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Celebrity Trainer Shawnee Harkins Discusses Background & Getting Results!

In the following interview Shawnee discusses her background, her high profile TV roles, how she gets great results for her clients and how she herself stays in top shape. See how she does it!

Article Summary:
  • At 18, Shawnee was in an accident and paralyzed from the neck down.
  • She made a full recovery and became a well known personal trainer.
  • Shawnee was a fitness leader on Dr. Phil's "Ultimate Weight Loss Race".
  • Achieving ones best physical shape takes incredible commitment and overriding determination to succeed. Even with such qualities, shaping up can be quite the struggle. This, and the increasing realization that a well-developed physique can enhance overall health and vitality, is why personal trainers are in such demand these days.

    One of best personal trainers currently operating is Shawnee Harkins. Past participant on the Hydra Executives reality TV show and current Dr. Phil "Ultimate Weight Loss Race" health and fitness leader, Shawnee has become one of the USA's most respected and sought after personal trainers.

    With her no nonsense, yet caring and sensitive attitude to helping her clients meet their physical expectations, Shawnee, 27, gets phenomenal results, fast. Perhaps her success could be attributed to the fact she was once in their position.

    At age 18, all was going great for Shawnee. An energetic youth, and always very fit and active, she trained hard and because of her competitive nature, will to win and desire to serve her community in a positive way, decided to undergo testing for acceptance into the fire service. Three months after arriving in California, from her home state of Texas, and just prior to beginning her examinations, she was involved in a major car accident.

    Shawnee Harkins Gets Phenomenal Results, Fast.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Shawnee Harkins Gets
    Phenomenal Results, Fast.

    Paralyzed from the neck down, Shawnee was told she would not walk again. One year later, at age 19, she had, astonishingly, recovered and began training for the fire service. At 21 she achieved her dream of becoming a fire fighter.

    She partially attributes her amazing recovery to the personal training instruction she received after she had recovered sufficiently enough to enter the gym. It made her a believer in personal training's ability to change lives.

    While serving as a fire fighter, Shawnee considered her ordeal and contemplated how she could help others as she herself had been assisted. The choice was obvious and six years later, as a personal trainer, she is responsible for having changed the lives of many people. With her recent high profile role on The Dr. Phil Show she is fast becoming a household name as a health and fitness expert.

    In the following interview Shawnee discusses her background, her high profile TV roles, how she gets great results for her clients and how she herself stays in top shape.

    The Interview

    [ Q ] Was your involvement on the reality show, The Hydra Executives, a stepping-stone for you to greater things?

      Yes, I would say that was a stepping-stone, for sure. How I caught their attention was through an interview for I was asked to be one of the first lesbian playmates and I did a pre-playmate interview and I caught the attention of one of Showtime's casting agents. She called me and asked me to come in and audition for the reality show.

      I didn't come in right away; they kind of had to chase me down. I'm a businesswoman in health and fitness and I was thinking they wanted someone who was more into the real estate area. I knew nothing about real estate - I thought it was a real estate show. But they convinced me and it was exactly what I was looking for, so I went in and met up with the producers, flew across and started filming in Dubai.

      I was in Dubai for about four and a half months and came back close to June and started with the Dr. Phil Show for his weight loss series in July. I caught Dr. Phil's attention because I was coming with a TV show under my belt and I was definitely moving forward in the (health and fitness) industry and one thing led to another.

    Dr. Phil McGraw.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Dr. Phil McGraw.
    © 2002 - Steve Granitz.

      It wasn't just luck. What I've always done is try to set myself up as the go-to girl for fitness and as a fitness expert in my community, and a lot of that hard work eventually paid off and caught someone's attention. And I just kept pushing forward.

      VP for the company I work for - I'm the spokes-model for Custom Built Personal Training - Drew March nicknamed me "Peppy Pushy". I'm a businesswoman and I like to get things done. I don't like to waste a lot of time. If I'm excited about a project it's 'let's get it done'. But then I'm warm and sweet and bubbly about it too; I'm not one of those corporate girls who stress out too much.

      When The Hydra Executives gave me the opportunity I used this show as a platform to educate the viewers, contestants and the public about taking care of their own health and fitness and looking at their own body image, and whatever else I could do to help someone lead a more healthier and active lifestyle.

