The Obamas’ Personal Trainer Talks Fitness and Lessons Learned 

If you’ve ever wondered how Michelle Obama maintains her perfectly toned arms and exceptionally sculpted body, meet Cornell McClellan, the Obamas’ personal trainer for over 20 years. Beyond being asked to support the former President and first lady of the United States with their wellness and health routine throughout their time in the White House, McClellan was also asked to participate in the President’s Council on fitness sports and nutrition. McClellan’s position on the council gave him another opportunity to serve the country in terms of helping people be healthier, more educated, and informed.

On the heels of launching The Immortal Body Workout, McClellan’s four-week livestream, and on-demand exercise program, we caught up with him to learn more about his journey.

How did you land the opportunity to work with the Obamas?

Previously, I was a gym owner for about 20 years. I had friends of theirs who recommended me to them. We met and talked about what they were trying to achieve and what their goals were and they felt that we were a good fit. With anybody, it’s important to find a fitness coach, trainer, or mentor who agrees with what your beliefs are and vice versa.


You’ve worked with the Obamas for over 20 years. What have you learned from working with them?

First, they taught me to make time for taking care of yourself. They didn’t cop out and say “We are parents now, our lives are too busy.” I was with them before they had children. I saw how they stayed committed and disciplined and focused on the task. Secondly, they both said, “The thing that most frightens you or challenges you is the exact thing that you should go to war for.” I learned to not be afraid, but to meet those challenges head-on.

During their time in office, Michelle Obama’s signature arms caused an uproar. Can you share your holistic approach to getting her fit?

My holistic approach is not about quick fixes. It’s not just about great arms, but it’s about a lifestyle. I believe in the mind, body, soul, and spirit—it’s a combination of things. So she got those arms by living the lifestyle. She is mindful of taking time for herself to make sure that she makes her personal appointment to work out and do those things that make her the best person that she can be. Then she understands my philosophy: a holistic approach not only with just the inner and the outer, the entire body is symmetrical. I can’t just do my cardio and not do my strength training. I can’t just work my upper body and not work my lower body. I can’t just work my arms, but I have to work my entire body. So it is a lifestyle and it’s about making sure that each and every part of you is strong.

When it comes to consistently working out what are the top two habits people underestimate?

People underestimate how important your nutrition is. You know what’s going to sustain life, but it’s also what’s going to give you this strength to then take care of that life. And for so many of us, it’s also the most important thing when it comes to getting that look that you want. When you talk about those arms and when you talk about those abs or whatever it is you’re trying to achieve, you cannot ever neglect your nutrition. The second thing people underestimate is sleep, rest, or recovery. So we think about getting into a jam, but how often do we think about how much rest am I getting? The body can only be at its as best if it’s fed properly and it is rested properly.

You’re launching a four-week exercise series, the Immortal Body Workout. What can participants expect and what makes this four-week exercise different than other fitness programs?

I hope to increase your passion and focus in terms of how you prioritize yourself. When I work with women, one of the things that I tell them is that I want them to be the first lady in their life—and take care of themselves first. Because you cannot take care of anything else or anyone else until you take care of yourself.

Then we’ll work toward increasing their knowledge of different exercises and fitness activities and give them a sample of what it feels like to work at different levels of intensity. Ultimately, what we want them to do is to see what it feels like to push themselves and give them a baseline to continue to push themselves.

Classes will be held every Monday and Thursday at 6:00 p.m. EDT starting Sept. 10, 2018. For those in the D.C./Maryland/Virginia (DMV) area, you can join the classes in-person at Fitness Snob Studio. For those outside of the DMV area, you can join the classes via livestream and on-demand.