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Williams fitness: Transforming lives one squat at a time

Results Fitness Center’s Personal Trainer Lucas Zabala stands ready to guide local residents down the path to a healthier lifestyle. (B. Garibay/WGCN)

Results Fitness Center’s Personal Trainer Lucas Zabala stands ready to guide local residents down the path to a healthier lifestyle. (B. Garibay/WGCN)

WILLIAMS, Ariz. — In the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 22, 31-year-old personal trainer Lucas Zabala shakes off the cold and gears up for another pulse-pounding day at Results Fitness Center. His calm demeanor and positive energy flows through the gym like a wind-blown whisper, shrouding the cold, dead, iron in a gentle softness that is reflective of his peaceful nature.

At 5:48 a.m., the first attendees of his Friday morning fitness class saunter in the front door rubbing out a night's rest from their weary eyes. They silently hop on the stair stepper, elliptical and treadmill to begin the warm up phase of their hour long training session. Lucas has yet to say a word. As the class begins to fill and sweat begins to drip, a series of good mornings, smiles and spirited conversations take claim over the thumping. Van Halen beats recklessly in the background. A watch alarm signals to the group that it’s now 6 a.m. and time to go to work. Zabala stands quietly at the north end of the fitness center, while his heart-hammering flock await direction. Stillness falls across the gym floor, but is swiftly swept away by a cutting glance from Zabala that shouts “let’s go.”

Nineteen years ago, Williams resident Zabala discovered a passion that would alter his life and change the lives of others forever.

“I have been working out since I was twelve years old,” Zabala said. “I always enjoyed doing it, and after finishing high school I thought about what I would go to school for. I had a passion for fitness and decided why not go to school for it? I enrolled at Carrington College and after two years I received my degree, moved back to Williams, was given an opportunity to train at Results Fitness by the Rotters, and have been here ever since.”

When Zabala began his career as a personal trainer in 2011, he was also holding down a full-time job just to make ends meet — it wouldn’t be long before he realized that juggling two professions is a strenuous task.

“When I was trying to manage my other job I wasn’t necessarily able to become fully engaged with my clients and that was my fault,” he said. “Now that I’m training full time and able to get a good night’s rest, I have become fully engaged with my clients, which has resulted in class sizes getting bigger (and) an increase in gym memberships. My clients' progress has greatly increased and most importantly, people are enjoying it.”

Over the past 11 years, Zabala has witnessed a true renaissance in the fitness industry. CrossFit jumped into the scene like a starved lioness, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has melted athletes and body fat onto the gym floor like ice cream on a hot day and a new science behind strength training has changed everything. With so many fresh and confusing workout routines flooding the fitness world, how does one choose what will help them best achieve their fitness goals?

An introduction to fitness

Walking into a gym is a lot like the first day at a new school, everything seems foreign and unfamiliar, you’re not sure where to begin or even how to begin. You scan the room for guidance, but hesitate to ask for help. All of a sudden you’re feeling overwhelmed, intimidated and ready to retreat back to the comforts of home. It becomes clear that you need a little direction, a teacher to help walk you through that first day. Before Zabala begins working with a client, he first asks them to come in for a free assessment so they can discuss their goals, abilities and basically get to know one another.

“I work with clients from age 14 to 84 and adjust each workout routine to the individual’s needs and capabilities,” he said. “The senior group that I work with, that ranges in age from 65 to 80, has thankfully become aware that they can improve their bone density levels as well as cardiovascular health if they just keep moving. Some of my clients never touch a weight — we’ll spend the whole hour working on their flexibility.”

While the clients Zabala works with greatly vary in age and ability, they all had to start somewhere.

Thirty-three-year-old Tifni Sutton had reached a point in her life where she knew it was time to make some drastic changes and at that moment, there was nothing holding her back.

“I started with Lucas four years ago, and when we began, I couldn’t even do a single push-up, now I’m doing one armed push-ups,” Sutton said. “Lucas has stayed with me through rough times and good times. He’s adjusted with my lifestyle as I move forward and has literally pushed me to my physical limits, but most importantly, he’s believed in me.”

Sutton, a smoker since the age of 12, had never worked out a day in her life, but after short time under the tutelage of Zabala, she experienced positive changes at every level of her life.

“I didn’t realize what a transformation my life would undertake,” she said. “I learned to love myself no matter where I was at. My confidence and self esteem is through the roof and I now know just what my body is capable of.”

While Sutton is definitely a standout among the many clients Zabala trains, she is only one of the many success stories.

Twenty-six-year-old Sarah Hayword began her Spartan training with Zabala just under two years ago and the results have been astonishing.

