On the Move
A Rockville personal trainer talks about injuries, discipline and why walking is underrated
Peter Kwon was 15 when he first joined a gym, but no one showed him what to do with the equipment. So he watched other people and tried to copy them. “I would say, wow, that guy’s figure looks great. I want to look like that guy,” says Kwon, now a personal trainer at Sport&Health in North Bethesda. “I’d practice on my friends. Hey guys, let’s look like that guy. Let’s all do this. I got my first taste in training.”
Kwon, 31, spent most of his childhood in Prince George’s and Howard counties, and wasn’t sure what he wanted to do after graduating from the University of Maryland. He worked as a real estate agent before deciding “to do something that got me out of bed in the morning and gave me a sense of purpose.” After getting certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, he became a personal trainer at Sport&Health in 2014.
A Rockville resident, Kwon—whose wife, Kristina, is also a trainer at the gym—sees 10 to 12 clients a day, seven days a week. His work is mainly in the gym, but he’s also run alongside clients in 5K’s, and even a 50K. His message, he says, is “I’m with you 100 percent.”
A little over a year ago, Kwon was in a serious car accident and suffered, he says, from “long thoracic nerve damage,” which impaired his ability to use the left side of his upper body. “It was excruciatingly painful, so sometimes I couldn’t even lay on my side,” he says. “Because of that, I dove into [learning about] head, neck, shoulder issues. I wanted to be the expert of that category.” He’s fully recovered now and has been using what he learned to help clients.
Kwon works out every day, sometimes at other gyms for a change of scenery. For a few years, he’s been doing Olympic weightlifting—a competitive sport that’s not only about how much you lift, but also how you perform the exercise, he says. In 2017, he set a Maryland state record for lifting 271 pounds in a snatch, which means lifting a barbell from the ground and raising it over your head in one movement (the record has since been broken). He’s 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighed 178 pounds at the time of the record.
He also stays active with his sons, ages 3 and 4. “We always play games using our bodies. We’ll learn math using our fingers,” he says. “We’ll always do something outside—the beach, hiking, fishing, something where they have to use their bodies physically to get an outcome.”
Kwon’s workouts have changed since his days in the gym as a teen. He now knows he doesn’t have to do as many repetitions, and that strengthening your core and doing cardio are important. Lately, he’s been doing a lot of sprinting and long-distance walking. “Your heart is the engine of your body,” he says. “If your engine is not functioning properly, if your heart is not healthy, your car’s not going to run well.”
“I’ve herniated my disc twice. I tried a chiropractor; didn’t work for me. I ended up doing an exercise routine I saw on YouTube, and that’s how I fixed my back twice. I’ve had a rotator cuff tear. I’ve had foot fractures from running. I’ve had every minor, annoying little injury you can think of, like neck cramps. Now it’s to the point where I’ve experienced the pattern so many times I have this internal algorithm saying, if I feel this, boom, I have a solution. I’m going to do this to help it. My client comes [in] with, ‘This hurts there,’ or ‘This feels funny here’—I’ve seen the same pattern so many times, I know what to try first.”
The Big Picture
“[At a first consultation] it’s not just like, ‘Hey, do you want to lose weight? OK, great, what do you like to do to lose weight?’ It’s, ‘What do you do in your life?’ Because everything will affect and dictate how your body’s going to transform. So you could have the best diet in the world, but if you don’t sleep, you’re not going to get any results. And vice versa.”
“Don’t give yourself options. The second you give yourself options, you’re opening up an opportunity to not do something. If you tell yourself, I’m going to the gym, that’s different from, I’m going to go to the gym if it doesn’t rain. Don’t give yourself a choice.”
“[Personal training is] not just going to somebody who’s just telling you how to exercise or showing you some exercises. The power that we have as trainers is far greater than most people would think. We get in front of people a lot more than doctors [do], so we have that much more opportunity and power of influence [with] our clients and people in front of us. Hey, let’s try this way to see if we can help benefit your health.”
“If you want to be a well-functioning human being, and you want to do two exercises, get yourself to be able to hold a two-minute plank. You’re teaching your body how to brace your muscles—because in a plank, every muscle has to be contracting—and, two, how to breathe a certain way. So then you’re training yourself to be very resilient and learning how to maneuver yourself. And the next thing is walking. Walking is the most underrated, taken for granted exercise of all time.”