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COVER STORY: Wellness Warriors

Barry’s instructors recount their journeys to fitness.

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Out fitness instructors Pinij NaLampoon (l-clockwise), James Mai, and John Michael Race (photos by Ashkan Roayaee)

It’s a new year, which inevitably means that New Year’s resolutions are on the brain. Since one of the most popular choices is improving one’s health and fitness, OutSmart interviewed three workout gurus from Barry’s on West Gray about their journey to fitness. Openly gay trainers John Michael Race, James Mai, and Pinij NaLampoon are all experts when it comes to getting in shape, and they tell us what it’s like to live every day in the fitness industry.

Founded in 1998 in L.A.’s West Hollywood neighborhood, Barry’s staff members have spent the last two decades developing group fitness into an art by creating efficient, immersive, and transformative hour-long cardio and strength interval programs. The brand has grown to include nearly 70 studios worldwide, with more than 125,000 customer visits per week. Barry’s signature method utilizes the most effective combination of high-intensity interval training by incorporating 25–30 minutes of interval-based cardiovascular routines on treadmills with 25–30 minutes of strength training using free weights, resistance bands, and other methods.

Every class is held in a Barry’s “Red Room” where the dimly lit nightclub atmosphere allows participants to lose themselves in the moment, concentrating only on the workout and the thumping beat of the playlist. Each trainer develops their own song set for the workout sessions, creating a unique experience each time a client takes part in a class.

At the end of a grueling class, clients enjoy a fuel bar that offers custom smoothies and nutritional snacks to replenish the body. Other amenities include lavish locker rooms and high-end products to help clients put their best foot forward after working up a good sweat.

The ingredient that binds this experience together is arguably the trainers, who have each traveled different paths that led them to Barry’s. Here they share their knowledge and motivational techniques with OutSmart readers.

Healthy By Nature

 

John Michael Race’s love for helping others inspired his career in wellness.

The road to fitness was a natural fit for John Michael Race, 27, who splits his time between the fitness studio and the hospital.

“I had always known that whatever job or career path I chose, I wanted to be surrounded by people. I didn’t want a job in a cubicle. I just knew that for me, it was going to be most rewarding if I was doing something that benefited other people,” he says.

“My mom is diabetic, legally blind, and has an array of other health hills we’ve had to climb. I thought I’d be a doctor, cure diabetes, and do other ambitious things. I’ve always had a mindset that I would get into healthcare, and I had a lot of friends who were becoming nurses.”

Race’s hard work has paid off, and he gets to help people reach their fitness goals. When not working up a sweat in the Red Room, he’s serving his other calling related to health and well-being. “I work part-time as a radiographer in the Medical Center—I call it my ‘serious’ job. Watching someone benefit from the work that I do is extremely rewarding,” he says. And helping people achieve their fitness benchmarks is another iteration of his commitment to serving others.

Keep up with John Michael Race on Instagram @johnmichaelrace.

Fascinated by Fitness

 

Pinij NaLampoon’s exercise hobby turned into a lifestyle.

Pinij NaLampoon, 32, grew up in Atlanta, but as the saying goes, he got to Texas as soon as he could. He is another Barry’s founding instructor, and he moonlights with a second job at SoulCycle. His journey to fitness began as a job that transitioned into a passion.

“Years ago, I got a part-time job with Lululemon. In high school and college, I dabbled in working out, but I didn’t consider myself athletic. Lululemon opened me up to sports and the different types of fitness, and I quickly realized I loved it,” he said.

Fast-forward to today, and NaLampoon has become a fitness fiend.

“I’m a pretty competitive person, and I like the competitive aspect of sports. When it comes to working out, I enjoy the drive. I love high-intensity workouts and anything that speeds your heart rate up. When you work out, it releases endorphins and makes you feel good. It was changing my body, and I liked that, too. It turned into a lifestyle, which turned into a career.”

While NaLampoon spends much of his time in a gym, he says people can always take advantage of a fitness routine at home. “You don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment. You can always do good old-fashioned pushups and planks. If you have a chair, do tricep dips. Or go running. If you’re traveling, do crunches and sit-ups. And you can also do tons with a resistance band,” he explains.

NaLampoon heeds his own advice by doing at least 100 pushups a day. It’s a workout in itself, and it can be done anywhere. And when the workout is over, there’s still more work to be done in the kitchen. Nutrition is an important part of NaLampoon’s regimen.

