David Otey is a Personal Training Manager at Equinox Fitness in New York City where he is responsible for the growth and development of 60+ personal trainers. Whoa! Last year he won the Manager of the Year award at Equinox. I was lucky enough to work with David a few years ago and thought he would be a great interview to kick off ‘What’s New Coach?’.
David, how in the world did you end up responsible for managing so many trainers? How did you get to this point?
Freshman year in High School, we had a football/strength coach start up at the same time that really took me under his wing. When the select Seniors would come in to workout at 6am with College Football aspirations, I was the only underclassmen that was allowed to come in and work out. Coach also worked at a performance training facility in Randolph, NJ where he asked me to come and shadow some days to check it out. For me, it was the only job I ever had where I wasn’t staring at the clock.
Fast forward through getting my NSCA-CPT and my bachelors degree in exercise science at Rutgers University (where I owe a lot of my direction to Dr. Shawn Arent), I also got my CSCS and entered the professional world. Being a strength coach for a professional or collegiate program didn’t seem like the best option for me. I began working as a Fitness Manager with Crunch in New Jersey with a staff of around 10 trainers where in 18 months we built the program from $10k/month to $75k/month. After Crunch, I spent a brief time at the Parisi facility in Fair Lawn, NJ before beginning my career with Equinox. At Equinox, I started with a staff of 15 trainers in Paramus, NJ and have progressed to a staff of 60 in midtown Manhattan. I have been lucky enough to work with some pretty awesome people and be placed in some pretty awesome situations. I am a product of circumstance and great managers to work with. The size of the numbers are different and the number of conversations are different but the basis of my responsibilities have never changed: my staff comes first.
Coach taking you under his wing must have been a great experience. Not a lot of people get to have a mentor like that in their life. Is there one thing that you learned from him that has stuck with you to this day?
I would say never let the odds tell you what will happen. What I mean by that is, he was a walk on at Penn State and became a starting linebacker in his senior season. This was a huge point that had me continue to pursue football at Rutgers. Never let what the odds say what is the “safe” bet.
What do you think contributed to growing your business at Crunch from $10K to $75K?
I think it was just being more accountable to the numbers in the business and genuinely being there for the clients. When you are just a number, people can feel that. When you make an effort to build a tight knit community where people are comfortable and happy to show up to the gym, the energy changes.
When you make an effort to build a tight knit community where people are comfortable and happy to show up to the gym, the energy changes.
Whats the ‘WHY’ behind why you started this career?
My father empowered me when I was younger to look up to guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, and Frank Zane. In the 8th grade, I spent my graduation money on a 300lb Olympic weight set with a bench. Working out made me confident, focused, strong (mentally and physically), and gave me a strong purpose in what I did. I love making people confident in their skin, blasting through barriers, and letting everyone own who they are. Working with clients was a great feeling for me, being the manager of 60 trainers only amplifies that feeling. My input and feedback can potentially shift the progress for every client, of every trainer I work with. That means everything to me.
So, what excites you right now?
The state of the Fitness Industry. For so long, we spent a lot of time separating academia and the hardcore gym rats. The way this field is progressing, you are seeing more academic gym rats than ever, and that’s awesome! Our mission should be to educate our clients, friends, and family, with the right information. The more we allow the same meathead bullshit approaches to linger, the longer we will be competing against ourselves.
Tell me about something that was hard for you that you had to get over.
Hesitancy. I talk with so many trainers every single day that I always wanted to write articles, speak in front of trainers, teach, educate, and thrive at this. I was that trainer for a long time but realized I was in my own way. I was never the the traditional bookworm with a passion for reading or a love for writing, but I work to push myself daily away from my comfort zone. I want to speak to crowds and I want to be a published writer but like any person, we question our intelligence in what we are preaching. I had to get over my fear of being wrong and have since been in Muscle and Fitness, Men’s Fitness, Women’s Health, Furthermore, and Beachbody Blog.
Some refer to that as “impostor’s syndrome”, which is not thinking you’re good enough, even though you are. That’s impressive that you overcame this and now write for these magazines. Whats one piece of advice you would give to personal trainers on how to get started writing articles for magazines like these?
Education is going to be the foundation of your career. If you haven’t built the foundation properly, your house is going to begin to sink sooner or later. It’s important to know which resources to look towards for certain information. I’m a believer that there are motivational influencers and educational influencers. Generally, I don’t go to my motivators for my education and don’t look to my educators for my motivation. I think you need a good balance of the two to stay hungry and focused.
Not an answer I expected, I thought you were going to say “Just call Men’s Fitness and don’t take “No” for an answer! Education is a fundamental concept we can never forget. What is something in the fitness industry that you wish everyone knew or didn’t forget?
