How well do you know your personal trainer? I sat down with Jesse Hershey and Stefano Sarge, co-founders of Ampersand Integrative Wellness, a collective of healthcare practitioners with a focus on providing complete body and mind wellness services under one roof, to discuss what inspires them to help clients reach there fitness goals.
Mike: How did you get involved in personal training and how long have you been training?
Jesse & Stefano: We were both athletes and I think that’s where our journeys both started. We both pushed our limits with exercise and sports and have a mutual respect for injuries through our own experiences with them. One big thing that we agree on is how important functional movement is. Injuries can happen and can appear random. But in our profession there are ways to evaluate and prevent injuries from happening in the first place. Injury is not something that can be completely avoided, but to have the ability to bounce back appropriately is another story.
Specific to Stefano, he has dealt with various health issues and watched his family suffer through them as well. He feels obligated to help others overcome these obstacles to live healthier lifestyles for themselves, their friends, and their loved ones. We both focus heavily on our relationships with our clients and their overall well-being. They come first. Not the workout, the programming, or the money. We have a combined 20+ years of experience between us and partnering together to help Berks County, one person at a time, was a no brainer!
Mike: What are your certifications, education, and specialties?
Stefano and Jesse: Jesse is a Certified Personal Trainers through ACE (CPT) and Stefano is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through ACSM (EP-C). We both are Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists (CSCS) through NSCA.
Jesse graduated from Penn State University (Main Campus) with a bachelor’s degree in Recreation, Park, Tourism, and Management and Stefano Graduated from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia with a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science and Wellness Management.
Jesse also holds a Level II Functional Movement Specialist certification, is a certified Titleist Performance Instructor, and holds a TRX certification. Stefano also holds a Level 4 Sports-Based Youth Development certification through Up2Us Sports. We both hold current CPR/AED certifications as well.
Mike: Where do you train?
Jesse and Stefano: We both train at and co-own Ampersand Integrative Wellness. Ampersand has presented so many opportunities beyond our wildest dreams and these opportunities directly spill over into value and overall quality of sessions when working with our clients. We are able to completely custom tailor all sessions from the session itself, the environment, and even down to the music and lighting for each specific client. Also, combining forces at Ampersand has offered so many benefits not only to us, but to our clients.
We offer a wide variety of services that are highlighted through our integrative program, if our clients choose to go that route. If you are interested in learning more about all of the services we have to offer (and this list is constantly growing), visit our website at ampersandintegrative.com.
Mike: Who is your target clientele?
Jesse & Stefano: This is a tough one, as the clients we train are so diverse and unique. Jesse and I have worked with clients as young as 5 years old to ninety-two years old. All with their own specific needs, goals, and medical history. Our ideal client is someone who is cleared by their healthcare practitioner to exercise, is motivated to make a lifestyle change, and looking to reclaim their abilities and/or learn new ones!
We’re all about bringing happiness and joy back into our clients’ lives through movement and reclaiming their independence. Empowerment, empowerment, empowerment. So if you are looking to grow and test your limits in a safe and effective way, we are here for you!
Mike: What is the biggest myth in fitness?
Jesse & Stefano: A big myth that we continuously encounter either online or even from new clients coming through our doors is that a well-rounded fitness routine is just about strengthening every muscle group and doing endless amounts of cardio/high intensity exercise. As you strengthen, your muscles contract and shorten, therefore we get tighter and tighter, limiting our mobility and ranges of motion. A well-rounded fitness routine does in fact consist of strength training, but also focusing on mobility, flexibility, stability, balance, posture, reversing muscle imbalances, improving movement quality, and cardiorespiratory fitness in harmony. This may seem like a lot or very complex, but that is where we come in to help design a specific program for you that will cover these various topics without taking up your entire day!
Mike: Where do you find motivation?
Jesse: I find a tremendous amount of motivation in the face of challenge and also when experiencing success. Whether it is my own, a client’s, or through our business I can use these experiences to grow. The challenges I encounter offer a lot of ways to learn and by using this perspective I now invite the universe to send more to me. I will say sometimes it feels overwhelming at first and there are some you cannot solve, but growth always takes place, if you allow for it. And success is motivating because it is so rewarding. I love how it feels to accomplish something you’ve been working on in the short term or long term!
