We Have a Name…

26 Oct

I wouldn’t call my name a bad one. Gerren is rather uncommon, though not appealing, and I cant even count the number of times people have read my name “Green”. But I digress.

Having been in the fitness world for four years next month, the next step would be to actually establish a brand that reflects my philosophy to training and to life, a message that can serve to inspire others, or at the very least witty and fun. It has been one of the rare moments where I lament my God-given name, since it does not lend itself to a creative twist for branding purposes. My mentor and friend Kira Stokes names most of her classes “Stoked something”, my boy Jason Quick has Quickboxing. “Lilesology” or “Lilesed” just doesn’t have that same ring. 

I had always known that one of the most consequential aspects of our life direction and efforts is perspective. How you see a situation often dictates how you respond to. That notion is especially important in your fitness goals, having a positive and realistic mindset of what you can do and where you want to go is vital. 

My brother has recently lost around 30lbs. He was around 260, and for the most part leads a sedentary lifestyle. But he began eating right and working out more. Now someone could look at him with disapproval and think he is really out of shape. He looks at himself and is proud of what he sees because he knows where he came from. And he’s using this to continue to push himself to his goals. Same body, two completely different perspectives.

As I thought long and hard about what I ultimately wanted my brand to be, everything kept returning back to this concept of perception, perspective, how you see yourself. And the word “Vision” came up, and wouldn’t go away. I thought about how I wake up every morning, and look in the mirror for things to like about myself. I look into my eyes and search for that glimmer of strength to be ready to take on the day.  I picture the person I want to look like weeks and months from now. I imagine the fitness professional I will be one year, five years, ten years from now. Vision, literally and figuratively, can make all the difference in achieving your goals. And that’s the mindset I want to instill upon my members and clients. See it, then be. Be visionary.

Thus, Gerren Liles Vision Fitness is born.

Look out, world.



9 May

I was always keenly aware of the difference between being negative and realistic. The latter ruled the day as I sat head-in-hand outside of this studio for an audition I knew I failed. It was to participate in the upcoming DVD of a major fitness star, whom I divined that the cosmos (or God, to appease my religified friends) had preordained to be from my very first days as a blue-shirt trainer at Equinox. Alas, for my considerable physical prowess, there were skill sets I was not yet proficient at, on top of a few carrot cakes I devoured that came back to haunt me. All of the consolation from my dearest Piscean co-worker (who passed the audition, yay!) did little to dissuade me from my disappointment. The problem with this overachiever is that I had subconsciously believed that what I was inherently blessed with is enough. And if what I was didn’t get me what I wanted, I was philosophical about it enough to not let it get me too far down. This somewhat mutes the sting of failure, but now that I am the most passionate about my career than I have been in… ummm… ever, I am learning what it means (and takes) to “fall down seven times, get up eight…”

It’s very common that motivators are much more adept at motivating others than themselves. My problem is not so much self-motivation as much as it is about dealing with failure and setbacks. Being a few years over 21 now, my heightened sensitivity to Father Time makes these moments harder to swallow. But there are a few life lessons I tend to forget, and maybe some of you have as well, so here is a reminder…

* Everyone that we admire and want to be like at some point has sat down in solitude somewhere trying to cope with a disappointment. Picture in your mind right now your role model (not Charles Barkley, I’m sure). There was that moment when they doubted their path, and maybe doubted themselves. For many of them, this played out in the spotlight to add even more shame. You eventually learn that the answer is simply to not question yourself. So long as there is breath in your lungs and movement in your limbs, you have another opportunity to make the changes you want. The drink or cake you ate just now doesn’t mean you have to have it again tomorrow. You haven’t worked out in four days, does that mean it has to be another four? Take each new second of the day as a moment to start over.

* Willpower and positive thinking are like muscles that must be continually worked on to grow and get stronger. The cynical New Yorker in me tends to think affirmations can be lame. But the truth is, how many negative vices, thoughts or words come easy to us? They got that way because of the conditioning of our life experiences. So why not condition yourself to think positive or develop motivating habits? Find a friend that will volunteer to be your cheerleader and gloat buddy. Reach out to him or her daily telling them something you did that you’re proud of. Schedule time during your day just to check your thoughts, envision your goals… Hell, take an IntenSati HCB class and kill two birds with one stone. But find a way to add encouragement to your routine.

