Newsweek Article



By Lauren Van Mullem


Man’s descent into a sedentary lifestyle began at about the same time he invented beer. Yes, around 10,000 B.C., when the Neolithic people developed the plough and switched from hunting and gathering to farming, man went from exercising daily for survival to sitting on his stone-age sofa with a six-pack. Still, he had manual labor to do – that grain wasn’t going to harvest and ferment itself. But, his technology continued to develop, saving labor. It wasn’t long (a mere few thousand years) before the first fitness trends began to emerge – Cong Fu in China, Yoga in India, and Gymnasiums in Greece. In the twentieth century, exercise trends have shifted rapidly, from the vibrating belt of the 1950’s to the spandex-filled aerobics classes and get-thin-fast weight-loss pills of the 70s and 80s – yet American waistlines keep expanding.

Dustin Williams, owner of Precision Fitness in Bentonville, Arkansas, is no slave to trends, which in the highly competitive world of the fitness industry, is like choosing to run in the opposite direction of a marathon – you risk getting trampled. “The fitness industry constantly changes,” he acknowledges, but in the same breath, he boldly tackles the three major fitness fads of the moment: online calorie counting, the Cross Fit craze, and boot camps.

As a NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and IBFA Certified Personal Trainer, Dustin Williams doesn’t look – or feel – like the man he was a few years ago. After graduating college with a degree in finance, he landed a job as a fleet manager for truck drivers, and while sitting behind his desk for 50 hours a week (getting up for daily lunch breaks with colleagues), he realized that the typical American lifestyle he was living had caused him to reach 235 pounds.

Dustin knew he needed to change his habits, but looking around at his fellow cubicle inmates, he realized he wanted to help others do the same. He quit his job, went back to school to study physical fitness training, and six years later, he’s training clients to lose weight, gain muscle, and achieve their goals. He understands the challenges of finding time in between work, life and sleep, because he lived them, and has designed his fitness program specifically for busy professionals. Yet, the tagline for his studio is “The Anti-Gym.”

That contrarian sensibility runs throughout Dustin’s fitness philosophies, backed by hard scientific evidence that complicates the simplistic view most dieters take on losing weight. When it comes to online and smart-phone based calorie counting programs, Dustin is downright dismissive: “People are so focused on calories in, calories out, but that’s not exactly how it works. Eat a bowl of cereal, workout for thirty minutes, then you’ll lose weight – it’s not that simple. Counting calories isn’t a bad thing – but there’s a lot of people out there who think that ‘based on my activity level, I can eat 2000 calories per day.’ What they don’t know is that there are different types of calories, and different body types. The calorie counting approach is too generalized. Everyone’s metabolism, hormones, and heart rates are different and you can’t tell exactly how many calories an individual will burn based on an impersonal formula. Even how you cook your food changes the caloric intake.” Ultimately, he believes counting calories is more trouble than it’s worth. He prefers the “90/10 Rule”: “Do what I tell you 90% of the time, then 10% of the time, go ahead and have a beer, eat a cookie.” At least the math is easier.

In The Fit Formula, he makes the case that “There is no one perfect diet. Losing weight is about having a healthy lifestyle.” Achieving that lifestyle, he says, is not just about eating healthfully and exercising regularly, but also making positive life choices that support your health. “Think about the people you hang out with – if you’re hanging out with your friends at the bar until 2am and sleep in until noon the next day, that’s not going to help you reach your fitness goals.” Apparently, it’s time America got some new fitness pals.

With exercise trends growing towards increasingly intense exercises – like the rising popularity of Hot Yoga instead of traditional Hatha Yoga – Dustin again questions the dominant ideology. “People think more is better, and it’s hard to explain to people that it’s not. You’ve got programs out there like Cross Fit, and the average individual cannot do the exercises they promote safely. More isn’t better, because when you stack exercise on top of dysfunction it leads to injury.” Though he adds that Cross Fit and similar programs can work well for people who are already in good shape.

Boot camps, the biggest trend to hit professional women since pencil skirts, have built their popularity on pushing clients to the physical brink with a “no pain, no gain” mentality. The origin of boot camps, of course, was military training. But, in the 1980s, civilian boot camps began cropping up – targeted only at men. Ten years later in the 1990s, a new target client emerged: The bride to be. The 90’s bride wanted to shed pounds on a deadline, and soon squadrons of to-be-weds were lining up around the country for “Bridal Boot Camps,” which switched up the traditional military regimen with Pilates and giant inflatable fitness balls. The focus was on burning as many calories as possible through fast-paced aerobic workouts and strength training.

