Inside Track: Gym rat finds calling
After failed venture as professional athlete, Nick Klein’s journey leads him to owner of training gym.
Nick Klein said he was always a gym rat growing up, even before becoming the CEO of his own personal training gym. During his high school years, he took every sport he participated in to the extreme, with the goal of one day being a professional athlete.
“I remember being 8 years old and losing a basketball game. I would be mad for a day, and it would ruin my week,” Klein said.
Unfortunately, for all his fervor, Klein said he always came up short of victory. During high school, he entered four state boxing finals and two baseball finals and made second place every time.
But now, as the owner of his own business, Klein came to the understanding that people’s voids dictate their values later in life. Realizing being the “dumb jock” in high school wasn’t getting him the results he wanted, he came to value education as a means to overcome his failures.
“I thought, ‘I must be doing something wrong,’ so I started learning,” he said.
Klein studied for his undergraduate degree at Central Michigan University after high school. He was studying health, fitness, rehabilitative services and community health, but the curriculum was too “clinical” to keep Klein’s interest.
“I was looking more to be in the gym,” he said. “I wanted to prevent people from going to the hospital. I don’t want to treat people. I want to be more in the prevention game.”
Klein’s educational journey led him to getting his personal training certification through Charles Poliquin, a Canadian strength coach for professional athletes and the author of several books on fitness.
Poliquin threw Klein’s world in a “wholly” different direction, revealing to Klein not only that he was eating and lifting incorrectly, but his regular aerobic exercises were making him weaker.
At the time, Klein still had a vision to be an Olympic boxer, but his training regimen was what caused him to come up short.
“Boxing is an anaerobic sport, three three-minute rounds,” Klein said. “But most boxers, they run 10 miles a day, or they watch the Rocky movies and think they got to do more, more, more!”
Poliquin told Klein he was a “cheetah training to be a turtle,” training himself to endure for long periods when he should train himself to run for short bursts.
Klein’s diet also was in bad shape. He initially believed he needed wheat-based foods, but Poliquin told him carb-heavy foods could compromise him.
“I thought I was supposed to carb-up before an event, and those things are inflammatory foods,” he said. “I had no idea it was affecting performance.”
Throughout his 20s, Klein said he shifted from being the gym rat to the “course junkie.” He worked for East Hills Athletic Club in Grand Rapids and trained about 35 percent of the clubs members before it went out of business..
Klein’s passion also shifted from wanting to be the athlete, to wanting to help others achieve their fitness goals.
“I think the athletic population, they’re doing pretty well,” he said. “We’re in a health crisis. It’s the general population that needs the most help.”
He started his own training studio, Body By Choice, in December 2013. The studio originally occupied a 4,600-square-foot space at 2909 Breton Road SE.
“We’ve been growing ever since,” he said. “I now have a team with the same vision, and we’re trying to build.”
After almost five years of continued growth, the studio moved to a 6,600-square-foot space at 4070 Lake Drive SE in May.
“Most of our clients came from Cascade and Ada, so the commute was brutal over there,” Klein said. “But it’s been awesome over here so far.”
Klein said his team’s ultimate goal is to have its own 40,000-square-foot training studio, with an organic café and chiropractic care, as well as a physical therapist and massage therapist, within the next 10 years.
For the immediate future, Klein wants to have a staff of eight full-time trainers and is starting an internship program. The studio will take on four or five interns per quarter, and Klein said he’s looking for interns who want to turn personal training into a full-time career.
“The average trainer lasts six years, just because it’s a rough industry,” Klein said. “And those that last — I tend to notice — they value high education like myself. They keep learning, keep getting better because the industry’s always changing.”
Training the general population is a greater challenge than training an athlete, Klein said. Athletes have a goal in place, and if they don’t train, they don’t meet their goals. But the average person may not know what their goals are or have some long-standing negative habits that need to be broken before any lasting change can happen.
But it’s a challenge Klein said he enjoys.
“The average person in here is anywhere from 40 to 70 years old,” Klein said. “That’s the demographic I want to train.”
Klein said he believes people today have significantly more stress than their grandparents. With a 40-to-60-hour workweek and the responsibilities of raising a family, he understands it’s hard for people to find time to exercise as often as they should.
The studio also coaches people after physical therapy, and some of Klein’s clients have had joint surgery. One, in particular, was a 70-year-old woman he had taken on after she had a hip and shoulder replacement, as well as spinal fusion surgery.
“I was a little nervous taking her on,” Klein said. “She was a mess. She came to us and said, ‘I have osteoporosis. The doctor suggested weight training, but I have all these limitations. Where do we start?’’
Klein started her off similarly to how Poliquin helped him reevaluate his own life. Through an interview process, Klein told the woman she was eating a lot of pro-inflammatory foods, and through a strength and flexibility evaluation, he discovered she was very imbalanced physically.
“I told her, ‘You cannot fire a cannon in a canoe,’” he said. “‘We have to strengthen some of these weak links. I’m going to build you up just like we’re building a car.’”
Klein began her regiment with isometric exercises to strengthen her rotator cuffs and lower back. After a year of therapy, he said she was able to deadlift 100 pounds.
“We have a much greater sense of satisfaction helping someone who feels lost or feel like they’ve given up, and we’ll teach them how to incorporate a healthy lifestyle,” Klein said.
The secret, Klein said, is to motivate people to find their purpose in life. No matter what it may be, there’s a way to incorporate healthy living into it.
“I never want to change your purpose. I want to connect to your purpose,” he said. “Maybe someone comes in and values career. OK, energy is the currency of life. How is exercise going to benefit what you value most? Once they put that connection together, the motivation will take care of itself.”
Klein described himself as a “dopamine-driven” individual, always pushing for 100 percent in his goals. While this does apply to his workout routine, he also said he manages to reprioritize and focus on his career and family with the same sense of purpose.
“I book a schedule. This is my time … people know to leave me alone. It’s my time to train,” he said. “And at the same time when the work’s done, I want to disconnect. I turn my phone off. I want to be with my family. Too much of anything will burn someone out, so it’s all about finding that balance.”
Klein’s personal goal is to have the most education-driven professional personal training company in Michigan and, maybe one day, in the United States. Believing there’s no cookie-cutter approach to fitness, Klein’s team tailors training to the client’s needs.
“Education is key to sustainable results,” he said. “The more you educate the client, the less you have to fight them in doing what we ask them to do in the kitchen.”