“When it comes to health and nutrition, stick to good, healthy foods. Stay away from processed foods and sugar. Look at the ingredients, and make sure you exercise regularly. I’m a big proponent of taking care of your body. Different fads and diets come and go, but nothing beats good old-fashioned healthy eating, healthy living, and lifting weights,” he says.

As for New Year’s resolutions, NaLampoon’s aspirations are lofty. He wants to focus on financial responsibility, getting more sleep, taking up piano, archery, and learning French and Japanese.

Keep up with Pinij NaLampoon on Instagram @pnalampoon

Toning Up in the Limelight

 

James Mai found a passion for strength training while working in entertainment.

After graduating from Baylor University, James Mai went to work in Nashville’s music industry as a publicist. His clientele included well-known names like Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, LeAnn Rimes, and Hank Williams Jr. After his stint in music, he turned to modeling and acting, which is when the fitness bug bit.

“At that point, fitness went hand-in-hand with modeling. My body wasn’t the best. I would consider myself ‘skinny fat,’” Mai admits. “My agent told me to work on it, and that got me into fitness.” And he’s never looked back.

“Immediately after I left the music industry, I needed something to ground me. My friend was a fitness-studio manager, and he told me there was a fuel-bar position open. About one-and-a-half years in, I was more comfortable with myself and knew I wanted to be an instructor,” he says.

Then, when the chance came to open up the gym in Houston, Mai jumped on it. He’s been with Barry’s for four years, and plays a triple role: fuel-bar manager, the manager on duty, and a founding instructor. That makes sense, because Mai tries to make the entire trip to the gym an unforgettable experience, from entrance to exit.

“You’ll never get the same workout twice. Creating each day’s playlist and tailoring the workout helps the client connect with the instructor, and vice versa. I shout their name in class, and it gives them pep in their step. After you finish, you have a fuel bar with pre-made smoothies, and each cup is individualized. So our whole experience is [geared toward] inclusiveness and uniqueness,” he says.

When he’s not blasting calories to the beat, the 29-year-old likes to spend time with his family, who own a laundromat. It’s an easy way to decompress while getting some quality time with his parents.

He also focuses on his goals for the upcoming year. “In the new year, I’m going to gain 10 pounds of muscle, so that’s my goal. I’m also going to push myself out of my comfort zone and get back into finding my creative side. I might take some dance classes to get my creative juices flowing,” Mai says.

Cool Down

 

Even though all three of these gentlemen traveled different paths to reach their fitness goals, they share similar experiences when it comes to their workouts. All three spoke of the close-knit relationships that come from working out together.

“One of my favorite things about Barry’s is the community, and seeing people come back time after time. You see them change. It’s not because they’re necessarily self-driven, but because there’s a great community. We really have been blessed with meeting such great people and becoming friends. It’s a good atmosphere where people can push each other and be competitive, even when they’re not feeling it,” says Race.

The idea of having a healthy body is attractive, but health takes place on the inside as well. Mental health is key for these trainers.

“Barry’s will push you, mentally and physically,” Mai says. Paraphrasing the eternal words of  Elle Woods from Legally Blonde, he says, “Working out gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. If you work out, you have more energy, you have a brighter side, and you’re connecting with people in the room. When you’re having a bad day, you come in, make friends, and work alongside people. We all take classes together, and we motivate each other.”

It is also a great way to calm down an overactive mind.

“The mental benefits hooked me in the beginning. Committing to a physical-fitness routine was a good way to work through my anxiety. That’s what got me hooked, and what keeps me driven,” Race notes.

And since fitness is an equal-opportunity activity, the men have some advice for women who are looking to get wedding-ready, or maybe just to take inventory of their body.

Race says, “Don’t be afraid of weight training. I think a lot of women are afraid of bulking up or looking too muscular. I’ve heard that they don’t want their shoulders to look too big or muscular, but that’s up to biology. As far as lean muscle mass or increasing metabolism, a lot of women could benefit from weight training.”

Above all else, these experts all agree on the benefits of staying hydrated—one of NaLampoon’s special goals for 2020. “I want to drink more water, I want to travel more, and have an amazing year. These are not things I want to do for a month or two; these are lifestyle changes.”

Having a great year is achievable, one step at a time. Doing something out of the norm can reap huge benefits. After all, “new year, new you” is the phrase that rings clearer than anything else at this time of year. Take a chance on you, and start working on the healthy mind and body you deserve.

Barry’s, 1953 West Gray (in the River Oaks Shopping Center) barrys.com/studio/houston

This article appears in the January 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Sam Byrd

Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to Outsmart who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture. Speaking of Houston, he's never heard a Whitney Houston song he didn't like.

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