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Welcome to another edition of Fitness for All with Cam Jenkins, sponsored by Lebert Fitness.
In this episode, Cam talks with Janessa Laureano. Janessa is a personal trainer and the co-owner of O2 Fuel Fitness in Vaughan, ON. She grew up competing in sports like wrestling and track, leading her to have her own trainer by 8th grade. This taught her a lot about fitness from a young age, not to mention, it runs in her blood as her cousin is Marc Lebert!
When Janessa didn’t land her dream job right out of school, she bought a one-way flight to the Dominican Republic and began running fitness vacations in the Caribbean. After 2 years down south, she was offered an opportunity that she couldn’t resist-to open her very own gym and fulfill a dream of a lifetime
This article is sourced from the Fitness For All Podcast, a top health and wellness podcast. Listen or subscribe below
Scroll to the end of the article for links to important resources mentioned in this episode.
*The following podcast has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Welcome to another edition of the Lebert Fitness for All podcast. It is sponsored by Lebert Fitness and today on the show, I have Janessa Laureano, Janessa, thanks very much for being on the show.
No problem. Thanks for having me
I wanted to start, because I do you know you a little bit through your cousin Mark; you started at a very young age as far as being a trainer. Can you talk about your journey in being a trainer?
Yeah, I would love to. It’s pretty interesting because I've always known what I wanted to do since a young age, which I've come to learn as I've gotten older is a really rare scenario. A lot of us don't really know where we want to go until we get a lot older. Now, I had some mentors in my life, Mark being one of them, Mark Lebert. So, when I was, I want to say seven or eight years old, we used to be at these family reunions, and this is when Mark was just creating the concept of the Lebert equalizer. This was just, I believe something that he started out of his garage and I used to watch him go through the journey of creating the prototype and perfecting it and having this big dream and this big vision.
Mark had his gym in Mississauga (Ontario), and I used to go with him and shadow him when I was in grade school and high school. I would follow him around to train his clients sometimes in their homes; I remember going to this one home, I think it was a professional hockey player and it was a beautiful mansion. It was insane. They had a home gym and Mark would train them and I would just shadow him, and he would teach me why we were doing this exercise, why it was beneficial to the athlete, what muscles it worked, how to do it properly. So, he was one of my mentors that I really looked up to and I was like, wow, he gets paid to do this for a living. That was when I was pretty young and then I was really heavy into sports competitively when I was younger, track and field, basketball and wrestling.
When I started to learn that I had these athletic abilities, my dad would ask me what I wanted to do when I was older and I would say that I wanted to train people and I also, at one point said, I wanted to be a professional athlete. He was like, okay, I'm going to hire a trainer for you and we're going to get you there. So, he hired me a trainer when I was in, I believe eighth grade and I was going into ninth grade; he hired me a trainer to perfect my track and field skills. This trainer ended up being like a second father figure to me and I really looked up to him; I would go to him for everything in life, whether it was related to sports or not. Just the effect that he had on my life really had made an impact on me and I decided that I wanted to do what he did.
I remember one day he told me that if it wasn't for having to put food on his plate and a roof over his head, this is what he would do for free for everyone and the only reason he charges for it is because he has to feed himself and that stuck with me to this day. After that, I was like, you know what, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. So, I started in high school, training people - and I had coached sports pretty much my whole life, I think the first time I coached a team, I was in fourth grade coaching basketball – and I have coached sports my whole life. Then, when I got into high school, I started training people. It wasn't for much, I would do it for $20 a session, but when you're in high school, that's more than minimum wage and you don't have any bills to pay. So, in high school, if you're making $20 a client, that's pretty solid.
I would just find random spots; sometimes I would train people at my house or their house. I would go to the track because that was a familiar place for me being a track athlete; I would bring the Lebert equalizers, because Mark would always, being as we are family, I would always get free equipment growing up. So, I would take it to the track and put clients through workouts there and sometimes I would go to, we have a hockey arena with a bunch of stairwells, I would take them there. We would run the stairs and we would do workouts there. So, it started at a really young age and I've just started perfecting my craft since then.
In terms of perfecting your craft, what have you done to perfect your craft?
