Why I got into training

If you’ve ever wondered how/why someone gets into the world of strength training, here’s one path taken. It isn’t worthy of Disney and Pixar buying the movie rights, but its a decent rags to riches story none the less, enjoy!


You all know that I train you. Train myself. Read about training. Write about training. What you don’t know is why I got into training in the first place. Well, finish reading this post, and you will no longer be kept in the dark.

I wish it was something as awesome as “Mean Joe Green” tossing me his jersey in a Coke commercial when I was a kid. Or that the Professional Trainers League discovered me working out one day. Sorry to say it, but it is nothing that cool. It is however a rags to riches story of sort, and I promise you, it is 100% true.

When I was 7-years-old, my dad put my first baseball glove on my hand. A Dave Cash model Wilson piece of all leather awesome. I still have this glove in my house btw 33 years later!

From that moment on, I was hooked on America’s national past time. I’d go to sleep with that thing, I’d carry it with me all day and I lived for the times when I ball was thrown to me or hit at me so I could use it. Soooooo, what does that have to do with me getting into training? PATIENCE PEOPLE.

Now, when I was a kid, I wasn’t the svelt creation of awesome you see before you now. If the Campbell Soup kids had a baseball league, I’d be in their Hall of Fame. My pants came from the husky boy section, and I never met a Twinkie I didn’t liked (still haven’t!). Remember, the pants with the steel belted denim that made sparks as your legs touched while you walked? Yep, that’s what I wore.

When I was 12, I leaned out a little bit as began to get taller. This happened some more when I was in high school. This is also when I got some muscles after I discovered that not only only could you hit a baseball farther, the occupants of the all girl high school around the corner from my all boys school noticed you existed a little more.

When I graduated from high school, I was in pretty good shape and had every intention of playing baseball at a higher level. And I did at Gavilan Jr College, until my sophomore year. I wish I could tell you it was tragic and I was being scouted by D1 schools and MLB teams, but such was not the case. I was good enough to start, and leadoff at the JC level but I wasn’t going to draw a check for playing.

When the 2nd long term injury in as many seasons happened, it forced me to read the writing on the wall and realize what was sitting on top of my shoulders would take me a lot farther than what was attached to my right one.

Talk about being crushed. For 19 years, I was a baseball player (I’m pretty sure I was already one in the womb!), and then one day, I wasn’t. I was an athlete, people knew me as an athlete and I really didn’t know anything else. The pending identity crisis bender is what began my road to training.

I tried my hand at softball but that was like eating a nonfat chocolate babka. It sort of looks like baseball, but let’s be honest. Its a very poor substitute. I still had lifting weights, and that helped.

Oh yeah, I need to mention my girlfriend of two years at the time (whose daughter was in our wedding!) decided that moving to Oregon would be the best thing for our relationship. So at this point, I was no longer a baseball player, and now I was no longer a baseball player who was suddenly single after two years. YAY FOR LIFE TRANSITIONS!!

At this point, I decided it was time to have some “fun.” When I stopped playing baseball, I weighed about 165. By the time my first junior year at Santa Clara started, I was tipping the scales (and pretty much any car I got into!) at ONE. EIGHTY. THREE. And it wasn’t muscle.

How had this happened? How do you go from being an in shape athlete to someone who, well, was turning into someone I vowed I’d never become. Everything sucked. I was sore from playing softball. Pickup basketball would debilitate me. I was going to hell in a hand basket, and I was getting there pretty damn fast.

The kicker was walking up the stairs of my two bedroom townhouse and needing about 30 mins to recover. Then there was being crushed for a week playing pick up basketball one night. The final nail in the coffin was a Malibu Grand Prixe driver’s license picture that featured my ENTIRE face taking up the whole thing.

At that point, the rocks on the bottom met my ass in a big way. Let’s also not discount how a bloated portly fellow with low self esteem did with the ladies. I will tell you a life long extrovert, had turned into a wallflower terrified to talk to cute girls. See, I AM HUMAN!!

I couldn’t believe the guy that I used to be was the person I had become. I was crushed when I saw that picture on the license. It sent me into an emotional low for quite a while and having been a chunky child you can imagine all of the other emotions of awesome that flooded to the surface. Remember that cartoon “Fat Albert?” I always will.

Yes, I, Al Painter, loud obnoxious person of confidence, had some serious self esteem issues, and I hated it. For a while actually. Until the day that would eventually lead me to opening INTEGRATE Performance Fitness in August of 1992.

I had hit the wall, head first at warp speed. I won’t tell you the exact verbiage I used in the conversation I had with myself because it wasn’t anything you can say in church. I will tell you the outcome was a decision that it was time.

Time to pick myself up. Time to dust myself off. Time to be someone who set an example, not someone who had become the perfect example of a downward spiral. Time to FINALLY  remove my rectal cranial insertion and start living again. If you’ve ever had an epiphany moment, you know they are pretty powerful things!  All I needed was a plan.

