Fitness With Compassion – The Heart is a Muscle

Photo by Destine Bouavichith
Photo by Destine Bouavichith

It can be a rarity to find a personal trainer who’s just like you. Someone who can empathize and relate, who gets it. Rare, but not impossible. Will McDonald at Fitness with Compassion is all relatability. And, like each generation paves the way for the next, McDonald is driven by passing along his knowledge and experience to his clients. 

It was not an easy path. Four years ago, McDonald moved to Minneapolis seeking treatment for alcohol abuse. “I had never set foot in a gym,” he says. “I was terrified of going to gyms, afraid of ‘gym bros,’ being judged, and it seemed like the last place I ever wanted to be.” Turned out, his residential sober house was just down the street from a yoga studio, and McDonald took full advantage of its proximity (along with his free time).

The frequency of his gym visits kept increasing, along with different exercises as he diversified his routines. Eventually, McDonald found himself working in customer service at another gym. Motivated by his own transformation—and inspired by the transformation of others in the hands of personal trainers—he knew he’d found his calling. 

So he became a certified personal trainer, and began training new clients. Then the pandemic hit.

Photo by Destine Bouavichith

Still, McDonald persevered. But he was concerned, chiefly, with mitigating any of the same anxieties in his clients that he’d previously felt about gyms. “I was giving myself a pep talk before I went down to the gym, trying to time it so I knew it wouldn’t be busy,” he recalls, “because I didn’t want people to judge me. All that gym anxiety is taken away from the space that I work in.”

McDonald started Fitness with Compassion out of a private gym that’s ideal for working out during the pandemic. No crowds. Just you and the trainer. “A lot of my cleints come from feeling guilty about eating too many potato chips on the couch during the pandemic,” he says. “The place that I come from is much deeper than just on the couch, so I get it when people are embarrassed or feel the shame from not taking care of themselves for a time.” And for McDonald, that’s totally okay. Fitness with Compassion is truly a safe space, no matter where clients happen to be on their fitness journey.

“Although the physical health benefits are great, that’s not why I do it,” he adds. “I do it to keep myself sane, to keep myself grounded. I do it for mental health.”

Approached from a mental health standpoint, exercise feels less daunting—it feels like what it is: a reward, a gesture of self-love. “One thing that I’ve discovered, when I push myself physically and I get to a place where I think I’m about to give up, I just push through,” he says. “That gives me confidence and prepared me for other parts of my life.”

Exercise also provides an opportunity to connect with others. “It’s nice to chat with people and help motivate them through different things,” McDonald says. Finding like-minded folks to share in vulnerability and support can go a long way to help keep them inspired, and “is more important than what personal trainers are trained for.”

Photo by Destine Bouavichith

To get back in shape, McDonald says, “The hardest part of starting any exercise in starting. Once you start and you keep the routine, people stay in that.” But it’s not easy. “I have my own personal trainer,” he adds, “that I see twice a week, and I have a membership to another group fitness gym—because if I don’t pay for it, if I don’t schedule it, I won’t do it.”

McDonald maintains that the most importance thing to exercise—above pecs and traps and glutes—is self-love. “Stretch and be kind,” he says. “That’s my motto.”


Book a consultation with Will McDonald by filling out a form online at www.fitnesswithcompassion.com or by contacting him via email at [email protected]. Will McDonald is a certified personal trainer specializing in women’s fitness, senior fitness, corrective exercise, weight loss, and more. 

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