Russell Smith was working in the world of marketing when he woke up one morning and realized that he needed a change. Having long harbored a passion for fitness and health, he decided that he would get the most satisfaction from taking his career in that direction. Coupled with his interest in working with people, becoming a trainer became the obvious choice. Now Russell, who recently moved from New York to Miami, is creating a name for himself in the business of helping others feel good as he continues to guide people along their health journeys, and build his personal brand in the process.
Making the Career Switch
Russell’s first foray into the world of fitness instructing was as a cycling teacher.
“I’ve always been into cycling,” he says. “I started with mountain biking and then got more into road cycling after I started teaching spinning, which was with Mad Dogg. Now I’m a Schwinn instructor, so I teach more of a road-based indoor ride.”
It was after attending a Pilates certification weekend in New York that Russell was able to make a connection that then allowed him to take his training to the next level.
“I was approached by a campus recruiter for Equinox in NYC and she asked me to come to an open house because she liked everything that I said during our introductions,” he says. “I think I was working at Equinox four days later, and I’ve been with them for five years!”
After spending several years developing his skills as a trainer and fitness instructor, Russell decided a couple of years ago to launch Stathom Fitness, his own personal training business that he now runs alongside his other positions as a trainer.
Method of Instruction
When it comes to the different realms of fitness instruction, Russell is definitely not short on qualifications, holding certifications in Schwinn cycle, kettlebells, Pilates, pre- and post-natal, VIPR, and FMS, with FMS being a primarily key component of his work and fitness approach.
“FMS stands for ‘functional movement screen,’” he says. “It’s seven movements, and in those seven movements, we assess to see if the client has any imbalances or deficiencies. Then what we do, as long as there’s no pain in any of those deficiencies, is we create a program to help correct some of the things that we find so that our clients can move better which in turn makes the results from their programming better. The real trend, though, is functional movement, which trains your body so that it moves in a way it’s naturally meant to move.”
To give an example, Russell turns his attention to sit-ups, which he says are a major no-no in terms of workouts that promote functional movement.
“You don’t want to keep putting your spine in deflection repeatedly over and over again no matter what you do ever,” he says, going on to note that a good ab exercise is one that focuses on stabilizing the core as opposed to moving it to much.
“Don’t get me wrong, I still do crunches sometimes,” he notes. “We all want pretty abs! But I make sure to keep my core straight as I do them. And just crunches, never full sit-ups!”
As far as his training philosophy goes with his clients, Russell places a serious focus on the importance of working on cardio and strength in conjunction with one another, as he believes that each is essentially incomplete without the other. He’s also a firm believer in the idea of simply training and eating well as opposed to exercising and dieting, and he makes it a point to try to make that distinction clear to his clients.
In addition to providing in-person training, Russell has introduced the relatively novel concept of video training to Stathom Fitness, which came about largely as a way to continue working with clients in New York after his move to Miami.
“I currently have two clients in New York,” he says. “One sees me every day, just because I’ve made the price point so affordable for him since we’ve been working together for five years, that he can now afford to see me every day. So for an hour every morning, I put him on my iPad and I can train him wherever I am.”
In terms of logistics, Russell prefers to have clients who he is training via video to complete their workouts at home, so as not to get distracted by others at the gym or by the hassle of using their phones. As for equipment, Russell only really asks his clients to keep a single item on hand: a power band.
“One power band, and it’s like you have an entire gym in your pocket,” he says.
Getting in the Habit
Another key component of Russell’s approach to training is a focus on building healthy habits, which he believes is the root of achieving any fitness and wellness goals.
“Training is as much about psychology as it is about the body,” he says. “You’re training your brain as much as you’re training your muscles, and your neurological system is actually what does a lot of the work and helps you develop new habits. The majority of people can only develop one habit at a time and be successful at it. This is why crash diets don’t work, and crash fitness plans don’t work. You have to essentially get people doing what they can keep up for the rest of their lives.”
In this respect, Russell says that he always likes to start new clients off with the same basic goal: heading to the gym three times a week. This essentially builds up the habit of working out by making it a part of everyone’s daily routine in a way that is manageable and sustainable.
On the other hand, Russell notes that building new habits can come with it’s far more difficult counterpart of unlearning bad habits.
“I always ask people, ‘Have you done a deadlift?’” he says, “and I say that my favorite answer is no, because most of the time, I have to teach them how to undo a bad deadlift and it takes us twice as long to do. If somebody has it in their head already that they know how something is supposed to feel, teaching them that it’s actually supposed to feel differently is a lot harder than if they had never felt it before.”
Staying at the Top of His Game
With so much of his time spent training others, be it one-on-one or in a group setting, it’s no surprise that Russell gets his fair share of exercise in a day’s work. Even so, he tries to maintain a specific routine when it comes to his own personal workouts.
“I change it up every few weeks,” he says. “I just started doing something else, so right now I do a push day, a pull day, and a leg day, and I repeat each one of those twice a week. Then I have a gratuitous abs and arms day, because as long as you’re working functionally most of the time, it’s okay to get that single-joint movement bicep curl in, but you’ve got to be doing everything else.”
He adds that his affinity for cardio, along with the frequency of cycling classes that he teaches and the fact that he can’t resist a run on Miami Beach every now and then, have him doing more cardio than he might need for his goals. Even so, one of his goals for this year is working his way up to teaching more group classes (he has a few HIIT classes planned already for March and April).
“I’m one of those weird people that actually loves cardio!” he says.
He doesn’t have to convince us.