I Asked Shay Mitchell’s Trainer How To Get More Toned—Here’s What She Said

written by JOSIE SANTI

You know her, you love her, you grew up with her on Pretty Little Liars, and rooted for her in You: Shay Mitchell is the celebrity bestie we didn’t know we needed. Despite her undeniable fame and multi-million dollar company, she’s relatable enough to be our best friend (she posts herself eating pizza, so that’s something, right?). But there’s another superstar on her team who helps Shay be, well, Shay, and she’s becoming a celeb in her own right.

Kelsey Heenan is a celebrity trainer, media personality, keynote speaker, and fitness host. Most recently, she was featured on Shay Mitchell’s workout series (it’s like breaking a sweat with Shay for free and from the comfort of your own home). What impressed me so much about Kelsey is not only that she has a celebrity clientele as impressive as her biceps but also that her whole mission is to help people love and accept their bodies through food, nutrition, and mindset shifts. So, being the wellness nerd I am, you know I had to grill Kelsey for all her best nutrition and fitness tips to achieve your healthiest body ever. Read on for nine of her best secrets to crush a workout, eat foods that nourish your body, and help you get toned (Shay-Mitchell approved):


Meet the expert
Kelsey Heenan
Celebrity Trainer, Nutrition Coach, and Co-Founder of HIIT BURN
Kelsey has been featured in publications like Shape, Women’s Health, Forbes, and Nike Training, and she works with clients to improve their relationship with food, exercise, and their bodies.


1. Focus on progressive overload

Between HIIT, yoga sculpt, or good old-fashioned strength training, there’s a lot of confusion over the best type of workout to get stronger, but Kelsey is a big believer that strengthening is as simple as increasing intensity over time, whatever that looks like to you. Her #1 tip for clients looking to get stronger is progressive overload. “Over time, increase the amount of resistance and tension you are putting on your muscles. Simple examples of this are lifting heavier weights or increasing reps of challenging bodyweight strength movements like push-ups and pull-ups.”

In other words, be strategic about reps and weights. When you feel comfortable with one weight or rep count, increase slightly for a greater challenge and to strengthen muscles (but make sure it doesn’t sacrifice form so you don’t risk injury!). Also, be patient. Don’t start with 10 pounds and expect to get to 30 pounds by the end of the week. Take a couple weeks to feel comfortable with 10 pounds, increase to 12 to 15 pounds for a week or two, then move up to 20 pounds, etc. 


2. Aim for just five minutes

Even celebrity trainers can lack motivation. Whether it’s a busy day, a change in seasons that makes you feel lethargic, or just a period of life where you don’t feel like getting to the gym, Kelsey tells her clients that the most important thing is to do just five minutes of something. “During days and seasons where it feels impossible to stay motivated, commit to moving for just five minutes,” she said. “Stretch, walk, or do some squats and push-ups. Once you start moving, it’s often easier to keep going. If you still aren’t feeling it after five minutes, then be done for the day. Either way, you stayed true to your commitment and did what you said you’d do.” No, you don’t need to fit in a 60-minute intense workout every day to be fit. You just need to commit to five minutes when you’re lacking motivation.



3. Prioritize whole foods, but be flexible

I’m a huge fan of Kelsey because even though she’s a celeb trainer and a top expert in health, her approach is approachable. You know I had to pick her brain for her best nutrition tips (because I refuse to believe that Shay Mitchell eats nothing except pizza, as her Instagram portrays). Her answer: Prioritize whole foods, but be flexible. “Prioritize one-ingredient foods for the majority of your meals like meat, veggies, avocado, nuts, rice, fruit, etc., but also enjoy your favorite foods periodically,” she suggested. Your diet should not feel restrictive (that’s just a recipe for failure), and food should not be separated into two different lists of “Eat This” and “Don’t Eat This.”

Instead, a healthy diet is a series of mindful choices to nourish your body and mind as much as possible. Kelsey gave an example of being on vacation: If you know you’re hitting up a delicious pizza spot for lunch, choose a veggie omelet at breakfast instead of French toast or split the French toast with the table so you can have a few bites but still prioritize nourishing protein and veggies. Bottom line: Make choices that make you feel good while still allowing yourself to eat your favorite foods. “If an approach to nutrition is too strict, it will always be a means to an end.”


