A couple of months ago I came home to my fiancée in bed on her laptop. I looked down and noticed she was using my copy of The Book of Muscle by Lou Shuler and Ian King as a mousepad. I told her to be careful, the book is priceless – it changed my life. Her eyes peeked up from the screen “seriously?”. I was being facetious, but it was sort of true. The book sparked a passion for exercise and nutrition and played a role in my pursuit of a career in fitness – one that has now lasted over 15 years.
The book was purchased about 18 years ago. I had just graduated college – where I studied business – and landed my first real job in an office doing sales. With my bank account flush with salary-money, I decided to splurge and join a fancy commercial gym, Extreme Fitness, that offered a free fitness evaluation with a consultant.
My goal was to get big. I was always a skinny kid and had a hard time putting on weight; during my high school days I had tried a bunch of Muscle & Fitness Magazine workouts, with little success. The consultant told me that I should do all my sets as a tri-set, which is 3 exercises done back-to-back-to-back using the same muscle group. Excited with this insider info, I tried it on my next workout, which was back and biceps, also a suggestion from the consultant.
When I left gym that day, my arms felt solid. This was easily the greatest pump I’d ever had – this is what I need to be doing I thought to myself, she was right. The problem came hours later when that pump didn’t subside, and my arms were stuck at a painful 90-degree angle. I spent the next two days walking around like a skinny T-Rex.
I needed help and decided to invest in a good book, as I no longer trusted those professionals. I was drawn The Book of Muscle because it was the only hardcover book and by far the biggest – in height and thickness – so it stood out. The book was packed with information:
a detailed exercise glossary, nutrition section and programs for beginner, intermediate and advanced lifters. The book also had an anatomy section that explained in good detail the muscles working for each exercise category, something no other book had at the time.
The book came with me to work every day the following week. I read it on my lunch breaks, the ride home and every night before bed. I wanted to fully understand what King and Shuler wanted to convey before starting the program and properly prepared to minimize the risk of injuring myself again.
Photocopies came with me to the gym every day and I followed the program religiously. Within a couple of months, I had transformed my body and mind; I was bigger, stronger, and more confident. My passion also evolved, and I found myself reading more about nutrition and exercise in my free time.
The gym became my sanctuary – a place to escape and reduce the stress I had started to feel at work. To say I hated my job would be an understatement, which was really depressing because I had romanticized office life throughout college. I slowly realized that this wasn’t the type of work for me; I needed more, to do something that interested me, that I was passionate about. Exercise and nutrition had transformed my life in such a short period of time – could I channel that passion into a new career and help others?
My parents were surprisingly supportive, I think they knew how miserable I was at work. My mom suggested taking a night course to see if I would like it, so I did. Every Tuesday and Thursday evening for 4 months I went to Humber College taking the first course of the program, Anatomy and Physiology.
I loved the course and decided to finish the program, which would take roughly 2 years to complete part-time. As much as I would’ve loved to go back to school fulltime, I had stupid car lease payments to make – if only Dave Ramsey was in my life at that point – so, I had to keep my day job.
After the first year of the program, I learned that if I got certified, I’d be able to start my career in the industry while I finished the program; so, I decided to take a weekend course and do the exam Can-Fit Pro exam. I passed my first time and decided to look for a job and get the hell out of the office.
I had interviewed at numerous gyms and received a couple of offers, but one place really stuck out – Totum Life Science. The gym was a gorgeous, a 19th century conversion with high end equipment and a full sports medicine clinic. It was only part time and wasn’t technically a personal trainer job, but I felt the opportunity to learn was far greater than any other gym, so I took it and kept my day job . . . that damn car lease, again.
The job title was Lifestyle Coach. I’d conduct fitness assessments on new members and write programs for ones that didn’t want a personal trainer. It was a great opportunity to gain experience writing programs for a wide variety of people and I learned how to instruct exercises and developed cues based on members performance. The practitioners were immensely helpful, too. Since I was designing programs for their patients, they would help me program around injuries, a skill which would help me later in my career.
Looking back, I don’t know how the hell I it did it – my schedule was insane. Fueled by one hour evening commutes chugging sugar-free Red Bulls, I’d finish my day job at 5 and immediately drive to either Humber or Totum for a 6pm start time: Humber on Tuesday and Thursday and Totum on Wednesday and Saturday. When I finished college, I took an extra shift on Friday evenings to gain more experience in the gym.
Driven by passion, I didn’t give a shit how busy my schedule was – the goal was to be the best personal trainer and, I’d do anything to achieve it, even if it meant going into work in my spare time to shadow trainers, I did it. I wanted to be great.
My time there lasted about 9 months. After a failed practical session – required to start personal training clients – my confidence took a bit of a hit. I kept the vision in mind and worked on the feedback I was given, which was to adjust the intensity of the workout for different fitness levels. So, I picked the brains of my boss and other trainers to find the right balance and structure. When I finally felt ready to re-take the practical, it was too late as they had just hired a new trainer, and I would never get the redemption I had worked so hard to right.
Sadly, I knew it was time to move on, so I took a job at a big commercial gym, the very gym I had joined when I started my journey – Extreme Fitness. But I left Totum feeling confident in my skills and abilities, so it was time to turn the page and do this full time.
Totum gave me a lot of street cred, though. I soon found that out when my schedule was quickly filled and, I soon became the go-to person for exercise injury management. My time at Extreme was short lived – about 5 months – mostly due to differences in ethics, something I have continually battled throughout my career. But that niche has stuck with me throughout the years and has fostered many relationships with multi-disciplinary practitioners across the city.
My career has had a ton of ups and downs but, there’s been no shortage of remarkable people I’ve had the opportunity to train: doctors, lawyers, and CEO’s, entrepreneurs from various industries and, clients from different countries and cultures. From teenage athletes to their grandparents and, weekend warriors working towards a better slapshot, lower handicap or a coveted Boston Marathon qualifier and some, just learning to run their first 5km race. I’ve been a trainer, fitness manager, spokesperson for Movember and a startup app and even had the opportunity to work as a fitness tester at the 2009 NHL combine.
But, it hasn’t been all rainbows and puppies; this industry is unforgiving, and I have had my fair share of struggles, too. Not only did I survive the great recession in 2008 and now the two-year, ongoing, globalCOVID pandemic; but, surprisingly – to me at least – I’ve somehow been able to grow and thrive. Admittedly, I’m not the best businessman, so I can only attribute the resilience to two things – my undying passion for fitness and my desire to never be an employee again.