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Q&A: Tony James, Fitness Specialist, Baptist Healthplex, Jackson

Keeping you fit his goal

Former MSU standout believes industry moving forward

After enjoying a stellar college  football career as a wide receiver and punt return specialist at Mississippi State University, Tony James is now the head fitness specialist at Baptist Healthplex in Jackson.  He recently sat down with the Mississippi Business Journal’s Nash Nunnery to discuss the fitness industry and its role in the lives of Mississippians.

Q – What do you attribute to the steady growth of the fitness industry since the late 1980s?

A – I attribute the fitness industry’s promotion of fitness as a necessity to living a more productive, healthier lifestyle, rather than a luxury to body shaping and looking good.  This has tapped in to a whole new clientele.  Physicians are now referring patients to health clubs to exercise, and to be more active.  Gyms have now become health clubs and wellness centers.  Preventive medicine speaks to everyone, not just a certain age group.

Q – Baptist Healthplex operates under the business umbrella of Baptist Hospital.  How does that relationship help in marketing the Healthplex to potential members?

A – Baptist Hospital has been a major asset to the community for over 100 years.  It gives the HealthPlex instant credibility to potential members and members alike to come and be a part of the Baptist family.  I hear all the time from members saying that they were born at Baptist, how well they were taken care of at Baptist, and how Baptist took such good care of their family member.  For over 20 years, the HealthPlex has provided the same type of care for the community.  Baptist Hospital laid the foundation and we intend to carry it on.  It allows us to market the HealthPlex as a safe, caring, family environment to help people live a healthy lifestyle.

Q – What are some of the latest trends in the fitness/wellness industry?

A – The top five fitness trends for 2009-10 are educated and experienced fitness professionals, children and obesity, strength training for men and women, personal training and core training.

Q – What role does a fitness trainer play in helping the average person reach their fitness goals?  How important is it to someone who may be just starting out in a fitness program?

A – The goal of our degreed fitness specialist is to educate, motivate and assist members to reach their fitness goals.  Our staff helps members get acclimated to the facility.  It can be intimidating for someone just starting an exercise regimen.  New members are scheduled to meet with a trainer one on one to discuss their fitness goals.  The trainer then takes the member through a variety of fitness tests to determine their level of fitness. After evaluating the data, the trainer prescribes an individualized exercise regimen for the member.  Finally, the trainer takes the member step by step through their program answering questions and giving direction.  It’s very important for members to meet with a trainer for reasons such as…learning the basic principles of fitness, safety measures, proper form, equipment usage and to learn about other programs available to them.

Q – You played college football at Mississippi State University and were an All-SEC performer.  What sort of transition did you experience in moving from the playing field to helping people change their lives physically?

A – The transition I had to make was to learn how to turn the intensity down a notch or two when training the general public.  I also realized that I didn’t have to be so hard on myself either.  Training to prepare for a specific sport and getting ready for a season in a short period of time is different from exercising to maintain or lower your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels for the rest of your life.    So basically, with experience, I learned that one exercise prescription does not fit all.  Exercise prescriptions are individualized for a reason.  We evaluate each member to see what he or she would like to accomplish and design an exercise program that fits his or her particular fitness goals.

Q – What is a normal working day for you at Baptist Healthplex?

A – I don’t look at it as work. I look at it as an opportunity to help people in what ever way I can.  Exercise has far more benefits than the physical aspects of it.  It makes you feel good.  You are more alert, more self confident, more relaxed and more alive and energetic.  So, my main objective is to exceed the expectations of our members by serving them and providing the best customer service I possibly can.  My workday consists of helping people, developing relationships and educating people about living a healthy lifestyle.  It’s fulfilling to me, and if I can help one person live a more productive healthy life, it’s all worth it in the end.

Q – Explain the difference between using free weights as opposed to machines.

A – Free weights allows a more natural movement versus machines, which are more controlled.  Free weights allow you to work more muscle groups at one time, which is more effective.  Machines isolate one particular muscle group at a time.  Proper form is essential when using free weights to decrease the chance of injury.  Machines help you use proper form.  Both are beneficial, so I recommend beginners to start out using machines, advance to free weights later, then incorporate them both into your routine.

Q – According to the latest reports, Mississippi has one of the highest obesity rates in the nation.  What is the future of fitness in our state and can those poor numbers be significantly improved in the next five to 10 years?

A – I believe the numbers can be improved.  It’s going to take a collective effort amongst health professionals, government leaders, churches, schools and the community.  We have to continue raising awareness that eating healthy and exercise is a necessity to living a healthy life.  Developing wellness programs and educating people is vital.  Health fairs around the community help with knowing your numbers and giving out educational materials.  But, is that enough? Do the majority of people really take it seriously?  We hope so, but do we know so?  In order for our numbers to improve, everyone needs to get involved and take personal responsibility, starting at home with your family.  Encourage family members, coworkers, children and church members to take action today and come up with an action plan to live a healthier lifestyle.  There is not a magic pill.  Exercise and good eating habits is the key.

AGE: 38
DEGREE(S): Fitness management, Mississippi State University
HOBBIES/INTERESTS: Playing sports, attending sporting events, spending time with family and friends
FAVORITE RESTAURANT: My mother’s kitchen!
LAST BOOK READ: “Quiet Strength” by Tony Dungy


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About Nash Nunnery