Stefano: I find motivation in my open and transparent relationships with my clients. We are honest with each other. If I have health complications or setbacks of my own, they know about it. I am not a perfectly healthy person just because I am a personal trainer. We are very realistic with each other and don’t set unrealistic expectations or try to be “perfect.” That is impossible and will lead to ingenuine relationships and foster a lack of integrity. The motivating part of this is when giving yourself GRACE. When you make a decision and feel like you’ve fallen off the wagon, break down the situation, reaccess, learn from it, integrate, and continue moving forward with your new found knowledge. By giving myself grace, I feel excited about my growth and what is to come vs. focusing on my failures, mistakes, and shortcomings.
Mike: What does your exercise program consist of?
Jesse: I have two disabilities that require physical therapy from time to time. Outside of PT I do strength work for every muscle 2 times a week on average. Strength is really important for my body because I am naturally very mobile. I should be doing more of it but that can be difficult because of my injuries. I spend a lot of time stretching, foam rolling, balance, and a lot of stability work. This is where most of my time is spent. These are the things that allow me to do strength training. I go for a lot of walks and hikes. I enjoy doing yoga and qigong. I also enjoy golf, snowboarding, and kayaking. I try to switch things up and enjoy being active.
Stefano: I typically try to get 3-4 days a week of strength training. I specifically work on building strength and stability while targeting my weaknesses and imbalances. I generally split my workouts by upper and lower body or will train anterior/posterior, aka muscle groups of the front or back of the body, depending on how packed my week is! I’ve added in more cardio recently. A mixture of walking and running. I’ve been working on walking my dog most days for about 15 minutes and then finding another time during the day to walk an additional 15-20. Some days I run as well as I’ve been gearing up for a 5K. Walking and running has given me time with my thoughts, so it’s very meditative for me. It’s great to break up times of the day where we are inactive, there are so many benefits to this!
I suggest individuals should work towards 150+ minutes of moderate intensity cardio exercise and 2 days of full body strength training a week to fight against preventable disease and certain kinds of cancer! Reference the work done by the American College of Sports Medicine.
Mike: Who do you admire or find inspirational in the fitness industry?
Jesse: I honestly do not follow anyone in the industry specifically. I’m not very active on social media. I stay current in my certifications, so I do a lot of reading within those agencies, but it’s usually coming from different professionals. I learn from a lot of different sources. I’d say I follow more professionals dealing with mental health and trauma because it helps me connect better with my clients, and that is what is most important to me.
Stefano: He’s gone through so many different phases in his life since I started watching him on YouTube in high school, but I admire Elliot Hulse. He started out training out of a van at parks and other various locations to make ends meet while managing a family with very little income! Then progressed into owning his own facility down in Florida where he helped train athletes and naturally began mentoring them on questions about life and family that always seemed to come up. He then took a short break and went in a different direction exploring yoga, spirituality, deep dives in human potential, and other various things.
When he returned back to more of the training aspect, he integrated his findings and has become a stronger version of himself. I find it inspiring to look at his journey and look at our lives like phases. We are certain people during certain chapters of our lives. To grow and advance, we must adapt and sometimes let go of certain “personas,” traits, habits, and other things that may define us during that period. Don’t stay stuck!
Mike: What is one of your greatest client success stories?
Jesse: It’s difficult for me to pick just one when I’ve been doing this for over fifteen years. I have kids that started at a young age with me and never sustained significant injuries. That is a huge win for me, especially being an ex-athlete who has had many injuries. These injuries have cut my collegiate sports career short and still affect me to this day.
Through training, I’ve also helped clients pass different physical tests that were required to advance in their careers! It felt really good to witness their success and be a part of their journey. I have helped clients get rid of certain chronic pains through the various modalities all while staying within my scope of practice. Seeing a client get back something they’ve lost or seeing them gain new abilities they’ve worked so hard to get are the greatest successes I get to witness and be a part of.
Stefano: My greatest client success stories go beyond losing body fat or gaining muscle mass. It is a story of growing mentally, physically, facing trauma, repairing relationships, creating a larger support system, finding joy and happiness in life, and overcoming the shackles of an addiction. Someone, who in the beginning of training, had the usual goal of, “I would like to lose weight and get stronger.”
We made progress, but there was something missing. When I set one particular challenge for them, it could not be completed. They realized that there was a problem. We reframed the challenge more around awareness vs. something you can or cannot do. With this reframing they were able to feel like THEY were in control, not the activity.
Today, this person has lost over 10-15lbs, regained their balance and confidence, gained strength and muscle mass, and we continue to partner together to adjust their training so that I am just the guide while they are in the driver seat. This was an amazing learning experience for myself as well as I was able to recommend and incorporate other health and wellness professionals to assist in areas where I could not as a trainer.