“Try and break me.” Of the many stupid things I’ve said in my life — “I’ll take the mullet cut,” “I want to be an English major,” “I’m just gonna text my ex-girlfriend real quick” — those four words were amongst the stupidest.
I spoke them to a celebrity fitness trainer named Kit Rich, who looked distractingly similar to the ginger wildling Jon Snow hooked up with on Games of Thrones. And just like Jon Snow, I also knew nothing. Because, 20 minutes into my workout with Kit, as my sweat dripped onto the core-shredding, bouncy floor at the Shift by Dana Perri gym, and I repeatedly tried to assure her that I was not on the verge of a stroke, I realized that it was amazingly easy for someone like Kit Rich to break someone like me.
Even when she wasn’t trying to break me. Even when she was just trying to be nice.
But let’s start a few days earlier. My editor assigned me to work out with celebrity fitness trainer Kit Rich for a story about discovering the “fitness secrets of the rich, famous, and beautiful,” and I was immediately nervous. It wasn’t exercising while being shamefully out of shape that made me nervous, or how my body would look on camera during moments of great physical exertion (that was a horrific discovery for a different day). No, my fear was that learning the “fitness secrets of the rich, famous, and beautiful” would not be quite difficult enough for someone like me. My reasoning:
1. I’m tough (or at least I’ve done tough workouts before).
Being that I haven’t drunk enough chardonnay to become wistful, I’ll spare you the full rundown of my athletic achievements (high school and otherwise), but suffice it to say, I’ve lifted a lot of weights, run a lot of hills, and wrassled a lot of dudes in my day.
2. I’m stout.
The doctors have another, and slightly less flattering term for a gentleman of my body mass index, but let’s stick with “stout.”
3. Kit trains glamorous models, actresses, and pop stars.
4. Most glamorous models, actresses, and pop stars are not stout, tough lads, like me.
After running these facts through my mental meat grinder of logic and hubris, there was only one answer: Any workout designed for a glamorous actress could not possibly be difficult enough for me.
This was a problem. I had been assigned a story about uncovering celebrity fitness secrets, and that story wouldn’t be particularly interesting if those secrets were dainty yoga poses and core strengthening lifts with felt-lined barbells, with plentiful breaks for chunky salad juices and positive affirmations. A celebrity’s workout — at least as I imagined it — would be far too easy for me. Because, and lest you forget, I’m a stout, tough lad.
Which brings us back to those stupid words:
“Try and break me.”
I spoke those words within the first few minutes of an otherwise pleasant introductory conversation with Kit. To her credit, she accepted my painfully awkward statement with grace and good humor. Instead of kicking me out or calling me weird, she gave me a water bottle and a tour of the gym.
Then the workout began. To her credit, Kit did a respectable, if ultimately fruitless, job of trying to break me with the first set of exercises. But after only the most dignified profanity and lower back sweat, I finished.
It was soon after this that I made three very disheartening discoveries:
1. I was developing an inner thigh rash. Which, considering my body shape, should come as less of a surprise than it always does.
2. That was not, in fact, the first set of exercises.
3. That was the warm up.
And just like that, I was broken before we even began.
It was also around this moment that I began to suspect (and confirmed over my next two sessions with Kit) that I had already discovered the “fitness secret of the rich, famous, and beautiful.” And the secret is this…celebrities work out really, really hard.
Because as much as immaculate genetics, plastic surgery, and all the other science and witchcraft the rich and famous have at their disposal may help, staying fit still requires oodles of hard goddamn work. Celebrities look the way they look because they put in ludicrous hours at the gym, sweat their own (presumably much more dignified) puddles, and resist the temptation of post-workout falafel. That’s it: more sweat, less falafel. It’s so simple that anyone can do it. But it also requires such insane amounts of dedication and personal sacrifice that few people actually do.
This article could end right here, just like my workouts with Kit could have stopped when I discovered that the “fitness secret” was not some strain of injectable diamonds or unicorn blood, but rather, innumerable sets of embarrassingly grunt-filled pushups. But I still stayed, and did those pushups, and made those grunts, and it was all just as embarrassing as I expected.
Because more than being stout and tough and stupid, I am also persistent. So, I tried my very best to keep up with the seemingly interminable, undeniably cruel sets of burpees and lunges. Not just because I’m prideful and stubborn, but for reasons I could not understand at the time, and am only unpacking now, I wanted to impress Kit. And not in the usual way a man wants to impress a woman who looks like the ginger wildling from Game of Thrones.
I wanted to impress her with how hard I was working. I wanted to impress her with how quickly I was learning the exercises. I just wanted to impress her, even though I suspected at the moment, and later confirmed when I saw the footage, that this workout was among the least impressive moments of my life.
Of the few thoughts I had during my workout that did not involve the potential steam-cleaning bill for barfing my pre-workout latte on that bouncy floor, I remembered my JV basketball coach. More specifically, I thought about how much Kit Rich reminded me of him. On the surface, it seems that two humans could not be any more different than Coach Clifton and Kit Rich. He is a gruff, retired electrician with a knack for folksy profanity. Kit is a warm, bubbly part-time playwright who exudes positivity. But when Kit started yelling at me to do one more pushup, one more burpee, and most of all, “don’t give up on yourself!” the similarity was uncanny.
Because just like when Coach Clifton screamed at me to “get a rebound, just one rebound!” and to stop playing like I had “shit in my shoes!” (a saying which still baffles me almost 20 years later), I could hear what he was really saying: He wanted me to play better, because he cared about me, and he believed I was capable of so much more. And I tried to play my best in return (stumpy arms and meager vertical leap notwithstanding).
When Kit yelled her own, significantly less NSFW encouragement, I felt the same underlying message. She wanted me to work harder and be healthier. Not because I was a client, and not because I was writing a story about her, but because she cared about me. A man she just met. A man who had just said something unfathomably weird only 20 minutes earlier. A man who was staining her fancy gym floor with Speed Stick tinged sweat.
I was a near stranger, but she cared about my health and well being more than I cared about my own. And that made me care a little bit more about myself, too. Even if some of her concern was just the act of a seasoned professional, I didn’t particularly care, because it felt real in the moment, and it still feels real now.
What stuck with me after my first workout with Kit, as well as my second session at Strong Body Pilates, and my third at her personal gym, was the feeling of having someone believe in me so much that it made me believe I could prove them right. Until I worked out with Kit, I had not experienced this since playing for Coach Clifton in high school basketball. Since then, I’ve had no real coach, so I have been the boss of my own physical fitness.
I was the one who decided how hard I should work. I was the one who decided what I was capable of. I was the one who decided how much I believed in myself. And the answer was usually “not very much.”
After my workouts with Kit Rich, I learned one undeniable truth: I have been a shitty coach for myself. But even more than that…I needed to be fired.
If I could afford to train with Kit Rich full-time, I would gladly give her the job (and if you can, you should, or at least check out her free online program at Fit by Kit). But because I can’t hire her as my trainer, I have done the next best thing. Because even when I want to get off the exercise bike, or drop the weight, or stop hitting the heavy bag, I remember that there is a fitness trainer in the San Fernando Valley who looks distractingly like the ginger wildling from Game of Thrones who believed, at least for a moment, that I was capable of being better.
And if Kit believed in me, then maybe I can believe in myself. And that means something. Even for a tough, stout lad like me.