We were lucky to catch up with Damien A. Joyner, J.D., CPT, ICEI recently and have shared our conversation below.
Damien, appreciate you joining us today. If you had a defining moment that you feel really changed the trajectory of your career, we’d love to hear the story and details.
Although there have been many milestones in the six years I have been in the industry the most recent is a good one to highlight. This defining moment is working as a part-time health coach in the WorkStrong Program at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).
Like many that set out in a new profession, I had a general idea that would grow into a stronger foundation of why I do what I do and what my niche would be.
For me, my idea was that I wanted to help people move better through exercise. After getting my general personal trainer certification from the American Council on Exercise, I began to work on getting experience. Over time I gained clarity as to how I wanted to work with clients as well as who my clients would be in my business. I was drawn to working with the active aging population, 50 years and up. At the same time, I appreciated the benefit of continuing to learn and work with the general population outside my business. Such diversity is great mental stimulation and allows me to notice similarities between those of various ages in injuries, fitness goals, and how they move when performing foundational exercises like deadlifts. Also, I am always thinking about what that person should be doing now, so their older self can physically do what they need to do and want to do for as long as possible.
I began looking for an opportunity where I could learn and grow in a team environment that held high standards for fitness professionals and how they work with clients. I began looking into more clinical environments such as hospitals where I would be learning how to help those in post-rehab. During my search I saw the job posting for UCSD. In short, the WorkStrong program (which is at all UofC’s) is for employees injured on the job as a transition from post-rehab. The participants benefit from a set number of sessions with a health coach like myself, a nutritionist, and a massage therapist.
I could tell by the length and depth of the job description that they (those hiring) were serious about the kind of fitness professional they were looking for. The description was very detailed in experience, certification, and characteristics of candidates. I knew it would be a perfect fit because of what I could bring to the table as well as wanting to be in an environment where I could learn and grow. As my family, friends, and clients all agreed that it was exactly what I was looking for. I tried my best to communicate my value and how excited I was about the job at every stage of the hiring process. I was thrilled to get the job.
Now, being able to work with employees that are injured on the job, post-rehab is a fulfilling and mentally stimulating opportunity. I constantly have moments where I am stretched to learn and apply, trust my instincts, ask for help or the combination. It is also a big help to have a nutritionist on the team that can help participants make sustainable and healthy choices that keep their lifestyle, schedule and exercise in mind.
This opportunity to help people move with less pain and more confidence is very rewarding. Also, I can help participants learn more optimal posture and alignment so they don’t face debilitating injuries in the future and especially as they get older. Thus far, the majority of the participants I work with are nurses, but I have also worked with police officers, other hospital staff, and administration.
This is a defining moment because I can continue building my own business and develop as a fitness professional as part of a program that addresses health in such a comprehensive and impactful way.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
I stepped into the fitness industry about six years ago when I made a career change and decided to reinvent myself. I had the goal to help people reap the benefits of exercise. Like many, I felt the pressure to choose my niche or population that I was specializing in. Over time I found that I was drawn and excited to work with the active aging population. After I knew who I wanted to work with I focused on getting in front of as many people as I could to gain more experience and learn from my work with these folks. Such experience included leading group classes for Feeling Fit Club, a free group exercise class for seniors in San Diego. After I was able to transition to a gym for independent trainers like myself, Werk Fitness, my clients and I enjoy training in that space. My oldest client right now is 83 and she has no plan of slowing down. At the other end of the age spectrum, I have clients in their 50s that are of the same mind. They all enjoy cheering each other on.
Often I get the question of whether I train active agers any different than their younger counterparts. In short – I don’t. I don’t design the programming or treat clients differently solely because of their age. Their programming is based on their fitness level. I don’t coddle them as I believe that every client has the potential to move better or be stronger. I am mindful of any restrictions they may have and I am always thinking about the physical demands of everyday life. This population often feels invisible and subjected to ageist ideas about what they should or should not do. These ideas can bleed into the fitness industry by introducing gentle or easy exercises either because it is assumed that it is all they can do or all they want to do. Such assumptions could not be further from the truth. Nothing is more exciting to work with individuals that truly understand the power and value of movement because either they have a valuable perspective as to what is really important.
Digging deeper into the question of how I work with this population, I challenge them in the gym so everyday life is less of a challenge. They do variations of foundational exercises such as squats, deadlifts, pushing, and pulling. By foundational I mean that such movements occur in everyday life such as picking up a bag of groceries on the floor and putting it on the counter. What is imperative is that they all do some sort of balance and stability training. Too often people subscribe to the idea that falls are a normal part of again along with an inability to do things. Better breathing, learning more optimal alignment and posture during exercise helps them “own” an exercise without compensations that can lead to injury.
If clients have pain, tightness, or injury and I help them to get to a better place. When clients see a doctor or physical therapist I empower clients to ask if there is anything we should do more of or back off from in their session. I do enjoy introducing exercises that help clients continue to do things they enjoy doing like getting on the ground to play with grandkids, enjoy kayaking, or traveling.
