Slowly but steadily, I’m being transformed from an endomorph into a mesomorph. C is all over it. C is not going to let me backslide now. In the weight room at Centennial Sportsplex, C is motioning for me to lie on a red mat. “Abs, Ran’,” he says, with a hint of a smile.
With my legs inclined upward, C will lead me through a set of 65 sit-ups, or crunches. I have to extend my hands to reach his, and his hands are a constantly shifting target. Sometimes they’re just beyond my knees. Sometimes they’re far to one side or behind his body or even above his head, forcing me to stretch every abdominal muscle.
Then, with just a few seconds to catch my breath, we’re off to the weightslat pulldowns and flies and incline presses and benches and military presses. (C calls them “Arnolds.”) Another set of abs. Fifteen minutes of cardio on the treadmill, alternating between a walk and a sprint. One more set of abs.
For a monthpurely for the sake of journalistic research, you understandI’ve been working out with C, who is one of Nashville’s most experienced personal fitness trainers. His full name is Chiffonda Washington, but everybody knows him by the initial. And C seems to know everybody.
By his own estimate, C has trained more than 7,000 people, including 60 students he coaches three nights a week at Vanderbilt’s Student Recreation Center. His clients range from Sen. Bill Frist to professional athletes, such as Corey Harris of the Seattle Seahawks, to fluffy endomorphs.
Around Vanderbilt and Centennial, he’s as much a fixture as the fitness equipment. He’s the potentate of a benevolent, pumped-up little empire where everyone trains and everyone laughs a lot. “If you work out around here, you know who C is,” says Arif Tayyab, one of Washington’s recruits.
If nothing else, Centennial regulars have all seen one of the almost ubiquitous “Training with C” T-shirts that many of Washington’s clients wear. Or, maybe, they’ve heard one of his nicknames: “Captain Crunch,” “The Abdominal Snowman,” “No Slack Washington.”
In the weight room, C is equal parts guru, entertainer, entrepreneur and dungeon master. Each workout (no two are alike) is precisely measured30 seconds recovery time, 45 seconds for watera discipline he learned in part from Don Meyer, for whom he played basketball at David Lipscomb.
With a lively banter between exercises, he makes it all fun. “You have to push people yet keep them enjoying it,” Washington explains. “Otherwise they won’t come back.”
But, especially on the weights, C is focused. “When I talk about training, I get chills,” he says, straight-faced.
With a graduate degree in health promotion from Vanderbilt, an internship in cardiac rehab, and courses to prepare him for medical school, C has a knowledge of physiology and metabolism that most trainers lack. And he’s continually sharing it.
For example, he says, breathing out on each repetition when lifting weight is critical; otherwise, “you build up pressure in the glottis and increase the risk of stroke or passing out.”
He’ll explain why you shouldn’t do abs more than three days in a row, and points out the locations and Latin names of the muscles you work with each exercise.
In his milieu, Washington’s conversations necessarily resemble the flow of air traffic at O’Hare. People continually swoop in and out to say hi, ask advice, beep his pager or request one of the self-directed workout programs he extemporaneously writes out for students. In the middle of a discussion of body typeswith endomorphs, he’s explaining, the goal is usually to reduce weight and percentage of body fatone of his students walks past.
“You out of here, Mahesh? Way to go.”
One sentence later, another trainee catches his eye. “Cno fried foods?”
Washington shakes his head. “No fried foods.”
“At all, baby.”
“Aw, man, I just had a big bunch of catfish.”
Washington believes steadfastly in what he calls “linear progression.” With almost every workout, the weight increases, the speed on the treadmill increases and the number of crunches increases.
“You think, ‘Man, I can’t believe I made it through that,’ ” says Donovan Burke, who has just strained through three progressively heavier sets on the incline press, “and then he adds more weight. You find out what you’re missing when you work with C.”
“If you’re standing still, it’s time to get another trainer,” chimes in Washington, only half-joking.
Keeping up with the regimen is demanding work. But Washington maintains and studies records on every workout for every client. He also maintains most of his records in his head. He can tell you both your starting point and the weight you last lifted in any given exercise. He memorizes workout regimens for nearly 150 people each day.
The work also requires what most would consider a grueling schedule, but after six years, he’s used to it. At 5:30 a.m., he gets up to run, then returns home for pushups and breakfast. Mornings are spent with clients. Most afternoons, C is in class, taking prerequisite courses for medical school. He’s back with students or clients in the evenings. Before bed, he studies his biochemistry, goes over the next day’s workouts for each client and reads his Bible.
Amid everything else, he finds time to conduct free fitness clinics in the inner city, give lectures and participate in the Big Brother program.
“My girlfriend teases me about being too intense,” Washington laughs. “She tells me I should have fun. But I am having fun. This is my world.”
C credits much of his success to othersteachers, physicians and Coach Meyer. But he’s done most of the heavy lifting himself. Working 17-hour days, he paid his own way through graduate school and completed his cardiac rehab internship. When he graduated last May, he drew cheers from the crowd. They all knew him.
For Washington, training clients is only a means to an end. He’s already mapped out a lifetime of goals, his own linear progression. After learning as much as he can about training and cardiac rehabilitation, he wants to become an orthopedist or sports medicine specialist. For the past year, he’s been saving for medical school, and he’s already been accepted to East Tennessee State.
“I want to work with a pro sports team as their doctor for five or six years,” he says. “Then I want to start my own rehabilitation and fitness clinic or a family practice clinic in a rural or inner-city area. I want to give back to the community what they’ve given meand even more.”
In four weeks with C12 workoutsI’ve actually come to look forward to strenuous training, and to the euphoric feeling that comes a couple of hours after nearly complete exhaustion. I’ve lost six pounds of fat and added muscle. I can bench press 65 pounds more than when I began. I can now do 75 crunches without dying.
“You’re chiseling down,” Washington tells me on the way to the free-weight room. Inevitably, someone spots him before we get there. “What’s up, C?” the man calls from a distance.
“Makin’ it, baby,” C replies, flashing another smile.