Peloton's Olivia Amato Reveals Why She Changed Her Path From Finance to Fitness
During the toughest part of almost any Olivia Amato workout — you know, when you're about midway through, dripping in sweat, and not exactly feeling like your strongest self — there's a moment when Amato will look straight into the camera (as if she's speaking directly to you) and will say with the biggest smile, "you look amazing!" That infectious positivity is exactly why the cycling, strength, and running instructor has earned the reputation of Peloton's "#1 hype girl" (it's even in her Instagram bio). And while many know Amato as an unbelievably upbeat beauty who pushes Peloton members to the limit, some may not realize that the New York native made a major career pivot just a few years ago that changed the trajectory of her life forever.
"I could probably share a lot more about my past, but I want to make it about the person on the other side because that's who it's about," Amato tells Shape, referring to the legions of Peloton members who regularly stack her butt-kicking classes. "I think that's very much my approach to teaching — it's not about me, it's about us."
That community-minded mentality, Amato says, is the result of a lifetime spent playing team sports. During her high school years, Amato was a two-time, all-state field hockey player, and also excelled at lacrosse. She even took her cheerleading career all the way to Fordham University, where her team won a national championship. Although Amato had always been passionate about athletics, it never occurred to her that it could lead to a viable career path.
"I came from a small town where it was like, 'you do this, then you do that, then you'll be successful' — it was a very linear way of thinking," she says. When she told her Fordham guidance counselor that she was good with numbers and liked connecting with people, he thought he had the perfect solution. "He was like, 'Oh! Finance! Wall Street! Sales!" she says. "I wound up taking different portfolio classes and I did well in them. When you do something and you're good at it, it's cool in the beginning. There's so much to learn and so many people to learn from and it was really exciting in that sense. And I could develop relationships with people and be their go-to person who they knew and trusted."
Amato scored a prestigious finance internship during her senior year of college that led to her first full-time job after graduating from Fordham in 2014. "It was just a really cool experience and I'm so glad I had it," she says. "But once I was on the desk and they were like, 'you can't leave, even to go to the bathroom... for 12 hours.' I was like, 'I don't think I have that much of a passion for these markets.' At first, I did fixed income and then I did equity sales and equity was a little bit more relatable because it was like, Lululemon stock or Peloton stock or Whole Foods — I could understand it a little bit more in terms of that. But it was still not enough for me to sit around a desk all day and look at numbers."
At the time, Amato didn't see a way out. She made the commitment to a career in finance and even as the excitement and joy drained from her everyday life, she felt stuck. "I had said to my parents, 'well I would love to do something in fitness,' and they were like, 'well why did we send you to college? You didn't need to go to Fordham to do that.' So in my head, it was like, 'I can't do that,'" she says.
As long days at the office became tougher to tolerate, Amato found creative ways to integrate movement and athleticism back into her life. "I started taking all of my clients to workout classes," she says. "So instead of going to dinners and concerts, which we would, of course, have to do sometimes, there was a group I would take to go to a Barry's [Bootcamp] class and then have a green smoothie after or something, and that's when we'd talk about the markets and what was going on. It started to become clear to me that that was the part of my week that I looked forward to during the day. I was counting down the minutes until I could go meet them and I had to really separate it, like 'yes, I do like my clients, but it's because I want to move my body and I'm motivating a group of people to get together and do something that they normally wouldn't do and that's actually helping them better themselves.'"
Amato says that sprinkling exercise back into her life ignited a fire. "I wound up becoming obsessed," she says. "I had an Equinox membership and I would go into an empty spin room and just like, rehearse all the time by myself. Sometimes I'd drag some friends in." Amato wasn't rehearsing for anything in particular, but she began entertaining fantasies of what it would be like to lead a group workout. "I would go to classes and feel like, 'I could be up there!' But then there would be that other voice like, 'but what are you gonna say, what are you gonna do, what are you gonna talk about?' So I was trying to prove it to myself, whether it was something that felt authentic to me. And it did." (See: The Physical and Emotional Benefits of Indoor Cycling)
Amato began toying with the idea of teaching fitness for a living and even auditioned for a boxing studio and a cycling studio. She started looking for inspiration in any way she could, whether by listening to motivational speeches on Spotify or reading books on self-improvement. "I was listening to a lot of [author and podcast host] Brené Brown and people who weren't directly in my life but who impacted my life greatly by their words," she says. "I read a lot of books like [Jen Sincero's] You Are a Badass (Buy It, $8, amazon.com) I was highlighting, and writing, and listening, and reading, and applying all of it." But she trudged along in her finance job for another year — until she couldn't take it anymore.
