Well & Kind believes in wellness for all of us, including and especially those of us with unique needs. Our April interview is with Jon Kalnas, a personal trainer and sports performance coach at Critical Mass NJ, a cutting edge gym Shrewsbury, NJ. Jon coaches athletes and motivated individuals from school age through senior-citizenhood, imparting the wisdom he’s gained through his years as an All-American university-level track and field athlete, certified weight lifting coach, and mentor to dozens of athletes who have gone on to compete at the college level. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, which gives him a unique insight into his clients’ needs and motivations to meet the challenges that training presents.
Anyone who has been around the Jersey health scene knows that the guys at Critical Mass NJ aren’t messing around—the owners eat, sleep and breathe their dedication to performance of the whole person, mind and body. Jon brings this philosophy to the group of teens and young adults he trains weekly at Critical Mass. Everyone in the group has unique abilities ranging from genetic disorders to being on the Autism Spectrum, but to Jon, every person who walks in the door is an athlete in training. Here’s our conversation from April 3rd, 2018:
Well & Kind: What’s your health and wellness philosophy?
Jon Kalnas: Preparation predicts outcome. If you eat and sleep properly, you’ll be less stressed and be able to perform better. You have to be ready to deal with an adrenaline rush and know how to react if something goes down.
W&K: If something goes down—can you elaborate on that?
JK: The September 11th attacks got me thinking about what we can do when something unexpected happens. Now, especially as a parent, I’m always looking around me, assessing for threats. Survival is our number one job along with protecting our tribes, our families. When you train, you prepare yourself physically to face stressors. If you stress yourself in the gym, you’re better prepared for stress outside the gym. If you’re not eating a nourishing diet, you’re not going to be able to prepare yourself physically. You’re an athlete in life and what you’re doing now is going to protect you in the future, whether that’s protecting yourself from danger or from disease.
W&K: I know that you train a range of body types and abilities at Critical Mass. Tell me about the group that you train on Wednesday afternoons.
JK: I train a group of 16 to 29 year old’s with different disabilities. I have clients with Down Syndrome, Angel Man’s Syndrome, Autism. During those times we try to keep the gym lower stimulus [Side note—there’s a disco ball in the gym, but that’s a post for another day] and we are very consistent with what we do. Repetition from week to week is very important. We’ll go through a routine of ten exercises and might only change one part of that routine from week to week.
W&K: How do you warm up if the kids are hesitant to get started?
JK: We’ll do an exercise to get everyone aware of themselves. I’ll have the group sitting down and I’ll help them focus their attention by calling out something, like a color, and if it’s something that they’re wearing, they have to get up as quickly as possible.
W&K: What would you say to individuals with unique needs or their families whose everyday life feels like an act of survival? Why would they want to add the stress of a workout regimen to an already stressful day? Sometimes getting dressed, or eating, or getting out of the house, or using transportation takes a heavy physical and mental toll.
JK: I get that. I’m the dad of a baby and a toddler, I know that families and the athletes themselves are drained by day to day life. I at least have downtime when my kids are sleeping, some of the kids I train haven’t slept more than two hours in a row since they were born—and they’re teenagers. Think about that.
W&K: That sounds completely overwhelming, so why add the complication of going to the gym?
JK: Because movement is medicine. The parents I work with are very engaged and determined to be active. The kids don’t complain about it being tiresome—kids want to move, whether they’re in a wheelchair, or have other issues, it’s essential for all of us to be physical. You have to try to do something every day that allows your body to move in different ways.
W&K: What’s your advice for people who want to get started have unique needs or care for someone with unique needs?
JK: Look online for someone who is a specialist, don’t be afraid. Search. There’s plenty of people out there doing what I’m doing. Ask for word of mouth referrals. Just get out there.
W&K: In all of your years of experience as an athlete, coach and trainer, what is one thing that you wish everyone knew?
JK: No matter what your physical limitations are, there are great levels that every person can achieve. You’re going to get that dopamine rush when you achieve something physical, and once kids get into a program and get that, they will be addicted to an active lifestyle. And kids have to have a cheering section. If you have a kid who's got people standing behind them, and they feel good about what they’re achieving, their life is going to be positive. They’ll be happy, and that’s what’s going to make for the best lifestyle for them overall.
To schedule with Jon or check out the full range of services at Critical Mass, New Jersey, you can visit the gym’s website at https://criticalmassnj.com or find Jon and the rest of the Critical Mass team on Instagram @CriticalMassNJ or Twitter @Criticalmassnj.