I Worked Out With Ashley Graham—and My Abs Were on Fire

One of the many cool perks of my job here at Health is the chance to try out challenging yet fun new fitness classes. This time, I scored an invite from Olly to sweat alongside Ashley Graham and her personal trainer, Kira Stokes. To say I was a little excited is an understatement. But I was also super nervous that this workout was going to kick my butt.

We met up at Equinox’s boutique fitness studio, PROJECT by Equinox, in New York City. I had a few moments before the workout to chat with Graham about her fitness routine. While she prefers one-on-one training with Stokes, her current favorite class is aerial yoga. “It strengthens your upper back and OMG, it works your core too,” raved Graham. What workout could she live without? “I hate anything about burpees, I hate jumping.” I can relate.

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I also asked her about her self-care routine. Her beauty must-haves are Olly Undeniable Beauty Vitamins for hair, nails, and skin. She's also a fan of rosewater spray. “If I don’t have moisturizer and I’m just feeling dry, I just spray that everywhere,” she told me.

After our chat, we joined the rest of the class (about 10 of us total) in the studio and got right into the warmup. Stokes had us practice deep breathing while we opened up our hips with a deep sumo squat. With each squat, we would bend forward and then roll upwards, concentrating on one vertebra at a time as we segued into a standing position. We did this about 10 times before moving on to air squats and a variation of plank exercises. To feel fully stretched out, we completed this warmup circuit twice, and my muscles were already burning.

Stokes explained that the next two circuits were inspired by her Stoked 360 series, and they would focus on building strength and power in the cardio core and upper body using bodyweight strength isolation. We would do each circuit three times, non-stop. She wasn’t kidding.

The first circuit started with a squat/shoulder press/triceps extension combo using 5-lb. weights. We held the weights just above our shoulders on the squat down, and as we came up, we pushed our arms up into a shoulder press and then bent them at the elbows behind our heads for the triceps extension.

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This is one of those moves that feels easy the first few reps, and then suddenly your arms start turn to Jell-O. Still, I made a mental note to add it to my regular workout routine. I looked over at Graham, and she came off as focused, practicing deep breaths with each arm extension.

The rest of circuit 1 consisted of squat jumps, mountain climbers, and push-ups while bringing one knee across the body to engage the core. We started again with the squat/arm exercise and did this circuit two more times before jumping into circuit 2.

The second circuit started off with one of my favorite moves from the class. Holding 5-lb. weights, we went into a sumo squat with our arms straight down between our legs and then swung up into a rear delt fly power position stance. Stokes explained that your body should form an X when upright in this position, with your legs and arms wide.

We then brought our arms back inward and down as we went back into the sumo squat. This move flowed well, was fun to do, and engaged the whole body. We then did sumo squat jumps moving forward and back, followed by butt kicks (Stokes says these are meant to work the quads).

After the kicks, we moved into a quadruped position with our knees slightly lifted off the floor—I could feel my ab muscles immediately engage. In this position, we then did cross hand-to-knee touches, raising the knee a bit off the ground while keeping our hips stable. Next, we got into a downward dog pose to do triceps pushups, tapping opposite hand to shin after each push-up. These were creative moves I definitely had not done before, and my abs were feeling it.

One of the things Graham mentioned before the workout was that she wasn’t ashamed to listen to her body and make adjustments if something felt too painful or unsafe. I kept this in mind and tried to tune in to my body for each exercise; even though Graham was killing the workout, it was nice to know she makes modifications, too.

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By the time we moved on to the third circuit, I was sweating hard; I'd already done more full body exercises than I was used to—but I was excited. Stokes was encouraging and energetic, and she managed to be motivating without being overwhelming. Her fun, creative moves kept the class light-hearted and interesting.

Circuit 3 was different from the first two because ia resistance band stayed on the entire time. We only repeated this circuit twice due to time restraints (the 45-minute class was about to hit the one hour mark), although Stokes said she would have preferred three times.

We placed the band around our knees and started band tap outs in a squat position, focusing on the gluteus medius, or the upper outer/back portion of the thigh. From there, we did air squats with the band, holding in the squat position for a few seconds for each rep. We then moved the band to our ankles to do tap backs, which focused on the gluteus maximus (can someone say booty gains?!).

With the band still around our ankles, we moved into a plank position and did more tap outs: right then left, followed by two high to low plank up and downs. This move hurt, especially after the abs, arms, and butt exercises we had already been doing.

The workout wrapped up with a fine-tuning portion, which Stokes commented is Graham’s favorite part because that means it’s almost over (LOL, same.) Stokes said fine-tuning is “like the icing on the cake. It ties everything together and completely fatigues the focus muscle groups of the workout.” We covered every muscle we had already worked, from shoulders and triceps to glutes to abs.

One move in particular was from the glutes series; on all fours, we placed a light weight in the crook of the knee and then did donkey kicks while squeezing the weight and flexing our foot. Try it yourself, and if your butt wasn’t already on fire, it would be after this.

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Stokes ended the workout with her signature closing mantra: “Take a moment to be grateful for the ability to move and challenge your body as you did this morning, as it’s truly a gift. Take one final moment to think of any person, place, or thing that makes you the absolute happiest. Open your eyes, shake out those positive vibes, send them into the universe, and leave with an open mind, open heart, fully stoked.”

After the workout, I was definitely sore and sweaty, but I was also noticeably more energetic and upbeat for the rest of the day. The class was tough, but it kept me challenged and focused with new and unexpected moves throughout the hour; I felt like my mind was just as engaged as my core.

Physically, I could tell I had worked new muscles in my butt (especially the next day). I also felt more motivated during my regular gym sessions for the rest of the week and even incorporated resistance bands into my workouts! If this is how Ashley Graham feels every day, I may have to splurge for weekly Stoked 360 classes.

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