By Richard L. Gaw
When he was a teenager growing up in Kennett Square, Darrell Spencer vowed that one day, he would become the Bow-Flex Man.
One day, Spencer saw a television commercial that featured a well-sculpted man working his abs, hus glutes, his legs and his arms and chest through the use of a machine. His skin glistened and his body was perfect. Laying on the couch, Spencer pointed to the screen and told his cousin Melissa, "Someday, I'm going to become the Bow-Flex Man."
Never mind that he was overweight, or that he was picked on and called names like "Porkchop" and "Garbage Dispenser," in recognition of his chubbiness. Never mind that he hated what he saw in the mirror, or that he never took his shirt off in public, or that hanging out at a beach was like a form of punishment. By the time he was a Senior at Kennett High School, Spencer had become a popular five-letter athlete, but he was still miserable. The cause of all of this was largely due to his diet. Spencer subsisted on Hot Pockets and ham and cheese on white bread - the foods of convenience. The idea of sitting down to a balnced meal was practically unthinkable. He peaked at 230 pounds. He tried quick-fix diets, cleanses and diet pills in order to lose the extra weight, and although they worked, the victory was a hollow one. Spencer realized that although he was becoming thinner, he wasn't getting there through proper nutrition.
Soon after entering Shippensburg College as a Science major, Spencer was inspired by a notion that he needed to dedicate his life to what he was learning about himself -- the transformation he was slowly seeing in the mirror, and the knowledge he still wished to gain -- and share it with as many people as he could. He transferred to the National Personal Training Institute in Philadelphia, and eventually earned his certification in sports medicine and nutrition.
For the last seven years, Spencer, now 28, has worked as a fitness and nutritional trainer in Hockessin, Kennett Square and West Chester, and in 2011, he formed Darrell Spencer Fitness -- now re-named as DFIT. His clients range from professional athletes to the elderly and every shape, size and wish list in between. DFIT has just partnered up with mmaXout, so beginning on Jan. 1, Spencer's clientele will be able to train with him at mmaXout's location on 15 Hagerty Blvd., Suite B, in West Chester.
He prescribes an individual regimen of fitness and nutrition according to the needs of each client, whether it's to increase mobility, lose weight or gain muscle. He not only imparts exercise and nutrional guidance, he does it both in person and via the Web; in any given week, it is not uncommon for Spencer to visit a dozen clients at their homes in Chester County, communicate on-line with dozens of clients who reach out to him through his website; or travel around the country. Recently, a national health and wellness company was so impressed by his research that it offered to partner with Spencer, and now flies him to towns and cities across the nation to enable him to share his approach to fitness and nutrition.
The principles of his teaching are simple: set goals for 90 days at a time, and move from time period to time period through stages.
"Every person who works with me, sets a goal," Spencer said. "You can't work with me, if you don't set a goal. How much muscle do you want to put on your upper body in the next 90 days. If it's ten percent, we figure out how to get there, and why we're getting there. The challenge we use is based on goal setting, action and accountability."
"The first thing we do is to find out what they want out of their fitness program," he added. "During the first consultation, there is very little actual exercise. I ask them to close their eyes, and then put a picture there of themselves in the end result. That mental image often makes their conviction that much stronger."
Spencer's ascension, both personally and physically, have dovetailed with recent reports that tell a horrifying tale: 55 percent of adults in Chester County report that they are overweight. Twenty percent report that they are obese, and nearly 40 percent of Chester County adults report that a health-care professional has advised them to lose weight. The answer to losing weight, Spencer said, is not always found in sweating it out in overcrowded gyms in short bursts of over-exhertion. Very often, he said, it comes down to what the person is putting inside his or her body, and when.
"When it comes to a factor of not having energy, you have to consider what you're eating and the times you're eating," he said. "About 99 percent of the time, the food we eat on-the-go has little nutritional benefit, and the spacing between meals in our busy days is often ridiculous."
Throughout his consultations with his clients, Spencer stresses the importance of proper supplementing. supplementing. "When it comes to good nutrition, you need to know when, what and how you eat," he said. "There's a lot of truth to, 'You are what you put into your body.' At the end of the day, you're about satisfying yourself."
Spencer believes that when a person sets his or her goals for optimum health and fitness, that it's more important for the individual to understand his or her reasons for doing so.
"If your 'How' is bigger than your 'Why,' you will never accomplish your goal," he said. "When it comes to people who want to acchieve, you have to establish the specific goal and the ways you're going to get there."
The best way a person can get there, Spencer believes, is through the Body by Vi 90-Day Challenge, which he uses as part of his teaching. Considered the most popular weight-loss system of its kind in the United States, the Challenge is an easy-to-follow program of weight loss that allows clients to enjoy a diet of shakes and cereals targeted to their personal weight loss goal.
"The Challenge enables my clients to track their progress over the entire span of their 90 days," he said. "Here, they can see themselves change, and it connects them to a support system of over a million people, many of whom are attempting to achieve the same fitness and nutrition goals."
In todays' fitness culture, the image of merely working out seems almost archaic, given to the black-and-white era of your father's gymnasium. Once confined to a few barbells, the industry of getting in shape is being wiped away and re-wrapped in the sleek imagery of spandex and muscle, and magnified through active words like 'Flex' and 'Bootcamp.' All of that costs money; to have a personal fitness trainer at most fitness centers can often cost thousands a year.
Realizing that most of the general population can't afford to pay such fees to look and feel good, Spencer keeps his training costs manageable, and although he does train elite atheletes from time to time, the majority of his clients are busy parents, students and professionals simply looking to look and feel healthier.
"To many people, personal training is a commodity, so when I entered training, I believed that having someone that's knowledgable about nutrition and fitness should be an affordable option," he said. "It should be something that everyone has access to. When I got into teaching fitness, I didn't get into it to make a fortune. I always just wanted to help people, and make their road to good health an accessible journey."
Spencer may be living his life's calling now, but he traces its beginning to several years ago, to the television commercial he saw when he was a teenager. In 2009, soon after competing in his first body building competition, he came off the stage and his cousin Melissa was waiting for him. "Well, you've done what you set out to do, Darrell," she told Spencer. "You became the Bow-Flex Man."
To learn more about Darrell Spencer and DFIT program, as well as his involvement in fighting childhood obesity -- and the class he's starting at Mmaxout Fitness -- visit www.darrellspencerfitness.com or call 610-804-0841.