Heidi Jones' fitness squad is bringing women together, one workout at a time.
“I will go broke over this if I have to,” the 43-year-old private trainer and CrossFit Solace coach says of her new endeavor, Squad WOD. “I know what I’m doing is important, and I know my purpose is to help people.”
Heidi shouldn’t worry: Over the past year, Squad WOD, her women’s-only fitness group, has been empowering sold-out crowds, and women are walking away with more than just quivering muscles.
“We live in a time where now more than ever it’s crucial we find our voices and our strength,” she says. “We need to come together and not tear each other down.” So was this always the plan? Well, kind of.
“I was always a tomboy,” says Heidi, who was raised in Indiana where she says “basketball is religion.” She played sports year-round, ran track in high school, and went on to run long-distance at Ball State University, a Division-1 school.
By the time she graduated, Jones transitioned into marathon running, and has since run more than 20 marathons. “Running has always been my best stress reliever,” she says. When her peers started commenting about how they “could never do marathons,” Heidi was set on convincing them they could—and training them to help get to the start and finish lines. “I loved seeing how it changed their lives,” she says. “I got to help them discover those ‘a-ha’ moments.”
Eventually, Heidi discovered CrossFit. She began working out at CrossFit NYC, and her running background helped her land a position as the gym’s endurance coach. But on the weekends, she would head to the box to do her own workouts—and soon, people wanted in.
“I’d be there doing my own thing, and women would ask to join me,” she says. “It turned into an awesome girl gang.”
Heidi started a Facebook group for the women to share memes and recipes and support each other, and immediately felt a powerful bond. “I noticed something so special about a women-only crew within a CrossFit gym,” she says. “We were cheering louder, high-fiving more, and hugging more. It was a different vibe than the co-ed classes, and I knew there was something powerful there.”
From there, Heidi left to take a new job at BRICK New York, another CrossFit gym, where she worked up to 80-hour weeks. She loved the role, but missed having the flexibility to do what she wanted, which was work with an all-women group. So she took a job at CrossFit Solace, and called 15 of her best CrossFitting girlfriends to say, “Come on Sunday, there will be a workout, there will be pictures taken, and I’ll explain the rest later.”
Her girlfriends showed up—and that was, even though she didn’t realize it at the time, the start of what would become Squad WOD. “I wasn’t sure where it would go or how it would grow, but people started telling their friends to show, and by the fourth meet-up, we were at max capacity.”
Today, Squad WOD has evolved into an all-female workout and speaker series. “It’s about women getting together, working out, and empowering each other,” Heidi says. “It’s easy to look at someone succeeding in their life and think, ‘But she doesn’t have this stress I have’ or, ‘She isn’t dealing with this thing I’m dealing with,’ or, ‘She doesn’t have boyfriend problems or rent problems.’ And that’s never the case. We need to strip down what’s holding us back.”
Heidi hosts three to four monthly events at gyms around NYC that can hold up to 60 people. The 90-minute, judgment-free events cost $20–30—all of which goes to a designated charity, such as the Sadie Nash Leadership Project or Girls on the Run. But it’s not just a workout: Each event kicks off with an icebreaker activity so the women can get to know each other and become comfortable in the room. From there, Heidi says a few motivational words and introduces the event speaker—then the 35-minute, all-levels-included CrossFit-style workout begins.
After the workout, the group reconvenes for the speaker and Q&A portion of the event (Jen Widerstrom of The Biggest Loser was a recent guest speaker).
“I want the speakers to show women that getting to their level of success wasn’t easy and still isn’t easy,” Heidi says. “I want people to be comfortable talking about being uncomfortable. So we go deep into the shadows we all live in from time to time, and talk about the struggles that got us here.” Oftentimes by the end of the event, there’s “not a dry eye in the house,” Heidi says.
So now that Squad WOD has sellout crowds at events in New York City, what’s next? “I want this to be nationwide,” says Heidi. “I see Squad WOD events happening in bigger cities, and retreats are on the near horizon. I see tours with motivators—and I want to have Sheryl Sandberg as a guest speaker!”
No matter how much Squad WOD takes off, Heidi never expects success to be easy. “There’s no magic sauce,” she says. “It’s about rolling up your sleeves and putting in a massive amount of hours to make things happen. I really believe we’re at the beginning of another women’s revolution in this country—we are forces to be reckoned with on our own, but when we combine forces, the world is ours.”