In these unprecedented and uncertain times, it’s more important than ever we move our bodies and keep our mental state balanced. For fitness and wellness fave Madeleine Fulton, posting videos and ideas has long been her standard, so doing so even more now makes total sense.
A Colorado native, she grew up with an instinctual penchant for researching everything health-related, which eventually expanded to include dance and nutrition too. After a successful career in dance, her affinity for wellness and the large body of knowledge surrounding it took over, and now she’s splitting her time between working at fusion wellness haven Clean Market, training at Tone House in NYC, getting certified as a trainer and inspiring fans on social media and in person alike.
Read on to hear her tips for a killer workout at home, her own wellness routine to help out while you’re engaging in self-care at home, and more!
SBS: What was your childhood like and how did health play into it?
Madeleine Fulton: I grew up in a suburb of Denver, and as I grew more and more interested in dance, health, nutrition and fitness became my central focus. In high school I began reading voraciously about nutrition and exercise science, and then experimenting on myself. I tried all kinds of diets and all kinds of fitness. I was a class junkie who hated running and hated going to the gym by myself. But, even more than my peers, I loved the conditioning classes and supplemental strength and mobility training that we were encouraged to do in addition to our dance classes. Pilates, yoga, pointe conditioning, BodyArt, and barre were all in my wheelhouse.
SBS: How did you land where you are now?
MF: I attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia as a dance major, with a concentration in jazz dance performance. I was blessed to have had a fulfilling dance career for several years after school, traveling around the world, teaching yoga and other fitness classes in between contracts. I got certified in Power Yoga while in my undergrad, and I joined Xtend Barre briefly before accepting another performing contract in Tokyo. Most recently I completed an extension yoga certification focused on kinesiology with Yoga Tune Up. Alongside self-study and years of dance training, all of these courses have informed how I view health and wellness now.
A year ago, I decided to veer off the performing arts path and find a stable job in a different side of the wellness industry: I joined Clean Market, a cafe-apothecary-spa fusion space focused on alternative modalities of wellness. There, I’ve continued to learn and broaden my perspective on wellness, while simultaneously getting the opportunity to explore and even work with other health and fitness spots in the area.
SBS: Where along your journey did your connection to Tone House and fitness emerge?
MF: Before I dove headfirst into a full-time position at Clean Market, I discovered a new and intense passion for fitness that sprouted from a tiny and rather impulsive decision one March day in 2019 to compete in Tone House Turf Wars. The plan had been to train for Turf Wars 2019, and then ease off of fitness and start up a new career path in academics.
The day after Turf Wars, however, I texted my trainer, ‘I want to keep training.’ Academics are still in my plans, but I’ve pushed them to the back burner so that I can keep fitness as my paramount focus for the time being. I found passion in being an athlete.
With that, from March to June 2019, Tone House went from a miserably-hard-but-gratifying-and-awesome workout to make me feel good and help me reach my aesthetic goals…to something so much more. I realized I was no longer doing fitness for my body aesthetic. I was passionate about the work. It grew to become the most important part of my week.
I have always preferred being the student rather than the teacher, the performer rather than the director, and the athlete rather than the coach. But I find that I have a pretty deep and broad-ranging file cabinet, so to speak, on health, fitness and wellness, with tons of knowledge and experience that I want to share. So, I am embarking on my personal training certification and exploring new territory in the fitness realm, all while still learning and sharing nutrition, wellness and recovery modalities at Clean Market.
SBS: What's your style and approach as a trainer?
MF: As an athlete, my greatest strength is my mindset. My aim as a trainer is to inspire that mindset in my students. I love fitness, nutrition, exercise science, and hard f**king work so much! If I show them how to love it too, I’ve done my job.
SBS: What's your own wellness routine?
MF: In an ideal world, this is what I do every day:
-Wake up early, hydrate and brew coffee
-Read an excerpt from Eckhart Tolle, meditate, and visualize myself succeeding in my day or in a short-term goal
-Get my body warm and loose, and then get in a good hard workout
-Hydration throughout the day is so important to me. The slightest dehydration gives me a headache and makes me feel tired. My acupuncturist recommends hot beverages, so I drink a lot of tea and/or very-watered-down coffee.