My birthday was coming up, and there was a trainer (who I would eventually work for) working at the World Gym I belonged to that seemed to get some decent results with his clients. When my parents asked me what I wanted for my 21st birthday, three days with this guy was what I asked for.

These three days were some of the most physically brutal days I’ve ever had.  But, they had turned out to be three of the best days of my life. I turned myself inside out for this guy, and then for myself five days a week after that. For the first time in about a year,  I began to feel like an athlete again!

The workout called for 20 mins of interval training on a stairclimber (HEY, I DIDN’T KNOW THOSE THINGS WERE BAD FOR YOU BACK THEN!), then more of the same with weights and only :30 of recovery in between each set for an hour. I had no idea I was doing a type of metabolic circuit back then!

I taped the Malibu license to my yellow Sony Sports Walkman (c’mon, you ALL know what this was because you had one!!) and I fixated on it every. Time. I. Trained.

Any time I was beginning to fade, or didn’t feel like working out, I’d look at this picture and my ass worked harder, or it got off my couch and into the gym.

I then bought one of those old school Nike motivational posters of someone (ok, some hot model, hey, I was a 21-year-old who needed inspiration!) who had just gotten destroyed in a workout sitting on a bench, towel over her shoulders with “There is no finish line” under the picture. It was actually a cool picture. Dark, gray, dungy gym. The kind of place that probably smelled like exercise where only those willing to enter the 9th layer of hell were allowed to join.

To me, this poster meant, regardless of how hard I worked, I could work harder. To me it meant, regardless of how far I’d gotten, I will always be taking my first step. It pretty much set the tone for the way I think now.

Since I’ve never been one to half ass anything, at the ripe age of 21 years and two months old, I gave up booze and fast food cold turkey. For about six months. You know how GD hard that was????

I’m in college I was living with two guys (one could get 16, yes 16, quarters in his nose!!!! we had free laundry quite a bit!) who looked like marathoners on liquid diets. These guys could eat whatever the hell they wanted, and very often did.

A common scene was them powering down fast food by the pound while I ate broiled chicken, steamed rice and raw vegetables. At my family parties, I’d be drinking water. And I’m part of a HUGE Mexican family. If you’ve ever gone to a Latino hoe down, you know the food is closer to Paula Dean than it is to Dr Dean. Talk about making people uncomfortable! My relatives who enjoyed partying did not like it when I was around. I won’t get into the psychology as to why, but I found it pretty damn entertaining!

Even with temptation all around me, there was no way in hell I was EVER going back to where I was. It was a very rare occasion when a drop of booze or morsel of crap touched my lips from October 1992 to about June 1993. And I was in AMAZING shape. I had gotten down to 158lbs and 10.4% bodyfat.

I. HAD. AN. EIGHT. PACK. This was AWESOME!!! Any girl I wanted, BOOM! Digits acquired. Any sport I wanted, BOOM! Instant success. I WAS THE DOS EQUIS GUY!!!!!

But, I had forgotten the golden rule of success: with great power, comes great responsibility. Meaning, while my waistline looked like Tyson Bedford’s (c’mon, like he’s not the world’s most perfect man. PLEASE!), my ego had filled in the space that my stomach used to inhabit.

I had suddenly become to busy for a lot of things I should’ve done. This included my last chance to see my brother before a car accident kept me from ever getting the chance to see him again. I was too busy having fun to go see him. I still think about this every once in a while when I look at Lilly thinking her uncle Don would’ve loved to have met her.

I had reached for the golden ring, and once I had it, I blew it. BIG TIME.

At this point, I didn’t know what was worse, a soul crushing lack of self esteem or trying to contain an ego that was on the verge of getting out of control.

Well Al, this is all well and good. So you were fat, lost your self esteem, got fit, then lost your mind. OOOOOOO! Should we call Disney now?? Nope, not even close, and here’s why.

Right before my second Jr year at SCU (don’t ask, it wasn’t pretty), I figured out things needed to change again..

My father’s rule of how to play baseball was you were to never walk off a baseball diamond without being covered head to toe in dirt. If you did, it meant you didn’t play hard enough and you’ve let your teammates down.

One day I realized that my uniform was spotless, and I had become pretty selfish. But, once again, this hitting me was exactly what I needed. This was the final piece of the puzzle, and luckily I figured it out sooner than later because it helped me realize what I wanted to do.

I would get into a career where I could help people. Give them confidence when they lacked it, and help them feel better when I was able to.

This was about the spring 1994 almost done with my journalism degree. So, I started writing fitness articles for the school paper and training people until I graduated in June of 1995. Hmmm, funny how life comes full circle is it not?

And this is what I did until the golden handcuffs of the interwebs were put on my wrists in 1996 when my parents decided it was time for a little ROI on their SCU investment. They pretty much told me I would be off the payroll and it was time to get a real job.

