Bridging the Gap
Even a trainer for NBA stars sees the effects of the obesity epidemic.
Ed Downs is a fifth-degree black belt, a U.S. Martial Arts Hall of Fame inductee, an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and a more-than-20-year fitness industry veteran. He has spent much of his career working with professional athletes from a variety of sports, many of whom have trained at his TERF Athletic Facility in Miami. The creator of PROTERF training, Downs has successfully developed and patented the Downs Disc, which he uses in client training programs. His experience includes positions as a flexibility specialist and personal trainer for NBA champion Miami Heat, as a core and flexibility specialist for the New Orleans Hornets and as a trainer for U.S. Navy SEALs. Downs has appeared on MTV’s The Life with NBA star Baron Davis and Deco Drive with NBA star Penny Hardaway, and he has been featured several times in ESPN The Magazine, Sports Illustrated and various other national publications.
ACE: You may not see the impact of the obesity epidemic in the lives of your professional-athlete clients, but how do you see it in children you work with, friends, family or people you pass on the street?
Ed Downs: Although there are typically many coaches, trainers and healthcare professionals regularly monitoring athletes’ fitness levels, a select few athletes still struggle with the challenges of maintaining a proper diet program. Imagine how difficult it must be for the average person who’s nonathletic to follow a regimen or set goals. The impact of the obesity epidemic is so widespread that it is even present in facilities such as my own, designed for those who aspire to become top-level athletes.
ACE: Why do you believe it’s important for parents, teachers and even professional athletes to make healthy lifestyles a priority in their own lives?
Ed Downs: I see firsthand how kids look up to athletes and parents every day. If Dwyane Wade walks into the gym with a soda in his hand versus a healthy smoothie, every kid notices. I find it more important for us parents to be mindful of what we put in our bodies because our children may follow in our footsteps. Planning to get healthy and stay healthy is a wise way to manage your life and give yourself the best possible chance to achieve your goals. Working together as a family and as a team to accomplish fitness goals and a healthy lifestyle makes [the effort] more manageable for everyone involved.
ACE: How have you seen your work change the way people live—whether it’s athletes working to maintain a healthy weight in the off-season or children learning to create healthy habits at an early age?
Ed Downs: The changes I’ve seen in people I’ve worked with are more mental than they are physical. People feel good about themselves because of the hard work and dedication it takes to achieve the fitness and athletic goals we set for them. The smiles that come across their faces once they see those first 5–10 pounds come off or when they shave a second off their time in a speed drill—that’s what I live for. Once they’ve reached these short-term goals, they realize that long-term goals are much more important. Then they make changes in their everyday lifestyles, as opposed to just working to lose weight. Ultimately, their confidence and self-esteem reach new heights, which is far more rewarding at both the mental and the physical levels.
ACE: What misconceptions—if any—do you believe fitness professionals have about people who may be struggling to control their weight or adopt healthy habits? Why is it important for fitness professionals to overcome those misconceptions before they can truly help people?
Ed Downs: In the world of athletes I live and work in, many fitness professionals have a tough time coming to the realization that not everyone has the mentality of an athlete. As a matter of fact, most people do not. I have shared with many fitness professionals that there are several different types of behavior models that explain the specific approaches needed to motivate an individual who wishes to pursue and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Even once people engage in a structured regimen, there are stages of change they may face to reach their fitness goals. It takes mental and physical adaptations to achieve long-term goals and lifestyle changes.
ACE: What advice would you give to people who may not know where to start when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle?
Ed Downs: The advice I would give to a person trying to get started with a fitness program is to take it one day at a time. Set short-term fitness goals that are reasonable and attainable. I’ve had parents come into my gym and ask if I think their 12-year-old son can reach the same fitness and vertical-jump measurements as LeBron James or be as quick as Dwyane Wade by the time he is in high school. First, I stand there to see if they start laughing or if they’re completely serious. I’m not one to doubt anyone’s ability, but I do think it’s important to understand the probabilities and work ethic involved in reaching goals like these. I promote not just reaching athletic goals but more importantly embracing a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle boosts your energy, improves your mental outlook and enhances your quality of life. Regardless of your current health, you can begin making positive lifestyle changes today. Gradual transitions are the best way to make healthy choices part of your daily routine. Over time, these small changes will add up to big results, like a long, healthy life and possibly a 40-inch vertical leap like LeBron James.