Personal training and the ring

I often use personal training as a metaphor for consulting. I tell clients that I aspire to be, for them, what a personal trainer has been for me. A motivator, an objective observer, an expert.

To me, personal trainers work because they provide three essential elements to change. One is motivation, of course. That is, it is easier to fall out of bed when someone is waiting for you at the gym than when blissful sleep is so hard to come by.

Good trainers become good companions, not only someone who will bill you if you miss the early session, but good company and someone you do not want to disappoint.

The second element is objectivity. When a trainer says to do a chest row, then indicates that the one you are doing is not right, he or she is providing a service of not only prescribing, but of being the extra pair of eyes that indicates what has to change. In physical training, that set of eyes is invaluable whether you are an Olympic candidate or an overweight executive getting the mojo back.

And the third is expertise. I have had the delightful experience of having a trainer help me beyond my expectations, because they knew that exercise, practice, and diet would achieve objectives greater than my own limited ambitions. As a result of this, for example, I have full shoulder stability (after a big surgery) and have regained aerobic conditioning after too many plane trips and business dinners. These are effects I did not know I would achieve – all I wanted was to stop getting worse.

I train mostly in the Madison area. I have had two excellent trainers: Scott Michel of Orange Shoe in Fitchburg, and Craig Wyttenbach of L.I.F.Training (LIFT) in Middleton.

LIFT consists of one large space that contains a weight room on one end and an artificial turf field on another. An early-morning visitor would see executives on the treadmills, a personal training session in the weight room, and a number of high school football players getting speed training on the turf.

The mood is friendly. It is cheery. It is surprising – because the time is 5 a.m.

Craig Wyttenbach, who with his wife, Mara, is the proprietor of LIFT, revels in the activity, and the hour doesn’t bother him either.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned to Craig that I had met two ring guys in one day. (A ring guy is an athlete who has a championship ring. One guy had been on Wisconsin’s 2006 championship men’s hockey team, and the other had been a Green Bay Packer.)

Turns out, Craig has a ring, too, from the Wisconsin Badgers 1999 Rose Bowl win.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “You played in the Rose Bowl?”

“I did not say that,” he said. At which point, I invited him to tell me the story.

Craig was a good football player and a fair student at Sauk Prairie. He was a farm kid, and he credits the farm work ethic with inspiring his success in sports and in business. See, in 10th grade, later than would otherwise make sense, Craig decided that he would be on the University of Wisconsin football team. At this point he was neither on the radar screen of the Wisconsin recruiters nor on the prospective admit list of the Wisconsin admissions staff. This dream would need a lot of work.

So he started getting up at 3:30 in the morning to study to improve his grades. Then he would nap and get up again before classes to begin one of his two daily training sessions.

This is a routine that he kept up through the last two years of high school, and through and including two years of college in the Wisconsin state system – not playing football, but keeping the dream alive.

Then he was admitted to Wisconsin. Then came the hard part – getting onto the team. He called then-head coach Barry Alvarez 43 times to request a tryout as a walk-on.

That’s 43 – 4-3.

I must admit that I might have concluded that Barry had other priorities by call 40 or so. But Craig battled on.

And he made the team. Defensive back. Did not travel for Wisconsin, so the ring was for being a member of the team, not for playing.

“That’s an amazing story,” I said when my workout was over. “Did you play much?”

On this Craig was definitive. “Not one down.” But of course, he had reached his goal, to be on the team.

So when I tell people that I aspire to be like a personal trainer, I am not only thinking of the motivation, the objectivity, and the expertise. I am thinking of the cheerful and dogged determination to reach a goal. I trust that the kids who are training with Craig know the story, and that they feel their own possibilities are enhanced by the association with him.

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