Interview with Isabelle Libmann – Coaching and Ramen Noodles

Today’s interview on What’s New Coach? is with personal trainer and nutrition coach, Isabelle Libmann!

Isabelle shares with us her perspective on being a client and how her own personal trainer made her day, how her 70-something client lifted bigger weights, favorite client questions, what her clients are doing now,…and so much more!

Isabelle Libman – Owner of IzzyFit & Trufit Studios, Illinois

Thanks for chatting with me Isabelle! What’s exciting in your world right now?

FOUR things right this minute: 1. Totally honored to be answering your questions. 2. It’s officially soup season. I love making soup. Salads in winter bum me out so if I can get my veggies in soup form, I’m set 😉 3. I have a full roster of awesome clients. I am so grateful for that every single day. 4. I am now the owner of a private personal training studio in Evanston, IL. I’ve always known this was the next step for me but it came MUCH sooner than expected and I’M SO EXCITED!

Congrats on your studio! Can you take me back through your career until now?

I was a theater major in college. I’d wanted to be an actor and singer since I was 11. So color me surprised when I realized that’s not what I wanted to do when I graduated. In order to make some money out of school, I accepted a job I KNEW wasn’t a good fit (it required launching a website; I had zero background with that and I had to work from home).

Since I knew I’d be on the couch all day, I used some of this new money to hire a personal trainer since I had no idea how to work out. Fast forward a few years. I had an awesome job working for blues legend Buddy Guy’s management company.

It was a VERY small operation so I handled things from signing contracts to public relations. I loved working for him, he’s the best boss anyone could ask for; I joke that working for him was the equivalent of me getting my MBA. With all of that said, on the stressful days where reporters are demanding x, y and z from you ASAP, I couldn’t help but think I wasn’t changing anyone’s life.

I had a session with my trainer one night and had that A-HA moment, realizing that THIS hour was the best part of my day and that I wanted to switch places and help people feel better, stronger, less stressed out. I had the chance to move away to Seattle with my then-partner which is when I went back to school to become a trainer. That’s where I started IzzyFit.

When I moved back to Chicago in 2012, IzzyFit was relaunched here and it’s been going strong ever since!

Before your studio, you were working for a gym? As an independent in someone else’s gym?

So, when I started in Seattle I was actually interning at a gym called Zum Fitness (where Molly Scott was the membership guru queen), I was an IC for an in-home trainer and I started IzzyFit all at the same time… When I moved back to Chicago, IzzyFit 2.0 was born and I’ve been training out of the studio I now own ever since then.

isabelle libmann interview

How did your personal trainer make it “the best part of your day”?

I was with my trainer Kim at the time (though my first trainer Anne did this same thing): She made me feel like I was worthy of making time for me to feel better, get stronger and all of that good stuff.

She did that by being present, by helping me figure out how to overcome obstacles and being excited for my wins. It sounds so obvious that your trainer should do that but it was really huge for me as a client.

What was the tipping point to decide to open your own facility and be an owner?

Honestly, I think I’ve always wanted to do exactly what I’ve just jumped into now but the opportunity wasn’t there. TruFit has been around since 2008 and it was another studio before that so it’s really become known as a small local company that really takes care of their clients and there wasn’t a hole in the market for me to open a competing studio (nor would I have wanted to).

So honestly the “why now” is because the owner is moving to Canada in a few weeks and asked if I wanted to buy it!

What was an obstacle that you faced in your career and how did you overcome it?

Well, when I moved back to Chicago from Seattle I had to start from scratch. Yes, I had a network from having lived in Chicago but no one knew me as a personal trainer. I had actually applied to work at Equinox because going out on my own again was so scary but realized I would only want to go back to IzzyFit so why would I build a clientele twice?

I was SO FREAKED OUT but I think I believed in the product so much that I was willing to do what I needed to do to get it off the ground: I spent my free time learning how to make a website, I asked everyone for reviews, I trained a friend of mine for free so that I could blog about it, I networked my ass off, I hired business coaches (every coach needs a coach!!) and eventually, the phone started ringing.

I worked at least 60-80 hours a week to build IzzyFit for a really long time and it’s paid off.

What’s one example of something that your business coach had you do that was the complete opposite of what you were doing before?

This seems kind of ridic since everyone and their mom seems to be doing small group coaching but I was feeling burned out trying to fit as many clients in as I could so one of my coaches suggested training 2-on-1 instead of 1-on-1.

I fought so hard against it but gave in and nothing has been the same since. We know there’s power in numbers, so clients have more fun and make workout buddy friends. And when clients keep track of their individual programs I get to be a better coach.

And when there’s a little less chatting there’s a whole lot more training. And since time is our greatest commodity, I get to work with lots of clients without a grueling schedule!

isabelle libmann interview

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

I wish I’d known that there are a great deal of people who are really nice and approachable and this industry is FILLED with amazingly generous people. I spent too much time feeling super intimidated. I should have asked more questions, not been afraid to look like a novice (I still AM a novice for crying out loud).

What’s one book that changed your practice/mindset, etc… and why? What’s the one thing you took away from it?

Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. It helped me put my long-term vision into words. It helps me decide whether a new project/endeavor fits my “why”. It really clarified my entire purpose. I listen to it at least once every year.

What are you reading now?

Harry Potter. I’m on book #4 (NO SPOILERS, IT’S MY FIRST TIME!!) Oh, also, Grit by Angela Duckworth 😉

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

I have a client who won’t give me her age but she’s in her upper 70s/early 80s. She’s pretty small in build, has arthritic knees, rotator cuff issues, and her mobility was terrible. So we’d been working within all of that for a few months when she asked me if she could try lifting one of the big kettlebells.

Usually, words that make my heart flutter but I thought, “OMG, no, you still have a 1 in your ASLR screen”. Instead of saying no, though, we initially worked within her range of motion and started with the lighter bells. She ended up getting really annoyed with me and insisted she try a heavier one. So, above all do no harm, right?

I enlisted the help of another trainer to talk out loud about how we’d get her lifting heavier without risk of injury. And it worked! She’s at 130lbs on the bar right now. So the moral of the story: Don’t underestimate what your older clients can do. And when in doubt always run your ideas by other smart trainers…

isabelle libmann interview

How did you end up having that women deadlift more, what did you and the other trainer come up with?

What the other trainer and I came up with was restricting her range of motion with weight until she could own the hinge (it was the deal we came up with: You can lift weights but only safely, haha; she reluctantly agreed).

Once she owned her hinge, we worked on 5×5 deadlifts with kettlebells until we had to go to the barbell when the heaviest one we had was too light 🙂 After a few weeks of 5×5 at the barbell, we moved to 3×3, then 2×2 and then eased off and worked on other things.

She only deadlifted once/week and every time she did she said it was so good for her mentally. We’ll get back to it soon!

What’s your favorite question that you like to ask a client?

What do you like doing in your spare time?

What are you looking for when you ask that question?

When you ask a client “What are your goals,” the client is likely going to tell you what they think you want to hear, regardless of whether or not they really believe it themselves. But knowing what they LIKE to do can tell me a lot about what they value in life which can help inform what their training program should look like as well as making sure their nutrition skills line up with their reality.

So, for example, I love dining out and trying new restaurants, I value that time being out and about. So choosing to cook every meal from breakfast to lunch, Monday through Friday would feel AWFUL because it wouldn’t line up with my values.

When you can tie what the client does in the gym or with their nutrition coaching and why they’re doing it directly back to their values, they’ll have greater buy-in and feel more intrinsically motivated.

When you can tie what the client does in the gym or with their nutrition coaching and why they're doing it directly back to their values, they'll have greater buy-in and feel more intrinsically motivated.

What do you wish people knew about you but probably don’t?

I wish people knew how much I love ramen. That way when we get together, we can get together over ramen. I could eat it every single day.

isabelle libmann interview

Can you share your proudest moment?

Getting my SFG1 cert. I trained hard for that thing.

Any advice for those that want to get their StrongFirst certification or something you learned along the way? 

Don’t be afraid to fail the test, it only gives you more time to get better. Hire a coach if you can. Start training at least 9 months out. Take lots of Epsom salt baths. And know that NONE of the certifications out there are the end-all-be-all.

How has your programming changed since last year?

My clients are spending WAY more time on the ground rocking, rolling and crawling.

isabelle libmann interview

What’s some recent continuing education that you really enjoyed?

I went to a day-long Original Strength Pressing Reset workshop and want to do more with them in 2017. It’s changed a whole lot in the way I feel and the way my clients move.

What’s one thing that you think is really easy, but works well with many of your clients?

Letting them choose what they want to work on and then respecting their choice (especially when you wanted them to pick something else).

Can you tell me an example of “Letting them choose what they want to work on”?

When I know my client snacks all day and I want them to work on “eating a full breakfast and lunch without snacks” but they want to work on drinking more water, I want to say, “But the other thing!”

But the act of choosing what they’re confident they can do that will benefit them regardless is sometimes all that matters until they’re ready to move to something more challenging.

What would you recommend a client not to do?

Listen to anyone who points out all of their weaknesses and then tells them they’re their only solution to fix them.

What are the first 3 things you do in the morning and what’s the last 3 things you do before you go to bed?

1. Turn on something on my iPad like old episodes of Top Chef (I like having noise in the background when I get ready). 2. Drink 24oz of water while the shower water gets warm. 3. Shower. —> 3. Set my alarm. 2. Read (right now I’m on the 4th Harry Potter book for the first time). 3. Put on my eye mask and sleep.

Any parting advice for us?

Never underestimate the power of asking questions?

Also, did you know you can roast radishes?? I just learned this weekend.

Next time you get radishes, roast them instead of eating them raw 😉 That’s my advice.

isabelle libmann interview

How do we get in contact with you?

Text 312-497-8999 (don’t call and leave a message, I have 12 unheard ones right now) or email! You can also reach me online at and

You can also reach me online at and

Resources Mentioned:

Simon Sinek’s Start With Why

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Harry Potter Books

Ramen Noodles