How the heck do you even begin to sum up 10 years?! By revisiting my first memories of fitness! I always had an interest in being generally active. I was a “tween” when I ran with my mom in the annual “Bay to Breakers” 12k/7.45mi race from the San Francisco Embarcadero, across the SF peninsula, to Ocean Beach. I was 15 when I played high school football and ran track. I was 20 when I discovered my love for swimming and when my dad died. And I was in my mid-20s when I learned (and loved) to snowboard.
By the time I hit 30, I discovered the gym life and remember being completely fascinated by it all. Olympic weights and free weights, compound and isolation movements, repetitions and sets, periodization and plans, supplements and food. I even had discussions with a friend on becoming certified as a trainer. The seeds were planted.
At the tender, young age of 34 I returned to school to pursue my undergraduate degree in Kinesiology at San Diego State University. The only challenge was that Kines was a hot major and crazy impacted; the wait to get into the program was years. After discussing my plans with an advisor, I agreed to switch to the more practical Business Management major.
Four years later, it was 2008 and holy crap what a year it was! Money was pretty much on fire: the housing bubble popped, the stock market tanked, the Great Recession began, and the world’s economies were all on the brink of collapse. Oh yeah, and I also graduated from SDSU in the middle of it all. Yay.
I was a freshly minted college graduate hustling tables as a restaurant server while also running patients to hospitals as an Emergency Medical Technician/Field Training Officer. It was one of the rather low points in my life because it felt like nothing was going my way. The outlook was bleak and bad news was everywhere. But hey, at least we had Facebook!
In 2010, it finally felt as if the world was starting to perk back up. The multiple economic crises of the late-2000s were slowly fading away and life was returning to normal bit by bit. I decided to pull the trigger on getting my certification as a personal trainer so I could start my business of educating the world on fitness.
By the time the summer of 2011 rolled around, I was fed up with working in Emergency Medical Services. To be fair, it was my second go around in EMS (the first having been 16 years earlier in Northern California, also as an EMT and being licensed as a Paramedic).
Don’t get me wrong. There were MANY situations where it truly felt good to be there for someone in their time of need. To be surrounded by other EMS professionals, working together, coordinating, and creating action plans to save a life IN THE MOMENT is truly something to experience. But for me, it just wasn’t rewarding enough. So on July 21, I tested out of the American College of Sports Medicine certification exam and passed one day before my birthday. Level One Training and Fitness was born!
I applied for personal trainer jobs all around the San Diego area in the fall. I had just finished chatting with one of the assistant managers at 24 Hour Fitness in Santee when the general manager walked up and asked me what my plan was. I told him I wanted to work as a trainer. In a condescending tone he said, “That’s a good plan. You don’t want to become one of those trainers who train people at parks.”
Needless to say, I didn’t take the job at 24. Instead, in December I opted to become an independent contractor at a small gym in La Mesa called “Village Gym.” Ironically, the gentleman who owned it claimed to be one of the founding members of the “24 Hour Nautilus” from way back in the day. I figured, okay wow, I could learn a lot from this guy by working here.
Within a few months’ time, I had established myself as a trainer with a solid work ethic, had picked up over a dozen clients, created a group exercise class, had been given keys, and was now the closing “manager” of the gym (I say “manager” because I wasn’t an employee, I was still a contractor). Business was good. Training was good. Life was good. That is, until one Friday morning in August, 2012.
I stopped by the gym to pick up my check only to discover there was no check (or owner) to be found. At noon, again nothing (and no one). And at 3:00pm, yep, you guessed it – still nothing. It wasn’t until almost 5:00pm when the boss finally walked in and told me there was no money to give me. Wait… what? “There’s no money. I don’t know what to tell you. If I had money to give you, I’d give it to you.” I was speechless. I mean, what exactly do you say to that?
Later that evening, I was in between clients when he came back around to talk to me. “Here’s a check for $200.00, but don’t cash it till middle of next week.” Then, “I’m trying to help you out, but your money problems really aren’t my problems. You need to learn to manage your money better, okay? I’ll see you in a week, I’m taking my wife and kids to Disneyland.” Seriously? My boss just willfully, consciously, and arbitrarily withheld my check so he could go on vacation AND THEN tried to spin it on my “money problems.” WTF?
So while he was on vacation, I went around and talked to my now roughly 2 dozen clients and told them I was leaving the gym and I hoped that they would join me on my leap into independence. About 20 of them agreed and by mid-September I became “that trainer.” That trainer who worked with clients and taught classes in the park the GM at 24 Hour Fitness in Santee had talked about a year earlier!
2013 and 2014 went by like a blur. I was teaching outdoor classes in La Mesa, La Jolla, and Balboa Park 5 days out of the week. When I wasn’t teaching classes I was training clients in a makeshift garage studio where I lived. Life was pretty good and I thoroughly enjoyed the working out life, looking at and trying a few diets, playing around with supplements, and just being ridiculously, physically active.
By 2015, I was on my way to North Park – one of the “hippest districts” in the country. Funny thing was, I was pretty far from being a hipster 😂 Be that as it may, the humble little apartment I occupied a few blocks off North Park’s epicenter at 30th Street and University Avenue would become much more for Level One Training and Fitness.
But things can’t go terribly smoothly ALL the time. As mid-2016 approached, something felt wrong. I was starting to have anxiety attacks about things which normally didn’t bother me. Then on one Saturday morning in May, I found myself staring at the mirror and wondering who was looking back at me. The reflection looked thoroughly exhausted, beaten, and defeated.
