Trainers—they’re just like us. No, really: Everyone has to start somewhere with fitness, and the men and women who inspire us to work up a sweat are no different. Even if they know the rules of the trade now, many battled the same frustrations beginners face when they’re first getting into a routine. From body confidence to a lack of knowledge about weights, machines, and cardio metrics, these stories of fitness struggles from the pros prove that fitness is a challenge for even the fittest.
“I struggled with feeling weak.”
Tatiana Boncompagni was always an athlete growing up—first as a swimmer and later as a runner. She remained active throughout school but eventually struggled to maintain a routine as her journalism career grew and she started her family. But thanks to a half marathon, her dedication to fitness sparked again. “I walked differently, talked differently. I rediscovered myself again. And then I transformed my life,” she shares of the running experience.
But building up her stamina and muscular strength wasn’t an easy task. The once super-strong, well-trained athlete was climbing back up from the bottom. “The hardest part was feeling weak. I wasn’t used to that feeling. It humbled me,” she says “It didn’t help that I didn’t know how to use half the cable machines or that I was worried about hurting myself benching or doing squats at the squat rack. All of the equipment and trainers intimidated me.”
To hop over this hurdle, she took a deep breath, released her shyness, and worked up the courage to ask for help. Eventually, with practice and precision, she realized she could achieve the same high through weight lifting that she found during her long runs and sprints. “I’ll never forget that day when I had just done a leg workout and was stretching on the mat and felt so relaxed; it was like I was on the beach. Ever since then I’ve been hooked,” she says. “I became a trainer because I want to help other women feel the way I do.”
“I compared myself to others.”
Although he’s now a certified personal trainer, Andrew Girvan wasn’t always prepared to lead others through challenging workout sessions. In fact, his first months visiting the gym were full of self-confidence issues and feeling intimidated by other gym-goers who seemingly knew how to do it all. “There would always be people at the gym in better shape or doing more advanced exercises than me,” he says. “I would only work out the last hour the gym was open, so less people would be there and see me.”
His desire to lead a healthy life and build his strength fueled him through the fear. He finally came to the conclusion that would shift his mindset: Only he had control over his success. Spending time worrying about others’ perceptions or if he was measuring up to the dude on the machine next to him was a waste of his time and energy. “Only I could control my body. Only I could control what I ate. There would always be someone in better shape, but who cares?” he says. “I chose to do my best, day after day, stay consistent and disciplined, and knew [that] the results I wanted would come.”
“I needed to learn over time.”
Kenny Pena was on his high school swim team, which led him to land a lifeguarding gig at a high-end gym. While keeping a careful eye on the pool, he realized plenty of swimmers could use pointers on their form. Without thinking, he offered to help. He started giving basic pointers and it eventually inspired him to build his own personal training business. Fast-forward three decades later and he’s flourishing. It may not seem like quite the struggle compared to others, but his learning curve was steep and one that he steadily built, shifted, and changed as he branched out past swim laps and into strength and cardio training.
“I struggled with aging.”
Laura Wooster always loved yoga, but it wasn’t until her brother’s suicide in 2009 that she began a regular routine as a way to deal with her grief. Since then, she has earned her teaching certification and fallen in love with flying trapeze, which she also instructs. But in the process of these two feats, she struggled to accept her mid-thirtysomething body. It wasn’t responding to fitness in the same way it did before. It wasn’t just that she was out of shape in the traditional sense, but her metabolism was slowing down, her muscle mass was falling, and improving her flexibility was proving to be more difficult as well.
To push past her frustrations, she reminded herself it wasn’t a race to the finish line. Her body was still beautiful and powerful even if progress came slower. “It’s easy to be so overwhelmed by thinking you’re never going to get there … it can derail any initial fitness efforts and those first, early steps of a very long journey,” she says. “Simply put, I had to stop the comparisons. Comparing myself against my fitter younger self. Comparing myself against the future fitness goddess I hoped to become. And comparing myself to any other student or individual dealing with their own practices and moving forward in their own journeys.”
“I had to figure out the right eating habits.”
After a career as an ultra-marathoner, Tanner Spees looked to personal training as a way to earn extra money in place of sponsorships. Though he didn’t initially know if it would fit his interests, he quickly realized how much he enjoyed it—and how empowering and helpful he could be for his clients.
But instructing others on how to reach their fitness or weight loss goals is a demanding gig. So it was important for Spees to remain well-fueled and hydrated. At 6’5”, he didn’t need to restrict calories. Instead he need to determine how many to eat in order to support his body and physical activity. It was a game of trial and error. “I’ve learned what works well for my body and body type, and in short it’s eating the right foods and training a certain way,” he says. “I eat about 6,500 calories on a daily basis to maintain my weight when not training and 8,500 to 9,500 during training.”
It’s this personal process that has allowed him to stay physically prime—even while traveling the world as a digital trainer for the past few years. Best of all? He’s able to share what he learns from his own research to make his clients even happier.
Take it from the pros, good things take time. Fitness is a practice that requires patience and a whole lot of effort. Take the time to do your research and, of course, always ask for help.