Fitness For Life

This article originally appeared in the Honolulu Star Bulletin in May 2007
Fitness For Life (Honolulu Star Bulletin) - May 2007

By Katherine Nichols

Eric and Angela Yamashita work together as personal trainers out of Gold's Gym on South Street, juggling schedules that include accommodating clients, taking care of their son, Ian, and maintaining their own fitness -- the essential component in the mix.

"If I don't take care of myself and my family, I can't take care of my clients," said Angela, 31. She works almost exclusively with women, is certified in pre- and post-natal fitness, and believes that her own experience with pregnancy and recovery is the best motivator.

"I help pregnant women get back into shape and become comfortable with who they are as mothers," she said. "They can relate to me and I can relate to them." Not all, however, may be able to connect with her rapid loss of all visible body fat. But it inspires people.

"She was the best business card I could have!" said Eric, a former body builder who started E. Yamashita Personal Training in 2001.

In addition to working with expectant mothers and people seeking general fitness, Eric and Angela have begun creating routines for patients fighting breast cancer. "A lot of women who have breast cancer don't know they can work out," said Angela, who devotes special attention to a patient's diet and vacillating energy levels. "So I try to make them feel comfortable, and encourage and empower them."

Because their male and female clients range from 15 to 70 years old, adjusting to different needs -- physically and psychologically -- is part of their skill.

"This whole idea of life coaching is what we've been doing all along," said Angela. "We're changing people's lives. And we're having fun!"

Patty Hays was preparing for a body-building competition with personal trainer Eric Yamashita when her life came unraveled. Within one year both of her parents passed away. A meal began to consist of two plate lunches and an entire sheet cake.

"It just became a comfort thing," she said. The 5-foot-3 receptionist's weight rose to 157 pounds. People said, "Boy, you got fat, no?" or asked her when the baby was due. "It got kind of embarrassing," said the 41-year-old Hays.

During this time, Yamashita and his wife, Angela, who co-own E. Yamashita Personal Training, called to check on Hays and urged her to come see them.

"Finally, I just couldn't take it anymore," said Hays. She forced herself to drive to Gold's Gym in the mornings before work, and began training with Eric and Angela.

Slowly, she regained control of her diet and weight. In the process she became so attached to the Yamashitas that when they took their 3-year-old son, Ian, to Disneyland, she went with them. "I was afraid of them leaving me!" she laughed. Training continued every morning before photo ops with Mickey. A gym wasn't necessary.

"We never do the same thing twice when we're with a client during the week," said Angela. "You could stick us in a room with no equipment, and you'll still get your butt kicked."

A typical relationship with Eric, 40, or Angela, 31, begins with a detailed discussion about the client's goals. They inquire about family history and diet, and measure body fat, weight, flexibility and endurance.

"When people do come in, they're ready," said Angela. "Whether they realize it or not, they've already done part of our job for us."

Their full client list has evolved via personal referrals rather than advertising, the best evidence of the quality of their approach.

While they will go to clients' homes for special circumstances, they strongly urge people to come to the gym to work out. "The home is your comfort zone," said Eric. "At your home, you're the boss." In other words, he's the boss in the gym, and more likely to push you to new levels. Besides, he added, "If you could have done it by yourself, you would have done it already. So get out of your rut, and come here."

Angela added, "In order to get results, you need to step outside the box."

Results will happen, but quick fixes are not on the menu. They strive for lifestyle changes that last.

Rick Tashima can attest to this. The 49-year-old manager at Hawaiian Airlines believes in their philosophy so much that he also works part time as one of their trainers. Tashima suffered a devastating car accident in 2000, and lived in pain -- and with lots of painkillers and cortisone shots -- until Eric began training him. Eric never promised to work miracles, but told Tashima they would "take it one step at a time." With plyometrics and a fresh approach, Tashima weaned himself off painkillers, taking his last one in 2005. He's never felt healthier or more fit.

"If I didn't have him, I'd still be doing the same thing, getting injured and taking pills," said Tashima. "What sets (the Yamashitas) apart is they form one great team. They're always here and they take their job serious."

Hays agreed. She wanted to get rid of the weight has fast as she could, but the Yamashitas insisted otherwise. "They were very supportive on days when things were not working," she said. "You have to like your trainer; you need to have some sort of rapport. Eric and Angela are just really down-to-earth people."

FOR many of their clients, nutrition is a huge issue. But the home-grown Yamashitas understand. "For me to give you chicken breast and broccoli when you've been raised on Spam-- it's not going to happen," said Eric, who suggests ways people can make better choices within their established routines.

Both also appreciate when clients challenge them about the reasoning behind a certain diet recommendation or exercise. "It helps us stay sharp," said Angela, who added that they never hesitate to admit when they don't know the answer to a particular question. "That's why we take time to do continuing education at seminars," she said.

Angela's enthusiasm for fitness began when she participated in track, cross-country, soccer, judo, tennis and taikwondo in high school on the Big Island, where she grew up. She also worked with Stroller Strides, a group of mothers that meets with babies and strollers for walks, runs and resistance exercises. Her work schedule went from part time to full time when Ian started preschool this year.

Eric began competing in body building contests in 1987, when he carried 30 pounds more muscle than he does now that he focuses on overall fitness. During that time, he worked various jobs at the Hyatt Regency. In 2001, he decided to take the leap and start his own business.

"The first year was tough," he admitted. "We had to build a reputation."

They began with one client. Now there are between 50 and 60, with a waiting list.

Angela said she's especially proud of Eric because their first client is still with them today. However, their devotion to their clients can overwhelm them if they're not careful. Eric said he quickly slipped into 70-hour work weeks at the expense of his family and personal health.

"She was seeing me get a little burnt," the 1984 Hawaii Baptist Academy graduate admitted. So Angela called him on it, and enforced changes that would benefit everyone -- including their clients, who often look for help with the same problem. Both realize that modeling the behavior they teach is essential.

"I consider it my job to work out," Angela said of her dedication to care for herself. "If you are not in shape, people are not going to inquire."

Little Ian gets into the mix, too. One day Angela told him to get a ball to play, and instead of the basketball, he fetched her 5 pound medicine ball. Sometimes he'll put himself in the plank position for abdominal work and call out, "Mom, look! I'm exercising!"

With parents like Eric and Angela, how could he do anything else? "We're the fitness couple," said Eric. "We pride ourselves on being a couple that loves each other and gets along." And inspires by example.