Putting muscle into her workouts and dreams
It was unusual to see women lifting weights in gyms in the early 90s.
Kathi DeCouto didn't let that stop her.
“I was living in the US and a guy I was dating said, ‘Let's go to the gym'. We got there and he pointed me straight to the [area] where women could do aerobics and run on the treadmill; I headed to where the men were with the weights.”
Ms DeCouto admitted she was initially driven by the possible results: a flat stomach, thin legs and slim physique.
Over time she felt some unexpected benefits — extra energy and added confidence.
“Before that I had done aerobics, run and swam, but never got that feeling I got when I would lift weights,” the 44-year-old said.
“You feel like you've really exerted your body. I'm not saying you don't get that with cardio, but for me weightlifting really got my blood pumping and worked muscles I didn't know I had. I realised working out could be something you do to feel good as opposed to just looking good. It's a totally different experience when you're in the gym and enjoying what you're doing.”
It was an ‘aha' moment for Ms DeCouto. She opened her business FitNut, in 2006, offering individual and group classes.
“I tell people the biggest thing they can do is just move their body. There's no right way to get fit, so whether you want to lift weights, dance or jog around the living room just move your body. I love the look on their face when they have a good session and are energised when they walk out the door. They are usually frantic and rushing in when they come. They have certain aches or pains or didn't sleep well the night before, but after their 40-minute workout they say ‘Oh that was good'.”
Ms DeCouto said she was encouraged by her parents, who were both very health-conscious. They'd often go out for runs and take her and her siblings along. Despite that, she never considered a fitness-related career. At university she studied musical theatre and dance; she later taught English in Bermuda and Hong Kong.
She changed career paths after she took part in a bodybuilding competition in 2001. In preparation for that, she dropped from 24 per cent body fat to 12 per cent. The process took three-and-a-half months.
“I just did what I knew to do. I worked hard and ate clean,” she said. “I didn't go out for dinner. There were no sauces on my food or dressings on my salad.
“I didn't lose a lot of weight because I was putting on a lot of muscle, but I went from looking like the Pillsbury dough child to lean and ripped in quite a short period.”
She took second place in that competition and went on to win her pro card at a bodybuilding show in the Bahamas.
“After that, I was living in Hong Kong and was in the gym all the time and people kept asking me to train them,” Ms DeCouto added.
“I'd say, ‘I'm not really certified, but I can show you what I do'.
“I started to think that if people are asking me to train them maybe I should make it a profession. I got certified at the Asian Academy of Sports Fitness Professionals, but of course everything was in Mandarin and had to be translated from Chinese to English. It made it take twice as long to learn it but, funny enough, my first clients were three girls in the same personal training class.
“They did the course and got certified, but asked me to train them. That's when I realised my experience paid off — more than just the qualification.”
Ms DeCouto is offering free consultations and special rates for personal training next year. Ten sessions are $450; 20 sessions are $800.