We Discuss Setting Realistic Fitness Goals with Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Coach Sydney Davino

At Elevation Fitness, Dr Valente has come to know the personal trainer and fitness coach Sydney Davino. What instantly stands out is her approach that feels almost minimalist compared to many trainers: less days focusing on intense workouts, less rules about what to eat and what not to eat, and an emphasis on simple four-week intervals to assess a client's progress.


Our office took some time to discuss Davino's technique and what inspires her approach to wellness. Be sure to check out the end of the interview for some tips from Davino, as well as a free grocery guide!


Frank J. Valente, D.C.: How long have you been working as a personal trainer, and what led you to this career path?


Sydney Davino: I started working as a Personal Trainer in 2016 and have done so since.


I grew up cheerleading and I have always enjoyed movement, but my introduction to the fitness industry was extreme, confusing, and damaging to say the least. Due to poor body image, I was over-exercising and under-eating throughout high school and college, constantly gaining and losing the same 5 pounds, until it became 10 pounds, then 20+ accompanied by digestive issues, immune issues, and injuries.


I graduated from Towson University with a Bachelors of Science in Healthcare Management in May 2016. Upon graduation, I worked for an Orthopedic Surgeon's practice. I felt like a lot of the chronic cases could be managed better with movement and nutrition rather than surgery and oxys. Shortly after, I began an internship at a gym and studied to become a personal trainer. I later decided to become a Precision Nutrition Coach to help others quiet all the noise from the diet industry, learn how to fuel properly, and teach others to do the same.


FV: Tell me a little bit about your approach to training and your methodology; what sets you apart from other trainers?


SD: In regards to movement, I have done pretty much everything- running, Insanity/Beachbody DVDs, HIIT, Kickboxing, Crossfit, Bodybuilding, Powerlifting, Yoga, Qi Gong, Zumba, Orangetheory, and Pilates.


I can confidently say that none of these compare to a personalized exercise program that is tailored to the unique individual.


During the initial assessment with a client, a mix of movement screens and functional tests are used to evaluate the individual's mobility, strength, and movement patterns so that I can build their customized “program”. Each program is scaled to the individual's fitness level, movement capabilities, compensations, and injury history.


A program phase is typically four weeks long and includes 2-4 workouts per week depending on the needs of the client. Those workouts will repeat for four weeks so that the client can focus on moving better, getting stronger at the movements, and see their progress. This is more valuable than jumping around from random workouts seen on Google, not knowing what body parts they’re training.


Each program is balanced to hit every body part and movement pattern throughout the week. I like to say I "train like an athlete”. Each workout will have a blend of power development, strength training, core, mobility, conditioning, and breathing drills. Training in this way helps to develop a well-rounded and resilient person capable of moving through life, no matter their age or fitness level. 


Near the end of each four-week phase, the client and I assess their progress, their likes or dislikes within the program, and their goals moving forwards so I can build their next four-week training block. We also check in on other habits and nutrition goals at this time, if that is something we’re working on together. Coaching is a two way relationship and client feedback is an important part of it.

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Coaching is a two-way relationship

FV: What is the process of identifying, setting, and reaching goals with clients like? Is there any sort of formula you use to help clients stay consistent to achieve their goals?


SD: To help clients stay consistent and achieve their goals, my approach is “small tweaks, big results”. Most people have an all or nothing mindset, but the reality is that fitness and movement are not black and white. There is a large gray area depending on the needs, goals, timeline, injuries, lifestyle, and stress level of the individual.


People try a variety of diets that negatively affect their relationship with food OR they make changes too quickly that bring them further away from their lifestyle. This often results in cycling back and forth between being “on” or “off” a diet, and feelings of guilt and shame around food.

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Sustainable and Sane


SD: My goal is to help people get off of the diet cycle and develop a more sane & sustainable approach to their nutrition. 


I have the same approach to exercise— I start clients with what is realistic and achievable. It’s important that each workout program is sustainable for the individual.  