Mentoring would be a huge thing. I mean, having mentors is a huge factor in my growth. Like I said, I had Mark, I had my own trainer. I had even my chiropractor, who's a really close family friend of ours, he even used to give me like anatomy and physiology lessons. He would whip out like a full skeleton model and he would teach me about the anatomy before I was even taking anatomy in school. By the time I went to school and took anatomy and physiology, I thought, I already know all this stuff because I learned this from someone who uses it every single day in their field. So, those were things that really helped me perfect my craft also, just experience, you know, like you have to just put yourself out there and be willing to learn.
I did some co-ops and learned from other trainers and also taking feedback from clients. I find that's a big one. I'm still working on this, I'm not always the best at taking constructive criticism because I'm the hardest person on myself, but I really do try to listen to the feedback that I get from clients, especially when I first started out, because you don't know everything when you first start out. The only way you can get better is to listen to the clients and not only listen to them but see what's working and what's not. That's been basically a lot of trial and error.
Now with the clients, do they know their bodies better sometimes and what they can and can't do? Or is that a matter of you saying yes, they can do this, and it may be modified, but I'm going to get them to do that particular work out, for example.
That's a tough question because I would say it depends on the client, because I do have some clients who really love to push themselves and they just kind of need that person there to show them what to do. There are a lot of times when I do say to my clients, you know your body better than anyone else, in terms of if they're feeling like they need a rest day or they're feeling really sore that day, I'm like, okay, if your body's telling you, you need a rest day, then take a rest.
There are also these clients on the other end of things where the reason they hire a trainer is because they need someone to push them, and they really don't like doing it on their own. I've also had clients where I'm like, this is the exercise we're doing next and they will say, I can't do that. I’ll ask, have you tried doing it before? And they're like, no, but I can't do that. That looks really hard.
So, sometimes they know and sometimes they don't know. I think that's why they need the coach there, because if I wasn't there and if I was to send you a video and be like, okay, this is the exercise you're doing, that client would just look at it and be like, no, I'm not doing that. I can't do that. But, if I was there to tell her, yes, you can, let's at least try it, then you're there to push them out of their comfort zone but also as a professional, you should know what's safe and what's not and what people are capable of. So, you can kind of read people's fitness levels pretty quickly once you've been doing this for a while.
Absolutely. On your Instagram page, it says that you're a tough love trainer, which I absolutely loved when I saw that. What is a tough love trainer in your opinion?
With a tough love trainer, there’s the component of the love side of things where you're nurturing them, you're caring for them, you're making sure that they're doing what they need to do. You're laying out the plan for them; you're being that support system and that guidance for them. That’s really what a trainer's there to do but, what I've found is a lot of the time with clients, my experience is you can't only have the love side of things.
You also have to have that tough side of things where you're holding them accountable, because if you don't have accountability; I can know the best meal plans, the best workout routines, but if I'm not holding you accountable and calling you out for your BS at the same time, then it's not going to work. I will say that in the past in my earlier days of being a trainer, I was a little bit too lenient with people and then I'd be wondering, why am I not seeing results? I know that I'm giving them the good workouts, I'm giving them the proper nutrition advice but the part that was missing was the tough love side and that accountability. Now that I've started incorporating that more, I notice a huge difference in my clients, both their mindset, the physical transformation as well, and the mental transformation.
That's awesome because I'm certainly one of those people that need the tough love when I'm working out and your cousin has certainly tried to help me out as well. Absolutely. You need that tough love to make sure that they are progressing and doing what they need to lead a healthier lifestyle. I want to touch on O2 Fuel Vaughan because as I understand, you're an owner there and I just wanted to know how that became a business venture for you and what you've learned so far being a small business?
Oh wow. It's so crazy how much I have learned in the last couple of years since taking that leap especially with being a small business owner in the middle of a pandemic. I mean, learning the business ins and outs is already hard enough and then you throw that (pandemic) in there. I've grown so much in the last couple of years, but especially this past year alone.
I guess to start, I was in school I was taking sports and recreation management and I had always known, like I said earlier, I'd always known what I wanted to do and what industry I wanted to be in. I used to think that I wanted to own my own gym and start it from scratch, build the brand from scratch, make the logo, create the name, create the branding, the philosophy from the very beginning. That was always my dream since I was younger. Then I finished school and in my last semester, the two founders of O2 Fuel Fitness, who are my partners Adam vanHoogenhuize and Krista Fowlie, came to my school and they were doing this presentation because Adam had taken the same course that I was in and then he created this whole amazing company that was really well known in my hometown of Sarnia. Everyone knew it as being the transformation specialist; if you want to transform your body and your mind, this is where you go. So, they really made a name for themselves and he came to the school to basically show the students and my class like, Hey, this is the course I took, and this is where I am now. You can do the same thing with your life. I was sitting in the class just astonished by what they had done and then next day we were supposed to go to their gym and take one of their classes to see what it was all about.
