Ted Hillery is an ex-welder turned trainer, a man who believes in simplicity. He believes that the less you have going on, the easier it is to manage your life and maintain the harmony in it. He believes in counting protein rather than calories. He believes in having a piece of cake after dinner. And he believes that you should be your biggest fan. When I asked him if fitness was about the body or the mind, he told me it was about both. “You paint attainable goals,” he said. “We work out so we can enjoy our lives. As long as you’re doing something, that’s great.” For more from Ted about fitness and life, read on!
Here we are at the gym. How would you describe what you do? It seems like “trainer” is too limiting.
I try to fill the void. For those whose void I can’t fill, I try to show them how to create an opening to do it. There is time in the day to make stuff happen, you just have to take a little more control of your situation, whether it’s getting up a little bit earlier, or cutting something in your life loose. If you want to make some physical changes—or personal changes, whatever the changes are—you can make them happen. I don’t do it for you, I just give you the blueprint. The road map. I paint a pretty picture of what it’s going to look like at the other side, once you get there. That’s once you get there, not if you get there.
It seems like there’s a spiritual element to the way you think about fitness. When you say “void,” what you do you mean?
There’s something missing in a lot of people’s lives. Physical activity—the hour with me gets their engines going. I can get the juices flowing in their heads, in their bodies, in their souls. People don’t tend to think outside the box. But if you don’t do something a little different, you don’t get different results. For me, everything is a big dance. All these body parts flow together, gracefully, if it’s done correctly.
So what does it mean to be done correctly in order to get that flow?
First, I need to assess the person. It’s a feel thing. What I do is more instinctive. You can’t put it on paper. It’s thought out on paper, but as the workout proceeds, it starts to change because you start to change. You might go from being really motivated during the workout to being not-so-motivated. There’s a reason for that. It’s a question of being intuitive, tuning in to people as individuals rather than a whole. I keep in mind that people are individuals even when I’m doing group training. I’m not just going stand in the middle and run my mouth, I’m going to walk around and see how everybody is doing. The count might be 30, but I might tap a person on the leg and said, “Just give me 15, or give me 20.” It’s just about giving everybody that good bedside manner that they deserve.
How do you read a body? What are some of the signs that you’re looking for?
I look at the way people walk. I look for gracefulness in certain movements. A person comes into the gym. Their shoulders are all drawn forward. I know that this person sits at a desk all the time. I know people hold stress in their shoulders. If a person’s with me for the long haul, we work on their shoulders. A lot of times, what you might want to work on, you might not be ready for, and we need to do other things first so that we can work on that thing. Patience is important. You have to be patient, you have to look forward. If this is September right now, let’s think about April. That’s realistic. November’s not realistic. That’s not body-changing; that’s just weight loss. If we change the body, then it’s yours. But if you just lose weight, you can always put it back on.
So part of what you do is getting people to own their bodies and become comfortable with them?
Yes. Everybody should be able to do pull-ups and push-ups. If this world were to go crazy, you’d need to be able to do those physical things. If this floor were to give in, you’d need to be able to do a pull-up to get out of here.
How do you work with people to get them over the fear of exercise?
What’s important is not discouraging people out of the gate. You don’t want to give a client too much. It’s like giving a blind person a flashlight. They’re not equipped to use it. A lot of the men I deal with are over 35 years old. I attract that clientele because I’m an example, a role model. I’m 45 years old. I have a lot more success with men in my age bracket because I identify with them. And helping them is gratifying. After about 35, you start losing muscle. You start losing testosterone. I believe wholeheartedly that keeping muscle on is the key to youthfulness. That’s one of the main things that will keep you whole. I have a body building background. I’m all about physique. I’m all about aesthetics, height/weight proportions, looking a certain way.
There’s a common misperception about body builders that it’s all about bulking up. Is that true?
Size and shape are illusions that you create for the rest of the world and for yourself. We all have parts of our body that we don’t like. There are things you can do to address what you dislike. That’s bodybuilding. If a cellphone were to only do cardio and lose weight, then it would just be a smaller version of the same shape—a cellphone. But if that cellphone were to introduce some weights into its workout, it would eventually have more of a streamlined look.
What are three easy fixes you can make to become more fit?
- Consistency. That’s very important. You have to set aside time for it. The body is designed to survive, and it responds to consistency. If you walk uphill all day, you’re going to get big legs. The body makes adjustments.
- Setting realistic goals. You’re not always going to have the best workout in the world. I guarantee you that when you do finish your workout, and when you do get where you’re going, you’re going to say, “I’m glad I got my workout in today.” Sometimes you’re just going to go through the motions, and it’s not going to be a star-studded morning or evening. And that’s okay.
- Keep going. Don’t beat up on yourself. A lot of people do it. Don’t. If you miss a meal, move forward. That’s done. You miss a workout. So what? Just keep going forward. Keep moving. Don’t dwell on the past. The past is the past. Someone once told me that complacency breeds extinction. That’s a very true statement. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. You can’t do that. Just keep going. We’re the only ones who make stuff matter. Screw what anybody else says. They’ve gone about their lives. You’re the one still thinking about it, so you’re the one making it matter. How you feel about yourself is what matters. Keep it simple. When your world gets smaller, it also gets bigger. When you keep going and keep it simple, you bring the world down small enough to see the whole thing.