Someone may want to exercise 3-4x per week but when we sit down together and discuss what is actually achievable for them, their plan may really look like 30-50 minutes 2x per week to start. I want them to feel successful and not like they are a failure because we set an unrealistic goal. We build momentum, consistency, and gain some small wins before potentially increasing the duration or frequency of workouts. Plus, by celebrating each client's small wins, they become more invested and begin to enjoy the process.


FV: How did nutrition factor into your personal training, and what kind of a difference does it make to work with a client on both their fitness and their nutrition?


SD: The nutrition piece came along due to my own personal struggle with excessive dieting, fad diets, detoxes, and my experience working at the Naturopathic Doctor’s office. Being able to work with a client on both their fitness and nutrition is much more powerful than only focusing on one or the other. By integrating the fields, it helps move the needle a lot more than just fitness or nutrition alone.


There are many factors that go into well-being, weight gain, or fat loss. Having the ability to influence more than the two hours the client spends exercising per week creates a ripple effect. A client that recently came to me for fat loss is now sleeping soundly through the night. She was previously waking up throughout the night, every night, for years. This was not something I was aware of until she noticed the change and told me about her sleep quality drastically improving. Nutrition (or lack thereof) affects sleep, sex hormones, cognition, stress levels, muscle mass, digestion. Rest, recovery, and sleep also affects fat loss, hunger hormones, exercise performance, recovery, and cognition. They're all connected!


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Proper indicators of progress

FV: Is there anything that surprised you about your work, or that you didn't expect to encounter among your clients?

SD: As a young trainer, I didn’t appreciate the biomechanics of human movement. To be in this field means to be learning everyday, and I love that part of my job. Over years of coaching, I've developed an eye for movement restrictions and compensations. One of my favorite things to do is to work on those layers and help others restore their movement options. 


Exercise is not just about getting sweaty, pushing yourself, and burning calories— it should be about improving human health and moving through life pain free. Other benefits of movement are feeling better, working hard, making progress, and resting. It is rewarding to see a client's progress over a long period of time and to reflect on their hard work.


I’m surprised with how much satisfaction I get from:

seeing a client do something they were unable to do before

hearing a client was able to do x on their own without pain

seeing a client walk better than they were able to before

•helping clients improve their relationship to food

•witnessing clients feeling more confident in their bodies

seeing clients learn and grow overall!


FV: Are there any common misconceptions about training and/or nutrition that you see all the time?


SD: Some common misconceptions I see include: you have to eat less and move more, fasted cardio is necessary for fat loss, workout 5-6 days a week, spend hours doing cardio, intermittent fasting is key to fat loss, you should go low carb, keto is the best, or even eat carnivore!


I see a lot of women that have been dieting so long that their metabolism has adapted, making their BMR (basal metabolic rate) lower. They may struggle to lose weight because of this. I get infuriated when I see people suggesting that they just need to eat less and move more, or that they aren’t tracking their calories correctly. There are no more calories to cut and usually these people can benefit from increasing calories slowly and eating more.


I see people who are spinning their wheels in the gym 5-6x a week by either not following a program, following an ineffective program, or over-stressing their bodies.


FV: What's one of the biggest pieces of nutritional advice you wish more people would actually listen to?


SD: I think if more people focused on having three satisfying and nourishing meals a day (containing protein, carbs, fat, and fiber), eating slowly, and putting the fork down between bites to actually chew and taste their food, diets would be unnecessary. 



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Tuning into your hunger and fullness cues is also a game changer for people who are looking to get back in alignment with their bodies and away from the diet cycle! Check out this post here to find out how!


As a thank you for tuning in I’d like to share a free Grocery Guide that will help you plan and shop for balanced meals.


Please email "grocery guide” to sdavino17fit@gmail.com to receive yours!


If you’d like to work with Sydney or follow her helpful tips, you can find Sydney in Elevation Fitness OR at her website.


You can also follow her on Instagram for more tips!


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