What sets me apart from others, aside from my target population, is the writing, speaking, and collaborations I am involved in. I am very grateful for how American Council on Exercise (ACE) has challenged me and given me a platform to speak, write and grow. The opportunities have included being part of a virtual Senior Fitness Press Conference about brain health and exercise, a Subject Matter Expert for ACE’s revised study program, and an ongoing media contact regarding topics largely regarding active agers and exercise. Lastly, as my goal is to help inspire and inform active agers and their loved ones about the power of exercise I often turn to one of my strengths of writing. With that in mind, I have some projects that I am working on personally that will come to fruition in a few years.
I am most proud of any and all ways clients of mine have been able to perform everyday life activities and fun things with more confidence and ease. Because of the impressive feats they can do in the gym, what they can do in their everyday life is much more impressive.
I want others to know that there are fitness professionals out there like me that specialize in working with active agers because we enjoy helping this demographic to improve the quality of their lives. Those in this population can be strong, agile, and able to do variations of exercises clients in their 20s and 30s can do. That ability is not an anomaly. My work and vision are to reach and help those on a large scale through publications, videos, and other content aside from personal training. I also want to encourage fitness professionals to not shy away from this diverse population and treat them with the respect that they deserve. If fitness pros educate themselves on how to truly help active agers truly train for the life they want to live, it can be very rewarding for clients and their trainers.
We’d love to hear a story of resilience from your journey.
Establishing my niche and creating depth has been a test of my resilience. Marketing and exercise in general are often geared towards the younger population. It is getting better but the industry has a long way to go to including and understanding the needs of this underserved and growing population. It was challenging to find good resources to learn from on how to work with this population. Thanks to a good friend of mine in the industry she suggested that I look into Functional Aging Institute to learn more progressive ways to train and coach them instead of “gentle exercises” or excluding foundational exercises such as deadlifts just because of age.
After I had more guidance and understanding I was able to apply and learn. As time went on I had questions from those I looked up to in the industry as to why I chose to choose this demographic and the suggestion that I should also market and train their younger counterparts. They could not understand why I chose this age group because they didn’t know anyone else doing it. Call it stubborn or loyal, but in my business, I have always been driven to focus my work on this population, whether written, videos, or personal training
At the same time, I was working to create some useful content that was geared for my target demographic and their loved ones. I spent much time working on blog posts, shooting videos by myself early in the morning before anyone was in the gym, and developing other content to add to my website. On the subject of my website, it has my blood sweat, and tears in it as I had to figure out how to build and develop it on my own. Everything from figuring out what the homepage should look like, the flow of the website, design has been a learning experience. It has gone through many changes to get to a point that I like and am happy with for the time being. I was close to paying someone to do the last big restructuring but I couldn’t justify the price point. Instead, I paid for a template, squared a weekend away, and did it myself. I was about to pull my hair out most of the time. There may have been some tequila at the end of each evening, but it all came together. I now have mentors that understand my passion as well as industry leaders such as Dr. Evan Osar of the Integrative Movement System that provide so much for me to learn and apply to the work I do with active aging clients.
The more I wrote blog posts and shared other content the more I got over how much traffic or attention that they got. I have come to see content as breadcrumbs for that will lead folks to me – potential clients, their loved ones, or industry leaders. Because of such resilience, I have had opportunities present themselves to me. A good example is that the American Council on Exercise noticed my content which has led to being a media contact related to active agers and exercise along with other opportunities I discussed in the other questions.
Without a doubt, the learning and growth will never end, but all of this is a good example of how I had to put my head down, learn on my own, and continue striving to inspire and serve a population I care so much about.
Other than training/knowledge, what do you think is most helpful for succeeding in your field?
Pay attention to your client & encourage self-care. Even though fitness is the reason why the client/trainer relationship is established there are many other things going on in their life. Noticing their body language, what they are not saying and if their mood is different are useful things to notice and address when appropriate. When clients understand that they are not expected to walk into the gym feeling 100% whether emotionally or physically then they know it is a safe space and the workout will be adjusted if need be. Because of a better understanding of the expectation, there can be less of a temptation to cancel and there can be a reduction of the anxiety when they are not able to work as hard in a session as usual. This also keeps the lines of communication open for them to share how they are doing when they walk in the gym or a heads-up text prior to the session.
Especially working with those that do so much for others like my nurses I work with at UCSD that have stressful jobs and much on their shoulders, cheering them on employ self-care in their own lives whether it be exercise, Epsom salt soak, or getting a massage can go a long way to improving the quality of their life.
- Website: https://incrementalfit.com
- Instagram: @damien.a.joyner
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Incrementalfit
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/damienajoyner/
- Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/incremental-fitness-san-diego
- Other: https://www.nase.org/sf-docs/default-source/selfinformed-documents/selfinformed-september-2021.pdf?sfvrsn=54a21df0_0