4. Make sure you enjoy the workout

No matter what workout you heard is best for weight loss, toning, or strengthening, it doesn’t matter if you’re not enjoying it enough to want to do it consistently. When you’re busy or unmotivated, you’re not going to do a workout you dread or that makes you bored. While Kelsey likes strength training and HIIT, she said the best type of workout is the one you enjoy most. “There are so many ways to work out; the best one is the one you’ll actually do.” You may have to experiment with various types of workouts, gyms, or even playlists for your daily walks, but try new things until you identify the perfect formula that you look forward to and enjoy, and adjust when you start to feel bored of the routine.


5. Find a balance of cardio and strengthening (that’s right for you)

As a wellness editor, I get asked all the time if strength training or cardio is more important and if you really need both. For example, does a runner really need a day of weight-lifting, or does a gym rat really need to spend some time on the elliptical instead of just the weight floor? Naturally, I asked Kelsey, and she gave me all the tea. “Everyone should focus both on getting stronger and regularly getting their hearts pumping, but there are many ways you can do that,” she said.

Yes, everyone needs a healthy balance of both cardio and strengthening, but that balance will look different to everyone. For strength training, Kelsey suggested lifting weights, bodyweight exercises, or carrying heavy groceries as ways you’re working the muscles. Likewise for cardio, whether you’re going for a run, walking, doing HIIT, dancing, spin, hill sprints, or chasing your kid around the playground, you’ll be improving cardiovascular fitness for long-term health. “There is no one type of workout that everyone has to do to be healthy. Personally, I don’t like going on long runs and would instead lift weights while getting in cardio with sprints. I enjoy these things and they align with my goals.”



6. Protein and carbohydrates are key before and after a workout

So you’ve already mastered the eating-whole-foods-with-flexibility thing? If you’re looking to get even more specific, veggie-filled meals with a balance of fats, protein, and carbohydrates are always important, but Kelsey recommended especially focusing on protein and carbohydrates before and after workouts for energy and recovery. “Before a workout, protein and carbohydrates can give energy, while after a workout, they both help refuel the muscles,” she said. But before you grab protein powders or processed bars, try to refuel using whole foods. Kelsey is a fan of eggs and fruit, chicken and sweet potatoes or rice, and a protein shake with some fruit. But more importantly, get to know what’s right for your body. “Everyone is different, so identifying what foods help you feel fueled well is really important,” she said.


7. Rest is crucial

Do you feel like you’re lazy or behind if you take a day off? FYI, you’re not lazy or behind, you’re healthy. We’ve talked a lot about why rest days are not only crucial for recovery, but taking time off also helps you be as fit as possible, and Kelsey totally agreed. “Rest is essential,” she stressed. “Rest days help the body and mind repair and recover as well as help avoid injury and burnout.” Take at least one or two days off every week to do light stretching, relaxing yoga flows, or gentle walks. Also, prioritize sleep (yes, that means even before that early-morning workout) and never overdo it with your workouts. Listen to your body when it’s asking for a break, knowing that your body cannot be its fittest, strongest, or healthiest without it. 


8. Honor hunger and respect fullness

Being toned and healthy is not only about what you eat but also when and how. Kelsey knows that true health is freeing, so she doesn’t coach her clients to count calories, weigh their food, or have intense restrictions. Bottom line: If you’re hungry, eat. “A lot of people try to ignore hunger cues and eat a small meal or wait until the next meal because they feel like they ‘shouldn’t’ be hungry but then end up thinking about food all day, snacking more, or overeating later,” she said. “It’s not a bad thing to be hungrier on some days than others. Honor the body by feeding it when it’s hungry, pay attention to when you are starting to feel full, and slow down to evaluate if your hunger is satisfied.”  



9. Prioritize your relationship with your body

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Mindset is everything. You can work out every day and eat totally plant-based at every meal, but if you don’t have a healthy relationship with your body, you cannot be truly healthy. Even if you’re looking to lose weight, look more toned, or change the way your body looks in any other way, you can still accept your body for where it is now. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to make changes to how your body looks, but even in the midst of body changes, we have to practice respect for our bodies,” Kelsey said. “Most people struggle with body image, but no matter your jeans size, it’s crucial to learn to accept the body.” 

Why is body acceptance so important, besides that your mom used to tell you to love your body when you were in middle school? Negative language about our bodies can cut deep into our self-worth. We start working out and eating nutritious foods as a way to punish or change our bodies rather than because our bodies inherently deserve nourishment as they are. So how do we work on the relationship with our bodies? Kelsey recommended gratitude. “No one is going to love every part of their body every day, but practicing gratitude for what our bodies do for us will help us experience more grace and respect for our bodies.” Now that’s a fitness tip that I can get behind.