“Personal Trainers Are Not Magicians” — A Week in the Life of a Fitness Coach

July 5, 2022

A Week in the Life is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.


The subject of this week’s #AWeekInTheLife is Elastiick Abah, a fitness coach. He tells us about his training regime, rigid personal diet and the fitness myths that make him scratch his head the most.

A week in the life of a fitness coach

MONDAY

My week technically starts on Sunday — if I don’t have anywhere to be on Sunday afternoon, I design meal plans and workout programs for my clients. So when I wake up on Monday, all I do is go out and kill it.

The gym opens by 6 a.m., so I wake up at 5 and head out to the Lekki branch of the popular fitness chain where I work, thirty minutes later. From 6 – 7 a.m., I train five people, but my peak period is between 7 – 8 a.m. when the most people troop in. Ideally, I would be done with my morning shift by 12 p.m., but you know people  who only work with African time na? So sometimes, I have to stick around until 1 p.m. Then, I head to the Sangotedo branch. 

I’m supposed to work one shift per day, but in February 2022, I started working two shifts for two reasons. I’m trying to fund a personal project, and I need the extra money. The second reason is that I’ve worked five years at the Sangotedo branch and gotten bored and demotivated by being in the same space every day. So I decided I needed a change of scenery and moved to Lekki Phase 1. 

I created a transitionary period for myself which will end in July [2022]. During this time, I would work at two gym locations — Lekki and Sangotedo — and ease out of the Sangotedo area. I’m worried about leaving five years of building and nurturing a community of around 100 clients behind, but change is important.

Before May 2022, after my morning session, I would fly a bike to Sangotedo to save time. But since Lagos banned okadas, any day wey traffic dey, I enter the traffic like that. I find a corner of the gym to sleep until 4 p.m. when my evening shift starts. I have different sets of clients every hour until 9 p.m., then I head back to Lekki. Depending on the traffic, I can get back home anytime from 9:45. 

Today, there was heavy traffic because it rained, so I got home at 11:30.

TUESDAY

On Tuesdays at 7 a.m., I have a general class called “Tabata”, a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routine in which participants get active for 20 seconds and rest for ten. They repeat the cycle for five to eight rounds and the class lasts between 45 minutes and one hour. After that, I step out for lunch.

I used to eat six times a day. I’m an ectomorph — someone with a very high metabolism rate — and I have a physically active job. So I need lots of calories; I need to eat big to get big. 

At 6:20 a.m., I’d take fruits: two apples and a handful of berries and grapes. By 9 a.m., I’d have oatmeal, a banana and an egg, with peanut butter and milk. At noon, I could have rice with vegetables and chicken or beef. I’d have pasta or swallow — either wheat or pounded yam and soup — at 3 p.m. At 6 p.m., I’d eat Irish potatoes with vegetables. When I got home at 10 or 11 p.m., or anytime Lagos traffic let me reach my house, I’d have rice, potatoes or spaghetti. Sometimes, it could be yoghurt or whatever else was left in my fridge.

And let’s not forget supplements. I would take several types — the pre-workout, inter-workout and post-workout supplements. They contain whey protein, creatine, glutamine, mass gainer, omega 369, etc., and cost about ₦150k every three months. 

But all that changed because I’ve gotten a lot leaner since I took on two shifts. I also haven’t been able to work out since February because I’m stressed out from training so many people in a day and can’t afford to push my body further. If I try it, it’ll shut down. I’ve lost a lot of muscle mass and am now a shadow of my former self. I can’t wait to fully transition to the Lekki branch and get done with the personal project I’ve been raising funds for, so I can get back to working only evening shifts like a normal person, and resume working out. 

The supplements have also doubled in price. It now costs me the same ₦150k to buy just half of what I used to take two years ago. In 2022, I would buy whey protein for ₦10 – 15k, but the same container now costs anywhere from ₦38k. A tub of mass gainer went from ₦22k to ₦48k, and creatine, from ₦12k to ₦20k. These are the only ones I still use. I’ve stopped buying the rest.

When I got home at 10:30 p.m. today, I prepared for Wednesday — boiled my eggs ahead of breakfast, packed my gym bag — and went to bed around 1 a.m.

WEDNESDAY

The only thing different about Wednesdays is that I have a circuit training class at the Sangotedo branch in the evening. For circuit training, I create obstacles and a series of workout routines for my clients to complete in a stipulated amount of time. 

Something happened today at the Sangotedo branch that made me tear laugh. The Sangotedo gym is located in the same building (upstairs) as a pizzeria (downstairs). One of my clients worked out for one hour and left the gym. But just minutes later, I looked out the window and saw this woman sneaking out of the pizzeria with a chairman-size pizza box. I made a video to show her the next time she came to the gym.

She reminded me of another client — a lady who kept complaining bitterly that she wasn’t losing weight. Two weeks ago, this woman finished working out at 9 p.m., the last session of the day, only for me to come downstairs and spot her standing at a shawarma spot. 

I often tell clients that I can only be in charge of what they do in the gym. I can’t follow them around to monitor what and how they eat. It’s behaviour like this that’ll annoys — and hurt — any fitness coach. When clients aren’t making progress because of their habits, it feels like we’re not doing our jobs well. We’re not magicians.

THURSDAY

Mehn, the kind of things I see at the gym! Gym bros make me laugh. If it’s not the ones walking around shirtless to show off, it’s those who think lifting weights that are too heavy for them will impress women. These “alpha males” mark territory and want everyone to know, “Na we dey run this town.” 

The commonest thing I hear people say about personal trainers is that we’re ashawos who steal people’s women. Nothing could be further from the truth. For me, I just have a lot more female clients than men, and so naturally, I’ll relate with more women. But being a fitness coach is a proper career, and personal training has rules and ethics. 

All I’m focused on is my clients’ progress. The best thing that happens to me on this job is when a client goes from a skinny somebody who can barely lift the bar, to being buffed up and lifting 50kg, five months down the line. When I see a client who comes in obese, loses weight and starts moving about more confidently, it fills my heart with joy.

before and after of a man after going through a fitness coach

I often receive gifts from such overjoyed clients. Like today, someone dashed me Airpods Pro. The kind of sweet sleep I’ll sleep this night will be legendary.

FRIDAY

I spent a better part of today trying to get two new clients to unlearn all the marketing myths. These fat women had been taking things like weight-loss teas, and even when they lost weight, they’d quickly gain back even more weight. 

And that’s because they don’t work. These teas and pills and waist trainers are just products of marketing. They don’t do shit. You’ll drink a weight loss concoction, and it’ll make you purge. You’ll lose water weight and think you’re losing actual weight?  No. Too many people are looking for shortcuts and don’t want to do the actual work.

There’s a science to losing weight — you simply have to adopt an active lifestyle and eat at a calorie deficit. 

For the next few months, I’m going to work with them to reset their mindset and adopt the best practices. If they can follow through and be consistent, I can’t wait to see their progress one year from now.


If you enjoyed this story, you might also like: “People Think I’m a Sex Worker” — A Week in the Life of a Massage Therapist


Hi, I’m Ama Udofa and I write the A Week in the Life series every Tuesday at 9 a.m. If you’d like to feature on the series, or you know anyone interesting who fits the profile, fill out this form.

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