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Welcome to Racked SF's search for San Francisco's hottest trainer. Over the coming weeks, we'll profile a dozen-plus smoking candidates who work at local gyms and studios. (Not only do they look hot in spandex, but if you take their classes, you might someday look nearly as good.) Then, once you've gotten to know everyone, we'll host a March Madness-style showdown in which you get to vote for your favorite. Let the games begin!
Photos by Aubrie Pick
Kristi Dowler of VyAyr Fitness uses the great outdoors at Crissy Field as her gym. Her dedicated Boot Camp for Women clients meet there, with the Golden Gate bridge as their backdrop, at the wee hour of 5:30 to 6:30am Monday through Friday. You know Dowler must be good if she can get folks to haul (and work) their butts outside in the foggy Bay Area morning before the sun has arisen. After experiencing Dowler's exuberant personality, not to mention being in the presence of her amazing physique, we just might be ready to join them. Get to know Kristi better in our interview below!
How long have you been a trainer?
"I have been in the fitness industry on and off for over 23 years and I have been in the industry full time for 11 years."
What prompted you to become one—did you have a different career path in mind prior?
"When I was a freshman in high school I got my first gym membership and started working out on my own, and I loved it. My mother would drop me off and I taught myself how to use all of the equipment and I would cut articles out of fitness magazines to learn how to use weights properly. However, as many of us know, high school is a tough time and I developed an eating disorder. It took me years to pull myself through that, but I did it by continuing to exercise and learning more and more about nutrition. By the time I was 17 I knew I wanted to have a career in the fitness industry, but I wasn't sure how to make it happen.
I went to college and ended up with a double degree in Psychology and Communications and out of school I went into the retail industry. I continued my passion for fitness by teaching step classes and interval training classes while working my way up the retail corporate ladder. When I was promoted to the corporate offices in San Francisco, that's when I turned my workouts into trainings. I moved here and was so inspired by the amazing outdoors that I started training for endurance events while working my stuffy corporate job. Slowly I started taking different certification workshops and teaching spin classes and taking on private clients. In 2002, I made the leap and left the corporate world behind and have been in the fitness industry full time since—with absolutely no regrets!
Since moving to San Francisco I have completed 9 triathlons, 2 of which were Ironman distance back in my triathlon days. Lately I have been more of a runner completing 3 ultras and 5 marathons. I don't do tons of races because I run for enjoyment."
What classes do you teach, and which is your favorite/why?
"I currently teach outdoor fitness classes, interval training/boot camp style, as well as personal training and small group training. I have taught spin classes in the past, which I loved teaching, but I find the outdoor fitness training to be the best! The fresh air is fantastic and invigorating. My outdoor fitness camp is for women only, which is just amazing because not only is Crissy Field one of the best gyms ever, but watching the Golden Gate Bridge come to life in the early morning is awe-inspiring, and the women in class are so inspiring—they inspire me to train harder every day!
The camaraderie in my classes keep the women coming back not only to get in their workouts, but to see their workout buddies. I have some extremely loyal and motivated women who have been with me I began teaching the outdoor classes 10 years ago! I love being outdoors, even in the rain, because you get the natural environment to work with. I have sand, trees, trails, benches and rocks to work with everyday so it makes it easy to vary their workouts—lunges and burpies in the sand may not be a favorite, but they're effective! When it comes to personal training and small group training I go wherever my clients want to meet, so again if it's outdoors, which it usually is, I can work with whatever environment there is to challenge them to a solid hour workout."
Describe your training style: Are you drill sergeant? More laid back?
"I am not a drill sergeant, nor am I laid back. I tell my clients what I want them to do and they do it, I never need to raise my voice. I was never motivated by coaches who yelled at me, so I don't see the need to yell at my clients. As a coach I lead by example as much as possible. I feel if you want others to listen to you and take you seriously you should live the life you are asking them to live, so my clients know how I train and how I eat, I'm very open about those aspects of my life so they know I practice what I preach.
I am a huge stickler for form, too. As much as I want class, or training sessions, to be fun, I want you to feel safe when I am training you. Correcting form is a huge part of my job and I take it very seriously and my clients appreciate that, they know they are not going to be injured on my watch.
I also keep my clients moving from the beginning to the end of their hour, telling them to take breaks when they need them, but keeping the flow of class on track so that no one is standing around waiting for their next exercise."
What's one piece of advice everyone should hear before beginning a new workout?
"Making sure you're healthy enough to begin a new workout regimen is definitely the most important. I always say find a workout you like and do it! If someone tells you running is the best workout for you, but you don't like running, then you won't do it. So finding a workout you like is the biggest key to success! Get out there and experiment with all types forms of exercise! I can work with anyone and any type of exercise, as long as they enjoy it—that's the key!"
Tell us a fun fact about you—the weirder and wackier, the better.
"I'm not a very wacky person, but I am a runner, so that qualifies as wacky to some! I have become one of those runners who doesn't like to wear many clothes when I run, which I never thought I would be! However, I'm a sweaty runner, and I can't stand the feeling of chaffing clothes against my skin, so I usually just wear a sports bra and shorts. Between my blond bun and the fact that I wear a lot of bright colors, to make it fun, people seem to always recognize me running down Marina Blvd! I was even in Santa Monica last year and got back to the hotel where I had a text from a former client saying 'are you in Santa Monica this morning, I swear I saw you running along the beach!'
I hadn't run a marathon for time in a while, and I set a goal for myself to qualify for Boston this year. Even trainers need personal fitness goals! So I set out in November of 2012 to get really strict about my running regime. First up was the Way2Cool 50k in March, where I took 30 minutes off my time from 2011 and I felt so good I signed up for the SF Marathon, which was only 3 months later. I was a little nervous to set an aggressive goal like qualify for Boston on such a challenging course, but I did anyway. Flash forward to race week where I had poor sleep and nervous jitters, but I did have my mother in town to root me on which helps! So after waking up at 3am to a spectacular SF morning I crossed the finish line with a Boston-qualifying time that I am proud of, and I'm most proud because I qualified in my home! I had a great day! The course was so familiar to me because I trained on it, and it made me smile during my race to see everyone cheering me on, which is why I had such a great race. I love it here, and I love the people—SF has been my home for over 13 years! I'm thrilled to be able to check the Boston Marathon off my bucket list of races AND to be able to do it the year after the bombing. I will be so honored and humbled to be one of those runners next year!
Something that anyone who knows me knows I love beer, but when I meet people over a beer they are often surprised I can balance a healthy lifestyle and beer drinking! Life is all about balance and I find Blue Moon to be a good carb for my running!! My philosophy is to live healthy, too many rules makes life boring! Get out and enjoy life everyday!!"