As He Sees Fit

Personal trainer – and science geek – Domenick Schiraldi-Irrera, ’11, doesn't want to train you; he wants to teach you.

by by Tom Wilson, writer/editor-PCToday.

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Domenick Schiraldi-Irrera - Physical Fitness SpecialistHe's a self-described geek, a fitness advocate who spurns washboard abs and a nutritionist's son who guiltlessly enjoys the occasional fast-food meal. And as a personal trainer, Domenick S. Schiraldi-Irrera really doesn't want you as a client.

Well … not for long, anyway.

"What you're seeing on that magazine cover is unachievable if you want to live a normal life."

"The best thing I can do for you is to teach you to do it yourself," says Schiraldi-Irrera, who holds Pennsylvania College of Technology degrees in physical fitness specialist (May 2009) and applied health studies (December 2011). "People don't need to see me three times a week for four months. It's much better when they do it for themselves, to fix it on their own."

Domenick Schiraldi-Irrera proceeds to the Community Arts Center for December 2011 commencement ceremonies, where he was conferred a bachelor's degree in applied health studies. Photo by Jennifer A. Cline.Sitting down (if only barely) during the waning days of his senior year, he talked fervently about the contracted services he performs for members of the college's Fitness Center, the faculty, staff and students who come to him for help toward their strength and conditioning.

He's not a fan of wasting their time, and he's pointedly critical of the commercial fitness industry and quick-fix infomercials that get people impossibly hooked on the next big thing.

Like a teenager who takes summer jobs to buy a car, Schiraldi-Irrera's clients are encouraged to do the necessary work rather than have someone hand them a solution. Automotive analogies, in fact, frequently and fittingly pepper the trainer's animated discussions of the care and feeding of one's body.

"You take your car to the mechanic, what does he do? He repairs it and hands you the bill," Schiraldi-Irrera says. "I teach people to understand the fundamentals of how their own internal engines work, to step outside and analyze themselves. They shouldn't do it because someone told them to do it; they should do it because they understand why."

Domenick Schiraldi-Irrera coaches clients in the Pennsylvania College of Technology Fitness Center. Photo by Larry D. Kauffman.Certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the American Council on Exercise, Schiraldi-Irrera could rightfully expand on that with a physiological lecture about homeostasis, joint abnormalities and muscular imbalance that would be over the heads of many.

He pares it down to a much simpler credo: Fitness is life.

Simpler, yes. But difficult to convey in a fast-paced country more obsessed with looking good than feeling well.

"Most get it in their head, 'I want to be like those people in the magazine.' That societal notion of perfection, the ideal physique," he says. "Half of my time, I'm teaching you new things. The other half is undoing everything that corporate fitness has misguided you to believe.

"Because what you're seeing on that magazine cover is unachievable if you want to live a normal life."

It doesn't help that many people approach exercise with a negative connotation, he says: "My trainer's gonna yell at me" … "It's one more thing I have to program into my schedule" … "It's interrupting my relaxation" … "It's time away from work."

So Schiraldi-Irrera's first order of business is to get to know his clients, eventually tailoring a plan to their specific goals and schedules, modifying behavior with an eye toward sustained success.

"It needs to be about what they realistically need, about pointing them in the right direction," he emphasizes. "It's not about what the industry tells them they need – giving them just enough information to buy another magazine, another piece of equipment, another nutritional supplement."

In a profession stereotypically represented by the likes of Jack LaLanne and Charles Atlas, Schiraldi-Irrera could be his own before-and-after poster.

Looking at him now – lean, toned and so impassioned as to be unable to sit still for an interview – it's hard to imagine him at nearly 300 pounds. Yet, after breaking his leg as an eighth-grade soccer player, he was that very real picture of non-health.

"I had the mentality, 'This tastes good. I want to eat it,'" he recalls. "I gained a lot of weight and thought, 'If I just exercise, I'll get back to normal.' But I was anything but 'normal.'"

Schiraldi-Irrera makes notes about a client's new workout regimen prior to a session in the Penn College Fitness Center. Photo by Larry D. Kauffman.It was then that his education began in earnest, everything from chiropractics to pain management.

"Many in the industry actually keep you at a level that inhibits your progress," he says. "If you're not in a state of stress, you won't change. Nature doesn't like change, but the things that live the longest – the Galapagos tortoise, the sequoia (and) redwoods, those giant clams that are 300 years old – are the things that adapt."

Exercise is part of the equation, but so is making the right food choices. "If you're ripped and shredded, and saying, 'Now I can eat donuts and McDonald's,' you have a lot worse problems than your physique." He admits that he enjoys a fast-food meal now and then, but he's smart about it.

"Grilled is better than fried," he notes, but what's better than either? Too often, it's the food lost in the societal disconnect between what's cheaper and what's healthier. Only in America, perhaps, is it more cost-effective to market food – high on sodium, low on quality and in ridiculous abundance – that's awful for our bodies.

"It's crazy the way we look at food in this country. You don't go for the $10 salad or spinach or the apple or the granola bar. You don't go for natural (instead of) processed. You head straight for that $4 basket of fries with ketchup and cheese," Schiraldi-Irrera says. "I ask my clients, 'If that's backward, what else is backward?' And they have that 'Wow!' moment when they say, 'Hey, you make a lot of sense.'"

That straightforward, practical manner isn't lost on colleagues, either.

A classroom in the Bardo Gymnasium is a hub of learning for students in the physical fitness specialist major. Photo by Cindy Davis Meixel."We who teach in the physical fitness specialist degree say, 'We plant the seed of knowledge, nurture and water thoroughly through the four semesters and, unless we hear back from the alumni, don't often see the flower bloom,'" said Judy Quinti, assistant professor of fitness and lifetime sports – and a mentor since Schiraldi-Irrera arrived at Penn College in 2007.

"In Domenick's case, we have seen him learn, grow and excel in our field."

He fulfilled his senior capstone requirement by student-teaching Quinti's 8 a.m. Basic Fitness Training class on Fridays during the Fall 2011 semester.

"His dedication is apparent just for the fact he does not need to be on campus that early on Fridays and there is no monetary reward as an incentive," she says. "His ability to communicate each lecture topic efficiently and succinctly tells me that Domenick's future might include education along with his skills as a personal trainer.

"I am proud of Domenick and have enjoyed watching him grow from a physical fitness specialist seedling to a strong, healthy tree of knowledge," she adds. "He will go far."

And he'll get there with his body and his mind.

Domenick Schiraldi-Irrera, a recent applied health studies and physical fitness specialist graduate, does abdominal work in the Penn College Fitness Center where, as a personal trainer, he focused on educating clients about the science of fitness – and unteaching the "lessons" of magazine covers and infomercials. Photo by Deborah K. Peters."I like helping people, and I like explaining things. I don't have to separate them," he says. "In an age of technology, we are less reliant on our bodies. What do we do instead? We watch TV, play video games, drive our cars, use our brains. But we're not working our bodies, except to buy that 'Ab Belt' we see on the commercial at 2 a.m. and wonder why we're not built like 'that guy.'"

"We need to do the more difficult thing because it's better for us," he advises. "The more difficult thing is what made us human in the first place."

Geek. Advocate. Trainer. And maybe a bit of a romantic.

"It's not reps, sets and exercises. It's not diet. It's just like a relationship," Schiraldi-Irrera says. "It's getting your brain and your body to fall in love again."

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