by Sarah Shortt
Hi Khiran! How did you first get into group fitness?
I was going through a tough time in my life, one of my lowest points actually. A friend of mine, who is also an Instructor, suggested I go to a class at Les Mills. She said it would make me feel better and to give it a go. But a promo to grab a free pair of Nikes is what actually got me through the door! Anyway, I went and discovered SH’BAM®… yes, that’s right, SH'BAM. I loved SH’BAM – the expressive nature of it really appealed to me. I used to go to Rach’s [Newsham] classes and I thought she was just awesome (haha I don’t think she knows this actually!). It helped a lot with my mental health and pulling me out of a not-so-great place.
You’re now a regular Masterclass presenter for many programs, including BODYPUMP®. How did you get into teaching?
When I first started BODYPUMP® I would only go for 30 minutes because it was so freaking hard! I would literally hold on until the tricep track and then leave. I was terrified of the lunges. I was like, we’ve already worked our legs in squats, why do we need to do them again? Eventually, I made it to the lunges and then finally the full class.
There was this absolute boss Instructor on Sunday mornings. She was really welcoming and super strong and just encompassed female power for me. I got [my husband] Vili to come along too and then eventually we got approached by Matty T [Thraxton] to be Instructors. Actually, I think he just wanted Vili but I was part of the deal, haha!
I started teaching BODYPUMP and then LES MILLS GRIT™, and I didn’t teach anything else for a long time because I just wanted to get really good at those programs. Then Chris Richardson [former GFM for Auckland City] asked if I’d thought about teaching cycle? I was pretty dubious, but I went along to Cath Martin’s RPM™ class and was like, oh my God she’s a DJ goddess on a bike! The lights and the mood and everything just felt like this crazy dance party. I picked up cycle and then the other programs came later on.
And what do you love about teaching?
That I have the opportunity to make people fall in love with fitness, and movement in general. I think it’s really cool that if you provide a good experience for people, you can instill this love of movement. And it doesn’t have to be high intensity – just getting people to feel happy about moving their body in whatever way makes them feel good.
I never think about the aesthetic – although I know it’s often the initial motivator for people to start coming to the gym. I’m all about the feel, so I try to break down the way something feels in the body and get members to connect to that: whether it’s the feeling in the moment, or afterwards.
In the moment they might be thinking, “Oh woah I hate you right now Khiran”, or “Please stop shouting at me” (especially in a GRIT class), but then afterwards they experience those feelings of elation, joy or relief – like, “I had a really hard day and I was really stressed out but now I feel really good.”
And how do you bring that into your coaching?
I try to create a lot of intrinsic motivation by encouraging people to self-assess and take ownership of their fitness.
People often underestimate what they are capable of, especially when it comes to trying new things. They might tell themselves “I can’t do that jump”, or “I can’t keep going for five more seconds.” My job is to ask, did you even try? When was the last time you tried? You just set your alarm to get up at five o’ clock in the morning and you’re not even going to try? Don’t do it for me – do it for you. That sort of thing.
Why do you coach that way?
I have a deep belief in people's potential because when I first started, I wasn't very fit. But I knew that by trying to do the leaps in SH’BAM or trying to pick up the bar or put an extra weight on in BODYPUMP, that challenge would make me feel good. And as a result, I got better.
I want to show people what I see in them – almost be a mirror for what they can achieve. So, when I coach, I think “What is the thing they need to hear or see that will show them that they’re so much more than where they are in this particular moment?” Because everybody starts off as a beginner and new things are uncomfortable. I want my participants to feel like I have their back 150 per cent – like I’m their groupie, their biggest fan.
What has teaching done for your personally?
It's made me tune into my authentic self. I’m from a mixed background: my mum's Fijian and my dad is a Kiwi farm boy, although his parents are Scottish and Welsh. Growing up in a Polynesian household, you’re always taught: be seen, don't be heard. You don't want to be disruptive. You have to respect your elders and never speak up – speaking up was considered to be rude. That was drummed into me from an early age, so it meant that I never voiced my opinion.
Teaching gave me the reassurance that the things I have to say are valid. It gave me permission to speak and the confidence that people do want to hear what I have to say – as opposed to the fear of being considered disrespectful if I did speak up.
I'm also quite quirky so I think teaching has amplified that part of my personality!
And what’s been the most challenging situation you’ve faced in life?
Well, I wouldn't call it a situation, but the most challenging thing about my life was being a teen parent.
