Breakthrough Spotlight – Ellen Shukhman

Breakthrough Spotlight

Ellen Shukhman

Our Spotlight Member for August is Ellen Shukhman! We were excited to chat with Ellen about how training has been helping her prioritize self-care in these busy and challenging times – and we are so grateful to her for sharing her story with us!

BREAKTHROUGH: Thank you so much for being our Spotlight member for August, Ellen! I am especially interested to chat with people these days who were among the first to very vocally say, “Let me back in the gym. I want to start training back in person!” I wonder if you could chat a little bit about that. What were you doing during quarantine? How was all of that for you? I know you are in the medical field so obviously you were very, very busy.

ELLEN: I have been a nurse since 1987 and I have said it often enough, I can easily say it here, that the last four months probably have been the most challenging of my entire nursing career. We had to adapt to doing our work in a different way, living our life in a different way, being able to not only help our patients, but also help our family cope with this environment. So, it was really challenging. And I have to be honest. I became a couch potato. Unfortunately. When this whole thing started, I focused primarily on work. I think that was my coping strategy. Every time I would see you guys do the Facebook workouts, I would get excited. Then I would get agitated because I felt bad about the fact that I wasn’t doing anything for myself. And then I got over this initial feeling of beating myself up. I made a promise to myself that the minute that there was an opportunity to go back in some way – whatever that was – that I wouldn’t allow myself to give myself an excuse. So, the minute that you guys posted that it was coming – “We’re going to open up” – there was no option for me to say no. I felt like enough time was given to me to have my little pity party…


ELLEN: … for that first short period of time. You know, just like everyone else – some people carb loaded; some people didn’t do anything; others focused on their anxiety. We all found different ways of coping, you know.


ELLEN: For me, I was able to give myself that time, but I said, you know what, keep yourself honest. Get yourself in here. I know that diet is a big part of being healthy, but for me, the mental health really, in a lot of ways, is affected by my activity. And I am one of those people that will give myself any opportunity to find excuses not to be active. And at my age, I just turned 51 – I am very proud of that – I feel like it is extra important, especially for our hormone levels, for our adrenal glands, for our overall mental health, to get ourselves out there. The fact that you guys were able to so quickly adapt to this challenging environment to me was just very inspirational. To me, it was like if you guys can figure out a way to restart your business, I can figure out a way to get my behind in here at least twice a week! And do what I need to do.

BREAKTHROUGH: Well, it has just been tremendous to have you back in, and obviously we totally understand that it is hard! That is why we wanted to open this business in the first place. Not everyone is going to be motivated to do stuff at home on their own. People want to know, “Ok I have to get out of the house to do this. I am going to go and interact with other people. I have an appointment. People are expecting me.” You show up differently for that…

ELLEN: It’s an accountability. And I feel like when you do it at home, for a lot of people, it works. However, I think, for a lot of us, being accountable to someone else, knowing that you are expected somewhere. It’s kind of like a commitment. And I have made that commitment and I feel like I have to keep going. And I have to say that when we had to pivot and things were starting to close down again, I happened to be here the day before it all happened, and I remember us having a conversation. I found myself saying, “God, I hope they don’t close.” And I am so happy to see that you guys, once again, were very creative in the way you continued, which is very difficult to do. I know a lot of private gyms that closed. I have friends that go to other places, and they are all not open right now.

BREAKTHROUGH: Oh, that is awful!

ELLEN: You have been very, very creative in the way that you have been able to still give us that service, be able to get us out there. You know, giving what we need but in a safe and comfortable environment.


