Interview with Christine Kuczek – Helping People Change

Interview with Christine Kuczek – personal trainer, coach, and director of fitness at Spindle Fitness! Christine has lots of stories, coaching examples, change talk, and so much more!

Christine Kuczek – Director of Fitness – Chicago, Illinois

Thanks for chatting with me Christine! What’s new and exciting for you right now?

We’re in a really fun time with our company Spindle Fitness. We launched our second facility at the end of 2016 and, because of that growing membership, I’ve been able to expand in my role as Director of Training.

Of course, I still train clients as well as write programs for many of our members. But what I am really pumped about is managing the continued education of our staff. With our business model, it is really important that our whole staff is constantly on the same page with regards to cueing, exercise implementation, and programming.

My role is to ensure that this learning happens by finding the most up-to-date resources to share with the team so that they can develop into the best trainers in the business! I am also developing and implementing Spindle’s nutrition program, which we just launched in early May, so that our members have a more well-rounded service.

Congrats! How many trainers do you have on staff? Having many trainers under one roof and having consistency can be a challenge. How do you ensure that they are on the same page with cueing/implementation/programming, etc? Any particular methods work really well?

We have 6 trainers and 3 partners in the business. It can be challenging to get everyone on the same page. We use videos for a lot of our education. This way, everyone is getting the exact same information versus the “telephone game”. Then we have follow-up meetings and discussions in order to clarify anything that is unclear.

Communication is key!

We also worked as a team to establish guidelines for how we program at Spindle.  Even though each member’s program is customized, now, all of our programmers are on the same page as to what values are important as they create a program.

What’s the goal of your nutrition program?

Our goal is to provide a structure for our members to learn and develop good nutrition habits. The program is done in a group format, so, while each person does have to hold themselves to a certain degree of accountability, they still have the others in the program and their coaches encouraging them to do so.

Many programs are too restrictive and therefore not sustainable after the program ends. Our program teaches small things that are done every day to make a big difference over time. Not a “quick fix.”

We’re also realistic when it comes to nutrition. No one is perfect or should be expected to be. We coach our members to evaluate themselves in a nonjudgmental way, which we believe is a crucial part of long term success!

I love the group structure! How did you get started in this industry?

I began my career with a few different internships with The Trainers Club (personal training), the Chicago Bulls (professional athletics) and the University of Iowa (collegiate athletics). Those gave me a direction on where I wanted my career to go. I determined that professional athletes weren’t really my thing and collegiate athletics would move me around too much, so personal training felt like the best fit for me.

I started my own training business and rented space from The Trainer’s Club in the suburbs of Chicago. I quickly learned that it was extremely difficult to start a business from scratch, straight out of college, and with no prior professional paid experience. Although I was drawn to the independence of having my own business, it was not the right time to do so.

I moved to Chicago in November 2011 and worked as a personal trainer at Lakeshore Sport and Fitness until October 2014. I climbed the ranks of the training ladder and, after reaching the highest tier, decided that I wanted to be more involved in the management side of the business in addition to training.

This was the only way to increase my income without completely burning out doing 40+ sessions per week. I assumed a role in the education side of the business. However, I was unable to “let go” of enough clients to open up enough time to handle my management responsibilities. So, I still worked 50+ hours per week and I got burned out anyway!

In October 2014, myself and 2 business partners opened Spindle Fitness, which provides a unique personal training product. It is so much fun working in an environment where you have a lot of say in what goes on.

We have been operating ever since then and, as I mentioned before, opened our second facility at the end of 2016.

Most personal trainers I’ve met over the years want to work with pro athletes, and yet almost all the PTs that actually work with them decide that that it’s not for them. What is the main reason you chose not to continue with the pro route?

The biggest reason I decided that working with pro athletes was not for me was the lifestyle. I am getting married in July and want to have a family in the somewhat near future. The types of jobs that that career provides typically requires a lot of moving around and very little flexibility in hours and days. I was raised by a stay-at-home mom and would not have traded that for anything.

Although I do not intend to quit working altogether when I have kids as my mom did, working in my own business gives me that flexibility to be there for them as my mom was for me.

Makes sense! What do you think makes Spindle unique? 

We meet each member wherever they are at and build a fitness lifestyle that works for them. While we are results oriented, that does not always mean pushing more weight, losing body fat, or gaining a ton of muscle.

It can be as simple as being better and stronger at life as a result of your training. At Spindle, our members receive personal attention my our expert coaches as they execute their systematically progressing programs on their own personal schedule that complements and enhances their lifestyle.

What is something in the fitness industry that you wish you knew when you were starting out?

How important it is to learn from the people around you. When I first got started, I mostly just applied what I learned from my internships, being fearful of using the knowledge of the people around me to improve my own training.

I feel that when I started to reach out to other trainers, I was able to improve my skills at an exponential pace. It’s not enough just to try to model what you see others doing. It is important to work with them on the why behind what they are doing, otherwise you could use the exercises and models inappropriately with your own clients.

Steal from everyone! It is the most sincere form of flattery!!

What’s one thing you stole that works really well for you, and who did you steal it from?

I stole my time management techniques from Mark Fisher. Between training private clients, programming, educating our team, nutrition, and other management responsibilities, I need to make sure that I am using my time wisely.

I was finding that it was very difficult to find time for it all. But, if I literally schedule out each hour of my work day, I can come home at night, put work aside and be with my family and relax. It can seem a little overwhelming at first, but I really get a lot more done this way.

