When Paul Ramsey and Wendell Niles Jr. founded the Toluca Lake Tennis Club in 1974, they envisioned a place where people could gather to not only train and compete athletically, but also enjoy a sense of community. Now, 46 years later, the club has evolved into one of the area’s longstanding landmarks, a pillar of civic life, a social hub and a full-service facility that’s repeatedly been named the best health and fitness club in Los Angeles.
“What makes us special is that we are an all-inclusive fitness program: We offer yoga, boxing, Spin, personal training, swim lessons and, of course, tennis,” general manager Adam James says. “We have something for everyone and everyone is included.” A strength and conditioning facility called the Sports Center was opened by Randy Landsberger and Paul Philo in 1992, and UCLA-certified trainer Brian Shiers was brought in to run the personal training program. The Sports Center and the Tennis Club eventually merged to become the Toluca Lake Tennis and Fitness Club, and in 2013 James was hired with the specific assignment of creating a new in-house personal training program. “Today, we have an amazing group of personal trainers, including many of the Sports Center trainers, plus fantastic fitness instructors, tennis pros and club staff, all dedicated to enhancing our members’ lives,” he says.
Enhancing the life of the neighborhood is a goal, too. “In addition to serving our members, we strive to assist and support all of Toluca Lake by being involved in the community,” James explains. Even if you’ve never exercised at the club, chances are you’ve seen its sponsorship and participation in annual local events like the Earth Day Celebration and Taste of Toluca, the Pancake Breakfast at the fire station, the Turkey Trot and the Holiday Open House. The TLTFC has also been a member of the Toluca Lake Chamber of Commerce from the start, and James now brings his expertise in fitness motivation to his role as the group’s vice president. “When people ask what a chamber membership will do for their business, I like to use joining a health club as an example,” he says. “There are many people who join a health club, but they never use it, so they’re disappointed in the results. Others use it all the time and it shows. The same is true for a business owner who regularly attends chamber events and gets involved in the community.”
For James, the appeal of Toluca Lake is that it “embodies small-town USA but also has the sophistication of a cosmopolitan community. People visiting the Village are blown away by the charm, warmth, politeness and care of our merchants and residents. And at the same time, we have the cool swagger and style of Hollywood and the entertainment industry.” That same balance is central to the culture at the TLTFC, which has an internationally recognized tennis program and state-of-the-art fitness training yet also cultivates an accessible and supportive environment. “Our philosophy is to embody an atmosphere of well-being and positive energy that will be carried out into the community,” Landsberger says. “Our goal is to promote a healthy lifestyle while having fun with like-minded people.”
Aspiring to a healthier lifestyle seems especially timely in January, when self-improvement is all the rage. But while the start of a fresh calendar is a natural time to make ambitious resolutions about fitness and nutrition, embarking on a new exercise program or diet can be overwhelming, and sticking to it once the new-year afterglow fades is even harder. That’s where the concept of a like-minded community comes in. Supporting people in successfully setting goals and establishing healthy habits is exactly what personal trainers are here to help with, and four of the TLTFC’s top experts were happy to share their wisdom with us. We asked master trainer Eddie Crespo, fitness manager and trainer Gilen Guenther, personal trainer and holistic nutritionist Ester Poberezkskaya (who goes by Ester Poe for short), and master trainer Amber Thompson for their tips on pursuing better health in 2020.
In your experience, what’s the best way to make effective health-related resolutions?
CRESPO: I believe that New Year’s resolutions are very important, but they have to be realistic and accountable.
GUENTHER: When making a plan, be honest and opportunistic. Look at your schedule and insert the activities or exercise where you have the availability. Then, be persistent: Just make it through the door at least four times a week and you will see results.
THOMPSON: I find most people start off extremely motivated, but a complete overhaul is not sustainable. I always encourage people not to try and change everything at once. Small diet changes coupled with realistic fitness goals is your best bet at lifestyle change. Try adding a 10-minute walk after dinner and getting in the weight room two to three times a week. Meal prep on Sundays to ensure you won’t slip up on your diet once your busy week starts.
POE: The most important thing is support. We tend to take care of everyone else in our lives, but forget that we also need motivation and accountability support with our own goals. It is also important to understand that health is a lifestyle, and there’s no real beginning or end to it. We make small changes that accumulate and make a big difference in the way we feel and live our life, from travel to leisure activities.
What advice would you give to those who want to be more fit but don’t know how to get started?
CRESPO: To start, just try to move your body and get your heart rate up once a day. For at-home exercises, resistance bands are fantastic.
GUENTHER: Everyone has a different preference or style that makes it easy to get a workout in, whether it involves group exercise, personal training, running, sports or weightlifting. Take the time to find what you like and plan it in your schedule. I am a big fan of free weights. If you haven’t had the opportunity to use a kettlebell, it is a very fun tool that can be added to any workout program.
