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An interview with Gunnar Peterson, Personal Trainer, CSCS, CPT

All photos in this article: Copyright Gunnar Peterson and used with permission.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Gunnar Peterson got involved in fitness as a youth. Though he was active in sports he was still self-conscious. During his college years he started to understand more about nutrition. He applied that knowledge even more after college. Today, Peterson is a full time personal trainer in Beverly Hills, California preparing unique workouts for each of his clients. His clients include celebrities, professional athletes, and everyday people. His approach is to challenge his clients physically and mentally so that they remain engaged to reach not only their short-term but their long-term goals. Gunnar Peterson's interview with Faith & Fitness Magazine addresses the benefits a trainer can bring to developing a personalized fitness program. His knowledge throughout and his candor at the end of this interview reveal the qualities of a trainer that can help build physical and spiritual strength.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: What are the risks or problems of doing a standard exercise program that everyone else does – the cookie cutter approach? Why is jumping into a cookie-cutter fitness routine a bad idea?
Gunnar Petterson: If that routine is cut for your cookie then that can be great for you. If it is something you don’t have the aptitude for before you get into it then you could fail or worse get injured. Or if it something too advanced then you could lose interest because you haven’t laid the proper foundation. Every workout has to be taken on a case-by-case basis. Your workout should be different from mine.
For example there can be two kids with the same physician and coach in the same sport. Their workouts and practice may be very similar. However it is likely that each will be good at one aspect or another. So, they need special training to shore up any weakness. We all have the same muscle groups and work in the same three plains of motion. However, we all have areas of weakness that we want to improve so everybody should have a training program tailor-made for them.
F&F: Are there signs that indicate a person is stuck in a non-productive workout routine?
GP: The basic routine is fine for a while. You have to learn to listen to your body. Are things changing and improving according to the goals you established or are you simply grinding out your workout in a mindless mode? That shouldn’t happen. You can’t get like that. When you have a good trainer and pay attention to the factors that impact your training then you can maintain an effective workout.
F&F: What are the advantages to developing a personalized program just for you?
GP: A workout that is designed properly takes into consideration the other aspects of your life, your goals and the requirements of your daily life like repetitive movements that you do at work. It should take into consideration the time of day that you exercise and your nutritional needs before and after. It should help you get to your goals faster and avoid pitfalls. Certainly it can help you avoid injuries that you may otherwise experience if you didn’t have a customized program.
F&F: How does one go about identifying their specific needs and goals?
GP: You have to be brutally honest with yourself. Take a look in the mirror and decide where esthetically you want to see improvement. You have to look at your food intake. The best way to do that is write down everything you eat for a seven-day period and the time you ate it along with any emotional triggers that went along with that. Evaluate your sleeping habits. Is it under the right conditions? Take a look at any injury history or physical ability shortcomings. For example when you put your skis on the top of the car you can’t quite do it because it hurts your shoulder. Identify the problem and then find a program that works to heal it or strengthen around it so that it isn’t so limiting.
F&F: What specific things should one consider when developing a personalized fitness program?
GP: What you want to factor into a program is make sure you include resistance work, cardio-vascular work, flexibility and movement. Those are key components. There is no need to do just stretching work if you need to increase your strength and drop body fat. There is no reason to just focus on cardio-vascular if you want to change the proportion of your hips to shoulder ratio.
F&F: 1. Why is it useful to get the support of a trainer?
GP: A trainer can help clear up some of the gray areas and myths. A trainer can help you in things from which you shy-away where you impose personal limitation. If the trainer is keeping current on knowledge, he or she can help you correct training you’ve learned wrong or guide you from training that doesn’t quite apply to you and help you get to your goals faster.
F&F: So sometimes people actually create their own limits?
GP: That happens very often. They’ll say, “I can’t do that.” I know of a kid whose mom forbids him to play soccer – his favorite sport because of a previous injury. Yet he plays basketball, rides his skateboard and now he even plays touch football. He now has this limitation that his mom has branded on his brain. It’s nuts. To me it is logical that if you are doing the movements in these other sports you can do it in the sport you love. He says, “I can’t do soccer.” I say, “Yeah you can do soccer.” Maybe it hurts now. So, lets strengthen around that. There is a way to do it. People come in with a lot of limitations.
F&F: How does a personalized program supported by a trainer go beyond achieving fitness goals into having larger life needs met?
GP: First of all any exercise program followed on a consistent basis and done with some diligence will enhance every aspect of life: your ability to work well and focus and your interpersonal relationships and fidelities. I think those things are strengthened across the board. With this kind of support you will be more confident and accepting of yourself. Then, with that level of commitment you are more likely to stay with your faith, follow it, and not be led astray.
F&F: In what ways should a trainer connect with the spirit of a person.
GP: The trainer should only connect with the spirit of a person if they are that kind of trainer. If you have a trainer that reads an article that says, “You should connect with the spirit of a person” but they don’t know what that means and they try to fake it then it comes across as exactly that. You do the trainee a disservice. Unless the trainer is aware of his or her own spirit and spirituality then it is very hard to connect with someone else. You have to know who you are before you try to identify with someone else.
F&F: What types of things can a person look for in a trainer that may be an indicator that the trainer will connect well with them?
GP: My mother recently spent some time in Florida and asked me, “What should I look for in finding a trainer?” I told her that first she needs to assure that the person has the basic certifications. Then just try a few of them out and get a feel for them. After the sets and reps of all the workouts there has to be more like shared hobbies, similar faith or some reason to make the time pass well. If it is totally disagreeable then your training time is going to be an uphill battle. Do your research.
F&F: How can a person measure the success of a personalized fitness program and the impact of their trainer?
GP: It goes beyond measuring tapes and skin-fold calipers. If exercise was a passing thought in your week but now it is something that you will not be denied then you can see that the program is impacting your decisions. You are now using fitness as another cornerstone of your life.
As far as how the trainer impacts you… I drop little pearls with my clients. If I know someone is going to Vegas for the weekend I know that there is the likely hood of not adequate sleep and more than adequate alcohol. I will say to them, “Make sure your rest and try to get water between your drinks.” If they find themselves leaving the casino early or sleeping in for an hour and having water throughout the course of the evening then what we have done in the gym has gone further than the gym. It has helped them to make smarter choices.
F&F: Lets run a couple of quick scenarios. How would you make a custom program for them? First: the busy young mom with an odd diet.
GP: She has to find a program that fits into her day both time wise and equipment wise. One she finds the local then she can set up shop. It might be in her den, at the fitness mega-plex next to her children’s school or some small studio.
F&F: How about the businessperson that has a very demanding schedule?
GP: Those people do best when they break down and do an early morning program when their customers and colleagues are asleep. Once the blackberry and the phone starts winding up it is going to be hard for them to get in a workout.
F&F: How about a youth that doesn’t have a supportive friend to encourage them in their workout?
GP: Make new friends where you workout. The friends that don’t support you are not friends. As a rule people want to hold you back because they are not happy with their own physical station in life. Don’t worry about those people. Follow your dreams. Pursue your fitness goals. The friends are going to come.
F&F: What personalized fitness program would you advise for the lower income couple that may not be able to afford a gym membership?
GP: There are plenty of affordable workout solutions for the home. There are programs you can rip out of almost any magazine and DVD’s you can get. There is a way to squeeze that into your budget. Commit to it.
F&F: And finally the senior that is not only concerned about their health but also has a tremendous sense of being lonely.
GP: For seniors it is a no-brainer. So many facilities have programs geared toward their peers. You’ll be doing something that is the best bet at fighting father time.
F&F: Any final comments to motivate our readers?
GP: I would just say that you’ll find people during your workout that curse and swear. The gym is not the place for that nor is there a need for that. But --- you have to look past that.

For more information about Gunnar Peterson or to order his book The Workout, go to

About the Author

  • Brad Bloom's picture
    Brad Bloom is the publisher of Faith & Fitness Magazine and Shout! Outdoor Lifestyle Magazine. He is president of Lifestyle Media Group, a ministry that develops content to help you connect your daily lifestyle with the Christian faith. You can use the CONTACT US form to schedule him to speak at your church, organization, group, community gathering or event.

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