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Double life of a fitness instructor

September 04, 2006|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer

By day, Zino Macaluso is a mild-mannered attorney who works for the Screen Actors Guild, running interference between actors and talent agencies. But by night he trades his suit for bike shorts and a T-shirt and becomes ... a fitness instructor.

His double life takes discipline, dedication and the ability to shower and change clothes really quickly. "The job I have during the day is purely intellectual and not physical at all," he says. "There are some days when ... I feel more fulfilled teaching."

Like Macaluso, others who command buns-and-abs classes are not fitness professionals who spend their lives in a gym. Many toggle between fitness and corporate worlds, channeling their passion for exercise into part-time teaching gigs.

These part-timers, most of whom say they don't do it for the money, bring a welcome perspective to the fitness landscape, say industry experts and health club managers.

"They have a little more empathy for the worker who is faced with people bringing in cakes and candy and cookies every day," says Kathie Davis, executive director of San Diego-based IDEA, an organization of health and fitness professionals. "They also understand the kinds of pressures and deadlines the everyday worker is under, and the fact that at 5 o'clock, someone might not have the inclination to go to the gym, but wants to veg in front of the TV."

Moonlighting instructors also think more about functional fitness, shaping workouts that can make it easier to play with the kids or improve slouchy posture from sitting at a computer all day, says Norris Tomlinson, Bally Total Fitness' national director of group exercise. "They think about how exercise can make life better, and they infuse that in their classes. You're no longer doing abs just to do abs."

It's difficult to estimate how many group exercise instructors are moonlighters with full-time, nonfitness jobs, but practically every gym employs men and women who have other careers. Some 6,000 group fitness instructors are members of IDEA, and that organization estimates that about 90% teach part time.

At Crunch in L.A., about 5 of 25 instructors are part-timers who have full-time jobs in other fields, says Kendell Hogan, the gym's regional fitness director. "They definitely bring more of a sense of professionalism to the job," he says. "Not to say that full-time instructors aren't professional, but a lot of instructors and trainers haven't had the experience of working in an office," and may not have the same attitude toward things such as, say, punctuality.

And while L.A. may be the ultimate location for hyphenate careers (consider the actor-model-whatever), instructors say that their students are often shocked to learn that by day, they're analyzing contracts or spreadsheets.



When teaching isn't work

Richard Graves thinks back to his first group cycling class 10 years ago and laughs. "It was hilarious how petrified I was," he says, "because I'm not a public speaker. I had to drink water just to talk. People were looking at me like, 'Poor guy.' "

Then employed doing motion picture special effects at Sony Pictures, Graves had become interested in group cycling via road biking, and at the prodding of a teacher decided to start teaching. The dry mouth didn't last long; Graves says he eventually lost the nervousness and found he loved teaching, loved "creating this environment where people can work out hard and get lost in the music."

The 42-year-old from Toluca Lake now commands three classes at The Sports Club/LA Beverly Hills, and one at Gold's Gym in Venice. Managing work and teaching has often been a challenge, both at Sony and when he was director of Web design for a Bay Area dot-com and had to juggle classes around flying up north for meetings. At Sony, says Graves, "They thought it was cute that I was teaching, but if it ever compromised my job, that would have been unacceptable."

Graves, who now owns his own Web design business, never quit teaching. "It's been the one constant; I never considered stopping it." The self-described "exercise addict," who also does indoor rowing and swimming, says he doesn't even consider his teaching gigs work.

"When I'm teaching, I'm just grinning from ear to ear," he says, "and I'm up here sweating like a pig."


A moment just for yourself

Daniece Cicchelli spends her days in an office, but it's an office of one.

As the senior sales rep for Alcan Inc., a Canadian aluminum company, she doesn't have "the social thing" during the day but finds it off-hours as a fitness instructor at Bally Total Fitness clubs in Orange County.

"I like interacting with people," says Cicchelli, 54, who's been teaching for 16 years and now leads a cardio as well as a strength and conditioning class, in addition to being the group exercise director at one club. "I tease my classes all the time," she says. " 'You have to do what I say!' They just laugh."

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