Courtney Wyckoff, founder of Momma Strong, shares her story
Courtney Wyckoff is a certified physical therapist and corrective exercise specialist who founded the online fitness program Momma Strong out of her own living room in 2012. A Solo Mom of two young daughters, Ella and Wren, Wyckoff has developed core-focused high-intensity interval-training exercises designed to heal and strengthen the bodies and minds of women, particularly mothers. In addition to her Daily 15 and The Hook: 30-Day Strength Challenge exercises, Wyckoff offers programs and insights on making choices, leading an authentic life, and leaving self-defeating behavior behind. A self-described “activist for the underdog,” she uses her now global business to donate time, products, and expertise to women and families in need. She and her daughters live in Texas.
Q: How did you get your start in this business? What’s the backstory (no pun intended)?
A: Before having kids, I was a professional ballet dancer in Houston. I got injured, left ballet, and started working as a Pilates instructor and exercise specialist. I had my first child via C-section. I had postpartum depression. My body was pretty wrecked, and all the stuff I’d been taught about strengthening the core was impossible for me to do. I neglected myself, as so many of us do. After my second child was born, my postpartum depression got much worse, and my marriage was falling apart. I had a high-needs five-year-old and an infant, and I couldn’t go to work. I desperately needed to get my strength back just so I could function—I had a number of health issues and got to the point where I couldn’t lift a spoon. So I started doing a ton of research on anatomy and how women’s bodies change after pregnancy. I moved away from the Pilates model of flexion, where you tuck in your pelvis, as we are taught to do, and looked at the extended postures of indigenous populations, where you lift your sternum and stick your booty out. Other cultures don’t have the back problems so common in ours, and that has to do with posture. I became a kind of engineer of the human body: “I’m going to solve this!”
Q: In addition to healing your own body, you also had to figure out what work you could do from home, since you were the primary caregiver of two young kids and now the breadwinner as well.
A: It was a bit out of desperation. Things were pretty bleak. I applied for food stamps. I was using quarters to buy gas to get my kid to school. I had to have something to focus on. I was recording my workouts for friends and clients from my fitness work, and people were always asking me for exercises they could do at home, and next thing you know I was doing e-commerce research. It was a harebrained, crazy endeavor—my house was in foreclosure, there was no money, I just went into survival mode.
Q: How did you turn that desperation into the global business that is Momma Strong?
A: I got $40,000 from selling our house after my divorce, and I used that money to start over. I just kept going. I depended on these workouts for my own sanity, so I figured I might as well set up the camera [and] film and post them. A couple of years later, after a lot of hustle and faith, faking it and hope, people were reaching out to me instead of my having to reach out to them. At that point, I could speak to investors. We launched on May 12, 2012, and had literally one sale that day. About nine months in, I launched The Hook Challenge and membership increased to about 450. Today we have 5,570 members worldwide. Business growth can be painfully slow, but if you keep at it, eventually you’ll hit that tipping point, where the numbers start to increase exponentially. My projected membership goal for Momma Strong is to reach 20,000 subscribers by summer 2016, which is entirely possible.
Q: There’s an improvisational, homemade style to the production of your workout sessions, with you sipping from a mug of tea, cracking jokes, your kids and your dog sometimes wandering in and out of the picture. You share pieces of your life challenges, mentioning a sleepless night or forgetting a kid’s school lunch. You’re working out right along with your audience, letting people see that you’re tired and overwhelmed sometimes, but you keep your sense of humor and you do the workout. I guess that’s where your site’s tagline, “Strength in the middle of it,” comes from! I find that quite revolutionary and moving. It helps me be nicer to my own kids when they interrupt me, and it reminds me that life’s chaos doesn’t mean we stop taking care of ourselves.
A: I can’t be shiny and perfect. I had to make a space where people found out the worst things about me. I’m a single mom having to manage all these things, and it’s in my best interest to have integrity about that. In my work, I find that people have a hard time showing up consistently for exercise routines—hello, humanity! And we feel ashamed when we don’t. I wanted to take away the shame, and set “underwhelming goals”: a workout that is only 15 minutes a day and can realistically become a habit like brushing your teeth, but is also effective [and] new every day, treats pain, and isn’t delivered in an overly serious way. Having a sense of humor really changes the mood from heavy to light.
Q: What about the outreach aspect of Momma Strong, where you ask members to “Share the Show Up” as a way to give back to the community?
A: Motivation works when it serves others as well. What was missing in the research I did on motivation was the female perspective: Women want to feel connected to a community, to our tribe; we are motivated by caretaking, and that’s beautiful, not codependent, not weak. Our strength and wellness [are] part of a much bigger thing. The women and families I teach through outreach programs are in a really bad place. They’re dealing with addiction and abuse. They need a way not to hit their kid. I give them specific exercises they can do to help them take a different direction. Again and again I hear them say to me that no one has ever given them the time or the thought to help them this way.
We’re installing a feature on the website that enables you to earn points for each week you meet your goals, and that translates into donations of Hook programs to a woman in need or women’s program in need. It’s a huge project.
Q: People out there might want to know: Will 15 minutes of exercise a day really get you in shape?
A: It will get you dramatically stronger and do it quickly. This is the beauty of the human form. It rises to the occasion when we challenge it. It’s primed to be a strong structure. With these workouts over 30 days, you will get that result. I can promise that. With consistency, it will begin to shift the shape and tone of your body. The reason I believe in 15 minutes is that my focus is not on how to pummel your body into submission with extra-hard workouts that might provide faster results, but instead give you something you can do daily and consistently enough that you start to see the sort of change in your body that is long lasting and sustainable. This is the ticket to real change that creates a dramatic shift in how your body looks and functions. When a woman starts to feel strong and integrated in her day-to-day existence, the shift into self-care surrounding food happens much more easily. Then her body begins to take on its natural healthy weight, whatever that set point is for her. I see it happen all the time. I’ve seen it in my own body. It took nine months of consistency to get there. But, now it’s here, and I trust my ability to maintain that.
Gina Zucker’s fiction and nonfiction have appeared in publications such as Tin House, Salt Hill, failbetter.com, Self, Glamour, Elle, Babble, and Cosmopolitan, as well as in several anthologies including, most recently, Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers. She teaches at Pratt Institute.
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