BREAKTHROUGH: Yes, we have to be outdoors, obviously. That is what the requirements are at the moment. I mean, our landlord has been great letting us use different spots around the property, so we honestly have a really lucky situation. Believe me, that is not lost on us. We definitely know that not everyone has a spot where they can take people outside. And honestly, with our skill set, not everyone necessarily has the same skill set that we have, so if you have people who aren’t really used to doing a lot with just free weights, like kettlebells, like we are, it’s going to be a much tougher transition for them. If people are used to coaching with large pieces of equipment that can’t go outside, that is going to be harder. But we feel lucky that we have been able to still do what we are doing and providing that service to you guys. It makes all the difference in the world to us! We didn’t want to close again! We thought, “Oh my gosh, we just barely got back in front of people! There is no way! We’ve got to make this work!” I am just glad that people have been wanting to come in and still do these training sessions out in the heat! You guys are troopers!

ELLEN: Well, it works both ways. I always say it take two to tango. You have to have a dedicated coaching staff, but you have also to have that commitment on your own. One of things that it is hard to do at home is to be able to do this in a safe right way because I am someone who ended up kind of hurting myself originally when I first started working out. For someone like me, having to really understand, what is safe for me to do and what isn’t. If you just go on YouTube and look for videos, it’s not the same. You are not necessarily being carefully managed through any type of limitations that you might have. I feel that this type of environment, where you have a professional, experienced coach who knows exactly what things are safe and what are not, is extra important because it is very easy to hurt yourself to the point where you won’t be able to work out long term.

BREAKTHROUGH: That is for sure. So how have you been feeling now that you have been back training? It’s been a couple of months now that you are back in action…

ELLEN: I feel very empowered. I feel like I am doing something for myself. I feel like I am having a new sense of normalcy, which is really important. Sitting around and waiting for whatever is going to come to us is just not something that I could do anymore. To me, this is my new normal and I found a way to work with it. I make myself sign up for classes in advance, so that I know that they are there. It is a commitment that I make. I try to not make excuses that I can’t do it. This is something that I can easily do and I feel like there is a future to continue to grow my strength, my capabilities, and work on my health – because ultimately it is much easier to just let yourself go and ignore what is happening.

BREAKTHROUGH: It seems that way sometimes but… ha, ha!

ELLEN: Ha, ha! We can allow ourselves to have a little moment. You can’t always be that uptight about it. But when it comes to strength, endurance, and all those other things I think it is important, especially as we get into our older years. The brittleness to our bones, the importance of weight training really pays off. I see it in my patients.

BREAKTHROUGH: Absolutely! So, the other thing we always like to hear from people is what is your “why”? What is that deeper thing that motivates you to keep doing this even under these challenging situations?


ELLEN: My why, I think, is that I finally made myself a priority. You had mentioned that we would talk about my why, so I had to think about it. I have always been active my entire life. I was a gymnast when I was very young, competitively, and I got injured and I swung to the opposite side. I became very sedentary and focused on a lot of different things – life, career, family. I have never been one who focuses on myself – ever! It’s always been on someone else. When I turned 40, I lost a significant amount of weight. And, unfortunately, from 40 to 50, I slowly started experiencing early menopause, and the weight came back on. And right before I was ready to turn 50, this was January of last year, I finally said I can’t continue this way. So, I changed my lifestyle, specifically my diet, and once I started losing the weight, I took control of what I was eating and how I was feeling and I started really getting into functional medicine. I was lucky enough to have a doctor who really knew what was good for me. He strongly recommended a place in the valley – which I didn’t even know where it was located- he just said, “I have this amazing place. You’ve got to go and workout there.” And I was thinking, how do I get out of this?


ELLEN: How to find an excuse, right? The excuse couldn’t come because I live less than a mile away from you. There are no excuses. It was the best thing that ever happened to me!


ELLEN: Because I made myself my “why”. I made myself a priority. In life, if you have to help others, sometimes you have to first help yourself. And oftentimes, the easiest thing to do is to focus on everyone else and not focus on yourself.


ELLEN: It is a coping mechanism that we all use. I have said that already in this interview. It is easier to ignore that because it is harder to put yourself as a priority.

