From Playstation® Pro to Power Player

Through trust and expert guidance, an unhealthy teen becomes a fitness prodigy.

By Ryan Halvorson
Jan 26, 2010

Client: Aja

Personal Trainer: Marc Coronel, owner of Open Mind Fitness

Location: Greenwich, Connecticut

Rewriting History. At 12 years of age, Aja was becoming one of the many overweight and obese children in the U.S. He preferred the PlayStation to playing outside, and the only movement he experienced was during physical education class at school. But that didn’t seem enough to combat his relative inactivity and fondness for sweets.

Concerned for his health, Aja’s mom met with Marc Coronel, owner of Open Mind Fitness, to determine a strategy.

Proof in the Performance. “Aja and I sat down and talked about his desires, dreams and aspirations,” recalls Coronel. “Since he was younger than the average client, we had to establish trust before talking about the stereotypical ‘let’s lose weight’ subject.” Aja explained that he had always wanted to be faster than his friends, and that he wanted to build greater strength. Coronel started by teaching Aja proper push-up technique and promising him that this would help him become stronger.

“Because Aja was young, he was naturally skeptical of my methods, so I had to make him a promise,” says Coronel. “I told him that if he did what I told him to do, he would notice improvements in 2 weeks.” Aja knew that 2 weeks was a manageable period of time for an experiment, so he decided to trust Coronel.

Pushing Toward Success. As time passed, Aja grew excited about his progress; Coronel’s plan was working. “Aja noticed changes, which opened the door to start talking about setting concrete goals and finding an activity that he would be interestd in,” recalls Coronel. But even though Aja had developed trust in Coronel, he didn’t always enjoy the process. “Aja did not like our 10- to 15-minute runs,” says Coronel. “He hated me, and I could hear him cursing my name. I told him that he could say whatever he wanted as long as he didn’t stop running. He never stopped.”

Weights and Measures. Although progress was being made, Aja was curious about dumbbells and barbells. “He told me that his friends lifted weights at school and he wondered why he wasn’t allowed to [lift weights, too],” says Coronel. “I replied that once he could perform 50 push-ups, 20 pull-ups and 100 sit-ups, in perfect form, we would use dumbbells.”

Coronel knew that it would be quite a while before Aja could complete this task, and by that time he hoped his client would realize that free weights weren’t necessary for optimal strength, flexibility and endurance. He was right. Aja eventually surpassed each of his peers in push-ups and pull-ups.

High-Octane Learning. One of Aja’s biggest problems was nutrition. He loved to eat lots of red meat and sugary treats, recalls Coronel. “I sat Aja down and talked to him about how his body works. I knew that he loved cars, so I gave him an analogy. I asked him if he would prefer to run his car on high-octane fuel or 7UP. The answer was easy,” says Coronel. To help Aja make manageable changes, Coronel asked him to substitute one unhealthy food choice for a “high-octane” choice. Aja began noticing that his physical capacity—and mood—changed as a result, and he decided to continue to clean up his diet.

Model Behavior. Now 16, Aja is in top shape and outperforms his peers in just about every arena. He has become the model of healthy living for his school and is often seen encouraging classmates to make healthy nutrition choices. “He has also become an undefeated competitor among New England teens in Brazilian jiu jitsu,” adds Coronel.

Coronel believes that working with young kids can often be tricky. But at the heart of it all is helping them understand that they can trust you. “Instead of barking orders to Aja, I would explain the purpose of everything,” notes Coronel. “Then, when it was time to exercise, I would do it alongside him. This helped develop sincere trust—and an open mind to the many possibilities available to us.”

Calling All Trainers

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 IDEA Fitness Journal.


Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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