- Associated Press - Sunday, July 3, 2016

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) - For Wanda Downs, it’s about making people feel good about themselves.

For 16 years, Downs has been a trainer at Wyatt’s Gym in Vicksburg, working to help people get in better physical shape, lose weight or improve their flexibility and coordination.

A former bodybuilder, she competed in lightweight bodybuilding, finishing first in 2001 and 2002 in the state show.

But being a trainer was a consideration that was always around.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. “I was here at the gym when this guy came to me and wanted (me) to help him start training, and I just got into it. I got my license, and I just love it. I just love helping people and I enjoy people. They make me smile and they smile when I leave.”

Many of her clients, she said, come to the gym to lose weight.

“I would say about 70 percent of my people are overweight, (and) all of them come in here where I can help them keep the weight off,” she said. “We lose the weight first and then, if they want, to sculpt and tone the body . the more muscle you have, the more fat you’ll burn.”

And nutrition is an important part of the process.

“The way I put it, nutrition’s number one, then cardio (cardiovascular exercises), then the weights,” she said. “I make them get the nutrition first. If you don’t get that down, you won’t go anywhere (losing weight); all you’re going to do is maintain yourself.”

Some people, however, choose not to follow the diet, but come to the gym for solely for the exercise, which she said is helpful, because it allows them to reduce their blood pressure and cholesterol numbers.

And while some people still carry a little fat, “They’re happy and they’re fit, and they feel good about themselves,” she said.

Besides helping people lose weight and get in shape, Downs also works with people suffering from other medical problems to help them stay fit.

“I have a lot of people come in with arthritis, and weight training and exercise are what doctors recommend to help people with arthritis; it helps keep the joints moving,” she said.

“I train a lot of people with illnesses; they feel good about themselves when they leave here. I’ve gotten some where (they) can walk; they just move better, their flexibility is better and their balance is better. They’re just strong people. It (exercise) helps your bones be strong.”

When someone comes to see her to begin a training program, Downs said she weighs and measures the individual, and discusses the exercise program.

“Some say, ‘I just want to work on my stomach,’ (but) you can’t spot reduce an area; you have to work the entire body to lose weight,” she said. “I tell them we do the total body and we might work extra on the areas they want to target. Everybody’s body is different, so everybody’s going to train different. Some may lose (weight) different from others.”

Cardiovascular work is done only after an examination from a doctor, and the type of regiment will depend on the person’s condition.

“If someone has a heart condition, you have to start off slow with them, but you always make sure they’re in good shape before you go through a high intensity workout,” she said. “I do a lot of low impact because I train the elderly - people over 65, 70 - we do low impact. With my younger clients we might do a high impact.

“It’s just who you are is how you train,” she said. “I have some (people) 80 years old and I have them do low impact, moderate cardio with light weight, what I call ‘low weights.’”

And because some older people are unable to do certain things, they start on the weight machines until they are able to become more active and able to work other programs in the gym.

If someone has an injury, she said, she tries to work around it.

“We’ll find a way to exercise,” Downs, a cancer survivor, said. “I try not to give people excuses. If you’re able to walk and drive, you can exercise.”

When she had cancer, “I didn’t let it keep me down. I exercised at home and stayed positive. That’s how I train my people; keep positive, keep going, don’t let anyone get in your way.”

And her work doesn’t end when she leaves the gym.

“People stop me wherever I go,” she said. “If they see me in a restaurant, they stop and ask me questions. At the grocery store, they’ll stop me and talk to me and look in my basket to see what I’m eating.

“So many people (she trains) love me; they’re like family,” she said. “They’ll talk to me about a lot of different things. Sometimes I think I’m Ann Landers.”

Downs said she has slowed her pace somewhat since she began as a trainer, adding, “I work four days a week and try to take an extra day off to rest my body. I get back in there (the gym) stronger and I’ve got a smile on my face; I’m happy. I love people.”

“I’m going to continue doing this for a while; at least I’ll be doing it until I’m 65.”

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Information from: The Vicksburg Post, https://www.vicksburgpost.com

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