Q&A: Dan Nichols

36, Owner of Dumbells Personal Training (Norfolk, Virginia)


Why did you decide to open a fitness facility?

I was headed down the road of physical therapy and going to school for that. I was also doing personal training in school and working at a PT clinic. I was so busy with clients referred to me to train that I pulled myself out of school, left the other job and pursued fitness. I enjoy training and working with people. Owning my own gym was a better investment [than working in a PT clinic]. So I ended
up buying this place and going full steam ahead.

What is your fitness lifestyle like?

I’m a former athlete that played basketball in college. I [played] football, basketball and baseball during my senior year of high school. It was in college where I started picking up fitness. I started training and lifting heavily. I packed on 25 pounds of muscle my freshman year; I grew four inches, too. I trained for triathlons, ran, biked and lifted every day. As far as my approach to fitness, there are all kinds of training lifestyles. Mine is training in moderation. You can enjoy things in moderation, just not to excess. Like in nutrition, if you want to achieve a certain fitness level you have to make certain sacrifices to do that. You can be healthy in certain areas and weak in others, so keeping a balanced lifestyle is the best way to stay physically and mentally healthy. Each person has a different story. I want to be able to keep up with my kids. That’s why I stay fit. My son is 5 now, and when he’s 20, that will put me close to 50. I still want to be able to wrestle with him and keep up with him. People come [to Dumbells] because they want to be better, healthier and happier people. It’s about a quality of life.

What level of influence do parents have on the health habits of their children?

Parents who are active will have children who are active. Their kids will do what they do. You have to make it fun. Exercise should be fun. For kids, depending on their age, I aim to teach them to train like a superhero. My 5-year-old likes Superman (points to tattoo on right bicep) and my 2-year-old likes Hulk, and I’ll be getting that tattooed in a few weeks. They call Daddy The Flash (points to tattoo on underside of left bicep). Most children associate with a superhero. Ultimately, they want to run faster, jump higher and be stronger. And you can build fitness around those things and they can be their own superhero.  

So how exactly do you train a 2-year-old?

Jax Nichols, son of Dan Nichols.

From the get go, kids’ movement patters are already next to prefect. It’s more about balance, learning to play and learning how to fall. Children’s biggest developmental thing is balance. I used to take my 5-year-old when he was small and put him on a foam mattress and get him to stand. I would throw pillows at him to try to knock him over on the bed. Then he would learn to brace and stabilize on the bed. It became a game to him. You have to find something that’s interesting to them.

And how do you work with older children and teens?

I keep my competitive edge by training with the kids at Norfolk Collegiate School. I’m so busy with them and lost in what I’m doing that it’s the happiest moment of my day to be training those young athletes who just want to learn how to move better. It’s not about games anymore, but active movement, fitness and a healthy lifestyle—making fitness a standard for healthy minds. It does help with releasing stress and kids these days are under more stress that I’ve seen in my entire life. Kids [going off to college] have a stigma about “the freshman 15” but they’ve never been taught to move and to exercise and PE class is out the window. You have to pay people like me and college kids can’t pay for that, so it’s about teaching them a little bit each and every day how to live a fit life and they can build on that and use that.

How does someone go from a sedentary fitness level to building a habit? How much time should they allot?

It takes a month to build a habit. It takes being away for a month to destroy it. You don’t have to go to excess. It’s little by little. I tell people who come in that if they go too hard, too fast they’ll quit too soon. Go slow. Give yourself a goal. I tell women postpartum to take one year to get it all back; to be as fit as you can be by the child’s first birthday.

What’s your favorite thing about coming in to work every day?

It’s the people. My day starts at 5:00 in the morning and I don’t get done until 9:00 at night. I’m here every day of the week. You can change the outcome of someone’s day by getting them started or helping them finish a rough day. My favorite part is that I have the opportunity to affect a person’s day. I get an opportunity to make every day a great day.