* What separates Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods from others in their sport, aside from marrying spouses that don’t take infidelity lightly? They never saw their peers as their competition. They sought to compete against history. They thought beyond a game or a season. They thought about the record books, the best to ever play their sport. When you look at your goals, are they modest? Are you afraid to dream bigger, to demand more from yourself than the minimal? Are you only thinking about looking good for your trip to Jamaica Memorial Day weekend? What happens after that? The only thing is, the more spectacular your goal, the greater the potential for a spectacular mistake. And that is perfectly ok. Record books never document the trivial, and history is never made by those that always play it safe. Your willingness to lay it all on the line will not only make the rewards that much sweeter, but your courage will inspire others to step outside their comfort zones, which will in turn make this world a better place.

It may be hard to envision yourself as someone who can affect change, having taken your failures, setbacks and current circumstances as the definitive limits of your potential. But it’s not. No matter how you see yourself, there is someone out there who wishes they had what you had, because they would couple that with their own passion to make better for themselves. So find that something or someone worth falling for… then get it up and get it.


13 Apr

Instructors throughout NYC have been scanning their class takers with a more curious eye for the past few months… wondering if that skinny, reserved but formidable looking blonde in the front row could be the infamous Lactic Addict from  RateYourBurn.com, an increasingly popular blog site where anonymous fitness devotees rate classes, teachers, facilities, and give other insightful tips and commentary.  While there has been debate among instructors about the potential negative impact such a site can have (the opinion of one person influencing how hundreds of readers will perceive an instructor, especially if said instructor just happened to have a bad day), there has been no doubt that RYB has left a mark on the fitness community and serves as a reminder for instructors to always bring their A-game. Browsing through their reviews, I would say they have been fair and spot on as far as expectations from a members perspective (solid cuing, good energy, motivating, looking the part), with a touch of humor, and making it clear when their thoughts are based on personal preferences. Needless to say, I was caught off guard and biting my nails when my review popped up, but thankfully I was caught on a good day LOL

That said, group fitness is a two-way street. The members also contribute to the total class experience, and it’s the interchange between you and I that creates a dynamic environment.  Instructors share our experiences with members to each other, both good and bad… And while opening up a website reviewing individual members may be a stretch, I figured it would be good to blog about our expectations as well.

1) Please arrive on time. Coming in late and setting up, especially once we have begun the warm up and are moving around… In my ViPR class, it may result in a ViPR uppercut to your chin.

2) When you first come into the studio, smile or say hi to us. It makes us feel like real people and not an automatic exercise dispenser.

3) It’s common practice for instructors to inquire about injuries during the intro, but introduce yourself and volunteer any issues you have. If an instructor comes up to you in the middle of class to correct your form and you finally tell them you strained your adductors during some really rigorous sex (ok, likely through a sports activity, but if it WAS sex, we appreciate honesty), it can be a distraction from the flow of the class.

4) Sunglasses. Make me understand, please. I have yet to be in a studio that bright, or seen teeth that yellow, to require sunglasses in the main studio. Unless you’re a celebrity, and even then, a celeb would probably want private training (Kerry Washington, call me)

5) Good instructors usually give exercises, along with regressions to make it easier or progressions to make them harder. Please do the exercises that the instructor gives you. It’s one thing when Grandma with her hearing aid and glaucoma is in sculpt class doing bicep curls during push-ups. We can get over that. But if we’re doing roundhouse kicks in kickboxing, and you’re doing Jean Claude Van Damme spinning split jump kicks, it throws everyone off or it forces people that are not as capable to attempt what you’re doing. Then that person trips, falls on someone, or kicks them, a fight happens, and we instructors have our hilarious Facebook posting for the day.

