Fitness trainer Darren Fuentes coaches his clients at Parallel Performance, a boutique fitness centre located in southeast Calgary.

Since eighth grade, Darren Fuentes knew he wanted a job in the fitness industry. However, working for a big commercial gym stole Fuentes’s passion for that job.

Now, as an independent trainer, he’s able to better help his clients meet their personal fitness goals — even in the midst of a pandemic. 

Initially, Fuentes thought he would “end up as a basketball coach […] or a volleyball coach for [a] high school or a club team.” 

That changed when he “started falling in love with weight training” and how the equipment transformed his body.

“I’m looking better and I was doing it for my own personal benefit at first. As time went on and I started lifting at Fit for Less, an older gentleman came up and asked me – and I don’t think I’ll ever forget this –  ‘Hey man, how do I get my arms as big as yours?’ And I didn’t think my arms were big but he did.”

Fuentes remembers not having a good answer for the man or his high school friends when they started asking for muscle building tips as well. That inspired him to start taking weight training more seriously.  

At first, that meant using online resources to find new workouts. But, after graduating high school, he joined a men’s basketball league where he met Gino Suarez, a personal trainer on the team.

“I said, ‘I think I’m going to ask him what steps he took to get to that point of becoming [a personal trainer].’  But I was younger and a little nervous to ask him. We just played basketball so I didn’t even talk to him,” says Fuentes.

Turning a hobby into a career

Fitness trainer Darren Fuentes once thought he’d be a basketball or volleyball coach. PHOTO: JANIA HARNUM

However, when he started working out at Goodlife Fitness, he met the same personal trainer again. 

“He took me under his wing and then I took Canfitpro, which was my first step of a fitness education, which certifies you as a personal trainer. Every commercial gym requires it and it’s (something) you need to have,” says Fuentes. 

After that, he completed a six-month course at Elevated Learning Academy. 

“It covered everything on personal training: anatomy, how to program, how to build rapport, everything that’s involved in the fitness industry, how to coach someone through a movement,” Fuentes says.

“That one helped me build my confidence up because there’s a lot of practical hours. We team up with a classmate and we train each other, build them a program, find out their goals.” 

During the course, he was also shadowing trainers at GoodLife for a practicum, learning what the fitness industry is like.

“I would pick these trainers’ brains since I don’t know. I was 18-years-old.” Fuentes says. 

Soon after completing his practicum placement at Goodlife, he gained more experience but he didn’t yet know what his niche was. He just accepted every client he could.

He continued taking more certifications, such as program design specialist and conditioning coach for cardiovascular training. Then, he became a mobility coach. 

“I was really interested in [everything]. I wanted to start training athletes. I wanted to understand more about how to train a client and make sure their conditioning is up to par and not be lost on Google searching, ‘How do I do something,’” says Fuentes, who recently finished his sports nutrition training. 

Injury putting a pause on passions

However, after two years at Goodlife, he had begun to lose his passion for training. He fractured his ankle during the same period, which made him feel even further disconnected from his original love for fitness. 

“I started to get a little discouraged there, just because it was more pushing to just sell instead of focusing on taking care of our clients. So I thought, ‘Oh man I’m not really enjoying it here anymore.’”

“[With my injury] I didn’t even lift. All I did was I teach my clients and then I would just go home. I just lost my touch for it. It was just too much anxiety for selling and for getting written up because I’m not selling,” Fuentes says. “You kind of lose your enjoyment for the job when you’re not looking forward to training your clients.” 

Going solo

Eventually Fuentes left Goodlife to pursue new goals of working for himself. Now, he contracts himself out to a private gym facility with the freedom to work as many hours as he wants.

“It’s nice here. Just a little bit more freedom, the environment is way healthier. We all care about our clients more than just the commercial gyms that want to make a sale. So it actually makes you enjoy working,” Fuentes says.

His clients seem to love his training approach as well. One customer in particular – Jania Harnum – feeling a noticeable difference after a bad experience with a trainer at a competing gym. 

According to Harnum, after diagnosing her as “clinlincially obese” the trainer said she was “ too fat to train and […] wasn’t worth investing time in.”

Despite a heartbreaking experience, she is grateful that it led her to Fuentes. 

After telling him her entire story with chronic pain and weight struggles, Harnum says Fuentes was the first person in her entire life who said, “Yes, we can” to achieving her fitness goals.

“He’s helped me more than just with my body. He helped me with my mentality towards myself as well,” says Harnum. “He puts value into everyone, like he doesn’t have a cookie cutter for anything.”

Putting clients first

Darren Fuentes (left) pays close attention to his clients’ fitness needs as he coaches his clients. PHOTO: JANIA HARNUM

Fuentes also loves the flexibility he gets with his clients from being his own boss now.

“It’s not just about the sales,” he says. “We can show clients what options will work best with their budget, so they’re still able to live the way they want to outside of the gym but also come and feel good working out at our gym.”

Harnum said just learning from Fuentes about how to maintain her fitness level has been crucial to meeting her biggest goal: longevity.

“That’s what he teaches. He teaches longevity and a consistent routine. Everything that he teaches is not for a quick fix.”

When Fuentes thinks about his future goals as a personal trainer, he is really satisfied with how things are currently going – even with the pandemic. The public crisis has forced him to provide new training options to his clients, such as virtual training programs and online check-ins. 

“My dream job is already happening. What I’m doing right now, I don’t think I’ll ever change until maybe a big opportunity comes up, and I can’t say what that opportunity is,” says Fuentes.

It used to be wanting to open a gym, but he says that’s not really in the picture anymore.

“If I do that, I’m gonna want to leave the industry because it’s gonna just be very overwhelming and it’s going to take me away from […] how I like to care for my clients,” Fuentes says. 

“Getting more people to know that I’m here to help, for anything, whether it’s just some nutrition tips or some business tips it doesn’t matter, I just want to keep evolving in the fitness industry.”

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