I got pregnant with [my daughter] Piper, at 16. And that's scary because now she's 16, and I look at her and think, you can't even make your bed!
It was and continues to be challenging. To create a life when you’re 16 years old – that baby doesn’t know that their parent isn’t emotionally or financially ready for them. Neither Vili or I have big families, so we pretty much did everything ourselves. It was incredibly tough.
I left school and I worked to make a life for her. I’ve been working since I was 15. I grew up in a household that was pretty poor, so I worked part-time from an early age to help my family. And that’s just something I’ve had to deal with, you know what I mean? In life, you get dealt certain cards and you have to make the best of them. I refused to be a product of my environment.
It’s been a lot of sacrifice. After we had Piper I went back to study, and I built my career and future with her always at the forefront of mind, because it wasn’t about me anymore. It’s always about her and how can I give her everything I never had, and make her life as easy as possible. Because I would never want her to go through the things that I went through.
So yeah, it’s challenging, but I would never change one struggle or moment with her because she is my moon, star and sun. Although now she’s got to an age where she no longer thinks Vili or I are cool, so, you know, it all comes crashing down! Haha.
And what’s your day job outside of being an Instructor?
I'm an agile coach and a scrum master. I also manage an IT service, leading a team of people; basically, we're in charge of all of the platforms and integrations for our company.
It’s not what I originally wanted to do. I had dreams of becoming an English teacher in Japan. I studied Japanese for four years. That was my plan: live in Japan and teach English. But then I had Piper and changed my plans, so I moved into business and tourism. I studied at a tertiary level for a couple of years, and then I went to work for an entrepreneurial company where I worked my way up from there.
The fitness industry can be pretty competitive, especially when you get to Presenter level. How do you deal with that side of things?
At the end of the day, I just like to get people moving. If I wasn’t on the Masterclass or Trainer and Presenter (TAP) team and I asked myself why am I doing this then that would be my answer. I love to create hype and atmosphere in my classes, and actually any opportunity on top of that is just a bonus!
Feeling competitive is normal and it's natural for humans to have goals and want to work toward those goals. But there are some things you can’t control and so it’s helpful to bring it back to your core reason for teaching. It might be the love of music. It might be for getting other people moving. It might be that you like to be on stage – and that's OK! If you like to be heard and you want to be on stage and that fills you up, that's OK – it doesn't always have to be about other people.
In my opinion, if you do experience jealousy or resentment, you should examine those feelings. Don’t ignore them and just put on a smiley face, but examine where they’re coming from. For example, if someone gets an opportunity that you wanted, then ask yourself: Are they good? Did they deserve it? Try to work through those feelings, rather than just smiling at everyone when you’re actually dying inside – because that’s not healthy.
Something else helpful is to find someone you can trust and talk to them about it, maybe a friend outside the industry. There’s nothing more grounding than explaining that you’re upset that so-and-so got the 6:10am timeslot that you’ve been working 12 years for, and how it's not fair, and your friend brings you back down to earth by being confused: “You’re upset because someone else gets to wake up at 5am in the morning and you don’t?!”
Lots of Instructors are often – surprisingly – introverts, like Gandalf and Glen. What are you?
I'm an introvert. People don't recharge me, they drain me. I guess as outgoing as I seem, that comes from a place of putting others first, not from a place of – that's what fills my cup. So, you know, after a Quarterly Workshop, I'll need to just go home and maybe stare at a wall or sit in silence for a bit because I literally gave everything in my soul to every single person, haha! It's fun though!
And how do you relax?
My reward is a shower. There is nothing better than a shower, just standing and letting the water beat down on your face is therapy. Whenever I have to get up in the morning at the crack of dawn, I remind myself that I get to take a shower. It’s my reward.
My fantasy day off would involve being somewhere hot, because I am not a winter person, but not New Zealand hot where it feels like you're standing next to an open flame. Somewhere with the sun and the heat and a thousand cats just everywhere. There’d probably also be some form of potatoes there: fried, mashed, chippie, roasted… the list goes on because I love potatoes. No people though - just cats, sun and potatoes!
Khiran Huston is on the Les Mills New Zealand TAP team and is Head Coach for BODYPUMP® and LES MILLS TONE™ in NZ. She is a Trainer/Presenter for LES MILLS SPRINT™, LES MILLS TONE, THE TRIP™, RPM™, LES MILLS GRIT™ and BODYPUMP® and is also a CEREMONY Coach. She is a Les Mills X Stages Ambassador and is based in Auckland where she works as a Scrum Master/ Agile coach for a software company.