6) Certain classes are designed to use low weights for higher repetitions. And some classes are not. Most sculpt and cardiosculpt classes require heavier dumbbells to push you to fatigue. Ladies, doing bicep curls with 5lb weights will do absolutely nothing for you. Your purse probably weigh more than that. By now, many blogs and tv shows have told you that using heavy weight will not make you look like Arnold, unless you have an abundance of testosterone or A-Rod’s juicer. But this hasn’t sunk in for many of you. It’s ok to go heavy, to get tired quickly, put it down, and then eventually try one more. You will get stronger and still be lean, and have Michelle Obama arms (or if you are a Republican, whoever you find fit and fab)

7) No one loves Lululemon more than I do. But please make your fitness goals a little more meaningful than to simply “be skinny enough to wear their clothing” LOL…

8) If an instructor asks the class how everyone is feeling, please answer, even if you’re winded. There is nothing more disheartening to us than hearing crickets during a class. Especially if it’s apparent that we are really putting our heart and soul into our delivery.

9) You know your level of fitness and what you are capable of. But don’t approach the class thinking of who you are right now. Look in the mirror and see the person that you want to be weeks from now. Leaner. Stronger. See that person doing one more rep, holding on for one more second, squatting a little lower, jumping a little higher. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else in the class, as long as you are giving your 110% that’s all that matters. Seeing that is what drives us and motivates us to continue to help you reach your goals.

Most instructors I know are really good people, with their own compelling personal stories that led them to help others find their best selves. Please recognize that to you, it may be an hour out of your day, but this is our livelihood, and we have dedicated our lives to making your life more fulfilling. And you can’t really assign a number of stars on that.

Do It On The Floor

27 Dec

You’ve seen her. The woman who takes Ultimate Heart-rate Booster Atomic Cardio Crusher class three days a week, standing right in the front row next to the instructor, doing all the advanced movements the instructor does.  And yet, there is still that little love handle coming out of her Lulu Hot n Sweaty tank. Her body has not changed in all the months you’ve seen her in class. Or you can time when she will fatigue. Or you end up not seeing her for a month because she ended up blowing out her knee. Why is that?

Sure, diet may play a role, as well as numerous other external factors… but there might be a simple solution. Take a pass on the class.

This may be foolish advice coming from an instructor who would love nothing more than his class to be wall to wall with eager members ready to sweat. But I started out at Equinox as a personal trainer, and I would watch the poor form of people in class, and then come limping out, or grasping for their lower back, or just not see any results. So maybe it’s time you leave the security, camaraderie, and funky music of a fitness class and start working out on the gym floor, or hell, even hire a personal trainer. Here’s why…

1) Classes tend to be really good for beginners that need a basic level of education on form and developing strength.  Many classes also tend to be excellent for building up your endurance, especially cardiosculpt or interval training classes. But at some point, you are very likely to plateau. For one thing, the amount of weights you’re likely to use will be limited.  Most classes stop at 12lb or 15lb weights, but very few women reach for that amount anyway. After a while, your body will adapt to that weight and you won’t see much of a change anymore. On the gym floor, you can use heavier free weights or machines, that will allow you to fatigue your muscles more, build lean muscle mass, which will in turn rev up your metabolism, which will help you burn more calories… you see where this is going.  I’m assuming that you’ve heard enough that women shouldn’t be afraid to lift heavy, you’re never going to be built like a man unless you possess a great deal of testosterone and/or steroids. So get that excuse out of your head now.

2) Having started my fitness career as a personal trainer, I’m more inclined to focus on ensuring proper form, and style my classes in a way that allows me to circulate around the room and check your form. But I’m not always able to, and most instructors are not able to give you the individual attention you need.  The one-on-one attention a personal trainer can give you will actually serve you better in your classes. They can make sure your squat form is correct, they can teach you how to engage your core more throughout your exercises (especially to prevent lower back pain), more importantly, they can detect poor movement patterns or compensation that lead to injury.  They can also teach you a wider variety of exercises that are too involved or dynamic for a class with a lot of people.  Even if you meet a trainer once or twice a week, then take classes the other days… or work out with a trainer for a month to educate yourself on proper movement, and then try your hand at a variety of classes, then you’re already ahead of the game.