The background of O2 Fuel is basically we train people like athletes, but we modify it for the everyday adult, so you have that lean athletic look. It’s very sports conditioning style of training, so, when I went there to take the class, they came up to me and they asked if I was a track athlete? And they knew right away just by the way I moved my body because all those movements were very familiar to me and it was easy for me. So, then we started building a relationship from there and they had asked me to come in for an interview to be a trainer. I was like so excited. I went in there and I did the interview, but I had gone in there with the mindset of like, oh, this is my dream job, I really hope they take me, I really want this job, I really need this. My confidence wasn't at the same level it is now, and my value and my self worth, and I went in there like so eager. They ended up telling me I was too green; I was just out of school and they said that I needed to go get more life experience. They said, we don't want to train you and then you go off to get life experience and move somewhere else. I said, I wouldn't do that, this is my dream job, I wanted this, my whole life. Next thing you know, probably a month or two later, I had booked a one-way flight to the Dominican Republic.
Only a month before I was like, I'm not going to move away and get life experience, I just want to work here for the rest of my life. But they were right, I will admit it now, they were right. It’s funny now because we joke about it and I'm like you guys rejected me and then my middle finger to you was I got a one-way flight to the Caribbean. I was there (Dominican Republic) for two years, which is a whole other story, but I was there for two years and I started my own little training business there and was making a living in a third world country, which is not an easy task. They had seen me posting on Facebook and posting on social media about these clients and that I’m training in the tropics and Chris messages me and was like, what are you doing down there? I don't understand, you need to tell me what's going on. He goes, first thing we’re interviewing you and then next thing I know you're on a flight and you're training people down south.
He came down because he was impressed by what I was doing and how much I had grown and just taking this risk on myself. He came down and he wanted to see, and he said, I have a possible opportunity for you, but I want to know what it is you're doing. And so, he came down to see for himself and he didn't really say anything about business yet, I think he wanted to see what I had going on there. About the third or fourth day in, I had shown him around the island., showed him the gyms I was training at, I introduced him to some of my clients and explain how I was making money down there and getting my name out there. The third or fourth day in, he sat me down and was like, listen, we want to start branching O2 Fuel out and opening more locations and we want to possibly talk with you about bringing you on as a partner for our next location. That conversation started rolling, I ended up moving back to Canada to work for O2 Fuel first because I wanted to make sure that I believed in the company and fit in with all their values and everything. So, I'm like, okay, I'm going to work for the company first and then if I like it, which obviously I ended up loving it, then I want to be a part of it, and then here we are now I have my very own location in Vaughn.
That's absolutely amazing for your story and being in the Dominican and working in a third world country and still having clients. Can you let the listeners know how you grew your fitness business when being in the Dominican through social media?
Well, okay, so I'll first say this, it’s not the same as here; it's really important that I say this part first. It’s not the same as when you're in Canada or the US and you advertise yourself as a personal trainer, and then you bring people on as clients and they sign like a three-month, six-month, one year agreement. You don't get those long-term clients as easily, because in the Dominican Republic, it's a lot of tourists and like snowbirds and they're there for a very limited amount of time. So, you're lucky if you can get even like a one-month agreement out of someone, because they might be in a different country the next month. You don't have that reoccurring income all the time and you're constantly having to get new clients. Whereas here in Canada, I signed people for a year or six months, no problem. You can make a lot of money one month and then none the next month. What I did was I just really honed in on using social media to get my name out there and I wanted to just position myself as this female trainer who was training clients on the beach and I just made it sound like as luxurious as possible.
That’s heaven right there; being able to train on a beach and the blue waters of the Dominican Republic, that's paradise.
Exactly, and that's what I just portrayed, they always say sell the vacation, not the trip there. Meaning, show them what they're going to have when they're there and how exciting it's going to be, don't tell them about like all the other things, because to be honest with you, you're going to sweat your butt off when you're there. It's not easy to work out in the Caribbean, it's very hot, but I didn't tell anybody that, I just let them figure that out when they got there. All I'm telling them is the beautiful ocean you're going to work out at and all the yummy organic foods you're going to eat.
