By Stephen Thompson
August 21, 2007

Diego is a personal trainer in one of Brazil’s top personal fitness academias, as gyms are known in Brazil. He has a perfect body, with a chiselled chin and shock of thick, straight hair. The trainer’s physique is his calling card, we look at him and we want to have THAT body, exuding health and well-being. But Diego also has a sharp mind, with his witty banter he entertains his students, turning a dull hour of physical exertion into something fun, a welcome break from the computer to be looked forward to two or three times a week.

I first met Diego when I went for a consultation at Competition, one of the top three gym chains in São Paulo. His clients include the rich and the famous, and though doubtless in his opinion they are all the lazy”, he carefully motivates and encourages them to set and reach their fitness goals. Diego loves physical fitness and has made it his life. A keen cyclist and football player, he seriously injured his shoulder in a collision with a bus while riding a bicycle on the University of São Paulo campus a few years back, but got back into shape by weight training and gave up his career in IT to take a four-year course in Physical Education at FMU, a private university in São Paulo.

When I first started training with Diego, he had had just graduated and had lots of time to train me, but he quickly became popular, and every time I took a break, it was harder and harder for him to fit me into to his schedule again.

The first sessions with him were a breakthrough in terms of training for me. I had tried weight training before, but had always ended up feeling painfully stiff afterwards. Diego managed to find just the right level of exertion, and varied the exercises to avoid stress. I had such a great workout, and felt that wonderful buzz of well-being which is the reward of the truly unfit when they start training again.

I felt so relaxed, I simply couldn’t get stressed. But after a day or two of rest, the stress is gradually of my life in São Paulo gradually built up again, and tended to weaken my next workout performance. Apart from staying relaxed, to get fit, you need a steady routine, adequate rest and good nutrition.

I learnt a lot about training and physical fitness from Diego and other personal trainers who I worked with in Brazil. I learned that it takes three months of regular, consistent training to make a significant improvement to one’s physical fitness, and that during this time, the first changes are neurological, rather than muscular. I learned that it takes two years of the same regular, steadily exercise to reach one’s biological maximum fitness level, and that the improvements become more gradual as one gets closer to this level, because the less fit you are, the more “trainable” you are.

Brazilian personal trainers must take a four-year course in physical education in order to be permitted to work. If you are doubt about the credentials of a personal trainer, you can ask them to show you their Conselho Educacao Fisica registration card and number.

Almost every street in Pinheiros where I used to live in São Paulo has a gym with professionally trained staff. These are usually closed on Sundays, when Paulistas who have not gone to the beach instead take to the street on their bicycles, or go to Ibirapuera or Vila Lobas, parks where you can hire bikes.

Brazil is a great place to get fit. The warm weather, beaches and natural beauty make the Brazilians themselves a bunch of fitness fanatics. Some say this is because they know they have to show their figures on the beach in a bikini or a sunga, and of course Brazilian bikinis are the world’s smallest and most revealing. But even in São Paulo, which does not have a beach, there are hardly even any parks to run in, the many annual running events marathons and half marathons are regularly over subscribed weeks in advance.

Years ago, when I had an unhealthy life of computer programming, motorcycling and commuting, I damaged a wrist ligament and gradually developed chronic RSI. One doctor suggested that I should go and live in a warm country, where I would get better, and I carefully made note of his advice. By the time I finally moved to live in Brazil, I was very keen to get fit again.

Marcos was a completely different kind of personal trainer. Around 36, and about 6’2;” tall, of Latvian ancestry, he still lives with his parents in Moca. He doesn’t like gyms or weight training, but he teaches practically anything else, and he taught me yoga, capoeira, climbing, football, self defence, cycling and boxing. He has an amazing energy and drive, an enormous enthusiasm for physical fitness and exercise of many kinds, combined with a lovely laid-back personality and self depreciating sense of humour. He used to cycle for an hour, all the way over from Moca, to teach me, and then cycle back home again.

Part 2 next week…

Stephen Thompson lived in Brazil from 2001 to 2005. He is married to a Brazilian and has a daughter. He works for Xpress Holdings, a Singaporean printing group, as their Shenzhen Marketing Manager.

To read previous articles by Stephen click the links below:

Brazil: What’s in a Name?
Brazil: Go East, Young Man
Brazil: This Is The Life I’ve Always Wanted
Brazil: Stolen Computer
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 2
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 1
Getting your Brazilian Steak Fix in China
Brazil: Birth and Dying
Imaginary Voyages to Brazil
Brazil: Probably the Best Country in the World to Live In
Great Brazilian Inventions: The Kilo Restaurant
Brazil: Things you wanted to know… and will never know!
Brazil: Expensive, Trendy, and Extremely Beautiful
Brazil: Not Really British Enough
Package Holidays to Brazil are Back On Track
Brazil: Reverse Culture Shock
Brazil: The Legal System
Brazil: Saying Goodbye to a Bilingual Kid
How to get Brazilian Citizenship
Getting Work in Brazil
Acquiring and Running a Small Business in Brazil
Brazil: To Free Or Not To Free
Brazil: Trail Biking in Chapada Diamantinha
Brazil: So Near, but So Far Apart
How to Get Into University in Brazil
The Pleasure of Driving a Car in Brazil
Brazil: The Bairro of Flamengo in Ro de Janeiro
Brazil: The Information Technology Law
Managing a Brazilian bank account
Brazil’s Middle Class Ruled By Political Apathy

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