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Fit for Change

A transformative fitness journey for both trainer and client.

CLIENT: Sam Garman


LOCATION: Milagros Fitness/Online Coaching, San Diego

“Understanding my client’s needs and goals has always been the most important facet [of] personal training,” says NASM-certified personal trainer and nutrition coach Kali Stewart, “but working with Sam was special.”

Stewart and Sam Garman became friends after Stewart’s wife introduced them in 2011. A few years later, Sam would entrust Stewart with a significant role in his fitness and personal journey.

“He needed help with a strength program that would aid in his transition from a woman to a man,” says Stewart. “I felt truly honored to help.”

Adaptability Is Key

Personal Trainer Kali Stewart and Client Sam Garman; Fitness Transformation
Personal trainer, Kali Stewart, and her client, Sam Garman.

Sam’s goals were twofold: to build muscular strength and hypertrophy and to prepare for his future breast removal surgery.

Though Stewart had no prior experience with transgender clients, she knew Sam’s program would have to factor in his unique physical demands. Sam’s training consisted of cardio and full-body workouts 3 days per week, with special emphasis on pectoral hypertrophy. The aim was to define his lower pectoral muscles to allow for better alignment during surgery.

“I included multiple pushing and fly-type exercises with dumbbells, barbells, cables and pushups to place a variety of tension on the chest muscle fibers,” she explains.

Stewart also made adjustments to reduce any discomfort Sam might feel about his body during training. When possible, they avoided exercises requiring a mirror, and Stewart worked around Sam’s binder—an elastic bandage some trans men use to compress the chest—by modifying rests between sets to prevent overheating.

“He started the program not feeling very connected to his body, and it was important to me to help him feel more confident in his strength,” Stewart explains.

The Value of Vulnerability

As Sam faced complex struggles related to the physical and mental demands of transitioning, Stewart was challenged with reshaping her training approach to meet Sam’s needs—a task that required plenty of learning, open communication and a willingness to embrace discomfort.

“We were both open to being vulnerable and making mistakes, and that helped us work through the challenges we faced,” says Stewart.

“Just as Stewart guided Sam through his exercises, Sam helped Stewart understand his experience and physical needs as a transgender client.

“I relied on him for feedback,” says Stewart, “[and] made an effort to learn more about the transgender community, the physical and emotional hurdles one might face in a transition, and the physiological impacts of taking hormones.”

A Lifestyle Transition

Sam Garman Backpacking FitnessSam’s training proved to be a success: His newly defined pectoral line made surgery easier, he recovered without complications, and he decreased his body fat while increasing his muscle mass.

He now incorporates hiking, running and yoga into his daily life. He has even reached new heights in personal fitness by completing a 4-day backpacking trip!

“He feels more comfortable with his body now than ever before,” says Stewart.

Stewart has also experienced a transformation of her own, having gained the knowledge to help future clients with similar goals.

When asked how trainers can best serve transgender clients, she says the key is listening and staying flexible. “Ask for permission to ask questions, and then listen. Be patient with your client while they are redefining their physical form, [and] be ready to make amendments to your program.”

For more information about transgender experiences, Sam now has a podcast called Transform: Beyond the Transition.


Do you have a client who has overcome the odds to achieve new heights in health and fitness? Send your story to [email protected], and you and your client may be featured in an upcoming issue of Fitness Journal.

Sarah Kolvas

Sarah Kolvas is the associate editor for Fitness Journal.

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November-December 2020 IDEA Fitness Journal

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