-Food-wise, I eat tons and tons of plants, alongside both plant and animal sources of protein. I do my best to be intuitive here, and I also pay close attention to timing my food intake with my workouts as well as my circadian rhythm and sleep habits.
-Go to sleep nice and early!
Of course, this doesn’t happen every day, or even close. But there are many pieces of the above list in my every day, and the key for me is to not be so rigid that my attempts at cultivating wellness become counterproductive. And I have found that journaling several times per week is a keystone habit that keeps me checking in on the rest of those habits and goals.
SBS: How do you handle the demands of your physical work, both mental and practical tools alike?
MF: Number one is sleep, and out of all the other tools that help, sleep is the one that can’t be neglected, no matter how well I do the rest.
The rest are as follows, perhaps in order of my personal hierarchy:
-Proper fuel, including food, calories, macronutrients, micronutrients, timing, and supplements
-Teammates: I believe that NYC has the best fitness community in the world; we are in it together! We will boost you up when you’re down and cheer you on when you're at the top. We will tell you that you can do it, or we will tell you that you deserve a rest day. I couldn’t do what I do without the support of this community.
-Self-massage and mobility work: Stretching and using my boyfriend’s Hypervolt massage gun to mobilize my body’s tissues is key. I give credit to Yoga Tune Up for teaching me about fascia and the importance of mechanical manipulation of the body’s many layers of soft tissue.
-Planning my week ahead of time and putting my hardest workouts next to my yoga or rest days, which sets me up for success.
-Being intuitive: Sometimes that means taking a nap instead of going to the gym.
-Following a program with my trainer: He creates an ebb and flow with intensity and type of work.
-Goal worksheets: I filled them out at the beginning of the year, and I check in with them every week.
-Meditation, reflection and journaling
-Scheduling unproductive time! This one is difficult for us type a personalities!
SBS: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned throughout your journey so far?
MF: Everyone has a very unique and personal journey with their health, and their definition of wellness. For me, the hardest and most important ones were the psychological elements. Early on I developed destructive mental patterns, self-talk and behaviors that cultivated quick results but long-term setbacks. Over and over, I went through phases of rigid discipline followed by extreme lack of will. But I stayed on the metaphorical treadmill because my beliefs about health became my dogma.
If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from my journey, it’s that we are unique and ever-changing organisms. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for the next person, and what worked for me three years ago won’t work for me today.
There are many, many layers of wellness…so many variables, so many factors that influence how I feel, look and perform. So many more than I even know to think about or notice in my consciousness. How then, can anyone preach to another individual how to be well? I used to think there was only one right answer. Now, in my efforts to help people succeed in their wellness journeys, I encourage people to be more intuitive, and to take my opinions and beliefs with a grain of salt until they test it out for themselves
SBS: What are your top tips for someone new to strength training and/or HIIT?
MF: Get a personal trainer! There are several reasons for this. First, a new athlete will have the fastest rate of progress and the lowest risk of injury when working one-on-one with someone who can watch form and correct unhealthy movements immediately. Second, a good trainer will create programming specific to the student’s goals but also their unique body, strengths, weaknesses, imbalances, history, etc. Third, a trainer can spot the athlete so that they can safely lift more weight, add more resistance, and set them up before and after an exercise without them compromising form in the transitions. And most importantly, a personal trainer provides accountability and consistency. And it’s the consistency, above anything else, that creates results.
SBS: What are things to look for in an instructor? What about red flags?
MF: An instructor has to be authentic. They have to believe in what they’re doing and be excited about it! Anyone can smell inauthenticity from the moment the instructor opens their mouth, and that’s a huge red flag. I also want an instructor to be watching their students and giving real-time feedback. Sometimes classes feel so scripted that the instructor forgets to watch the class.
As a trainer myself, I’d much rather skip an exercise or veer off course in order to explain or give individual direction (or receive feedback!), than to rigidly stick to the itinerary.
SBS: What are the biggest mistakes you see regarding common exercises (like lunges or squats)?
MF: Squats! Knees commonly knock inward and/or deviate too far forward, the chest tends to pitch too far forward, and in deeper variations, the spine often rounds while the bodyweight shifts back into the heels. Athletes with tighter hips often struggle with form until they widen their stance slightly and/or externally rotate the legs just a few degrees. (I like Kelly Starrett’s range of zero to 12 degrees rotation.)
