Every year IDEA recognizes top professionals in three categories: IDEA Program Director of the Year, IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year. Award recipients are veteran fitness pros who strive for excellence, show an outstanding commitment to their clients and communities, and spread their passion for fitness across the globe. Recipients will be celebrated at the IDEA World Fitness Convention™ this July, along with screen and fitness legend Jane Fonda, who will accept the IDEA Jack LaLanne Award.

Here, award recipients share their views on continuing to grow in their careers, working with inactive people and helping fellow fitness pros succeed.

Carrie Ekins, MA

2012 IDEA Program Director of the Year

When instructor Carrie Ekins, MA, was in a wheelchair recovering from hip surgery, she felt frustrated by not being able to dance. However, this initial setback—and the challenge of immobility—became her inspiration for finding an alternative approach to fitness and dance: Drums Alive®.

“Drums Alive features a variety of movements that accommodate people with different physical limitations,” she explains. “It is and was the first worldwide program that integrates fitness, drumming and learning through rhythm and movement. Instead of hitting drums with sticks, we beat on exercise balls.”

Whether Ekins is teaching in her hometown of Kutzen­hausen, Germany, or in cities across the globe, she strives to make participants of all ages, sizes and physical abilities feel accepted for their individual differences. “My goal is to provide cultural diversity and promote emotional, cognitive and physical fitness for my clients,” she says.

As founder, chief executive officer and program director of Drums Alive, she devotes much of her day to research. She not only investigates the science behind the method but also explores cultural customs, dances and songs for the program. (She chooses music from a whole range of cultures, from Irish to African.) “Seeking diversity is what makes life stimulating,” Ekins believes. “It opens the gates of creativity. It allows you to think outside your boundaries and see the realm of possibilities.”

Her program has reached a wide variety of populations, from athletes to children. For example, the German National Hockey Team used Drums Alive cross-training methods during their preparation for the world championships. Children in poor areas have benefited from the program thanks to Ekins’s work to make free training and material sponsorships available in these areas.

To further help children, Ekins co-founded Academic Beats® and serves on its team of program directors. Academic Beats combines physical education activities with educational core standards to elevate cognitive function, increase fitness and enhance well-being in children.

She is happy that her work can improve mind-body fitness. The department of sports medicine at Chemnitz University of Technology (CUT) in Chemnitz, Germany, has adopted the Drums Alive methods and programs as research interventions. “[CUT’s] unique research project in collaboration with the University of Gloucestershire, in the United Kingdom, is looking into the acute physiological effects of professional drumming/percussion,” she says. “The studies thus far have found significant cardiovascular and cognitive effects; the next step is looking into the medical application of drumming in various internal and psychosomatic conditions.”

Ekins received her first “aerobics” certification in 1979, immediately began teaching and has never stopped. “I have a deep desire to share my knowledge nationally and internationally,” she explains. To this end she has presented on her method at conventions around the world and has also written or contributed to numerous articles for different publications in the United States, Europe and Asia. Since the founding of Drums Alive in 2001, the program has been presented in more than 30 countries!

What advice does Ekins have for her fellow fitness instructors as they grow in their careers? “Never give up!” she urges. “Believe in the incredible power of the creative mind. Know that no matter where you begin, you can achieve your own greatness. Have the courage to dream, but don´t be afraid to fail. Be patient, because success does not happen overnight. Remember also that triumph is not always counted in dollar signs. Our job is about helping all individuals—as well as ourselves—find passion.”

Award Criteria

  • is a healthy role model
  • demonstrates keen professional
  • commitment through community and industry involvement

  • inspires staff and influences both active and underactive people to
    commit to a healthy lifestyle through successful, creative and diverse

Dan McDonogh

2012 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year

Dan McDonogh employs a “no nonsense” approach, whether he is explaining an exercise to a client, teaching a group exercise class to a room full of people or delivering content at a seminar to an audience of fellow fitness pros. He follows a simple what, when, why and how principle. “I say, ‘This is what I would like you to do. This is when I would like you to do it. This is why I would like you to do it, and this is how you can do it better!” he explains. “I believe this layered approach works well for different learning styles. When I see someone nod and smile after making an adjustment to a movement that I have cued, it makes me smile.”

McDonogh, of Danville, California, is an instructor and a group training and development manager at TRX®. Among the classes he teaches are Suspension Training®, Rip Training™, RPM™ Indoor Cycling, athletic conditioning and mind-body programs.

A program he helped create is TRX Team™, a fee-based small-group training solution that provides education, gear and programming for health clubs. He has been directly involved in the programming, education and delivery aspect of TRX Team since its beginning and has been responsible for recruiting and developing a master trainer base to deliver the product globally at a club level. “In TRX Team, everyone commits to the program, and the coach commits to the participants for the duration of the program. People build friendships, trust is developed, and more results are achieved.”