      And in doing that I helped one of the American contestants on the show - Brian - lose 30 pounds while filming the show. He was cast as this fat obnoxious Italian guy. Then after the show he was this Italian stallion, after losing all that weight. He looked so handsome.

      So it was perfect that I would leave The Hydra Executives and go right to the (Dr. Phil) weight loss series show, so that was exciting. So last year, for the majority of the year, in traveling the country and the world, I filmed two reality TV shows, was a contestant on one of them and a leader on the other.

    I Helped One Of The American Contestants On The Show Lose 30 Pounds While Filming.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    I Helped One Of The American Contestants
    On The Show Lose 30 Pounds While Filming.

      With Dr. Phil, that was where I was in my element and truly very happy because I was doing exactly what I loved to do, which was educating people about their health and fitness and showing them it doesn't have to be a bore or a core - it can be fun if you take care of yourself. And I'm still filming: we wrap up our series in April. But it was truly a blessing for me doing exactly what I loved to do.

    [ Q ] Prior to The Hydra Executives, you did have your own personal training business, right?

      I did run a personal training business. Just to give you some more background I'm a prior fire fighter and EMT. I have a medical background so I went into personal training basically as a result of my own personal story.

      I was paralyzed from the neck down at the age of 18. A car hit me and I flat lined three times and survived that, which resulted in me being a vegetable. I was told I would be in a vegetative state for the rest of my life. I sustained severe brain injury and I still have some deficits I deal with today after the accident. I'm 27 now.

      I had just moved out to California from Texas and was hit by the car three months after this. And I moved out to California to become a fire fighter; you know, I move out there as a young adult to make my mark. So, when I eventually came out of it through the grace of God, I never looked back because I felt there was a reason why I was given a second chance at life and why I was getting my strength back.

    I Never Looked Back Because I Felt There Was A Reason Why I Was Given A Second Chance At Life.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    I Never Looked Back Because I Felt There Was A
    Reason Why I Was Given A Second Chance At Life.

      I had to learn how to eat, walk and talk again. This was life altering and life changing. So I decided that I'm going to pursue my childhood dream of becoming a fire fighter and I did. And that's when I became a client, and I like to explain this to my clients right away, tell them I have sat exactly where they are sitting because I have been the client.

      What I did at the age of 19 - I had a full-time job then and was in college full-time for Fire Science Technology - was I took on a second job in a T-shirt factory at night to afford the personal trainer I had hired five days a week, for her to help get me into competitive shape to compete against these male fire fighter candidates - I'm 19 years old and I'm a woman. And I did it and became a fire fighter at the age of 21, and I loved it.

      With all the obstacles I had to overcome to be a fire fighter it was fantastic, but I felt that something was missing. I felt like I should be doing something else and what came to me was personal training. I so loved being trained by my personal trainer and she was so valuable to me in helping me to reach my goal, I thought that I could pay it forward and give something back. So that's when I became a personal trainer and a sports nutritionist.

    I Felt Like I Should Be Doing Something Else And What Came To Me Was Personal Training.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    I Felt Like I Should Be Doing Something Else
    And What Came To Me Was Personal Training.

      I trained and fire fought for a while, before making a career move into personal training. I also have an entrepreneurial heart so I thought perfect, I will open up a business in personal training and health and fitness.

      I lacked a little bit of business savvy in health and fitness so I went to work for a corporate gym, Gold's Gym, and was promoted to the position of master trainer there and once I felt comfortable enough I branched out on my own.

      I started up my own business called Toned Fitness in Long Beach, California, and worked for myself, had a great cliental base and wrote lots of fitness columns and tried to be a resource in my community for everyone to come to train and slowly but surely, that is when I started catching the industry and medias' attention.

    [ Q ] You are now widely known as an outspoken proponent of fitness and healthy living. With so many others out there preaching the same message, how is it that you have distinguished yourself as a leader in this field?

      I have mentored a few personal trainers who have the desire and the heart and you can tell they really love what they do, but they are not really making much money and become discouraged quick so they go and do something else.

      I definitely had my moments when I thought, oh my god, I left a secure fire fighter pay check and am sacrificing some income here. But I saw the big picture as being my own business owner and wanted to be the best. And that meant continuing to push.

