In the first of my 12 part personal training photography series, I was joined by Melissa Farrell of Strengthen and Conquer Fitness. I met Melissa about a year and a half ago when I found the Las Vegas Runners Meetup Group that she and her, fiancé, Jeremy, organize. The group’s main website is http://www.lasvegasrunners.com/.  Melissa is a CPT and RRCA Certified Running Coach. Other areas of training include strength training, race preparation, TRX suspension, and nutrition.

While training for a marathon, I found I was having some trouble staying on track. I heard Melissa was a trainer and hired her to help me out. She now trains me for all my marathon races.
This post kicks off the personal training photography series, where I highlight trainers around the Vegas Valley. My personal project started out in the direction of photographing folks in a commercial fitness focus. I wanted to start doing in-studio shots and this was a way to get that experience and find my style.
The location for the shoot was at Body Focus Fitness, a gym that Melissa trains at. Melissa asked Jeremy to act as her client for the shoot. I had lined up two friends to assist, Jennifer and David, and secured a make-up artist, Cassidy Eckman. Skip Haas, owner at Body Focus Fitness, let us use his gym and he brought in a client, Liana Hamilton, an IFBB Pro… I was using them in the background.
I had two umbrella lights on either side of Melissa and Jeremy. I wanted to get an angled look to the shots so I tried using my wide angle most of the time. I like the perspective it gives. Also used my regular 18-200mm from different positions; floor and ladder. The flash I used was an on camera speedlite flash… I don’t think that did much good.  I was too far away.
As it turns out, this first attempt didn’t give me what I had envisioned, nor as many shots as I would have liked. That said, it was a fun experience and will take what I learn on to the next session. It was successful in that I get to share with you Melissa’s background and story. She is an awesome friend and coach!
Here’s the transcript from the video interview. You can also watch it on YouTube. The audio isn’t great; I have to figure out how to get my mic to work with my camera so there isn’t as much background noise.

Welcome everyone I’m Barb Davids here with Melissa Farrell of Strengthen and Conquer. We’re kicking off a 12 part personal trainer series where I’ll highlight trainers around the Vegas valley. So let’s get started!
Thanks for being here Melissa, I appreciate your time.
So, I have a series of questions for you. And you can take it wherever you want… so the first one is tell me the story of how you got started, how you got to where you are today.
Melissa: Sure. So I have a finance degree. Started out in finance. After I thought I’d make all this money and it would be great, be really successful, good. Well after about 5, 6 years, I decided it was awful, it was too stressful, not enough time to take care of myself, do anything for myself, I at the time had a trainer, who I had the whole time I lived in San Francisco… probably was the one person who got me into training to be honest. I liked being in an environment that was always positive, everyone’s always happy when they leave, you’re helping people, it’s like you never have a bad day.
It took me a few months to finally make the leap, but when I did, there’s always stuff in the beginning building up the clientele, but it was so much better and it felt so much happier, it’s just a better lifestyle.
I think that’s the best way I can put it.
Barb: Very cool. Interesting, finance to personal training, that’s so opposite.
Melissa: It took me a long time to make the jump, I’m gonna be honest… It was a tough move. Like am I going down? Am I downgrading? Upgrading? It took me awhile to rationalize in my head and do it.
Barb: What areas do you specialize in?
Melissa: Right now I focus a lot on my run coaching. Most of my clients I try to focus on strength, a lot of strength building. I believe that is what keeps people from being injured and helps in many sports, no matter what you’re doing, if you’re running, if your lifting, if you’re just living, and trying to be functional, if your body’s strong and can catch you when you fall or protect you when you hit something outside that’s how you’re gonna stay healthy. So most of the run coaching I’ve done some power lifting clients some weight loss clients, that kind of thing so I’m all across the gamut anywhere from teenagers to 60+. But I think what I like doing the most is the run coaching and just and seeing people progress in their running and improve and see how happy that makes them.
Barb: Yeah, full disclaimer, she is my running coach as well and so I can totally a test to the whole strength training piece of it.
Melissa: She’s not bias at all.
Barb: No, not at all. I know when you had me start doing that, I was like, shit, this is so hard, but it really did make a difference. So that was good.
Describe how you read clients, how you read someone and push them to do their best, to do more.
Melissa: So everyone is completely different. One thing I can’t stand is when trainers come with this “fits everyone” type of program, and you can tell when people don’t really listen to their clients or don’t interact personally with their clients, it’s like I’m the trainer, you’re the client that’s it. I’m gonna give you stuff to do, you do it. And I hate that so I tray to be very personal with my clients, get to know them, become friends with them. Because everyone needs a different kind of push or they have different triggers, so things that will make them…
Barb: Like beer!
Melissa: Oh the beer! It’s very hard, side note, very hard to get people to stop drinking beer during training. Almost impossible. So everyone has these different triggers that will either demotivate them or motivate them and I like to use those so bringing something up to a client or having them do a certain exercise or activity is really just gonna suck all their energy out, you’re not gonna want to do it all, I’m gonna avoid that. And on the other end of the spectrum, if something makes them really excited and they get into that then I’ll focus on that then I’ll tweak it so that they can achieve whatever goal they’re trying to achieve. I guess a good example would be like a runner getting ready for a race, they hate certain strength training exercises, but I know the purpose of doing those or trying to hit certain muscles, just try to find something else or squeak it in or sandwich in between two things they love and hopefully it’ll just disappear. You gotta be really personal and realize that everything needs to be flexible.
Barb: I know you’ve done that for me too. For example, I didn’t like the sets of three, so like do this three times, do that three times, do this three times, I do better mentally if it’s like two, two, two. I can finish the two sets so it’s more two instead instead of three. So you changed that up for me and that made a huge difference in my wanting to actually finish what I’m supposed to do.