The way that I kind of sold it and intrigued people, because this was something so different, is I said, okay, everyone knows what it feels like to go on an all-inclusive vacation to the Caribbean or wherever else. You go there, you have all you can drink at the bar; you can have as much beer as you want as many Pina coladas as you want. You can just lay on the beach and do absolutely nothing and be lazy for a week and eat all the food you want because all those places have the buffets and it's unlimited food. Everybody has done that and what happens when you come home? You feel like garbage, you come home from those trips. A lot of people have come back, and they've gained weight and they're also super dehydrated and bloated because you can't drink that much alcohol in a week somewhere that’s very, very hot. You're just going to be so dehydrated afterwards and then they're eating like garbage the whole time.
My whole thing was now let's go on vacation and come back feeling the exact opposite. My clients were coming on fitness vacations with me and going home already like five or ten pounds down. I've taught them how to cook healthy, balanced meals. I've taught them how to work out on their own. They were active the whole time they were here (Dominican Republic). They weren't drinking alcohol the whole time they were drinking like coconut water; we had fresh coconut water delivered to them every day at the gym when they would come in. Then I would cook breakfast with them after and everything that we cooked was from an organic farm. So, this was my whole thing is, come down with me, come train in the Caribbean and I'm going to teach you how to live a healthy life and when you go home, you're going to feel like a million bucks.
That's my problem. See, every time I go to the Dominican, I go to an all-inclusive resort. And like you said, I gain 10 pounds and then I don't feel as good as when I first went to the Dominican. So, my problem is, I should have been training with you all those times I used to go down to the Caribbean.
Exactly! And you know what, some people are like well, why would I want to go on vacation and just like work out the whole time? But what I would do is kind of customize it and get a feel for them before they came down and be like, okay, what are the things that you really want to do when you're here and get a feel for the things that they like, or they don't like. Some people don't like to do crazy intense workouts. Maybe they want to surf or maybe they want to do yoga. So, some of my clients, we would barely even work out, we'd work out like maybe twice a week and then in the mornings I would take them surfing and then we would do yoga right after, and then maybe go for like a run on the beach, if that's what they're into. It was about customizing it, so they enjoyed what they were doing there.
No, and that's just it. I think you have to have a conversation with the person that you're training and find out what they do like, because otherwise they're not going to enjoy it and then they're not going to be able to sustain that.
Exactly. It's all about sustainability.
Yeah. At the end of the day, I think it certainly is. Now as far as mental health goes, that is a huge topic these days. How are you pivoting with COVID and your clients and is there a huge mental part to how you train people?
I truly believe that fitness starts in your mind and I know that sounds so cheesy and so cliche, but I've been through many things in my life where I didn't want to continue exercising and I was just like, screw this, I'm just going to like gain weight and be lazy for the rest of my life and then my mindset would kick in. The only thing that gets me back up and going again is having a strong mindset and really working on that. So, you can eat, there's that meme that keeps floating around on Instagram, it's like, you can eat all the kale, do all the yoga, do all the working out and drink all the water, but if you don't deal with the crap that's going on in your head, then you're still not healthy, and it all starts there.
That’s what we're really trying to focus on with our clients right now, especially since we just got closed down again. So now tomorrow, officially the gym is closed again, but I'm like, you have to switch your mindset instead of being all sad and depressed about the gym, closing and thinking, oh, I'm just going to give up and wait until the gym opens again. We could open and close another 10 times but what are you going to do every single time that the gym closes? Are you just going to stop your progress? Everyone was getting depressed and getting anxious every time that we close. I said the only real thing that deep down is going to help you with that is continuing to stay active and continuing to take care of yourself, eating healthy, going to sleep at a proper time. Those are the things that are going to keep you mentally stable.
