It started back a few years ago, around 2014. I was working as a YMCA after school counselor. At the time, I had worked for the YMCA for about three years, meeting hundreds of new kids every school year. One of the pros that came with the YMCA was a free gym membership. Unfortunately for me, I never really used the gym. Occasionally I would stop by to play basketball, but that was it. Growing up, I was very into sports but mainly basketball. The Los Angeles Lakers were my favorite team, and Kobe Bryant was my favorite basketball player. I never really got into working out. I saw magazines and fitness articles but never really gave much thought about how I looked. I never really gave my body that much attention. I was teased a few times about being skinny and, for that reason, wasn't happy with my body, but I never paid it too much attention.
Fast-forward a few months earlier. I was going through a tough moment at the time. My family wasn't doing so well either, and I consistently felt like I couldn't escape the horrible feeling of everything around me crumbling. My world was turning upside down, and I didn't know what to do about it. Everyday trying to cheer me up, but there was nothing to put a smile on my face. For the first time, I was facing depression, and everything seemed dark. Many times I prayed and asked God why these things were happening to my family and me. I couldn't figure it out. Many times I found myself locked in the bathroom crying, but I wanted to stay strong and didn't want anyone asking me if I was okay. I couldn't allow anyone to see my real emotions, putting on a mask just felt more natural to do.
The following winter, my friend Monica who I met At the YMCA help me get a job at the private school she was teaching at, she had no clue as to my situation, but till this day I'm thankful for her help. I brought her a gift to say thanks and showed my appreciation anyway I could during our time working together. After getting settled in with my second job because I was still working for the YMCA, life seems a bit better but, at times, glumly. I felt like something was still missing from my life and didn't know what it was.
My co-worker and soon to be friends melissa, who also worked at the YMCA, expressed to me that she was trying to get in shape but needed a workout buddy. She asks, and without much thought, I said yes, I had no intention of working out. Before I knew it, I and melissa were working out, and I fell in love with fitness. I was developing this new profound passion for weightlifting and seeing my body transform before my eyes were something I never imagine. The best part was the attention I was getting, people, asking me for advice, and if they could work out with me. I felt like a celebrity and love sharing the knowledge that I had picked up. I asked myself, Is this what I was missing? A new start, a new chapter in my life. How did I acquire this hunger for fitness, asking myself, how do you lose stomach fat? What are the best exercises for building muscle? How much cardio should I be doing? Shortly I began watching videos on youtube and getting my hands on every magazine with a big muscular bodybuilder on it. I came across Kai Greene and really appreciated his approach to free weight training. He Inspired me so much that I searched for all his videos and wanted to run to the gym after watching them.
I worked out every day after work. I would go to the Prospect YMCA in park slope Brooklyn and spend about 45-60 mins in the gym. I would pack my clothes in the morning and carry it with me for the day. I started off using the strength machines because it felt safer, and was more comfortable to use than the free weights. I learn every machine's name and what muscle it worked. I would spend about 30 mins on the treadmill and run until I was soaked in sweat, trying to go faster every time I got on. I spend more hours on the weekend, exercising from 2 pm to 4 pm, get something to eat around 5 pm than start again from 6 pm to 8 pm or 9 pm, which was when the gym closed. I did push-ups until my arms, and my chest hurt. I did squats until it was hard to walk and did so many crunches that my stomach would tighten up and I'd have a four-pack for about 3 mins. Working out was everything to me, and I wasn't letting it go.
After some time, I would consistently hear, "Chris, you should become a personal trainer." I would smile and brush off the comment. Those comments got to me after a while, and I thought to myself, Me a personal trainer? Do I know enough to help people? Can I do this? I would go home asking myself so many questions about this because it seems right but didn't know if I was making a mistake. Soon after, I became a gym floor trainer and started studying for my trainer exam. One of the YMCA directors by the name of mike had a conversation with me, and I was convinced. I had a plan, I would work as a floor trainer, and while doing that, I would study for the exam. If you're unfamiliar with a gym floor trainer, it's someone that walks the gym floor, ensuring that everything from gym equipment to members is okay. Floor trainers may show members how to use the strength machines and what muscles they work. Some other duties may be offering a towel, giving tours of the gym since it's their job to know where everything is and just making everyone feel welcome and motivated to workout.
In the first few months, I genuinely struggle through my studying. Unfortunately, I underestimated the exam, and a few hours before it was time to take it, I called and reschedule. I was lucky because I was calling very late and there was a late fee but the representative on the phone wave it for me. What I didn't realize was that when choosing what trainer certification to go with, I selected the most well respected but most challenging organization. NASM, the national academy of sports medicine, was the certification I was going for, and it stressed me a lot. I found myself coming home from my assistant teaching job and burying my head in my NASM book. I would study every single day of the week. I would study on the train, at work while walking the gym floor, at the park, at the doctor's office, and many times at the library. My studying got so obsessive that I told my supervisor that I felt sick and needed to go home when I actually went to the library to study more.
As time went on, I felt like I was near. The anticipation of passing this exam was getting to me. I would go to bed and wake up thinking about it. I remember waking up about 4:30 am and leaving by 5 am, I got to work for 5:45 am and would study from the time I got there to about 8 am. I thought to myself how I embark on this journey and went from a skinny and thin kid to put on 10-12 lbs of muscle to my body. As I reminisce on these moments, I thought to myself how everyone kept asking me if I passed the test yet? Hearing that consistently bothered me, and I told myself I studied enough. The following month I took multiple practice exams and did pretty good, so to keep this momentum, I finally scheduled my test for late may and kept a positive attitude.
