, no qualifications of any kind. They're literally just random people who try to fad diets that they did some with some other coach or that they found online, and now they're trying to put it on other people. Whether our intentions are good or not, that doesn't change the fact that it can be very harmful, right?
Because the human body is complex and there are many ways to approach it. But you have to look at, again, sustainability. What works for you and what is.
Blake: For sure. For sure. When I'm having these conversations in informal settings, when those questions come up of "should I do this? Is this going to work for me?" I feel like the answer 99% of the time is going to be, it depends.
So that all makes a ton of sense
James: A lot of what I've seen recently– you'll see people talking about Keto and saying, "oh, it spikes their insulin." Keto has been a thing for a while, but now it's like insulin is the scary thing to avoid. It's fear-mongering and preying on people who are diabetic, pre-diabetic, who have PCOS.
And unfortunately, unless you're a dietician–like a registered dietician or a doctor– you have no business speaking on those topics, whatever article you read online. Like you can't translate that information the way a doctor or a dietician can. And that's another red flag is when they are targeting specific demographics of people with pre-existing conditions.
Blake: Shifting away from some of these red flags and things to look out for, I'm just curious: is there an exercise that you absolutely love and could do every single day? And then on the flip side of that, are there any exercises you despise, but do anyway?
James: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Honestly, I really love push days. I love working my chest and my triceps. If I could, I would do a bench press or some kind of chest press, every single day.
That's definitely my favorite by far. They're also larger muscle groups. You see them, you can show them off more, obviously.
Right now, the ones that I absolutely despise that you'll probably never see me do in a gym are Bulgarian Split Squats. I absolutely loathe them. I will do a hundred lunges before I ever do a Bulgarian split squat.
I hate the way you set it up. It's like awkward. It's very effective. Don't get me wrong. But not my cup of tea, personally. And burpees, burpees are another no. I don't think anyone should ever do burpees unless you like, literally, just hate yourself and want to punish yourself. Don't waste your time on a burpee.
Blake: That brings so much joy to me. I hate burpees.
James: I don't know anybody who likes them.
Blake: If I have a limited window to work out and I just want to do something to get a full-body warmup, then I'll do burpees for a little while, but I hate every second of it.
James: Oh yeah. They can be very effective to get your heart rate up really quick. It's a great way to transfer your weight from high to low positions on the ground and standing, but ultimately they suck.
Blake: Fair enough. Also on a lighter note, I'm always curious, do you listen to music when you work out? And if so, who is on your workout playlist the most?
James: One of the more quirky things about me is that my playlist is so random. Like I switch it up from time to time. Lately, I've been listening to EDM or house remixes on Spotify, but my favorite playlist is anything from K-pop to Brittany Spears to some rock music to Disney ballads to a remix of Kirby dreamworld.
And that... there's everything right? I love all types of music and I love to just put it on shuffle and just hear all these sounds that I haven't heard in a long time.
Blake: I've asked a couple of people that question, and it's always curious what answers I get back because I've heard everything from Celine Dion to Stevie Nicks to positive affirmations to Azalea banks.
It goes the full spectrum.
James: Absolutely. When you find that one song– like if you're ever just on a random station, And this one song pops up like, oh yeah, I'm really feeling the song. Like it pumps you up. It feels good. And you hit that save button and it goes to my random playlist.
Blake: Yep, exactly, exactly.
If someone is interested in working with you, what's the best way for them to reach out?
James: Honestly, I'm a very informal person. I like a very human type approach. So whether you DM me on Instagram or you've messaged me on Tik TOK or comment on my page, I have a link in all the bios on my Instagram and Tik TOK, where you can actually just schedule a free consultation.
I always offer free consults for 30 minutes, just to make sure it's a good fit for both parties. And you can get that right from both of my profiles. And then from there, you know, there's no commitment required and again, it's completely free.
Blake: Is there anything else that you either wish someone had told you about getting into fitness and wellness, or just general advice that you think anybody who's looking to get in shape or make exercise more central part of their life that you would want to impart?
James: Oh man. When I started my journey, I was a victim of a lot of the nonsense that you hear. So like for example, one of the videos that I want to make to probably today later is talking about mass gainer protein shakes and how a lot of trainers and a lot of people promote these 1200 calories, 2000 calories, protein shakes with high carbohydrates, a little bit of protein in there.