For six years I did. I made money for GoPlay.com (we were one of the first web based email clients, there was us, rocketmail and a little thing called hotmail surfed on a Netscape browser, remember that?), CitySearch.com, Fogdog.com, Funschool.com and Shoppinglist.com. But, while I was making other people money, I wasn’t all that enthused with corporate life.

I was making a decent amount of money at one point for knowing how to get search engines to read code for better results. I marketed, I business developed, I photog’d, I coded, I designed., I photoshopped, if there was an internet start up job to be done, I did it.

Until 2001 when Jill followed her path. While I was stuck in corporate America, Jill had begun her journey to becoming an occupational therapist. Long story short, she was happy at work and I wasn’t. She looked forward to every day, I lamented them. I loved weekends, but hated Sunday nights because the next day it was back to the grind.

Luckily she got a job that allowed me to say “SCREW YOU GUYS, I’M GOING HOME!” to the corporate life and go back to what I loved: helping people exercise.

Keep in mind, I went from well over half way to six figures a year with benefits during the boom to four figures a month if I was lucky. But, I was happy again, and my client list was growing.

I was also playing hardball again in the never was has been hardball leagues, and my folks came up to the San Jose area every Sunday to watch me play. The sound of metal cleats on concrete. The smell of a freshly oiled glove, a freshly cut infield and shoe polish the night before every game. The atmosphere of the dugout talking all kinds of stupid with other knuckleheads (one of the things I missed the most, still do), it was all back and life finally seemed normal once again.

All of this because I wanted to go from being a number on someone else’s spreadsheet that could be highlighted and deleted to someone who called his own shots and helped people. I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, and not just someone’s bottom line.

I went through it all online btw. The VC’s coming in to give the dog and pony show motivational speeches as the ship sunk, people being shocked when their departments were eliminated. It actually became predictably formulaic once my start ups were going south:

  • Layoff HR
  • Layoff Ops
  • Layoff marketing
  • Piss off and overload the engineers
  • Keep the sales people, who would also overload and piss off the engineers (if you’ve never sat in a bitch session of engineers complaining about sales, I highly recommend it!!)
  • Interviews with your managers to save your ass for a job that was already yours

Oh, and btw the way, I made this life transition as we were planning our wedding! Talk about “fun.”

In May of 2007, IPF was still “Optimum Results,”  and its where I was having a blast training. I’d talk to the other people I worked with about how cool it would be to do this to the studio, get rid of this, get a new that and shape the place up the way we wanted it.

Well, Halloween of that year owners called me to a meeting, and it looked like we’d get what we wanted. They had mentioned the words “partner” and “manage” before, but the conversation we had went way beyond that.

“We want to sell the studio to you. We aren’t doing anything with our Mtn View location, and we decided if we ever found someone we trusted who could make it work, we’d sell. That person is you.”

WOW!! My. Own. Place. FINALLY!! Everything I’ve ever wanted to do was right in front of me. Well, everything except the money to do it. But once they told me how much they didn’t want, I knew this was meant to be. I just needed to find some money.

Which I did, thanks to Mike Harmon, whom without, there would be no IPF. We put a deal in place to get the seed funding to open the studio on January 1, 2008. But before this happened, the place needed a name.

If you’ve ever named a child, you know how fun this is. It applies to naming a business as well.

IT, Intensity Training was an initial idea. You know, “Do you have IT?” “We can help you reach IT.” That kind of thing. We quickly veto’d that because we didn’t want to alienate anyone.

After a long four weeks of 3M poster sized stickies on the walls at home with words crossed out, we finally had found the right combination thanks to Matt Beebe who designed IPF’s logo.

Once we combined “integrate” + “performance” + “fitness” the studio was born!!! Finally, my owned place. Finally a place that would be run on common sense logic and reason with the perfect mix of smalltown mom and pop.

A place where regardless of if you were a world class competitor or an “everyday athlete” with a family you’d have a home. It was to become a place where everyone knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. Finally, INTEGRATE Performance Fitness would become a reality!!

Has it been worth it? Hell yes. Did I need to harshly implode, then explode, then figure it out? Hell yes. Other than going to see my brother, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m big on learning opportunities, and this journey has had a ton of them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, now that I’ve spun the tale of IPF, I’m going to hug my daughter before I go back to the studio. See you in the next post!


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Never attempt any new exercises mentioned in the VelowReviews blog without a thorough evaluation from a physician, personal trainer, strength coach, athletic trainer, physical therapist or sports chiropractor.

  • Al Painter

    Tyson Bedford is a male model that is who I would have play me in my life story!

  • Great story, Al!

    Btw…who is Tyson Bedford? (Sorry, we don’t watch TV around here.)

  • rockclimber

    Looks like you have found some truth in the USA climbing motto.
    “strength builds confidence.”

  • Awesome, fantastic story Al and congrats on turning life around and going after your dream :)

    Two favourite sayings I remember when time calls for them are “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda, Never Did” never want that to be me.
    “You get what you create” or “You create what you get”

    Hope all is well in the land of IPF :)