On the morning of my exam, I woke up early and prepared because I didn't want to risk being late. I studied up until I entered the testing room as if that was going to make a difference. I guess it was comforting to review my book. When I got inside, I was immediately seated and begun the test. My hands started shaking as question # 1 showed up on the screen. I felt like I was coming across topics that I never studied. The questions were worded in a very confusing way. I felt like I forgot everything I learned. What got me the most was not knowing if I was doing well or not. About 40 questions in, I started feeling more confident because the subjects appeared to be more relaxed. I was flying through the exam but told myself to slow down because I didn't want to answer a question wrong mistakenly.
There were 100 questions, and I needed to get at least 70 right to pass. As I was approaching the end, my heart was racing, I thought about everything I had been through up until this point. The cutting out friends to focus, the long days of reading chapters, going to bed with my book as if I was a five-year-old, and it was my stuffed animal, purchasing hundreds of index cards to help me study. I was over the feeling of being stress and consistently overwhelmed day by day. My breathing got heavy, and with frantic hands, I click to answer the last question and then clicked "COMPLETE TEST." The computer started to calculate my exam, and with a blink of an eye, all I saw show up on the screen was "CONGRATULATIONS. You have passed your exam." Now you would think that I would jump for joy, maybe scream and starting dancing, but I didn't. Instead, I took a deep breath and exhaled. I exhale everything that I had been through over the last grueling six months. Then this sudden rush came over me as if this was supposed to happen, and I should have never pushed it this long. I conjured up this exam to be as scary as the monster under your bed or in your closet. Passing the exam was like I turned the lights on and realized that there was no monster, nothing to be scared of.
As I walked out of the testing center, I start to think about how excited I was to start guiding people on their fitness journeys. People wouldn't have to struggle the way I did because I would do that for them. I vowed to grow and push myself to learn more. I wanted to gain as much knowledge as possible so that I can always answer a question someone had for me.
Two weeks later, I had my first few clients, Lauren, Kim, Jenna, and Ana. From there, I would train many more people as I worked for the YMCA of Greater New York, Retro Fitness, and Equinox. During my time at these gyms, I would learn how to speak to clients, make them feel welcome as well as let them know that I wasn't going to be easy on them. I was eventually getting into group fitness along with personal training, which was a whole another aspect of fitness. There's something about having thirty-something people following your every movement and word. The scariest part was when I audition for Equinox. I knew the reputation they had and set my goals on getting in. After an exhausting 2 hour interview, because I had to audition with twenty-five other candidates, I had two minutes to shine, and I did. I got praised by a few of the thirty general managers that were there and walked out confident. The next day I got an email offering me a position as a group fitness Instructor. When I started, I made my presence know, and my name followed with positive words. Over time I didn't have the interest to continue. I felt as though I wasn't doing it for myself but the company.
I had already left retro fitness. I gave Equinox a try for about a year and still got that feeling like it wasn't for me. The YMCA was still around but very little. I thought to myself, I walk this path on my own, and I had acquired a great deal of information. I've learned from Managers, trainers, gym members, and even a few clients. I wanted something that meant more. Training in a gym for someone else didn't do anything for me. After hard thinking, I decided to go independent and start training my own personal clients. I wanted to know that the person I was giving my time to a few days a week was here because they wanted to work with me and not just because the manager matched us up together. I didn't want to deal with the hassle that comes with working for a gym. The idea that the gym cares more about making money rather than if members are reaching their goals got to me.
It was a conversation with a manager at one of the gyms that I won't name that said: "Chris, these are not your clients." That comment got me confused and bothered. I replied, "THESE ARE MY CLIENTS" I am the one who's working with them all week. I check on them, listen to what they have to say and what they're going through, I want them to succeed. That's when he replied, "Did these clients pay you or the gym?" "If you leave, will they follow you or wait for the next available trainer to take over their remaining sessions"? I was in shock and speechless because he was right. He opened my eyes. I thought to myself I have lovely clients, I believe they will miss me, but will they follow me if I go? When he said that it wasn't to upset me but to help me realize and I hope that's something every trainer takes into consideration while training for gyms.
I wanted to be in control and do things my way. I wasn't interested in following someone's else rules. I started my training business and called it Obsession Fitness Personal Training. I got all my paperwork, insurance, logo design done. I found a gym that allowed independent trainers to train their clients. I set up my rates as to how much I charged with different options of packages. Over time I gained more knowledge on nutrition and became a specialist on the topic.
Soon after, I was able to offer training and nutrition support to clients. I was excited to provide the best of both worlds to anyone that came to me. I learned early on that there are no physical changes unless you change your diet. I went on to develop relationships with gym owners and establish an excellent training business with promoting to prospects and turning them into clients. Today I coach my personal training clients in Brooklyn and manhattan. I am proud to say that I've come a long way, and I'm happy with what I have accomplished but always feeling like it's never enough.
If you are reading this and are considering becoming a trainer, ask yourself why and what it will do for your life. When asking this question, please don't say money because that should never be the answer, the money will come with any job, and there's more to it than what you get material wise. If your someone who's trying to get in shape and is having a hard time doing that, I encourage you to ask yourself what's your WHY. If your WHY is big enough, then you'll do it, but if it's not, you'll make excuses even when you don't believe them. We owe it to ourselves to become better versions of us, to anything in life, whether it be a job or just personal improvements like habits. I hope you take on whatever challenges are taking place in your life and use them to push you in the right direction. Use that to become stronger and uplift someone else in need in hopes that they do the same always remember, each one teaches one. I encourage you to find the value in that and carry it with you for the rest of your life.
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NASM CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER
NASM FITNESS NUTRITION SPECIALIST
NASM FAT LOSS SPECIALIST
Christopher Gilbert is a Personal Trainer based in New York City and is known for his effective nutrition and workout programs along with his intense training sessions.