I have some class takers that were set up with personal trainers, and actually found their body fat percentage drop even further, and their performance in class improved after a few weeks of personal training. Don’t be afraid of working out the gym floor. Even if you don’t hire a trainer, the floor trainers (most gyms have them, the Equinox ones are in blue shirts) are more than willing to give you work-out advice regardless. It’s ok to skip out on a class or two. Just don’t skip any of mine, haha 🙂

Popeyes, Playboy, and Postponement…

26 Nov

Anyone that has known me for more than five minutes knows of my legendary addiction to Popeyes biscuits. That wholesome, buttery, 230-calorie-per round of fluffy goodness. I couldn’t have less than three at a time, and could eat as much as six. What did not help was the fact that there was a Popeyes around the corner from the gym and one up the block from my house.  The defining moment for me was walking home one night, sticky-fingered from opening the packet of honey, juggling the biscuits and my phone in one hand, crumbs on my face, and walking past my cousin at the busstop, who promptly gasped, “Gerren!!! Mmmmhmmm!” The feeling is similar to your parents barging in your room as a teen and catching you reading Playboy magazine (not that I did, of course).

“I will never eat biscuits again!” I cried. About a week later…”After these last two, I will never eat biscuits again!” I realized I had to do some serious soul searching (and reading self-help books in Barnes and Noble, without purchasing them) to understand what my problem was.  First off, willpower itself is a lot like a muscle, it fatigues after a while. We make so many decisions each day, and exert discipline and effort in so many areas that after a while we find ourselves unwilling to remain strong with something that may seem inconsequential (i.e. a pint of Breyers). Why do you think people get tired after shopping? Its not from carrying bags, but from constantly weighing pros and cons, making choices, opting not to buy things you really want, etc. This is important to note, because we tend to beat ourselves up when we lapse, when it’s really that we need to strengthen our willpower muscle. Just like we don’t go to the gym and start with ten 45lb plates on the bar and chest press, you can’t just expect to drop a vice cold turkey.

One technique is not to focus on the actual habits, but the actions or steps that result in it happening. For me, I took the focus off of the biscuits and simply said “I am going to walk up a different street…” so I didn’t have to pass the Popeyes. I also limited carrying cash on me, since I knew Popeyes didn’t take cards. Lastly, I made myself more accountable by sharing my struggles with my friends on Facebook. So look at some of the habits you are either trying to modify or eliminate. Don’t focus so much on the habit itself, but the circumstances that lead to its occurrence. Change your route if you constantly find yourself stopping by Levain’s bakery. Postpone hanging out with that one friend you know drinks like a sailor (if they are a real friend, they will understand). Carry snack bars in your bag if you know you don’t make time to eat in the mornings. Keep gym clothes in your bag so you will have less excuses to not make the gym. The Switch by Chip Heath is an excellent book to read for tools on changing bad habits in yourself and others. All of these things are a starting point to strengthening your willpower and making decisions that will serve your fitness goals. Now, what to do about your addiction to adult magazines… can’t help you there. Good luck with that one.

The Hard Sh*t.

18 Nov

Member: What type of classes do you teach?

Me: I teach the hard sh*t.

(Now, in case any of my managers are reading this, the member used profanity during our convo, so I felt comfortable enough to say the s-word)

Before going into fitness, I was a public school teacher for several years. Having taught elementary school, where I would be screaming at the top of my lungs for Ricardo to sit down and copy the spelling words, the more dynamic, heart-pumping classes (bootcamp/interval training/cardio-sculpt) classes that required getting in people’s faces seemed to be a natural fit for me. Though mild-mannered under normal circumstances, the brooding Piscean nature seems to take a back seat when thrusted into the spotlight.  I have little patience for yoga (and even littler flexibility to do it well), and Zumba… well, dancing around women and being unable to ask any of them for their number, isn’t exactly my cup of tea.

As luck would have it, there is a deeper reason as well for these choices. I recalled during my studies of capoeira (Afro-Brazilian martial arts) how stepping into the circle to “play” your opponent is said to reveal your character, how you respond to challenges and emotional situations. And in a very simplistic way, these types of classes afford you the same opportunity. When the clock is winding down, and your strength is sapping away, and you find yourself wanting to stop… this is the moment where you discover how strong your mind is, and if you can will your way to the finish line.  Everyone I train has a role model with the look or fitness level that they aspire to have. And I tell them that the first step to getting there begins with moments like right now, when they have to dig deeper to get through that last rep or that last second.

So, that’s the real reason why I teach the formats I do. I don’t look at it as teaching exercises or even improving your fitness level. I see myself as creating moments to help you discover who you are on the inner, make the inner you stronger, which in turn will be reflected in a fitter, stronger, healthier body. Then… you should probably go to yoga.