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Personal Experience Inspires Client Success

The former 400-pound restaurant-manager-turned-personal-trainer uses his personal experience to help clients lose weight.

client: John | personal trainer: Tony Phillips, president, Custom Fitness Solutions | location: Cookeville, Tennessee

A personal struggle. Ten years ago—surrounded by unhealthy food and sugary sodas during his night shift as a restaurant manager—Tony Phillips had an epiphany. “I was over 400 pounds and miserable,” he says. “I was seeing a lot of people around me getting sick or dying due to poor diet and not taking care of themselves. That sparked something in me. I decided to join a gym, and I made a deal with myself to go every morning for 5 days a week.”

Phillips had tried the gym before with little success. “I would fail because I thought I had to do what the other person was doing.” This time, though, his approach was different. “I focused on learning how to enjoy myself—having fun with my workouts.” Phillips became a student of fitness, learning optimal technique and form.

It was a smart choice. When he first started, he’d max out at 5 minutes on the treadmill. “After several months, I’d worked up to an hour of walking on most days and strength training on other days,” he recalls. Taking “baby steps,” he began making smarter eating choices, as well, and “the weight immediatately started dropping.”

Phillips lost 240 pounds in 2 years, and others took notice, asking him for advice on how they might follow in his foosteps. It wasn’t long before he became a personal trainer and health coach.

A relatable relationship. At the beginning of 2017, Phillips had a consultation with John, a 52-year-old small-business owner.

At the time, John weighed 211 pounds, was on blood pressure medication, had high cholesterol and was borderline diabetic.

“He had no desire to exercise,” says Phillips. “He did feel a desire to improve his overall quality of life, but he didn’t think that he could turn things around. My personal story inspired him to get started.”

They agreed to train together 2–3 days a week. Phillips knew that making training a habit would be the first goal. And, thanks to his own experience, he knew the best ways to get a commitment to stick were to take baby steps and to emphasize fun.

“If you’re stressed at work all day, you won’t look forward to going to a place where a drill sergeant barks orders and tries to scare you into making changes,” he says. “If you can’t create a fun, enjoyable atmosphere, a program will not work. My goal at that point was to make it his ‘guy time’ and make it a highlight of the day.”

Baby steps equal success. In the beginning, Phillips emphasized functional bodyweight-style movements, teaching John how to move his body safely before adding load. He also wanted to make sure that he set John up to feel successful and confident.
Now, many months later—and thanks to a thoughtful and experience-driven program—John is a changed man.

“He is so much more motivated and is so fired up for his workouts and training sessions,” says Phillips. “He has progressed so much overall and crushed a good majority of his goals.” So far, John has lost 25 pounds, improved his cholesterol levels and stopped using blood pressure medication, and he is no longer considered prediabetic. John is now building more strength and endurance and preparing for his first 5K.

A life-changing decision. “John says that sitting down to talk with me was the best decision he has made,” Phillips says, with pride. “He never imagined he would make it to where he is now, and he feels amazing. He doesn’t feel like a prisoner to bad health and medications.”

And, like his trainer before him, John has become a staunch advocate for regular exercise and healthy food choices.

“He encourages everyone out there that no matter where you’re at with health and fitness, it’s never too late,” says Phillips.

John adds, “As Tony has shown with his own personal transformation story, there is hope. You’ve just got to step out on faith and buckle up for the journey, as this is not an overnight change; it takes time.”

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor, and IDEA's director of event programming.

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November-December 2020 IDEA Fitness Journal

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