Even for me, myself, as a trainer, someone who's been in fitness and sports my whole life, there was a two-week period during the really big closure when we were closed for almost five months. I had a small injury, and my body was telling me to rest. I was like, okay, I'm going to take like two weeks off and one of our coaches stepped in and did the live training sessions instead. During that two weeks that I was off, as much as my body really, really needed that rest my head, I could tell after a couple of days, I was starting to feel depressed, and I was starting to feel lazy and lethargic, and I started to feel the negative thoughts creeping into my head. The only thing that got rid of that was after the two weeks when my body was rested up and I was able to start working out again, then all of a sudden, I felt mentally stable again. So, I was thinking to myself that was only two weeks and I felt that crappy. What about all the people who spent the entire five months doing nothing? I can't imagine where their head would be at.
Yeah, no, it's very hard to stay mentally strong and you do have to take care of your mental health at the end of the day. I just think that that's kind of the starting point. If you have good mental health, then you feel like exercising or you feel like making good meals at the end of the day. So, for me, mental health, it's the number one thing and that's something that I struggle with and yeah, I just think it's the number one thing to start dealing with and then everything else falls into place.
You know what I think it's easier said than done, obviously, but that's why I think it just requires baby steps rather than like an all or nothing mentality, which I've been guilty of before and I really try to work on not having this all or nothing mentality. I noticed that a lot, with the general public, they're like, okay, I either have to be working out every single day for an hour every single day and eating healthy all three meals of the day or it's like nothing; but it doesn't have to be that way. I used to be like that and now I really have started to realize that's not realistic, that's not sustainable, and you're not going to be mentally healthy at that point because you're putting so much pressure on yourself to be perfect all the time. It's not about that. It's about creating a sustainable lifestyle that's consistent.
Consistency can mean that you just do three workouts a week and you eat healthy 80% of the time, the other 20% of the time you treat yourself. But you do those things consistently rather than being perfect, a hundred percent of the time; you're going to see better results mentally and physical physically that way.
Absolutely. Since you've been a trainer for a very long time or at least working towards that, what are the top one or two things that you've learned through this process of just becoming the person that you are today?
Oh, the top one or two things I've learned? I would say number one that, ooh, this is a hard one! Top one or two things I've learned about myself or about the industry?
No, about yourself, because, at the end of the day, I think we need to make ourselves better and we are constantly learning to make ourselves better.
Okay. Honestly, number one, the first thing that comes to mind right now, I don't know if this is overall or just because of the times we're in. I would say the first thing is that I'm hands down the hardest person on myself. I've learned that I need to have a better balance of releasing that pressure on myself and not thinking that everything has to be perfect a hundred percent of the time, which is funny, because I was just saying that it's all about balance and not being perfect a hundred percent of time. But that's how I know that is because I am the worst at that, both in business and in fitness, I'm really learning to go a little bit easier on myself and have more boundaries, I guess you could say; boundary is my new favorite word.
Yeah, boundaries are good to have at the end of the day. It’s good that you recognize it and you’ve talked about it because you know, like I said, I have my own mental health challenges at the end of the day and I find that with me, I'm also very hard on myself. It's just good to verbalize that because once you verbalize it and say what you need to work on, then at least it's out there. Also, if you write it down too, then that's something you can look at every day to say, okay, this is what I need to improve on, and you've recognized that about yourself. So, that's awesome!
Yeah, I think I've always kind of known that, but this year has really shown me that I've got to have more boundaries, both with myself and with other people and with clients, just to salvage my own mental health, because at the end of the day, you can't give everything to everyone. You have to take care of yourself first and then you'll be able to take better care of everyone else after that. It's like, what's that saying? You can't pour from an empty cup.
Absolutely. For your listeners, just before we go. Do you want to talk a O2 Fuel Fitness and if they want to become a member or be able to talk to you; give those details out.
Yeah, for sure. We are located in Vaughan, Ontario. So, if anyone lives in the area, obviously right now we are closed as of today, but we will be opening again soon. I'm sure. They can find us at o2fuelfitness.com. My personal Instagram as well, you can reach me, it’s @JanessaLaureanoo. I did a double-o because for some reason there's another Janessa Laureano out there, and she won't give me my name, so I have the two O's! We are doing an online program now as well and we have a supplement brand that we just launched. So, that's going to be up on our website shortly, if anyone wants to join our online program and train with me online.
Perfect. Well, Janessa, it's been l lovely having you on the podcast. Thank you very much for agreeing to do it. You have been listening to Janessa Laureano on the Fitness for All podcast and once again, it's sponsored by Lebert Fitness. Thanks, Janessa.
Thanks Cam. Have a good day.
Contact Janessa Laureano at: