Desmond has been a coach with Ritual for about 15 months now, and in this blog post we explore his passion for helping people, his thoughts on commitment, and his views on taking ownership of your health. Enjoy!
A lot of clients like your thoughtful, personal style of motivation, but besides this, they don’t know much about you. Tell us a little more about your story – how did you get into the fitness industry?
Hi everyone! Most people don’t know that I actually got into fitness pretty late compared to some of my peers. My background in movement is from martial arts, which I’ve been doing since high school. Interestingly, despite my regular Muay Thai practice as a kid, I was never really fit. Just to give you an indication of how out of shape I was – before I did my military service, I couldn’t do a single pull-up. During my national service, I served as a Close Combat Instructor, and it is during this time where I finally found my calling, although it was vague at the start. Initially, I got into lifting weights, and simply did what my friends were doing (lots of bicep curls!). But it taught me this simple lesson: if you work hard, you will see improvements. It was during this time that I also discovered my passion for teaching.
During my military service, the interesting paradigm shift for me came when I was part of the group of seniors responsible for training new recruits. Instead of adopting the traditional military style of using punishment, fear and force to encourage better performance, we decided to try a different approach. We chose the route of positive reinforcement and encouragement. Through this approach, we learned to motivate recruits by helping them develop an interest in the training and a desire to get better. We built a camaraderie that eventually led to better performance and results than in previous years, and it was a lot more fun. Interestingly, learning how to nurture positivity proved very useful later in life when I was teaching martial arts, and then again when I joined Ritual.
When the opportunity to work as a coach at Ritual came up, I was actually working as a cashier at my sister’s shop and teaching Sanda (Chinese Kickboxing) at a local Wushu club part-time. Although there was a strong ‘fitness’ focus in my classes, it was still technically martial arts. However, I found that when I finally did come on board with Ritual, my general fitness knowledge combined with my level of comfort with teaching enabled a pretty smooth transition. Honestly, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else now!
What drew you to Ritual?
Well, firstly, the concept of Ritual blew my mind. It’s funny because it’s so obvious, but nobody’s ever thought about doing it like this. We’ve literally taken away all the excuses, and then combined it with great customer service and a cool environment. Plus, the team feels like a family – supportive, respectful and fun. I was considering jumping fully into the fitness industry before I found Ritual, but my friends in the industry said it was really tiring because you have to do a lot of sales and hit quotas every month, which was a real turn-off for me. My passion is in helping people and teaching. I like my challenges to be about how to inspire more people to do better. I want to spend my time trying to figure out how to encourage people to learn to do it for themselves, and not just for the sake of doing it.
What keeps you excited about the role?
I’m at a point now where I feel I’m really getting to know clients, and I’m comfortable with the challenge of helping a lot of different people improve their health. I am usually slow to open up and to speak up, and this role continues to challenge me to explore how I can help from all kinds of different angles, which is great. I’m trying to get as good as I can be at simplifying things and making things easier for clients to understand, and without them feeling intimidated by the information. Also, let’s not forget that this is just a feel good business. We see improvement in people every single day, and we get to experience the appreciation and celebration when people break barriers and feel a sense of accomplishment!
A lot of clients have gotten great results training with us. Why do you think this happens?
I guess the basic answer is that it just works. But really I think what makes the difference is that we’ve got the whole package. Everything we do is done to encourage consistency. Everything we do is geared towards encouraging people to actually use the gym, and to train responsibly. Combining this with great customer service is a great way to make the experience enjoyable, to make people want to be here.
Do you ever find it difficult to get people to focus on health over aesthetics?
No, not really these days, mostly because everyone gets so much fitter when they train here. When a client is feeling frustration, I simply have to redirect the focus to how they’ve been feeling recently. Once we explore these things and that client realizes that in her day-to-day life, everything is easier, her stamina is much better, and that she has much better control of her body now, the client can’t help but smile. The tricky part is trying to convince a client to focus on performance, because in my opinion, that’s where the secret to consistent improvement is. Thinking about performance helps to break the old mentality of, for example, ‘getting fit means losing weight, so I should just run more’. Come for a quarterly test, or do a quick test yourself. See how many push-ups you can do or how many burpees you can manage in 60 seconds. Then, commit to 3 months of consistent training and really work hard. Then test yourself again, and enjoy the improvement. Once you cross that line and really learn to believe that if you work hard, you will improve, you’ll become self-motivated.
Very interesting perspective, thanks for the candidness there. Let’s shift gears a little. What’s your training like these days?
Well, I’ve definitely still got a passion for martial arts, and recently I’ve been doing a lot of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It’s very new to me still, and I’m having a lot of fun. On top of the martial arts training, I do Ritual workouts about 3 times per week so I can keep my body fat low and also so I can keep some of the muscle and strength that I’ve built up over the years. I find that the Ritual sessions help me cardiovascularly with my grappling training, and also help me balance things out in my body. You get put in a lot of compromising positions in martial arts, so taking the time to train in good alignment is very helpful. Even if I’m really sore and tired, I’ll do the Ritual sessions, sometimes just at a level 1, to work up a good sweat and to focus on perfect alignment.
What are your rest days like?
I always rest on the weekends, and for me, I rest completely, meaning no exercise at all. On Saturdays and Sundays, I also eat whatever I want! During the week, I eat really well, not just because it’s good for me, but because I find it cheaper and more convenient to just prepare my own meals each morning.
It might be worth mentioning that in the past, I’ve gone through phases where I’ve trained more often, with fewer rest days, and found that I couldn’t recover well enough. With 2 full days of rest at the end of each week, I find that I can start each week fresh and strong. I’ve found that long-term, for example over a period of 6 months or a year, I get more overall improvement if I take the weekends off, compared to if I trained more often with no rest days, simply because I get the time to rest, recover and come back stronger each week.
What’s one thing you’ve struggled with in your fitness journey that you think clients can learn from?
When I was younger I used to lift weights without paying much attention to my form, not really worrying about getting hurt, thinking I was young and that I couldn’t get hurt. I knew my form wasn’t perfect, but I remember thinking that my form was ‘good enough’. One day I was deadlifting without bracing my core, and with a bit of a rounded lower back, and felt my lower back ‘snap’. I was trying to lift way too much weight without paying attention to technique. Because of that injury, I couldn’t really move for 2 months. For the first week I felt excruciating pain from just shifting my weight from one leg to the other. I was stubborn, and I learned my lesson the hard way. It took a while to get better, but I deadlift with no problem now because I am super strict with form. In fact, deadlifting properly actually really helped me rehabilitate my back and get my back stronger than before.
If you could give our new members some advice before they start training at Ritual, what would it be?
Stay consistent. Be patient with improvement. It doesn’t come immediately – but it will come with consistent training. You have to commit. Most of the time, people want the quick fixes. Everyone’s impatient these days. But really there’s no rush. Take that pressure off yourself. Some people get physical results fast, and others take a bit longer. That’s fine, and that’s also just the way it is. In the end, everybody makes improvement, and everybody gets to feel the empowerment from it.
Sometimes clients join and seem to really want to smash themselves. Some clients don’t seem afraid to hurt themselves in their pursuit of abs. It’s not the healthiest approach, but I guess it does work. Is it worth it, though? Do you actually want to have it so quickly that you’re willing to sacrifice or compromise your health and abilities when you’re 60? For most people, it might seem like the perfect body is a desperate need right now, but once you ask the right questions and help them dig deeper, it becomes obvious that being able to function vibrantly into old age and living a happy, healthy, fulfilling life is more important.
Don’t be afraid to try hard and to push hard, though. We’re here for you – we’ve got your back. If you’re going too far in either direction, we’ll let you know, and we’ll help you through the rough times.
What motivates you?
For me, it’s really simple. Improvement. Whether in myself or in others – it doesn’t matter. If I’m somehow part of it, I experience it, and that’s what motivates me to do better.
Alright, now for some rapid-fire questions!
How many amazeballs do you think you can eat in 5 minutes?
Maybe 10? Actually, we should give this a try. I think maybe Brad and Shrek might be able to eat more amazeballs than I can, but I’m pretty sure I can take on any of the other staff!
What was your favorite junk food when you were growing up?
Chocolate, all kinds! Milk, dark, white – it didn’t matter!
What’s your favorite cheat food these days?
Recently I’ve been all about the ramen! Currently one of my favorites is right by Ritual – Ramen Matsuri!
Who’s your favorite superhero or cartoon character?
I grew up with the Power Rangers – a major influence in my formative years! The original green ranger was my favorite!
What’s your spirit animal?
I really wasn’t sure, so I took some online tests, and they all say I’m a deer! I suppose it’s because I’m quite sensitive to other people’s feelings, which might be a good thing. I’ve actually always wanted to be an eagle – focused and sharp. I guess that means I’m a deer trying to become an eagle?
Desmond has been at our North Canal Road branch for a little over a year, and hopes that you’ll reach out for advice whenever you have questions, because the coaches here really want to help.