Melissa: Exactly. I don’t think a client’s every said anything like I really don’t like this or I don’t want to do this, I don’t think I’ve ever said no you have to. I can always tweak it so it will fit or work better for them. I don’t think you should ever say no that’s not gonna work.
Barb: Here’s the good one that everybody always asks… tell me your number one excuse and how you respond from clients or somebody getting started.
Melissa: What do you think it is?
Barb: I’m gonna say it’s either I have no time or no money.
Melissa: Alright, so the no money thing seems to come up a lot, but, I’ve never encountered that with any clients. The time issue. That’s what I was gonna say is the biggest one. I have a lot of teachers who work when they get home, they work all day, they work on the weekends so the time issue is a big thing. Or they have to go in early. I can get up at three in the morning and do a workout, I know normal people will not do that so that’s a problem. So the time is definitely the biggest thing so, on the flexibility thing, again, being the key point… I try to work it in whatever time they have on certain days, then I’ll try to keep it in with that time constraint. It’s only an hour. What are you doing for the rest of the day? Try to find an activity they’re doing that you can put the workouts in instead which you can do. There’s always down time, there’s always an hour in your day to do something to help you live longer and be able to work with more ease or be able to function with ease, it’s just, not like I’m trying to sell them something that’s not going to benefit them. And if there’s days where they have more time, and we can do more, then great! I’ll throw in more stuff. I try to move stuff around and be very flexible. About everything. Because I know people are not on these strict schedules and things come up and things change, you get hurt, you get sick; you gotta be able to move stuff around and change it up.
Barb: Tell me how you stay motivated.
Melissa: Structure. I work very well with structure.
Barb: Like your 3am get up?
Melissa: Not every day. Not every day I get up at 3am. Structure like… I plan out my weeks every week so I know what I’m doing on a certain day. I have my own coach who does my workouts so I know what I’m doing every day during the week. I know my schedule. I know what time during the day I’m going to do my workouts. I know what I’m working towards if I have a race coming up. If I don’t have a race it makes it really hard. But there’s gotta be some goal in mind because if you’re just going and working out or just going to exercise and you have no idea why you’re doing it then you’re not going to do it.
Barb: So when you don’t have race, what are some things that pop in to your head to make you still stay going?
Melissa: So if I don’t have a race, it’s generally a little lighter. Enjoy down time but it’s going to be lighter.
Barb: But you still get out there.
Melissa: Yep. So I’ll try to do different activities. So primarily for training it’s biking, running, little yoga, strength training. So if I’m not training for anything and I have that freedom to do other things, I’ll bring in some new stuff like hiking or maybe yoga, the things I don’t do during training just to try to mix it up. That goes the same with clients too. If you have them do the same workout every week, most people don’t like that. Even though I’m okay with that, most people won’t be okay with that. So you gotta switch up the workouts or throw in new activities, try to get feedback from the activities. And that works. Number 1 I say you have a goal, some sort of goal.
Barb: You eluded to this in a previous question. Do you have a personal trainer?
Melissa: Yes, I have had one since before I became a trainer. So, I was pretty much over weight, unhealthy until maybe college. So when I graduated college, started working, I was really focused on getting healthy, getting in shape, easier way to do it, get a trainer. So you don’t walk in the gym and not know what you’re doing, when you’re doing it. It’s just way easier. So I had a trainer then to help me lose weight and I stuck with the same trainer, we got along really well, he knew what he was doing, very knowledgable. He helped me when I trained for my power lifting events, I had him all the way until I left San Francisco and moved to Vegas.
Now I work with a friend of mine, Nancy, who’s an endurance coach, and she helps me with my runs and duathlons and that kind of thing. I think it’s important to find someone to work with that knows what you’re doing, like your event, whatever you wanted to work on, strength training, weight loss, whatever it might be. But you also need to look for a person that you get along with personally. You don’t have to be great friends, but really you gotta get along with them. Or you’re not gonna respect what they tell you, you’re not gonna listen to what they say when they try to motivate you, it’s not gonna work. You need to have that rapport. So yeah, I’ve had a trainer ever since and I plan on having one as long as I need one, as long as I can have one. It just makes it that much easier. I always try to tell people it’s kind of like if you’re an accountant… and you do someone’s taxes, you don’t want to go home and do your own taxes. You need to do everyone’s schedules, keep them motivated, I need someone, I want someone to do it for me. You can really easily talk yourself in and out of things too. So you need that outside voice to say, thesis what you’re doing, this is what you need to do, when you’re going to do it, when you need to take a break, all those components.
Barb: Excellent! Is there anything else you want to share about the personal training area?
Melissa: A little advice if you are looking for a trainer. I’d say look first. Watch the people first, see how they train, see how they interact with their clients. You know you can get those trainers who on their cell phone, not paying attention… I don’t know why you’d want to work with them. You want to make sure it’s somebody you can get a long with. Maybe try to talk to them a little bit first. Trainers and clients change all the time. If it’s not working out or you want to try something new or it’s not a good fit, tell them, find someone else. It’s a relationship so you really need to treat it as such so if you’re not getting along or it’s just not a good fit, change it, end it. That’s how it goes.
Barb: Thanks for being here today. Thanks for answering all my questions. Appreciate it. That’s all we have folks. I’m going to put some links down at the bottom and a link to Melissa’s website. Thanks! Bye!
Melissa offers training sessions are available in home, outdoors or the gym.
415-994-9552
Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.
Photo Shoot Gear:
Canon 60D
Canon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6
Yongnuo YN560-II-USA Speedlite Flash
White Flash Diffuser
32″ Umbrella Lights