Trainer to the TV Stars Alec Penix Offers a Spirited Plan to Combine Faith & Fitness
Take a knee, CrossFit, Alec Penix has a new way to get folks jacked and it works from the inside out.
The Los Angeles-based trainer, who's worked with Aaron Tveit (Graceland), Olympian Gabby Douglas and Hallmark super-couple Alexa and Carlos PenaVega, has just published Seven Sundays: A Faith, Fitness and Food Plan for Lasting Spiritual and Physical Change (co-authored with Myatt Murphy for Howard Books), in which he shares both his own tale of religious conversion and a six-week blueprint designed to improve the lives of anyone, regardless of their faith.
Breaking down the plan one day at a time, Seven Sundays is accessible, empowering and most of all, unabashedly optimistic in its efforts to help readers expand their views on health beyond what they see in the mirror or on the scale.
Here, the equally upbeat Penix opens up about his path and explains why the journey to becoming spiritually swole really is more important than the destination.
How you got started in the training industry?
Alec Penix: Well, it's funny because when I was a young kid I had on my vision board the Hollywood sign. At that point in time, I really didn't know [why], but I wanted to go out to be a part of Hollywood in some way, somehow. Eventually I fell in love with training. I've been training for over 10 years already. So it's been a part of who I've always been and one thing lead to another, I found myself on tour with a band called Big Time Rush in 2004. That's really where a lot of the opportunities began to open up. And that's kind of how Hollywood works: You meet one person who's connected to the other person and that's sort of how I built my reputation. So training has always been a part of my DNA and I just now have made it like a, I guess, I've been sharing that to the world now.
How were those early days?
I found myself sleeping on a floor of a one-bedroom apartment. [Laughs] I had, like, three of my friends living in that same apartment in Santa Monica. We were living life, enjoying it regardless of our circumstances and I was hustling as a trainer. I got a job at the top gym in L.A. at the time called Sports Club LA — now it's changed to Equinox — and yeah, and that was the posh. That was like the place to be. And I would train there from early morning until about noon and then I would actually drive all the way over to Burbank and meet my mentor, Eric the Trainer [aka, noted Hollywood health guru Eric Fleishman], and that really like built up my skill set and my ability to build my business. I developed that relationship and would go and shadow him for a few hours and then I would go back to West L.A. to my gym and train rest of the night. So I was putting like 16-hour days in. I was like hustling.
Yeah man, I was. But I was doing what I wanted to do. I was falling in love with it and so with that that's really how my work with Big Time Rush began to happen with me. So it was just over a period of time about two years where things begin to change.
That can also take a personal toll.
I think it brought awareness actually to kind of where I was. I felt like, because of pursuing the "celebrity trainer" status in the business and being around celebrities, you realize that those things don't make you happy. And once I started having that awareness, that's when things I think really got dark for me and I realized how empty I really was. I would look inside and be like, "Wow yeah I'm out here chasing my dreams, but am I actually being fulfilled?"
They say wealth is not just a state of money, it's a state of mind. Is what you're doing fulfilling you? How you're living your life? How you feel about yourself? At that moment in time, I was spiritually malnourished. Just as people are physically malnourished, that's how my spirit felt because I wasn't feeding that what it needed.
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I know in the book you talk about it, but for people that haven't read it, what was your moment of reckoning?
I was in Mexico, celebrating a wedding for one of my clients — Carlos and Alexa PenaVega's wedding. And, yeah we were celebrating the night before, having a good time. And I'll let you read in-between the lines on that. [Laughs]
But the next morning — or I should say evening — I woke up and felt terrible. Not only that, I was in the darkest place of my life. I tell people that the first time that I actually prayed out loud was when I was lying there in bed. And I had people knocking on the door, people were calling me wondering where I was. I didn't want to talk to anybody. But I prayed out loud and I said, "God I need your help." And I honestly say that I heard a voice and that voice said, "Alec it's time to become that man I've called you to be." I promise you it wasn't 'cause I was hungover. I really feel like I heard this voice.