It doesn’t take a fitness expert to make you want to vomit, or feel like you can barely breathe,” in fact, Dustin argues that any six year old kid in charge of designing a workout could accomplish the same thing. He says, “It would go something like this: Run over there, do ten pushups, jump over to the bushes, do ten squats, then jump on and off that bench ten more times. Repeat for an hour.” That might sound familiar to the many American men – but mostly women – who’ve signed up for boot camps to shed pounds.

He votes for a more modern approach that addresses the individual needs of his clients, who he says often come in unable to correctly perform many boot camp exercises. “We’re not training the same people as we were 50 years ago – technology is making us move less, so people are more dysfunctional in the way they move now than ever before. The majority of people can’t do basic movements because they’ve been sitting at a desk for 40-50 hours a week.” Before a new client can take part in his group personal training, he takes them through Functional Movement Screening (FMS) to check their movement patterns. If those patterns aren’t in line with normal function, he designs exercises to restore proper movement and build strength in weak areas. Just like no two bodies burn calories the same way, no two bodies react to sitting for 40 hours a week in the same way, and adding strenuous exercise to the equation risks serious injury.

Correcting dysfunctional movement is only one of the challenges Dustin’s group personal training addresses. He understands that there are many hurdles between his clients and their fitness goals, and he works to knock down each one. The first – and most important – being time.

You won’t see anyone at Precision Fitness jogging around a track for over an hour – who has the time for that? Besides, distance running for those who are out of shape can harm the joints. “Get fit to run, don’t run to get fit,” is Dustin’s advice. He designed his group personal training classes specifically for busy professionals – or just about anyone who’d rather be doing something other than exercising. The best part? Clients need only attend three 30-minute express workouts per week to see results.

Combining the muscle-building benefits of resistance training with the fat-burning benefits of interval training, the program promises similar results as a boot camp: it blasts stubborn fat in abs, hips, thighs and lower back, tightens and tones the entire body, and supercharges the metabolism for up to 48 hours post-workout. According to Dustin, this system of high intensity exercise works far better than long, repetitive, boring cardio, which he says has never been proven to help people lose weight any faster than simply dieting.

The words “high-intensity” may scare off the faint of heart, but as a fitness expert with more than eleven years’ experience, Dustin acknowledges that different people need different levels of exercises. He matches appropriate exercises to participants’ fitness levels so they can be challenged, but not overwhelmed. He says “As personal trainers, our goal is to make people better. We’re not doing our job if that leads to injury. We do push people. People who have dysfunction, they work hard to do those exercises. They’re getting in a good workout with a healthy heart rate.” The program only runs for three weeks at a time, allowing one week off for rest and recuperation which prevents both physical and mental burnout.

Nutrition is also an integral part of Dustin’s work, and is another tall hurdle for his clients. While his program is about total health rather than fat loss, he leads grocery store tours multiple times per year in which he debunks labeling myths up and down the aisles. Precision Fitness also helps advise on supplements and meal plans, “You know you’re getting everything you need, even if you don’t realize that you need it.”

Of course, the biggest hurdle in anyone’s path to self-improvement is motivation. Dustin understands that motivation doesn’t come from a drill sergeant-like trainer screaming in your ear, or even the desire to fit into your skinny jeans again. “What I like to do in the beginning is listen. I want to understand what they’re trying to fix. My first question is ‘why are you here?’ Some come in for health issues, but most don’t like how they look, don’t have energy, and want to be around for their grandkids.” He adds, “I’ve found that emotion is the true driver.”

Even with that deeper understanding, he doesn’t expect anyone to make huge changes to their lifestyle on day one. “We start slow, we start small, we start on everyone’s individual level. I don’t hand them a list of rules to follow. I want them to feel a sense of accomplishment, and if you give people too many things to do, they’ll get discouraged.” In fact, Dustin is one of the few personal trainers who won’t make you drop and give him twenty if you have a slice of pizza (or three). He advises that if you fall off the wagon, you pick yourself up and get right back on.

The overall goal is to become active and stay consistent with it. We’re human, we mess up, we miss workouts, we have pizza from time to time. People get so focused on maintaining their diets perfectly, but one bad meal doesn’t make you fat, just like one good meal doesn’t make you skinny. You have to get out of those habits. Eliminate the negative thoughts, and just think ‘I goofed, it’s alright. I can make up for it.’”

Some fitness experts say that in order to be our healthiest selves, we should revert our habits back to those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors: Eat raw food, maintain constant motion, and eliminate all modern pleasures from our diets (including beer). But we aren’t our ancestors. Instead of walking twenty miles to the nearest mammoth heard, we need only drive five minutes to the nearest fast food joint to bring home dinner. We face new challenges to our health, and to overcome them, leaders like Dustin Williams are looking forward, instead of looking back.