McDonogh enjoys educating fellow fitness pros across the world. “I want to essentially create an ‘army’ of instructors on the front lines by expanding their knowledge and helping them understand the importance of simplicity and connection. I estimate I was in front of over 11,000 fitness instructors in 2011 at various events. In turn, these 11,000+ instructors returned to their communities and inspired countless people.” (Look for McDonogh’s sessions at IDEA World Fitness Convention™ this July 5–8.)

McDonogh encourages instructors to reach the inactive market by creating programs that are scalable and inclusive. “If a workout involves too much demonstration or cuing to perform, chances are you will lose a new participant,” he explains. “Remember that we will get bored a lot sooner than our students. Be aware of the new participants and make yourself available before and after class. Approach them as quickly as you can to learn their names, as it can make all the difference to their adherence.”

What advice does he have to help his fellow instructors succeed in their careers? “Align yourself with people who support your vision, help you pursue your passion and encourage your creativity,” he says. “Being a fitness professional goes far beyond teaching a great class, picking the right music or wearing the coolest gear. It’s about leaving ego at the door and truly connecting with others.”

McDonogh enjoys the opportunity to “connect” with exercisers through TRX TV, downloadable 30-minute real-time workouts. “I have been directly involved in both the programming and the hosting of TRX TV since its inception,” he explains. “The response to the workouts has been incredible, and there have been thousands of downloads.”

McDonogh is honored to receive this IDEA award. “I have worked alongside some amazing people who have inspired me in many ways. I really never imagined my career would end up where it has. I have just approached every day with the same attitude: ‘It’s time to get up and do what I love to do.’ I really never have a distinction between work and play. To me I am always doing both!”

Award Criteria

  • demonstrates strong leadership skills through community and industry involvement
  • uses his or her superior instructional abilities and influence as an instructor to motivate active and underactive people to commit to healthy lifestyles

Rachel Cosgrove

2012 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year

“I was born into a family with a history of obesity, and exercise doesn’t come easy for me,” says Rachel Cosgrove. “Fitness has been a lifelong journey,” she says. “I have landed on what I know works, and every single day I follow the principles I preach to my clients. My mom and sister are both members of my gym, and their success and mutual support inspire me as well. In fact, my sister has lost 60 pounds. She was one of the featured success stories in the first book I made about how we have changed clients’ lives.”

Cosgrove is a personal trainer, a fitness competitor and the owner of Results Fitness in Newhall, California.

Goal setting is an important part of her philosophy. “When I put a goal in front of myself, it provides inspiration and motivation to stick with my training and stay on track. For example, I became a triathlete and reached a long-term goal of competing in and finishing an Ironman® triathlon.”

Her facility offers several goal-oriented programs, including the weight loss–oriented “Muffin Top Meltdown” and the “Nike® Women’s Half Marathon” program. “Clients don’t care what cool equipment we have or exercises we know, but they do care if we can help them reach their goals,” she says. “Our programs focus on what clients want, giving them a short-term goal to reach for. We challenge clients to accomplish something they never thought would be possible in a short time frame.”

Cosgrove says the group environment is key to clients’ success.“We do group training and semiprivate training because we have discovered that our clients are more successful in a group setting,” she says.

Does she have any advice for personal trainers who want to reach inactive exercisers? “Put yourself in their shoes,” she suggests. “How do they feel? What is going through their minds? Meet them where they’re at. If you have a story of your own, share that. Tell how you struggled and how you ‘get’ them because you have been there. Telling your own story makes you more vulnerable and allows you to connect with them on a level that will build trust. Once they trust you, you will change their lives.”

How can trainers be successful in their careers in general? “Look for the edge that will set you apart,” she says. “Learn from other people, read books, attend seminars. Never think of education as an expense. Instead, think of it as an investment in yourself and your career. Ask yourself what you can do to be the best at what you do. I’m always looking for one new idea that will change the way I approach what I do to make me a better coach. As an industry, we need to keep pushing to be taken seriously as professionals.”

To help fellow fitness pros, Cosgrove has presented at several fitness conventions. She has also developed a program called Results Fitness University. “It is designed to help other trainers and owners model their training systems and fitness businesses around our success. We work closely with hundreds of trainers and over 100 gyms, including locations in England, Canada, Lebanon, Spain and Ireland.”

Cosgrove enjoys sharing her knowledge with consumers as well. “I write a monthly column in a local newspaper and local magazine. I also write a regular column on WomensHealth.com and the HuffingtonPost.com, which provides me an opportunity to reach a broader group of consumers outside of my local area. And my book, The Female Body Breakthrough (Rodale 2009), has given me the chance to help thousands of women across the globe.”

Award Criteria

  • is a practicing industry professional spending at least 15 hours per week actually training clients one-on-one
  • demonstrates exceptional leadership, business management, motivational and instructional skills
  • inspires clients to greater personal growth and a higher level of fitness