      I'm a big believer that your thoughts will manifest into action. If you think positive, you are going to get positive and if you start thinking negative you are going to get negative.

    I'm A Big Believer That Your Thoughts Will Manifest Into Action.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    I'm A Big Believer That Your
    Thoughts Will Manifest Into Action.

      As a mentor for other trainers I just tell them to write what they want down and do whatever it takes to make it happen. It has not always been sunshine and flowers for me to get here and there have been some struggles and some pain, but it has been worth it to get to the top.

    [ Q ] How long were you out of action following your accident, how long did it take you to fully recover?

      I was in a vegetative state for several months and it took one year for me to feel remotely normal. At age 18 the car hit me and at, age 19, I started training for the fire department, at 21 I became a fire fighter. It took me one year to recover: to learn how to walk, talk and eat again - to just operate normally.

    [ Q ] After this period did you feel that you had some catching up to do, that because of what had happened you had missed out on so much and this made you extra determined to seize life upon recovering.

      That's a good question. That naturally happened. When you know your life has been spared you just look on life differently, and I did. Even when I was in my studio apartment still bedridden - I messed on myself because I couldn't go to the bathroom and there wasn't much food in my house because I couldn't go grocery shopping, and my house was a complete mess because I couldn't clean it because I couldn't walk - I was still thankful to be alive.

      Three months into my healing process I was lying in bed and looking down at the floor and thought - because I had started to gain some upper body movement - that if I could do a single push-up I would never look back - I've always been athletic - and always push forward.

    When You Know Your Life Has Been Spared You Just Look On Life Differently.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    When You Know Your Life Has Been Spared
    You Just Look On Life Differently.

      Three hours later I was down on that floor: it took me a while, but I did extend my arms fully, I did do a push-up and of course I did collapse to the floor because it took a lot out of me. And I cried and just knew this is it; there is no turning back.

      So, once I finally developed enough strength in my body to get started in a program - to get going - you couldn't stop me. Definitely, I was just going top speed because I had a goal to accomplish and I had a lot of adrenaline and motivation behind my goal, because I had nothing to lose, I had my second chance in life and that's still how I feel daily in what I do now.

      Having had some success in the industry this is now my story to tell. I do motivational speaking engagements and I hold conferences and seminars and I share this story.

      I never take life for granted anymore. I feel that my life was spared so I could help others take care of their own health and fitness. That's one thing that is different about myself compared to what I have discovered with other trainers: I really establish an emotional bond with my clients right away. I definitely ask for their trust so I can help them, but I give them trust first. I share with them myself.

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      Each client is given 100 percent commitment from me in helping them get to their goals and I know that I can deliver. Because if I was supposed to be dead, or a vegetable, and became a fire fighter, I know I can get them to drop some weight, establish proper eating habits and to adopt correct exercise technique.

      One thing I love about personal training is not only the education of health and fitness, but he emotional bond, the heart-to-heart talks that I love. And I know that my accident has made me the trainer I am today.

    [ Q ] On that note, what are some additional messages you try to covey to your clients?

      Often clients will want to impress their trainer right away and they will go full speed before they start slacking, so I let my clients know that I'm there to make their goal happen, and I will. But I ask for full commitment.

      There are days when they are going to be tired or sore and they are going to have a schedule conflict and not be able to come to the gym. So I ask them to give me 90 percent out of 100 percent commitment. I tell them that 90 percent will get them there.

      I will establish with my client the need to have an open mind to everything I share with them and to be serious. Don't waste my time because I won't waste your time. I will get you there. And be honest with me. If you didn't eat right for one week, or didn't go to the gym for a few days, then be honest with me.

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      The only way I'm going to be a good trainer for you is if I know everything that is going on. I just really like to check in with my clients and stay on top of things. And I am a hard trainer; you are training with an ex-fire fighter.

      It's not in my training style or attitude to be hard, but I do expect a total commitment from my clients. I do expect a lot from you and my clients like it like that.

      They like to be challenged because they know they are getting what they asking for. But I'm also a fun trainer. I love to laugh and joke with my clients. I don't have a drill sergeant style of training.

      I love to have fun but I do tell my clients right away that they can't give me any excuses; there are no excuses. If you didn't do something right, just tell me that you didn't and tell me why, but don't give me any excuses - because that's personal failure.