They'll say, "oh, it's going to give you amazing results." But that's why understanding nutrition is so crucial in understanding the role of the different macronutrients, like protein and carbohydrates and fats, and how they interact with your body. The more information you can look up on quality sources– looking up research studies or articles from legitimate doctors and dieticians to understand the basics– that's where you want to get your information from.
Don't get your information from random people. And I will say that about myself. I will give you good information, but I would rather you do your research and put the effort in to make sure that what you were learning is real.
If someone tells you something, look it up, because you never know who you can trust. Even if it's your friend. I've had friends tell me things in the past that I looked back on and I'm like, "why did they tell me that– that's not even close."
I've had relationships in the past that have promoted keto, and before I knew anything about keto, "I was like, oh, that's interesting. I didn't know. It worked that way kind," of thing. And then after you learn, you're like, wow, I've been fooled. I've been fooled by fools, in short. So that's one piece.
And also understand that like when it comes to exercising, you cannot exercise a bad diet. You can't. There's nothing you can do to overtrain yourself to make your diet look better. You have to focus on what you're eating first, and that's mostly whole foods, right? But don't restrict yourself, let yourself have fun. Live life. Make sure you're taking rest days.
Also, exercise doesn't have to be in the gym. Exercise can be as simple as walking or running or jogging or riding a bike. Hiking, if you have a hiking trail.
Those are all very valid ways to be in better shape, quote unquote, or just have a healthier, stronger body. And if you want to do structured exercise, you can work out at home, you know, clean your house, do chores, do some pushups, do some squats.
For many people who are intimidated by the gym, that's a more reasonable approach than anything. The gym can be very off putting for some people. I would always encourage you to get into that environment because the gym can be a very positive place and I think most of the time it is, but I know that it can be intimidating for some people. There's that stigma behind all people are going to bully you and make fun of you.
I very rarely see that in the gym. Once in a while, you'll see your, your group of guys kind of being loud and obnoxious, but I've never seen someone being blatantly rude or ignorant or recording people.
The gym is a way to meditate. It removes you from their home. It removes you from areas that you don't have to think about. The meditative state can be very, very healthy for you psychologically. And obviously a gym has way more equipment than you could possibly have at home. So I know that's a lot, but I could go on this topic for like hours and hours.
Blake: I completely agree. Gym as meditation is like one of my favorite things to talk about because, for a long time I was that person that had like never been in a gym and hadn't exercised since high school, and it can be terrifying to get started. I give people a lot of the same advice when I'm chatting with them about their fitness routine.
A lot of people are hesitant to get in the gym and try something because they're afraid of looking dumb or being judged. I think people don't realize that nobody is really thinking about what you are doing in the gym. At most, you might make eye contact while you're both looking around.
But no one's going to be sitting there scrutinizing every single movement that you do while you're trying to exercise.
James: Absolutely. And you know, honestly, when you look around, everyone's struggling a little bit. I look like I'm struggling sometimes too, right? That's just part of it. Also kind of segwaying on that, knowing the type of gym you're in, I think is really important.
You know, try out a couple of different gyms. If you're in a bodybuilding gym and you're just trying to lose weight, you might not mesh with that crowd and that's okay. For me, I want a gym that has people working on very similar things as me– like I want to be in a physique gym versus a general health gym.
I just feel like I push myself more. And I also feel more comfortable in those gyms. Do your own thing, but that's another important element of picking your gym: interview your trainers, interview your gyms, make sure it's a good fit for you.
Blake: Yeah. And at most gyms, you can get a day pass for 15 to 30 bucks or whatever, so it's reasonably accessible to try a few out. I definitely agree and support that idea of try out a couple of gyms. Don't just walk in and sign a contract because a gym is close to you.
James: Yeah, absolutely. And find a buddy to go with you– like an accountability buddy, someone who's maybe been going for a hot minute and it can help you out also free advice.
You don't have to hire a trainer.
Blake: For sure. At this point, we've covered pretty much everything that I want to cover. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
James: Yeah, so, for anyone who's new to the gym or in your gym setting or working on health, nutrition, whatever... practice (and pardon my language) giving zero fucks what other people think.
This is your journey. This is your progress. This is your body. You get one life don't waste your time worrying and investing in other people and the way they want you to think, look, feel, and so on. You are your own boss. The more you can do that, that's what changed everything for me: not giving any shits about what other people thought about me.
This is my progress. I own it. That's it. Period.
The Self-Himprovement editorial team wants to give James a big THANK YOU for sitting down to chat with us about fitness.