My relationship with God began at that very moment. My spiritual awakening began and I tell you, that was the time for me to step up to the plate and become that man that I've always felt I could become. I just wasn't doing the things necessary every single day in order to become that man. And God really helped take me and direct my steps into that path.
Had you been raised religious? Was this a callback to a childhood conception of God?
I didn't grow up religious at all. I maybe went to church maybe once or twice and never opened up a Bible. I actually was not interested. I remember going to church with my mom and just fighting her not to go. It was almost like me fighting my parents going to school in the morning when I was a young kid. That's kind of how it was. So when that moment happened, I think deep down inside, I knew something was bigger. I needed help and that's when I verbalized it as God.
And how did this, this sudden upheaval in your life alter your career?
Well I believe that it elevated it in a lot of ways because once I started seeing my own life change, I began to filter it into all the areas of my life, especially my business. And it wasn't like this thing where I was [quoting] scripture to clients or being religious, because a lot of the people that I was training at that time weren't religious at all. It was a light that I finally began to tap into that came from my spirit. And I think that's what ultimately was the biggest change, realizing thatI'm not just here to give clients a physical change I'm here to also be there for them on a emotional level.
Before this, they would tell me their problems and it would drain me. Now, it's like I'm ready for that. This is what I'm called to do now, I feel like. This is my little like niche. This is what I love to do. And so because I think they saw that, they realized that they had a place of security. When they came and saw me, they knew when they left that they would be in a better place. That they would have a great experience. And that's really what it was about. And it wasn't like there were ulterior motives. It was just being a good friend. And that's what really I think what separated it.
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How did you put together the Seven Sundays concept of CHOSEN so it would work as both a fitness plan and a life plan?
I really take this from my own life, it's a way that worked for me. I think that there is this felling, especially in the Christian world, where people are like, "Oh God's got me. He'll give me the body. He'll give me the job. He'll give me the relationships." And I was like that at one time. After my awakening, I was like, "No I have to do my part." And that's really where CHOSEN comes into place. That acronym maps something that you'll be doing every single day and applying to your life that not only will empower you, but will empower your friends, your family and your community so that you're not only changing your life, but you're changing the people's lives around you.
You mentioned the acronym of CHOSEN. You break it down in the book for every day what those are. The C is Concede, which is a prayer and then Honor, which I really like 'cause this is not something that is really discussed in a lot of things.
Right. The way that I sort of clarify this to people is that we pay attention to our physical diet, but we often overlook our mental and spiritual diet. And that's where this Honoring really comes into play. Yes it's honoring God, but we're also honoring ourselves through reinforcing and conditioning ourselves with positive scripture or maybe it's positive books, YouTube videos, whatever. Fill yourself up with that mental and emotional diet that we often don't pay attention to.
And O is Offer.
Offering is the one that really to me stands out because the quickest way to get out of [negativity] is to give back. It puts you in a state of gratitude and that changes your biochemistry. And it also gives you perspective in that your life isn't that bad. So if you are in a bad spot, go out and start giving back. It's just it's good for everybody.
And then you move into the three physically things. It's funny you put them at the end. Getting proper Sleep, Exercise and Nutrition.
I put these at the end because I'm sick and tired of looking at the same old exercise and diet books out there. I wanted to get something different out, so I put the spiritual elements and the wellness stuff I think that we overlook first.
The idea of Seven Sundays is a great guide map to starting slow and finding out where you are both at a fitness level and spiritual level. It doesn't expect you to become a saint overnight, it starts with small steps.
Right. I'm not asking you to be a preacher or a fitness model. Exactly. It's about the little victories that compound over and over. It works with money and it also works when it comes to our spirit and our mind. Once you can push away that piece of chocolate cake, that's a moment to celebrate. Don't just celebrate when you lose 30 pounds. Celebrate right now, enjoy this journey. Allow it to empower you. That's what we often overlook. We pay attention so much to the destination that we overlook what we need to do today and the little victories that we have today.
Seven Sundays, Available at Amazon.com, $17.10