"I came back from vacation and I was crying all Sunday — I didn't want to go back to work," she says. "The next day I was like this isn't gonna be what I'm doing. When I walked in, somebody said, 'oh it's just another Monday' and in that moment, I was like, 'I can't.' I typed up a resignation letter. I took a little bit of a risk and leap but I knew that waking up every day and being miserable and doing something I didn't want to do was not gonna be it for me."
Amato had a solid relationship with her boss, who advised her to "go take a walk around the block, get yourself a bacon, egg, and cheese, make sure you want to do this." She did — and came back just as sure of her decision. "We went on good terms and everything, but everybody kind of thought, 'what are you doing?'"
Just before she officially called it quits from her finance job in 2016, however, Amato had scored the teaching position at the boxing studio and snagged the cycling job soon after. "From the resignation day, my life was a whirlwind for about a year and a half, I can't even remember some of it because it happened so fast," she says. "I had to get my spin and boxing certifications, I signed with Wilhelmina [a modeling agency] and had no idea what I was doing. 'Fake it til you make it' was my life except for the fact that I knew how to motivate people. It was a confusing time."
But Amato kept following her intuition, exploring all the ways she could level up her own fitness through marathon training, earning additional exercise certifications, and more. Peloton instructor Rebecca Kennedy had been regularly taking Amato's cycling classes and invited her to audition for the company (fun fact: Kennedy can also be credited for recruiting Selena Samuela to the Peloton team). Amato nailed her audition and, within a year, was teaching strength, running, and cycling classes and racking up plenty of fans and admirers along the way. (Read more: The Best Peloton Instructor to Match Your Workout Style)
"One of the coolest things still is I could be walking down the street and picking up after [her dog] Tobi's gone to the bathroom and someone's like 'Olivia, I love you!'" she says. "I still forget and think that's so bizarre and so cool because that means we're reaching more people and helping more people. That's something I never expected."
Since joining the Peloton family, Amato has also had the opportunity to partner with brands and become a different kind of hype girl, repping products she's already a big fan of. "The people I'm doing partnerships with now are products that I used previously, so the fact that I get to work with them now — Athletic Greens [which makes the multivitamin drink AG1] and Nuun [which is behind hydration supplements] for example — if you flashed back five years ago when I was sitting at a desk, I would've been like, 'yeah you're lying, that will never happen.' It's been really cool."
In fact, Amato still swears by those particular products to get through her demanding days — especially when she's not feeling as perky as she'd like to for an early class. "This morning, for example, I was teaching a 45-minute intervals run and I really have to pump myself up to teach that class because it's longer," she says. "Nuun with caffeine is what I have before every run and it really gives me that extra jolt to really go. And recovery is super important too which is why I do the Athletic Greens — it gives me the vitamins and everything I need to recover properly after class."
Amato has also cultivated other energizing techniques to get herself pumped for intense days. "If it's a morning where I'm like, I know I'm going to press snooze, I literally don't allow myself to do it," she says. "I put both feet on the floor and — I know it sounds a bit cheesy — but I think about something I'm grateful for or excited about or something I'm looking forward to and then I just stand up and go."
Amato, who is a new TRAIN PUMA global ambassador, also shared how style can be a major motivator. "I find that when I feel like I look good, I feel better," she says. "So I pick out what I'm gonna wear, or sometimes I'll buy a new lip color just to keep things new and interesting. I love color blocking and I love a monochrome look. Sometimes on a day where I could use some energy, I wear red, and on days where I'm feeling more grounded and ready to go, I'll wear army green or tan. Fashion is a big part of my life and I love everything about it so I try to incorporate it as much as I can into the workouts. And lip colors — that to me is a big part of my outfit, so it's about figuring out what mood I'm in and what looks good with the colors I'm wearing and what makes me feel good. I don't care if some guy is gonna message me and tell me, 'don't wear red lipstick,' that's not their business, it's about what makes me feel good. Every time before we go live, I put my lipstick on one more time and it's like, 'okay I'm ready to go.'" (Related: 5 Activewear Sets that Are Actually Worth Buying, According to People Who Work Out for a Living)
Although the journey to her current dream life wasn't exactly a straight path, Amato — who recently got engaged to boyfriend Daniel Watson — has a few encouraging words for those toying with the idea of potentially taking a new route. "Figure out what motivates you and excites you and figure out what your 'why' is," she says. "I know that can sound daunting, but start writing down thoughts, feelings, quotes that inspire you, and look out for some sort of trend. To me, that was super helpful. If you figure out what motivates you, then ask, 'am I in line with this, am I headed in that direction?' If you are, great. And if you're not, start to pinpoint whether it's work or a relationship, or something else [you want to change] and start to journal and manifest what it is you want to happen. And preparation goes hand in hand with that — do things that make you uncomfortable but also prepare you for what you want to do."