By Dave Sutton | Photography by Phil Fabrizio
Each work morning, 28-year-old Nick Sawaya wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to arrive at work by 5:30 a.m. and prepare for his first client at 6 a.m. Nick is a personal trainer for Fitness Together in Bethesda, Rockville and North Potomac.
“When I arrive to work, I go over everybody’s workout in advance,” says Nick. “I review the sheet to see what happened with the client’s previous workout and then I plan that day’s workout.”
Nick has been a personal trainer for three years. He recently moved back to the United States from Sweden in August 2011. While living in Sweden, Nick received his master’s degree in human ecology as well as his certification as a personal trainer.
“Once I began applying for jobs after school, I decided I really liked the physical work of being a trainer better (than his master’s course of study),” says Nick. “I have a passion for working with people, and it keeps me on my toes, too.”
Nick’s last job before leaving Sweden was in a “big-box” gym. Clients would wander into the gym and ask, “’Can you show me a few exercises?’” says Nick. “We would respond: ‘Any injuries?’” Then, the clients would wander off to fend for themselves.
As a result of that big-box gym experience, Nick says he is really sold on Fitness Together’s philosophy of individualizing each client’s workout, and having trainers work one-on-one with clients on a consistent basis over a long period of time. The Fitness Together program— which is carried out in semi-private stations—offers strength training, individual and group cardio training and personalized nutritional counseling.
“This is a much better system,” says Nick. “It really seems to be working for people.”
Nick’s days are hectic and fast-paced. He sees anywhere from seven to 12 clients each day, and sessions are 45 minutes long. The client sheet Nick studies prior to each workout provides consistency and continuity between each session. “It’s surprising how much you can accomplish in 45 minutes,” says Nick.
How does Nick keep his own energy up? “Massive amounts of caffeine,” he jokes. He also eats six or seven small meals a day, including shakes made from oatmeal, bananas and protein powder. Having energy and enthusiasm makes all the difference, notes Nick. “One of the advantages of having people come in back-to-back is that you don’t slow down. The endorphins kick in and during those 45 minutes, you don’t feel it.”
Marli Pasternak, 52, has been a client at Fitness Together for more than five years. A Bethesda resident who works as a special assistant at the U.S. Senate, Marli says Nick has a real knack for motivation. “He finds the right level for you and then takes it a notch higher where you didn’t think you could go. I feel stronger, have more energy and feel a lot healthier,” she says.
“The client-trainer relationship is an equal relationship,” Nick adds. “This motivates both of us. Someone is waiting and expecting to get my best. You never want to let them down.”
The aim of any true fitness professional is to ascertain the goals of his or her client and then meet or exceed those goals, says Nick. Beyond this, a secondary goal is to give and demand 100 percent from the client at all times. The trick for trainers is to balance a demanding workout with a client’s personality.
“A personal trainer is not just a coach—you have to be able to recognize people’s personalities,” says Nick. “Not everyone will be at 100 percent, so a trainer has to know how to motivate, when to encourage and when to back down and let people have their way— it’s a balancing act.”
For Sawaya, being in top physical shape himself is a professional obligation. But it’s also personal. Years ago, when Nick arrived as an undergraduate at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, he weighed 330 pounds. Because he knows personally what it feels like to be overweight as a young person, one of Nick’s goals is to establish a non-profit youth retreat that will combine music, fitness and social and environmental studies.
Does Nick have any suggestions to help us get into shape?
“As you go about your daily life, try not to succumb to convenience. If something can be done manually, do it. Walk the stairs or walk to the store,” he suggests.
“Personal training and health itself is not about taking time away from an individual’s day,” Sawaya adds. “It’s about creating a space that’s entirely for one’s own benefit and pleasure. Find something that’s fun for you to do and just get out there and do it.”
Fitness Together studios are located in Bethesda, Rockville, North Potomac and Silver Spring. http://fitnesstogether.com/dcmetro
Published in the January/February 2012 issue of Montgomery Magazine.