On a deeper level: Building strong foundations with trainer Sam Pak

Posted August 28, 2018

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Rival Trainer Sam Pak performs a Meathook, a movement which requires advanced shoulder range of motion and develops shoulder strength.

After Candy B. broke her right ankle earlier this month, the elevator in her apartment building malfunctioned, leaving her with no option but to crawl up six flights of stairs with her ankle in a walker boot.

“My upper-body strength is much stronger than it would have been had I not been training with Sam,” said Candy. “Had I not been doing that, I don’t think I would have been able to pull myself up six flights of stairs. I’d be like a slug still stuck on the stairway waiting for the elevator to be fixed.”

Candy and her training partner Rachael F. have been working with Rival Trainer Sam Pak ever since Sam joined the Rival Training Team last December and are amazed with the changes both of them have seen in their capabilities and body awareness.  

“I can touch my toes now without even having to warm up first,” said Rachael. “When I first started training with her, I wasn’t able to do that.”

Sam’s journey through fitness as a trainer has been anything but conventional. Now 34, the California native found herself living in New York at 26 when a friend introduced her to powerlifting for the first time.

The handstand is an essential movement in Sam's training toolbox. Here, Sam attempts a one-armed handstand.

The handstand is an essential movement in Sam’s training toolbox. Here, Sam attempts a one-armed handstand.

“I was obsessed with powerlifting, but I was not obsessed with New York,” Sam said. “I lived there for 10 months and prior to that, I had lived in Barcelona for a number of years and loved it. So I decided to go back to Barcelona.”

But upon returning to Spain, Sam soon realized Barcelona’s fitness culture wasn’t as keen on weightlifting as it was on gymnastics and Crossfit. However, she stumbled upon a former Olympic weightlifting athlete who trained in the basement of a traditional gym who agreed to teach Sam technical lifts, including snatches and power-cleans. Eventually, Sam crossed paths with another member of the same basement gym-space who was a part of Barcelona’s Crossfit scene and introduced Sam to the sport for the first time.

Sam then achieved her personal training certification through NCSA as well as Crossfit Level 1 credentials and continued to study and train in Barcelona. In 2014, she discovered the Ido Portal Method and shifted her focus to the depths of human movement, with a heavy emphasis on calisthenics.

Last year, Sam and her partner relocated to Seattle and she then found herself at Rival Fitness, where she says her first priority when it comes to working with her clients is helping them understand their bodies.

“I take it fully as my responsibility as a trainer to help get clients to get excited about connecting with their bodies. If they’re not getting excited about the work we’re doing, I look at what I’m doing as a trainer and what I can do to help them get engaged,” Sam said. “I’ve found that if you’re confident, excited, educating yourself and really walking the walk – not just talking about it – you are always going to find more success in helping folks achieve milestone.”

While Sam has an extensive toolbox she draws on for each client’s unique needs, she almost starts by running through the basics with every individual she trains.

“I try to give them a new perspective with how to relate to their body, movement, and environment. I do that by starting to develop a ‘user manual.’ A lot of people don’t know basic terminology about shoulder and pelvis function,” said Sam. “I’ll say things like, ‘This is how your shoulder works and these are the kinds of movements that involve your shoulder.’ Once we have some of those basic terms and movements down, we can start working on more complex concepts.”

Sam is a form fanatic, but both Candy and Rachael have noticed that because of the importance she places on proper form in their sessions, they’ve reaped the benefits outside of the gym

When I’m at work now, I definitely think about her,” said Rachael. “If I start hunching over my desk, I’m like, ‘What would Sam say?'” It’s just drilled into my head now. I think, ‘Protraction and retraction.'”

With every Rivaler Sam works with, she tries to help educate them about their bodies so that they might be able to form sustainable practices towards fitness.

“I just would love to see people dig a little deeper and take their bodies and fitness experiences a little more seriously,” Sam said. “This space is a place to build community, learn, and feel that your time in the gym is educational – and not just to be measured by the metric of sweat. I would really love for people to pursue their own physical potential. You never know what you’re potential is going to look like, but it’s always a worthy cause to go after.”

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