Words by Jennifer Jory
Light streams into PerformanceGaines on California Avenue in Palo Alto, illuminating weight racks and TRX equipment hanging from the ceiling. A kettlebell class is underway, and owner and fitness guru Christopher Gaines moves through the brightly lit studio to tailor the exercises and maximize their effectiveness. “Push your feet into the ground,” he instructs. “You’re trying to create an imprint in the ground in the shape of your foot.” After noting more solid stances, he calls out another adjustment. “Shoulders are ear poison,” he guides. “Bring your shoulders down and relax your neck.”
The cues flow naturally, which isn’t surprising. Chris earned a degree in Human Biology at Stanford, while putting his own body to the test playing both rugby for three years and football for one year at Stanford. After graduation, he honed his skills as the fitness and training coach for both Stanford’s Men’s and Women’s rugby teams before venturing out on his own.
A longtime Peninsula resident, Chris opened PerformanceGaines in 2009 to offer a blended approach of physiology, body mechanics and elite athletic training. A husband and father of three young children, Chris works with a team of like-minded coaches to provide personal training and personalized classes aimed at helping people achieve long-term fitness that impacts their everyday lives. He maintains that counting steps and exercise repetitions is less important than the quality of a workout and meeting a client’s unique goals. We stopped by to talk with Chris about his holistic philosophy and techniques and to get some healthy start tips for 2022.
What motivated you to become a personal trainer?
When I was a kid, both my parents were in the medical profession. My dad was a surgical technician and my mom was a medical transcriptionist. I didn’t have video games at home, so when I was bored, I would go to a bookshelf and look through the medical books. From then on, the human body has always been a passion of mine.
Why did you decide to open PerformanceGaines?
I wanted to bring my passion for movement to people who crave continual progress in their lives. I want to help people move, perform and live better even if they’re not competing at an elite level. If you’re going to spend time in your day working out, it should impact the way you live. The impact could be standing up with more ease or just being able to have kids jump on your back without worry.
Why is your approach successful?
The way I look at fitness is that there isn’t one solution that works for everyone. When working one on one, or even in a small group, our programs address what someone actually needs. In other words, what matters in their life today and the way they want to live tomorrow.
One of your mantras is, ‘When you change how you move, you change how you live.’ What do you mean by that?
The way you live relies on how you move, whether it’s your ability to do something or the ease with which you do it. Your experience during everyday activities impacts the enjoyment you get out of life. When there’s something physical holding you back from life’s activities, we work with you to figure out what’s getting in the way and what to do about it. This changes how you live—it’s personalized fitness that goes beyond the workout itself.
What kind of wellness practices do you advocate for long-term fitness?
There’s lots of research to show that movement is the best medicine out there for most everything. Some people come to us because they haven’t been able to reach a particular goal. Usually, this is because of a nagging issue, which leads to the loss of physical confidence. We help people focus on what’s not moving, so they can change that. Then we arm them with new knowledge and techniques that they can do right now. Through consistent practice, they’re able to approach their fitness long-term.
Have you faced any physical challenges personally?
For many years I lived with what I considered to be bad knees. I wouldn’t say I was miserable, but every day I was aware of what I couldn’t do because of the pain. Then I went to a kettlebell certification and began practicing swings everyday. One day, after practicing swings for a while, I demonstrated a squat for a client. To my surprise, for the first time in years, without pain. The kettlebell swings helped me unlock something in how I used to move that I hadn’t been accessing. To me, it’s not what you do but how you do it. What I care about is helping people find their own strength so they can feel more capable in their lives.
New Approach to a New Year
According to Chris, gyms usually see a surge in activity in January, but it typically wanes by the end of the month. “There’s this perceived expectation—because of an arbitrary date that aligns with the new year—that we should do something different,” he explains. “Instead, we need to consider what’s important to us personally so that it sticks.” Here are Chris’s suggestions for taking more ownership of your wellness journey in 2022.
Lifestyle: Instead of setting goals around what you think you should be doing, figure out what really matters to the way you live your life. To be successful, what you do inside the gym needs to have a meaningful impact outside the gym. It needs to have relevance in your everyday life.
Training: To build good habits, focus on the ‘Big Rocks’: Sleep, Mobility and Body Control. If you sleep well, you’ll be more likely to work out or eat a certain way. If you have the mobility to move through a full range of motion, you’ll likely reduce the chance of soreness or injury, which will increase your chances of working out more consistently. And if you demonstrate control—going slowly to really ‘own’ a movement—you’ll notice your progress more readily, enjoy it more and be more likely to stick with it.
Mindset: Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time you do it. Perfectionism is a procrastinator’s best friend—it’s a way to validate not starting or finishing something. You just have to start at level zero and gradually add intensity, load or speed. Over time, you’ll be surprised by how far you can go.