The science of Exercise and Physiology is much deeper than people think, the programs to get healthy and get results are not. It is easy to get caught up in the marketed nonsense of:
How much glutamine should I take if I want to maximize my gains? 4 grams or 5 grams?
Should I foam roll pre-workout, intra-workout, intra-sets, or post-workout?
You know whats killing your progress? The wrong protein bro.
It’s all nonsense!
The most successful programs of all time are based on a few principles: multi-joint movements, cardio, consistency, solid nutrition, good rest. The person doing 3 times per week of full body strength training will outdo the person doing a 6 day per week bodybuilding split sporadically.
Between cardio, movement, consistency, rest, and good nutrition, which one do you see personal trainers skim over and not give enough attention with their clients?
It’s really all over the map. Traditionally, I think nutrition is approached poorly and cardio is overlooked. I think the more we are begging to explore cardiovascular exercise and open the window for our clients larger than 30 minutes of steady state, we will be good.
Cardio should be approached similar to strength training in intensity and progression. Nutrition is also taught very bland. We all know we need to eat our veggies! What works for you won’t necessarily work for them. We need to make sure we are coaching them, not coaching someone like us.
Whats one book that changed your practice and or mindset?
Whats the one thing you took away from it? I read a book called Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. The premise of the book is don’t be afraid to ask for favors. The world is based on who you know and allowing others to help you. This is a complete 180 from the mindset of some trainers of “I don’t want anyone stealing my moves”. We reach our potential with the support of others and not the height of our own jump. If we jump, we have a set limitation, if others keep pushing us up and up, we have none.
Whats one book that you recommend to a personal trainer at any level and why?
Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. That is the NSCA holy grail of training, programming, and science. I used it throughout my undergrad and CSCS prep and it’s still my go to reference.
Ahh, the basics again! What has been your biggest impact?
I pride myself on being a manager that lets their employees know that I am genuinely in this with them. I have had some bosses in the past that I knew were just there to punch a ticket. I want my employees to know they can come to me with problems and I will give them every shred of information I have. I want them to succeed as much as they want in whatever they want. My impact is not only that I say that, but I mean it too.
As someone who manages and develops 60 personal trainers what are the characteristics you see from the most successful ones.
Curiosity. The trainers who I see in the office 3-4 times a day with questions at each point, I know they are onto something. Questions seem to be frowned upon for some reason. Questions show me you are thinking about everything involved and working yourself through it. It means you have a level of maturity to seek out help. When there are no questions, that’s when anything can happen.
If you were to meet your idol, who is it and what are the top 3 questions you would ask them?
I am lucky enough to say I have met mine, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I wasn’t able to ask him my 3 questions but we had a 10 minute talk about his Olympia career and he told me about his chest injury and his 1980 Olympia which is regarded as one of the most controversial in history. I am happy to say, he was incredibly nice and yeah, he is still the MAN!
What do you wish people knew about you but probably don’t?
If I wasn’t involved in Fitness, I would definitely be doing something with Music. I grew up on the Temptations, Four Tops, Eagles, AC/DC, Van Halen, Metallica, EVERYTHING. I taught myself how to play the guitar when I was 7 and still play numerous instruments. I listen to any and every kind of music, you’ll never know what I am listening to.
Wow your parents must be proud of you for practicing and picking it up on your own. I remember it was torture getting me to practice. Tell me about another time that you were proud of an accomplishment.
I would break this into 3 categories: personal, professional, and personal clients.
Personal, is marrying my wife, nothing comes close.
Professional is that I watched one of my colleagues and friends I am closest with, Spencer Antonucci, winning Fitness Manager of the year. Spencer came to the Paramus Equinox and learned the ropes from me but had a whole set of skills that set him apart from the crowd. I was very happy to see him recognized for his awesomeness.
Personal Clients, was back at Crunch, my client Alan has Cerebral Palsy and started training to get stronger and to have a better gait so less people starred at him when he was walking around. By the end, he was happy, comfortable, using his legs, and glowing with confidence. It was special.
Alan’s story is amazing. What was it like to start with someone with cerebral palsy, how did you go about your exercise selection?
Risk vs reward and research. Going into any situation with any client you need to be aware of the complications or issues that may arise. Similar to any other client, risk vs. reward has to be a large part of the equation. To work with a new client base, you have to have your first client and I think people forget that. Don’t be afraid to be outside of your comfort zone, but if you do, you need to take it damn seriously. Don’t allow “Holy Shit” possible results to create a “Holy Shit” what have I done.
Any advice that you give your personal trainers that you manage that would work for everyone?
This is a client based business, education is huge, selling is important, programming is key, but in the end this is a relationship built on trust that we have with our clients. Don’t let the technical aspects allow you to forget the basic human element of it.
You can reach David Otey at email@example.com