THOMPSON: Find something you enjoy and you’ll be more likely to stick to it. The best cardio plan is the one you’ll look forward to doing. If you’re dreading your run or swim, try cycling or the elliptical instead.
POE: Take it easy but be consistent. Take your time to make sure that your posture and alignment are correct before doing too much too soon. Hire a specialist; make sure you get full body assessments and a program designed for your needs and goals.
How about pointers for those who have trouble staying motivated throughout the year?
POE: January is super busy and it’s hard for us to keep our New Year’s resolutions. Just do a little bit every day. Five to 15 minutes a day is a good way to get used to the routine of exercise, and then you can increase the length of time as it fits your schedule.
GUENTHER: Always revisit your goals — short-term goals need to be refined every couple of weeks. If you are going to indulge, enjoy it! Then get back on schedule. Stick with the plan and give yourself time to see results. More times than not, people around you will notice the difference before you do.
CRESPO: As the year progresses, I help keep clients motivated by reassessing constantly and challenging fitness levels.
THOMPSON: This is where hiring a professional and sticking with a program is key. Keep a schedule and prioritize your workouts and yourself. It’s proven that finding a workout partner will help you stay on track because of the accountability. In a club setting, you will have an entire community that wants to see you succeed and prosper. Starting a new regimen is always hard in the beginning, but remember, it takes 21 days to make something a habit. Once you begin your journey and start feeling and seeing the difference, you will have a new healthy addiction.
What are some common misconceptions you encounter regarding health and fitness?
GUENTHER: Don’t believe everything you hear on Instagram or YouTube! Some people will say anything to get a following. Make sure you listen to people who are certified, have degrees and are true experts in that field.
CRESPO: There’s a common idea that you can spot-reduce an area of the body — it’s not possible. I dispel that by starting a program for overall weight loss, and the results prove the point.
POE: The biggest misconception is that if you work out all the time really hard, you can eat whatever you want and still see results. Nutrition and fitness go hand in hand. You really are what you eat.
THOMPSON: The most common and infuriating misconception in the fitness world is “no pain, no gain.” You do not have to kill yourself every time you’re in the gym, nor do you need to be there for hours. Any kind of movement will improve your mood, help sleep quality, and increase range of motion and energy.
What health and fitness trends do you predict for 2020?
THOMPSON: From preventing and reversing heart disease and cancer to weight loss, the vegan diet has gained popularity. I foresee it continuing to trend up as we prove we can maintain muscle mass and improve fitness without animal protein.
GUENTHER: I am a big fan of heart rate monitoring. Wearable technology is becoming much more fashionable and easily integrated. With the right trainer/instructor, heart rate feedback can give you an intuitive measure of how hard the body is working and when it can work just a little harder.
POE: I would say injury prevention. I see more and more people turning to functional fitness to improve their overall health and the skill sets they need for the sport they participate in.
CRESPO: I foresee fitness programs for older adults incorporating functional movement, stabilization and rehab, as well as group training with TRX and Spin classes.
Overall, the pros agree, making realistic health resolutions and following through with plenty of persistence and support yields demonstrable results that are well worth the time and effort. “Exercise is a life-changing activity,” Guenther says. “A simple walking program has shown to decrease morbidity rates.”
Crespo lists a host of benefits, including increasing circulation, lowering sugar levels, reducing hypertension, better stability and function, and positive mental health — an effect Thompson sees as well. “Fitness is just as important for our mental health as it is for our physical health,” she explains. “When we feel happy and healthy mentally, we are more likely to make better food and lifestyle choices. I’ve seen my clients not only get stronger in the gym, but also get stronger mentally as a result. As for me, health and fitness saved my life. If I hadn’t found the TLTFC 14 years ago, I’m positive my life would look much different today.”
Even if you don’t see yourself as an athlete and aren’t interested in becoming a hardcore workout junkie, remember that exercise is much more than sports and bodybuilding — it can simply be about staying strong, flexible and active enough to enjoy your daily activities. “Health and fitness is so important because it allows us to live our life to the fullest,” Poe points out. “Whether my clients are planning to volunteer at a school, coach an afterschool program, go hiking, walk a dog, run a marathon, take care of an elderly parent or sibling, or just plain travel for enjoyment, functional fitness is the road we take to get them ready for it.”
So whatever goals you’re setting for 2020, consider making fitness part of your plan to achieve them — and be sure to take full advantage of the healthy, supportive community around you to turn your resolutions into reality.
For more about the history of the Toluca Lake Tennis and Fitness Club, read “Courting Community.”