SURRENDER? NO, ACCEPTANCE
I had made peace with MANY challenges in my life and there was only one thing left for me to stop hiding from and behind: being out as a member of the LGBTQIA+ family. As unconventional as it may seem, conversations with university-aged students helped me make that leap. I took comfort in the insurmountable FACT that my coming out would not change or diminish my capabilities, convictions, skills, or past accomplishments as a personal trainer (or even as a human being). Any individual that felt/feels otherwise can either learn more about me and another aspect of US society or live on in ignorance, that’s their prerogative and I won’t lose sleep either way and .
The following 3 years saw the roller coaster ride continue. In many ways, it felt like the Multiverse had exploded and landed the world in an alternate reality where political, racist, homophobic, mysogynistic, and MORE kinds of rhetoric radiated throughout the “United” States. In 2020 and continuing to this day, the entire world was devastated by COVID-19, highlighting the tenuous connection we have to money and forcing us to think about and radically change how we approach our lives.
Through it all, I continued to focus as best I could with Level One Training and Fitness. I screamed into the wind which was big box gyms, diets which were all the rage, studios charging hundreds of dollars for “amazing workouts,” quick weight loss routines, degreed/licensed/certified professionals throwing their spin to make a buck, and on and on and on. Is this really how things operate within the human mind and by extension US society?
After 10 years, I cocked my head to one side at the irony of it all. After 10 years, it wasn’t a diet or a workout routine which forced us to consider changing our ways. It was being forced to remain AT HOME for 3 months, to wear masks, to keep our distance from others, and to curtail our activities. This radical change to the way we live our lives us has caused many of us to focus more rationally (or for some, irrationally) about our personal health.
After 10 years of working with dozens of clients and students through wars, economic crises, political crises, social crises, AND pandemics we’ve (hopefully) discovered that good health is STILL required to survive it all. Not only that but good health boils down to and begins with some very basic, fundamental things which require little more than a mindset. Barring any pre-existing conditions which might present challenges or prevent success, most people really only need to start doing what was recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention years ago:
- MOVE MORE! Moderate intensity cardio for a minimum of 150 minutes weekly.
- STRESS YOUR MUSCLES! Resistance workouts 2-3 times weekly.
- WORK YOUR MIND! Do activities requiring balance and coordination 2-3 times weekly.
- STRETCH YOUR MUSCLES! Do flexibility focused moves 2-3 times weekly.
Doing ANYTHING consistently for 10 years is always a milestone, for better or for worse, but it should still be a joy regardless. As our 10 year anniversary approaches in July, I look back with a dose of humility and more than a bit of fondness at the myriad of memories which make me the professional that I am today.
I chuckle at some of the things I did as a new trainer (counting every single rep my clients ever did… out loud – sorry, Steve!) I feel my fiery determination at mustering the courage to declare myself a personal trainer even though at the time I had no “facility” or “studio” and trained people at the park or at their homes.
I relive the frustration and aggravation when a past client or student seemingly throws everything I’ve taught them out the window to pursue a wild fitness craze, caves in to slick and sexy marketing campaigns, dives into a rabbit hole for the next, “best” diet, resists their common sense despite overwhelming evidence and facts, and/or just steadfastly, resolutely, absolutely refuses to move more.
And even after all of that, a tear wells up in my eyes when recalling a client I haven’t heard from in years message me to say “thank you” for teaching me about exercise and nutrition and a “I’m still doing what you taught me.” My heart weeps upon hearing the sibling of a now-deceased client tell me how much I positively impacted their brother, that he always came home from training and regurgitated everything I ever said in our sessions. I aspire to become the now long-gone client in his mid-90s who trained twice weekly for months, without complaint and with amazing persistence. I (virtually) pat the client on the back whose doctor was able to cut their medications as a direct result of regular and consistent, moderate intensity exercise.
Our clients, whether they stuck with the principles or not, virtually or in-person, is what makes the people the most amazing and interesting part of this journey. Regardless of economic, social, political, or cultural norms and differences, “health” is up to each individual. Each client, whether they made progress, regressed, or stagnated demonstrate that personal training/virtual training and dare I say, personal health in general, isn’t about compound or isolation movements, nutritional supplements or the keto or paleo diets, AMRAP or more sets, PRs or medals, or even counting calories.
IT’S ALL YOU…
Personal training (and by extension your personal health and now VIRTUAL training) is all about you. It’s about training your mind to see an alternative to what you think you may know and/or already do. It’s allowing yourself to take a leap of faith and to believe that you can do whatever you set your mind to with or without the help of another. It’s about recognizing and surmounting the mental obstacles we often place before ourselves in order to do what needs to be done (more exercise, better nutrition) so that we can have what we want (better health, longer life, better physique).
Your body, whether through the physical act of exercise or eating, is responding to you/your mind, not the reverse. I invite you to explore your own, personal possibilities for better health. Focus on the inner workings of health and you’ll see the results not only in your outward appearance, but your outlook and attitude on life. After all, we don’t really know what the next decade will bring us in terms of events, but we CAN prepare ourselves to be as physically ready as possible. After 10 years, my question is still the same: It’s your health, no one else’s; what will you choose to do about it? For help on answering this question, questions about virtual training, and much more, please reach out to us, we’re happy to help!