Bryant Thomas, Tier 3+ trainer at West 50th Street in New York City
“As a former football and basketball athlete, I was taught to play through pain and discomfort. Not being on the court or field could put your team at a disadvantage, so you learned to sacrifice your body for the greater good. That was the norm.
When I became a personal trainer seven years after college, I wanted to be a living, breathing example of what people could accomplish with my help. Again, this led me to go, go, and go some more.
But then one day in November of 2017, I was forced to reassess this strategy. After failing to warm up properly, I felt a tweak in my adductor while performing a sumo deadlift. The pain would come and go, but it then became chronic, disrupting my everyday movements for a year. Other areas of my body were compensating constantly. Still, I took no time off. I didn’t rest.
A year and a half passed before I recovered from the injury, but I now have a compensatory shift in my pelvis I’m trying to correct. That experience taught me that pain can be your body’s way of asking you to slow down. Choosing to ignore that message is where the problem exists. “
Colleen Conlon, group fitness instructor at Equinox locations in New York City
“From age 11 to 19, I struggled with bulimia. Moderation in nutrition was something I had never mastered. Then, when I was 20, I started working with a trainer. We focused on prioritizing healthy foods to optimize my workouts, but I really just replaced binging and purging with obsessive ‘clean’ eating. I ate only vegetables and protein—no carbs, sugar, or salt.
Several months into this routine, I caved and went rogue, binging on burgers, fries, wine, and ice cream. In that moment, I realized my tendencies were hurting my mood, my energy, and my confidence.
With the help of a nutritionist, I was able to adopt healthier habits, using moderation to help me look and feel the way I wanted. Gaining knowledge through my coach, and acting on it, allowed me to stop my unhealthy behaviors.
Now, at 26, moderation is something I find sustainable. I follow a clean diet eighty percent of the time and give myself the freedom to indulge for the other twenty percent. That could mean eating a cookie if I crave it or enjoying bites from a variety of stands at Smorgasburg [open-air food market in Brooklyn] with friends. Moderation has given me the ability to enjoy life without feeling uncomfortable in my own skin and in social settings.”
John Codella, Tier 3+ trainer at Armonk in New York
“I naturally have an all-or-nothing personality. This meant partying as much as possible in college, never missing a day of exercise, and working every day for six months straight when I transitioned into personal training. Mental stress can build up when your life is consumed by any one thing. When I wasn’t able to keep my commitments, I felt like I was wasting away.
Do anything in excess, and your body will send you signals to stop. I was too stubborn to pay attention to them immediately, but after falling asleep in my work clothes one too many times I was forced to rethink my habits. Now, when my job feels more stressful than rewarding, I know it’s a sign that I need to spend more time and energy on myself.
It’s okay to feel below average at times, but if it lasts too long (which, for me, is two weeks), you need to make a change. Today, I’m better at listening to my body when it talks to me before it’s too late and it starts screaming.”
Eric Mischke, Tier 3+ trainer at Printing House in NYC
“Last summer, I ramped up my mileage too quickly and strained my calf. I was training too much in the seventy- to ninety-percent range in an effort to get my mile time under five minutes. Because of the strain, I couldn’t run for a few months. That brought me down mentally, but I tried to stay positive. I wanted to come back just as strong as I was before.
Sometimes my competitive mindset makes it tempting to slip back into my old habits, but over time I’ve been able to shift into a long-term mindset.
Now, I take a less-is-more approach, performing fewer high-intensity days and keeping those intervals and sessions shorter. I spend the bulk of my time, especially during cardio, training at fifty to seventy percent of my max effort to build my aerobic capacity.
Sometimes my competitive mindset makes it tempting to slip back into my old habits, but over time I’ve been able to shift into a long-term mindset. I want to be better than everybody one, five, twenty years from now. There’s always tomorrow.”
Scott Fournier, Tier 3+ trainer and master instructor at Yorkville in Toronto
“I started playing guitar in sixth grade and the drums in university. But because of work, I’d go months or even years without picking them up at all. I didn’t have time for hobbies. I worked most of the time, and when I wasn’t working, I recovered by doing nothing. I’d say, ‘I’m so tired,’ and just sit there.
But I wasn’t happy. Over time, I knew I had to have a life outside of my job, so I started to play my electric and acoustic guitar more at home. My friend has drums, so I soon started playing those, too. I immediately found that dedicating time to my hobbies wasn’t exhausting—it actually regenerated me.
Now, I use music heavily to get into a different headspace. I carve out 20 minutes every day to play music, and I’ve found that it makes me much more energetic, happy, and creative for all aspects of my life.”
These interviews have been edited and condensed for publication.