BREAKTHROUGH: Yes, you are absolutely right, and I think especially for people that are in a field like you are in. We’ve seen this a lot during this quarantine… people want to help, they want to take care of their family, their friends. But sometimes we do this to our own detriment a little bit because we are burning the candle at both ends. We stop doing the stuff that makes us feel good because we are so worried about taking care of everyone else. I definitely see that with people who are in the medical and nursing field, like you. We have people who are life coaches and therapists and they are feeling it. And parents are having to do even more to take care of their families right now.

ELLEN: They always tell you on a flight when the oxygen masks go down, you first have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on your child. And this is an analogy, but in reality this is very much similar to what most of us who don’t take care of ourselves do. We are ignoring the person who is going to be kind of responsible for helping others. So really put yourself first in some way, it is ok to be a little selfish. It’s funny how I tell my patients a lot of times to be selfish. But I don’t take that advice. It is a hard thing to accept but once you make yourself a priority, I feel like you owe it to yourself to not let yourself down. So, it does take a village. You can’t do it alone. But I feel like when you have dedicated people that are there to help you along the way, it is a tremendous improvement to what you could possibly do on your own.

BREAKTHROUGH: Oh yeah, absolutely.

ELLEN: And one of the things that I love about doing this is that I often, when I come to the gym, I am like, “Ugh. I have to go workout.” And I get here, and I start making excuses in my own head. I will make a deal I am only going to do two or three sets. And then I get to three sets and I say, fine, I will do one more. And then you have Caleb kind of going, “Oh you are looking so strong! You can do….”

BREAKTHROUGH: Ha ha! “You can do it one more time!”

ELLEN: Yeah, you can do it one more time! And I am like, dang it! Why was I trying so hard? But the thing is, that after you’re done, and you have actually done it you feel so good about yourself.

BREAKTHROUGH: Of course! We have to remind ourselves of that sometimes to get the motivation to get going. And it’s part of our job to help you know when to push ahead and when to back off a bit.

ELLEN: Yes, and before I found out about this gym I was looking at the larger gyms. One of the things that stands out to me here versus a larger gym is that there you become a bit of a number, and it is very easy to just get lost. In a smaller environment where people get to know you, they really truly appreciate what your needs are. How to coach you in a manner that will inspire you; not drive you away. Because a lot of times, it is a very easy to be driven away from exercise, I feel like, because you may overdo it little bit and then you start to baby yourself and then you give up, right?



ELLEN: In this environment, you coaches can quickly tell when we are either at our limit or whether we need a little bit more of a push. Or a little bit of positive reinforcement or something to inspire us. I think that is really critical. I kind of like that fact that this is not exactly a one on one. I like that I have others that are working out with me and all of us have our own little challenges, and we egg each on a little bit. But I feel like it is actually a good thing. I have been in environments where it is one on one and it is not as much fun. We are social creatures.

BREAKTHROUGH: We push each other and support each other to do better than we would on our own.

ELLEN: We are very social creatures, and I feel like we do better in a group environment. I work in an environment where you have to have teams, and I feel like as a team you do better than you do as an individual. I think that applies in a lot of ways to exercise, too.


ELLEN: And I am always in favor of team sports in some ways. That’s why I didn’t necessarily always appreciate gymnastics when I did it. Oftentimes you were competing with yourself in a lot of ways. But in group environments it is always so much more fun.

BREAKTHROUGH: It is so true, and I’m glad that you find it fun! And I’m glad you found us, Ellen!

ELLEN: I am very thankful that you guys are right here next to my home. And I am very, very thankful that you guys are there for those of us who are looking for this type of assistance because I think it is very hard to do this on your own.


ELLEN: So, obviously you know what you are doing. I can attest to that because I have seen my body change. I’ve seen the way I feel. I feel like I am stronger, I am more confident in what I can do and what I can’t do. I think it teaches you certain things about yourself. As we get older, it is really important to know what you are capable of and what your limitations are because it is very easy to go overboard.

BREAKTHROUGH: Or to sell yourself short.

ELLEN: Or to sell yourself short. True.

BREAKTHROUGH: This is great! Thanks so much for sharing with us, Ellen!

ELLEN: Thank you! This was so much fun!

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