You can get a good idea of the attitude Lee Ann and Burke Jolly bring to their fitness philosophy by going to the Jolly Bodies Fitness Facebook page and watching the video of Lee Ann exercising to Todrick Hall’s “Werk Out.” With big hair, big makeup and decked out in a particolored wind suit, she leaps all over her house, lifts weights from atop her refrigerator and mugs in front of the camera. Interspersed in the joyous video is footage of normal folks in normal bodies working out, doing lunges while pushing strollers, jumping up and down in their garages. Lee Ann and Burke want their digital clients — who become members online at jollybodiesfitness.com — to get more than a sweat out of their classes. Their workouts are “about so much more than burning calories. It’s about how can we shift your mind” away from stresses and toward feeling good about life, Lee Ann said in a phone interview with the Arkansas Times. Burke described himself as a “little bit cheesy” and a “big cheerleader: I want people to know how valued they are and how amazing they are.”
Lee Ann, 34, holds a doctoral degree in physiology from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and has been teaching group exercise since 2005. Burke, 38, holds a master’s degree in Family and Youth Ministry from John Brown University and was Lee Ann’s student. Early in their relationship, Lee Ann said, “We realized there was this huge void in the fitness industry. The messages you see aren’t messages of inclusivity. … If you search on Instagram for a personal trainer, it gets really depressing, the images of white, blonde women and shredded men with their shirts off.” The couple started Jolly Bodies in 2016 in response to that and what Burke said was an “industry that really focuses on negative emotion” what he called the “shame factor.” Lee Ann (who is herself white and blonde but not above satirizing that look, appearing in the video with big hair and blue eyeshadow) and Burke take the position that what they offer is “bigger than a workout.”
Initially, Jolly Bodies was a support group on Facebook. “We didn’t offer services,” Lee Ann said, but offered articles on fitness and workout tutorials. Jolly Bodies eventually grew into a website with videos; the couple also taught classes at the Athletic Club in West Little Rock. “At heart, I am a creator,” Lee Ann said: She’s developed exercise formats that have been accredited by ACE Fitness, the National Academy of Fitness and the Athletics and Fitness Association of America.
When COVID-19 shut down the gyms, folks asked the couple to put their classes online. They had to pause the videos, however, over music copyright issues. Those issues have been worked out.
The Jollys are not returning to the Athletic Club. They are instead offering workouts online through their website, where they tell potential clients, “Our bond with you matters more than how fast you can run a mile.”
Here’s how the digital classes work: For $30 a month, clients get both online video classes that have been pre-recorded as well as self-guided workouts via GIFS that folks can watch on their cell phones or tablets while working out to their own music “and get some work done on their own terms,” Lee Ann said. For clients who want structure, the Jollys will email clients each week with instructions on what videos to do and when. The videos will let clients see us “sweating and struggling.”
Lee Ann hopes the experience will be “jolly in every sense of the world. We want you to be happy, and have joy.”