In Bed with Aaptiv’s John Thornhill
To fitness trainer John Thornhill, athletics have always been a major focus. “Growing up in Louisiana, I played every sport under the sun,” he says. He left Louisiana to attend high school in Sarasota, Florida, at a boarding school for tennis—“basically a Disney for sports.” Next, he moved to New York for college at Fordham, where a shoulder injury junior year led him from tennis to trying a spin class. “I was in a sling, and went and took a class. I fell in love with the combination of music and movement.”
The class proved a watershed moment for Thornhill, who soon became a spin teacher himself and went on to study music composition in grad school.
Now, nearly ten years since moving from Florida, he’s taken his passion for music and fitness, and become one of the city’s most in-demand trainers—leading cardio classes with killer playlists through the workout app Aaptiv. Here, we get #InBedWith the John Thornhill, the city’s most musical fitness trainer.
Tell us about that first spin class. What did you love so much about there being music?
That’s just my go-to. You know what it is, it’s just making the body feel like you’re inside the rhythm. That just really, just moves me in a, different way. After I took that class, I said, “I’m going to do this. I need to teach.”
And was it a surprise how much the music affected your workout?
I’ve always been in love with music. I did choir and a cappella groups in college, and I create my own music as well. For me, my passion with music really does come from how it moves your body.
Can you explain?
It inspires you to move, in any sort of capacity, whether it’s dance, whether it’s physical activity. I love the aspect that you can be tangentially within the music. You are the music, as you move. That’s my love of fitness in general. It’s combining those two.
And how did you get involved with Aaptiv?
I was teaching at a studio here in New York. Aaptiv’s director of programming came and took a class. She said, “You need to teach for Aaptiv.” It was like a match made in heaven.
Had you heard of it?
Oh totally. I loved the concept. I just didn’t know how to get involved.
Cool. And then, more on the New York side. What’s your favorite thing about living in New York, especially having come from very different places.
I love the energy of New York. There’s an undeniable electricity that I really gravitate toward. I’m not really a driving person. I was actually in LA this past weekend, debating, “Okay, could I move to Malibu?” And I decided yes, but I’d need a bike. I just wouldn’t do the car thing. I love being able to walk around the city …
You live on the Upper West Side. I imagine you walk to the park a lot?
Oh yeah, I’m a half a block from the park. That’s my running spot. I love getting that good park atmosphere.
For someone who’s trying to start working out more, what do you think is a big misconception they might have as they’re trying to get into it?
I think a misconception with working out, especially when you’re starting, is that it needs to be this grueling, intense, two hour process at the gym—where you’re walking out and you’re just defeated and you don’t feel good about yourself.
For me, fitness is fun. Fitness should be fun. I encourage anybody who wants to get involved in fitness and may not have a background in it, to find something that they really enjoy.
There are so many types of fitness. You can be a great runner, you can be a great cyclist, you can be good at strength training. There’s yoga…If you can find something that puts a smile on your face and makes you feel like, “Okay. I’m going to come back and do this tomorrow,” then I think fitness will be less of a chore. It’ll be more of an opportunity to have fun and celebrate what your body can do.
Yeah, inside your head, so often it’s something that you have to do, versus something that you want to do.
Totally, totally. Just last week, I wasn’t feeling well. I just wasn’t having a good day. After I got a good sweat in, I just felt 10 times better. Endorphins brighten your day. I always look at it as a chance to move your body, rather than an obligation.
When you’re traveling, do you have a favorite in-room workout, or do you head out on a run?
I try to get outside and run. When I’m in the room, sometimes I’ll put on a good yoga track. If I’m just trying to do something quick, I love doing a super set of pushups and mountain climbers and downward facing dog.
On that same line, what makes a good workout a great one?
In a good workout, you’re going to get your heart rate up, you’re going to sweat, you’re going to feel the burn in whatever muscles you’re using. In a great workout, you’re going to do all those things, and you’re going to smile. Maybe you’ll laugh, maybe you’ll enjoy that victorious moment of a heavyset or a big sprint on the treadmill and then once it’s done, you feel good about yourself. That brings those good vibrations through your body. It makes that fitness activity a reward.
And going back to music, how does your choice of music shift depending on the workout class?
No matter what, a song will move you in a particular way. The beauty of music is that it really does inspire a mood, a feeling. So when I’m programming a class, I have everything in my mind in terms of structure, from start to finish, of how I want them to feel the entire length of the workout.
In the beginning, I want them to get hyped. I want them to feel good about themselves. Somewhere in the middle, I need them to exert themselves in a high intensity way that maybe puts them past their comfort zone. Towards the end, it’s all about having a moment of reflection—where you make sure you’re moving in the right direction, you’ve had an understanding of why you press play and why you’re working out.
And then, at the end, you have a sense of euphoria, celebrating that you’re at the finish line.
Every playlist that I put together has all those components. You can insert that in a variety of different songs, and have the same type of movement forward in that workout.
Who’s on your playlist now?
Right now I love Maggie Rogers. She was discovered by Pharrell at NYU. Her music blew up. She’s got this really cool indie electro vibe.
I’ve also really gotten into Lizzo. She’s been up for a few years, but is now finally getting a lot of hype around her. And, listen, the Backstreet Boys are coming back. That’s a pretty big deal for me.
Did they ever leave?
That’s the big question. I’m really hyped about their new music coming out. I love the mainstream music like Ariana Grande, but I also love good electronic music that makes you feel good (Galantis has got some great hits). They’re constantly coming out with new music. Audien, Zedd, those bands that just make you feel really good, and give you energy. That’s what I like to listen to.
And switching gears…NYC has a lot of food temptations. What’s your philosophy around eating healthy?
For me, food is fuel. I look at food as necessary for us to move our bodies in the way that we want to. And it’s important to fuel your body with those things give you the proper nutrients and the energy.
There’s a lot of talk about what you should have for breakfast, or if you should even do breakfast. What I’ve learned recently is that it’s not necessarily about whether you do breakfast. It’s more about what you put into your body first, after that long fast that you go through.
What’s one New York food that you give into, even though you know it probably isn’t good for what you need.
Maison Pickle, a restaurant around the corner from me on the Upper West, has these french dipped sandwiches, where the amount of cheese is almost illegal. It’s delicious, and it’s worth it for that.
More from John and Aaptiv
Refinery is proud to have partnered with Aaptiv, giving guests access to the fitness app’s collection of workouts. For more from John Thornhill, check out his Instagram and the Aaptiv website. And read more interviews from Refinery’s In Bed With series here.