client: Zach | personal trainer: Harold Gibbons, CSCS, Mark Fisher Fitness | location: New York

An all-inclusive space. They do things a bit differently at Mark Fisher Fitness. For example, trainers and coaches are not called trainers and coaches. "I'm called the Steward of Strength," explains personal trainer Harold Gibbons. The patrons are called Ninjas, not clients or members.

Collaborative efforts. Gibbons believes in the power of client-driven success and says that he never tells a client what to do. "Instead, I share strategies with our Ninjas, which they can use to create or discover better versions of themselves."

When the Steward of Strength and a new Ninja—Zach—met, the initial conversation sounded like equal partners working out the details of a new project, instead of a leader outlining instructions to his follower. Gibbons offered knowledge and know-how, and Zach used that information to define the program.

"All of our training sessions are formatted similarly," Gibbons notes. "We do our general warm-up, move on to core stability or power development work, then focus on one or two heavier, more complex compound movements before doing unilateral work. In Zach's case, we end with isolation exercises focused on hypertrophy, or work-to-capacity exercises to ensure he has the fitness to train aggressively on a regular basis."

Client-centered training. Gibbons, who oversees the program design team and has a hand in writing workouts for the more than 700 Ninjas who train at MFF, offers insight into how programs are developed. "Sometimes we'll focus on a specific exercise for multiple programs while varying the sets, reps and load." He adds that it's also important for the Ninjas to take the wheel and be in charge.

"Other times, we'll use variations of an exercise to provide a more unique experience. Ultimately, we have enough variables that each Ninja can be involved in the process of creating their training sessions. We love including their feedback. In Zach's case, he's really exploring those variables. We change things more subtly than with other Ninjas' programs so that he can experience the nuanced changes over time."

This approach has worked well for Zach. He says, "Every session, without fail, Harold checks in with me and delivers what I need. When I'm ready to set a [personal record], he'll load the bar and cheer me on; if I've had a stressful or a good day at work, he'll read me and know that I'm drained or full of extra energy."

Improvements, inside and out. It can be difficult for someone as tall as Zach to pack on muscle, but he continues to work diligently toward his goals. "I'm now playing a long game, knowing major change won't happen immediately," he says. He understands that attaining a 6'6" beach body is possible—just not in 6 months. This long-term perspective of training for life allows for balance."

Gibbons feels that one of Zach's greatest accomplishments took place internally, although it presents externally. "He walks into the room with the posture of a prince and the confidence of one, too," Gibbons says. "With that confidence comes a calmness."

Zach also experienced a change he hadn't anticipated prior to joining MFF. "Harold allowed me a space to re-evaluate my judgement of straight men," he says. "Being a gangly, scrawny, gay guy, [I've found that] the machismo of weight rooms is often a deep reminder of what I hated about average dudes who made life not so great growing up. I'm honestly a better person because of the example Harold sets of openness, kindness and brilliance."