How to tone your upper arms

Kelley Griffiths is impressed by my flowers. “You bought these for yourself?” She asks. “That’s Goddess behaviour!” 

We’re in my tiny Kreuzberg apartment. Today’s upper arm workout was supposed to be in Volkspark Hasenheide but summer has truly thrown the towel in and it’s way too cold and wet to train outdoors. So here we are, squeezed into my studio.

Kelley’s energy fills up the space. Her vibrant personality is reflected in her tie-dye t-shirt and multi-coloured leggings and she seems unable to stand still, preferring to bounce around on her toes or move from side to side than stay in one place. She’s obviously custom-built for personal training.

But Kelley, also known as You Me Body Bliss, is more than a personal trainer – she’s a transformational coach, specialising in making people feel incredible on the inside out. To Kelley, feeling good about yourself is not about having a six pack. It’s about addressing emotional issues, understanding your own habits and unpacking why you want to look a certain way. Kelley works with her clients to create manageable, realistic ways to turn their lives around – and most of the time it isn’t about losing weight, it’s about learning how to accept yourself.

Kelley’s fitness journey is unconventional to say the least. “For most of my 20s I didn’t move my body at all except to party,” she says. “I was a circus producer which meant I toured the world taking care of contracts and money. I worked from a truck organising 40 athlete performers and I was miserable. I chain smoked and drank all day and was really unhealthy.”

Kelley spent her days watching the circus athletes look after themselves while feeling deeply jealous and angry. But they were her friends – and they acted like it. “They started encouraging me to come into the tent and do splits sessions with them and conditioning. So I started going to training in the tent and then I quit drinking. And as I sobered up I realised how good it feels to move. So I started doing more and more and I joined a gym and it escalated from there.”

Soon after this lifestyle change Kelley quit her job at the circus and spent five months in India, re-evaluating. “I spent most of my time doing yoga, teaching English, relaxing and eating well. I was sleeping and resting and walking up and down 500 steps every day to teach monks English and to get to where I lived. It was a bizarre five months.”

Despite all of the self-care, Kelley felt an underlying anxiety throughout her time in India – because she had no idea what to do next. Until it came to her during the night. “I had this dream that I was going to be a fitness trainer,” she says. “And anyone in the world that knew me would have thought that was hilarious. But I wrote it down in my journal: You Me Body Bliss.”

Kelley soon moved to Berlin from India where she set up private sessions in the homes of people who didn’t feel comfortable going to a gym and trained to become a Nutrition Coach and Yoga Nidra teacher. She wanted those people to experience what she had. “I don’t know what my life would have become if I hadn’t found exercise,” she says. “And I teach people that it is fun and it can be exciting and it makes you feel amazing.

And when you can stick to a plan and see development you become really resilient as a human being – you become strong in your mind. Every time you go to the gym when you don’t want to you are developing serious muscles to deal with life.”

Kelley offers one-on-one personal training and today she’s showing me her favourite bodyweight exercises to tone my upper arms. I put on my favourite mix and we start with a wrist warm up which is key, Kelley says, to avoid injury. 

Our workout starts with a downward dog, then Kelley shows me how to move forward into a plank and lower myself down while keeping my elbows close to my side. “Do ten of these,” Kelley says. Each time I do a successful rep she lets out a yelp of encouragement. We spend twenty minutes doing variations of these exercises – tricep press-ups, downward dog to dolphin and tricep dips on my knees. It doesn’t take long for my arms to feel totally burnt out. But Kelley’s enthusiasm is utterly contagious. It’s easy to see why she’s taken up transformational coaching. Although she loved personal training, she found that it wasn’t actually addressing the issues that her clients really needed to deal with. 

“When you’re a PT in a gym or in somebody’s house you’re just responsible for designing a plan and making them stick to it,” Kelley says. “So I could have Barbara every week, Thursday at 7pm. And we’ll do the exercise no matter what so she can achieve her goals. But sometimes you show up and she’s just come on her period and she’s really tired and feels terrible. Do you still make her do her exercise or allow her to rest? Or you’re working with Debra and she’s going to Berghain every weekend and secretly doing more cardio without telling you and not eating enough but I’m only there to help her do more fitness and it’s not my place to have that deeper conversation around her overall lifestyle.”

Although Kelley felt like she could be useful in the right place at the right time, too often her sessions just weren’t addressing the full picture. Kelley knows there’s a lot more to health and wellbeing than just fitness – and now as a transformational coach she helps her clients align their nutrition, fitness, mindset, sleep patterns – even meal prep. “It’s always about quality of life – about feeling better overall,” she says.

Which brings me back to the flowers. Kelley is delighted that I bought myself flowers because she teaches this very act in her coaching. “I call it The Goddess List,” she says. “A lot of people give themselves a really hard time. They berate themselves and shame themselves and tell themselves horrible things. We’re constantly in negative zone when it comes to ourselves. But we need to spend more time in the respect and honouring zone of ourselves. So I teach the idea of embracing yourself as a Goddess. Goddesses have boundaries and respect themselves and look after their bodies and expect people to treat them with kindness and treat other people with kindness.

And I encourage people to honour that in small ways – like buy yourself flowers, or spend extra money on amazing nail polish. Have a lavish bubble bath with chocolate while watching ‘Why Women Kill’. Why not treat yourself this way? Allow yourself to feel amazing.”

If you’d like to train with Kelley, take a look at her website You Me Body Bliss to find the nearest classes to you.

And to train your upper arms like a God or Goddess just find your local Urban Sports Club fitness partner.


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