“I began training with Lucas to get in better shape for a mission trip to Africa, and over the eight-month period prior to the trip I lost 42 pounds,” Hayword said. “Over the last seven or eight months, Lucas prescribed a nutrition plan along with my workouts and I started losing a pound a week; I have now lost a total of 72 pounds.”

Likewise, 77-year-old Carol Delander has been working with Zabala from the very beginning and has become a firm fixture in his hour of power classes.

“I retired in 2012 and started coming to the gym just before then. I was very intimidated by the gym when I first started and just kind of did my own thing for a while until it was suggested that I could have a personal trainer,” she said. “Around 2015, I started taking classes with Lucas and have been there ever since. Right now, I’m the oldest one in the class, most of the girls are 20, 30, 40 years younger than I am, but I do my very best to keep up with them.”

Delander currently attends classes no less than five days a week and has developed the skills necessary to utilize all of the machines.

“I love coming to the classes and miss it when I’m not able to make it,” she said. “Anybody that is hesitant on getting into the gym I tell them, just come, we have fun, we laugh, we harass Lucas and if I can do it, anybody can do it.”

Delander is an inspiring example of someone who overcame their fears of the gym by applying a little determination and a whole lot of self motivation.

Additionally, Father Thielo Ramirez arrived in Williams July 1, 2019 with the mission to guide his devout congregation through the perils of life and assume the responsibility over St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. After a month of warm welcomes with local residents and a gut full of native history under his belt, Ramirez decided to step out of his comfort zone, head to the Fitness Center and undergo the free assessment offered by Zabala.

“After the assessment I started meeting with Lucas twice a week,” Ramirez said. “I wanted to have someone that would help motivate me, and hold me accountable. I had tried a personal trainer before at a big gym, but it was too impersonal and very easy to slip under the radar.”

Ramirez said this is the first time he has noticeably felt his endurance.

“Having a personal trainer that encourages you, pushes you and understands your situation has been very helpful,” he said.

Ramirez said physical activity coupled with healthy eating habits has had an overall positive effect in several areas of his life. He is sleeping better, the aches and pains that used to plague him are starting to dissipate and he has inspired others to follow in his footsteps and improve their health.

While beginning a training regimen with Zabala or on your own is an important step in improving your health, it’s only one side of the coin.

An introduction to nutrition

Certified trainer and nutritionist Melissa Montoya knows exactly how beneficial it is to combine healthy eating habits with physical activity.

As a Williams High school athlete, Montoya felt the overwhelming positive effects that physical activity had to offer and after training with Zabala consistently over the last three years, she decide to expand her knowledge and become a certified trainer/nutritionist herself.

“I began working on my personal training certification with no actual intention using it, I just wanted to learn more for me, for my personal goals, so I could put in a training/meal plan that would help reach the fitness level that I wanted be at,” she said. “An opportunity presented itself after one of the trainers announced that she would be taking maternity leave. I stepped in and started personal training about six months ago.”

Montoya not only wanted to improve her understanding of physical fitness, she simultaneously reeled in a certification as nutrition specialist that would prove to be a beneficial asset for her clients, as well as herself.

“Nutrition is a huge factor, in helping someone develop a healthier lifestyle,” Montoya said. “If you don’t have your nutrition in check, exercise is helpful, but you’ll see little change on the scale and in overall progress. Nutrition and exercise has to go hand and hand; it’s like 80 percent nutrition, 20 percent physical fitness.”

Developing healthy eating habits can be as intimidating as stepping into the gym, but it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing ordeal. Montoya suggest that making one healthy change at a time is a great way to start your way down the path to a healthier lifestyle.

“If you’re used to eating sugar five days a week, or indulging in a bag of chips from the vending machine every day, find the one thing that you can commit to cutting out and manage; consistency is the key,” she said. “It takes time to get started; it’s a lot like going to the gym. Take one day at a time, find out what you’re capable of mastering and start there. Before you know it, in a year, you’ll be mastering a whole bunch of different challenges.”

Montoya’s approach is one of patience, discipline, focus and determination. It can also be achieved by anyone.

If you’re on the fence, intimidated or having trouble convincing yourself it’s time for a change, a series of studies have been compiled world-wide on the substantial positive effects of exercise and healthy eating habits. Healthy eating combined with moderate exercise can help you lose weight, increase energy, improve heart health, manage diabetes, increase bone and teeth strength, reduce the risk of cancer, improve your memory, increase mood levels, reduce pain, promote a better sex life, help you sleep and build your confidence.

More information is available from Zabala at (928) 856-1446 or Montoya at (928) 600-3714. Results Fitness is open to the public Monday — Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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