Lunges: Often the back leg’s glute is neglected and the back knee is vulnerable. Lacking glute engagement will also strain the low back once the quads fatigue: The shoulders start to pitch forward and the hips hike up, then the shoulders realign over the hips by way of hinging from the lumbar.
And push-ups: The failure to engage the serratus anterior, lack of core engagement to stabilize the spine, and neglect of the glutes are all problems. Serratus activation is necessary to depress the shoulder blades away from the neck and glue them on to the rib cage; abdominal layers are extremely important to keep the integrity of the neutral spine; and glute activation is so often forgotten but it connects the two halves of your body, essential for the push-up line. The glutes also team up with the abs to support the spine.
SBS: What are the most overrated/overused exercises? What about underrated?
MF: This is a tough one because we are all unique butterflies! The exercises that give me the best results might be next to useless for someone else, especially factoring in that we all have different goals. Are you trying to get faster? Or are you trying to push more weight? Or are you entering a bodybuilding competition?
That said, for overrated exercises, my mind went first to squats because I’ve seen way too many back and knee injuries from squatting too much, too heavy, or with improper form. I also think certain exercises are more cosmetic than functional, like bicep curls. Finally, banded pull-ups: the assistance of the band actually brings your body into a different plane than when you do a free pull-up, giving the banded variation limited value.
As for underrated exercises, again, that depends on your goals. I really, really love cables and resistance bands, because they increase tension as your working muscles get into a stronger or more stable position. For example, supine dumbbell flys: As you bring your arms together, the pectorals have more and more agency to contract so the beginning of the rep is the hardest part, and the top is almost effortless. With bands, however, the amount of tension in the band increases as the pectorals contract, making the top of the rep the hardest part. It’s a game changer.
SBS: What's a quick 20-minute workout someone can do without equipment?
MF: Warm up with your favorite hip and shoulder mobilizers, and then complete three sets of the following:
-Plyometric Squat/Lunge series: 20 squat jumps, 30 alternating plyo lunges (15 on each leg)
-Push-ups: 10 wide, 10 standard, 10 narrow (referring to hand placement)
-Core set: 50 alternating single leg/opposite arm v-ups
-Plank finisher (without stopping between variations): 60 second plank walks (hands to forearms); 60 second side plank hip dips on each side. This is three minutes in total; do this plank series two times in a row if you have time for a six-minute set!
SBS: What are fitness trends you love/hate?
MF: I can only think of one that I hate, which is lateral, traveling plyo push-ups! They are nearly always done with poor form, high impact and high injury potential with minimal value as far as I can tell.
As for a few workout trends I love: I think low impact, high tension, slow/controlled movement, megaformer-based workouts like those at Solidcore really strike gold. These workouts are massively challenging, yet accessible to any level athlete; they are also valuable in that they recruit and strengthen auxiliary muscles that stabilize and support larger movements. These muscles are often ignored in other types of workouts, but they are of super high value. They are an amazing compliment to your higher impact running, sports conditioning and HIIT classes.
And of course, if you know me, you know how much I love high intensity functional training, like at Tone House. I have noticeably and dramatically gotten stronger, faster, more agile and more explosive from training regularly at Tone House. It has given me results far more than any other singular workout.
Madeleine’s SBS Mantra:
This is so simple, but I think I’d say, ‘Be Happy.’ Because I think the rest of those mantras, at the end of the day, aim for happiness. Be mindful, so you can be happy. Be active, so you can be happy. So really what they are all saying is, ‘Be Happy.’
The best, zaniest part of being Madeleine:
I can’t stop dancing, moving or stretching. Mid-conversation, I’ll unconsciously balance on one leg on demi-pointe, or I’ll start massaging my TFL, or I’ll get into the splits. I do it so unconsciously that it surprises me when people call me out on it.
Madeleine’s NYC Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: KazuNori
Fun Activity: Going to the beach
Calming Activity: Journaling, massage, stretching, meditation and shaping my eyebrows
Yoga Studio: Lighthouse Yoga School
Fitness Studio: Tone House
Athleticwear: Under Armour
Athletic Shoes: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36
Books: Andrew Biel’s Trail Guide to the Body, Tim Ferriss’s Tools of Titans and Tribe of Mentors and Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now
Online Resources: Fitt NYC: fitt.co/new-york-city; Insight Timer (meditation app)