Can you talk about a breakthrough with a client, and what led up to it?

I have a client who was getting perpetually more and more frustrated with her inability to lose the desired amount of fat that she had expressed upon joining. She is a member who comes in, almost with exception, 5 days a week, works very hard, and does what is asked.

With clients like this, I almost always know that it is a nutrition issue but she was always asking for more and harder workouts, despite my leading her in the direction of nutrition as being the source of the problem. This was the typical, “I’m trying to out-train my diet” client.

I finally got through to her and she agreed to start logging her food. She had to get frustrated enough in order to listen to me. Deep down she knew I was probably right, but you need to let these people come to the conclusion on their own, otherwise they will never see it through.

Upon my review of her logs, I noticed that almost everything she logged was good food and in the appropriate portions with the occasional “mini peanut butter cup” thrown in. But, she was still not seeing fat loss so I knew there must be more. I discovered that she was neglecting to log all of her meals on the weekends. There had to be something there she was ashamed of which could be the source of the problem.

She was almost ready to give up but we had another serious conversation about logging each and every thing that she eats and drinks. I told her that, because she was neglecting to log everything, that must be where the problem was. If she was 100% honest with her logging and stayed consistent with her workouts, I promised that she would see results. Two months down the road, she was down 6lbs of body fat.

It all comes down to being ready and willing to make the changes needed to reach your goals. No matter how much someone says they want it, their actions tell the real story. We can’t force someone to be ready to make change, but we can be there for them when they are!

It all comes down to being ready and willing to make the changes needed to reach your goals. No matter how much someone says they want it, their actions tell the real story. We can’t force someone to be ready to make change, but we can be there for them when they are!

Sounds all too familiar, what a great way to handle it. How do you begin a “serious conversation” relating to someone’s nutrition goals? This could be really difficult for some trainers.

One of the hardest things to do is to help a client realize that they are not being truthful to themselves when it comes to their eating habits. For example, I have had many clients throughout the years who have had significant weight to lose and have been unable to do so, even when they show me food logs that are pretty damn good.

They are frustrated because they think that they are doing a great job, putting in a ton of work, and not seeing results. They often come to me looking for me to tell them exactly what they should be eating because what they are doing isn’t working. Honestly, I don’t believe “serious conversations” are effective until that person is really ready for change.

If they are not being truthful in their logging, then there is some part of them that is not ready for the change, and that’s fine! I keep encouraging them to do the best they can and point out some areas of their lives or habits that they are not focusing on.

For example, I had a client who was not losing weight but working her butt off in the gym. Though many small conversations, as opposed to one really serious conversation, I got her to realize that even though she was being really great 95% of the time, her addiction to gummy bears was part of the issue.

She saw herself eating no more than 5 at a time, but when she was able to take in the day as a whole, she was eating about a bag per day. Sometimes there are “little things” that clients don’t even bother telling you because they feel so insignificant to them.

But they often can be the barrier that, when taken down, leads to success!

Great example! *puts away own bag of gummi bears*…What are your top 3 favorite questions that you ask a new client? Your top 3 questions for someone you’ve been training for a while?

New Client:

1. What is your number one fitness/health goal and WHY? (the why being the most important part of the conversation)

2. What do you enjoy about exercise and what do you hate?

3. What is the one thing you are most interested in changing but have been having a hard time doing so?

Existing Client:

1. How is your body feeling today?

2. Are you happy with the way things are going?

3. What do you most want to work on/new goals you want to achieve?

Can you tell me about your proudest moment?

I have one female client who has been with me for most of my career. When she started, she wanted to become healthier, which included both nutrition and exercise. This quickly turned into the desire to lose body fat.

She started around 30% body fat and, in about a year and a half’s time, she was down to about 16% body fat. All done because of the consistency of both exercise and good nutrition habits. What I feel most proud of is that I was able to get her to buy into everything about my coaching. She always believed that what I was asking her to do was in her best interest and she succeeded with flying colors.

Then the fun part came. She was happy, healthy and strong so I asked her, “What do you WANT to work on?” She expressed the desire to become stronger at deadlifts and to be able to do more pull-ups. Again with her diligence and determination, she has now accomplished 15 pull ups, 2x bodyweight deadlift, and SFG I.

At her SFG I, she barely missed the Iron Maiden Challenge (which she had hit in training) due to a strained neck from sleeping. All of these have been proud moments for me as a coach.

The Iron Maiden challenge is no joke for anyone! What’s a nutrition habit that you find works well for a good amount of your clients?

To stop eating before they are full. This is something I learned from my nutrition education through Precision Nutrition. So many people don’t feel that they should be done eating until they actually feel the fullness in their stomachs.

This is often because they are uncomfortable with the feeling of hunger and are scared that they will become hungry too soon if they are not full at the end of a meal. I alleviate this fear by telling them that they can eat again if they are hungry after a meal. Often this “hunger” is really a lack of fullness.

Getting an individual to really understand hunger and satiety cues is essential!

Is there any recent continuing education that you really enjoyed?

The Strength Matters Level 1 Kettlebell certification was awesome! What a great community of people. I also completed my Precision Nutrition Level 2 Master Coach course, which has really given me some neat tools to use with my nutrition clients.

Thanks so much for this! So many great practices and examples, I learned a ton! How do we get in contact with you?