    [ Q ] And people only cheat themselves when they give excuses.


    [ Q ] There are so many people out there who would like to get into shape but don't know how to start. What would you recommend?

      I would say walk into that gym and let them know you have never been to a gym before and are looking to get your hands wet. Speak to fitness professionals and let them know, so they can point you in the right direction, and you will be safe from injury.

      They will educate you on your first visit there and guess what that's going to do? That's going to inspire and motivate them to come back again and again.

      Or I would say jump online: there are so many resources and tools online to find that gym or class. Or you could find that fitness professional who might also motivate you to meet with someone to get your butt going. For example you could log onto my website and find the nearest Custom Built Training location and fitness professional to meet with you for free.

      You could sign up for online personal training. Maybe you have a gym and just want a better-structured training program. Maybe you do not want to meet with a trainer right away. Jump onto my website and we have trainers who will get you going right away. If you put in my access code, which is shawnee-training, then you can do two free weeks of online personal training.

    For two weeks free training visit Shawnee's website and use access code: shawnee-training.

      With the economy right now, and time crunch because everybody is on the go, don't let those two reasons be an excuse for you not to get into your best ever shape and to take care of your health and fitness. So what have I done with those excuses?

      I have given you answers. Jump online and you can meet with a trainer for free and get two free weeks of online training. If you love it, and you will, it is just a monthly subscription to continue your training with a fitness professional: that's nutrition, program design, and fitness, contact with me - any questions you have I can answer those for you. Whether you are new to the game or getting back into the game, there are resources and tools out there.


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    [ Q ] You have spoken about how you motivate others to achieve their goals. With your hectic schedule, how do you stay in shape?

      Well, right now I'm training twice a day. At the end of the month of April I'm going to be at a huge women's event called the Dinah Shore Weekend, I'm there as a celebrity trainer and I have a range of activities lined up.

      I'm going to be there in a bikini so I have to be on my game, so right now I'm training twice a day. But usually I train a good once per day, four to six times a week - tomorrow I'm traveling to Phoenix for two days because we are working on a supplement line, so I'm not quite sure how I'm going to get my workout in at a gym, but I guarantee you I will do something in the hotel room.

      So I have to go to the gym: it's how I keep sane and energized, how I keep harmony and balance in my head and keep everything clear and stay focused. It's my therapy. Not only does it make me feel good on the outside, it makes me feel good on the inside.

    [ Q ] What is the predominant form of training you do? And how much of each fitness component do you work?

      Because of my busy schedule I like to do circuit training with supersets, so that means I will go into the gym and focus on three muscle groups and I'll hit some cardio beforehand - I'll do about 20 or 30 minutes of cardio on the treadmill - I'm a runner and love to run long distance - and then I'll pick the three muscle groups and superset them; I'll hit about three to four exercise activities per muscle group and I'm out of the gym and done in one hour and fifteen minutes to one and a half hours.


    What Is A Superset?

    This is a good way to train if time is limited. Supersetting involves doing two exercises with no rest in between.

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      One thing I will tell my clients is that you don't have to be in the gym for two to three hours; that's a misconception. You just have to be smart and effective and know what you are doing in the gym. You're in and you're out and you have great results.

    [ Q ] So it is all about increasing the intensity while minimizing the duration of the training for you?

      Exactly, and I'll tell you, I used to focus more on strength training when I was a fire fighter because I had to have a different type of muscular ability back then. But my body has actually changed because I'm not fire fighting anymore and I'm strictly (personal) training.

      And I'm on TV, and we all know TV adds ten pounds so I must have a leaner look. My training has completely changed so I do more endurance muscular training rather than strength muscular training.

    [ Q ] Since you are on TV, do you feel you have a responsibility to present a certain look because of this high profile role?

      Absolutely. The truth is, I'm a walking billboard, I'm my own business card - everyone looks at my body. You will either say I love your body and I would like to work with you or if you see a fat trainer you would be less likely be motivated by this trainer.

      Now I'm on TV, and have so many projects going on, I do feel a responsibility to maintain my physique so that I can continue to have that platform and that voice to talk to other people and motivate them to care for their physique.

    I Do Feel A Responsibility To Maintain My Physique So That I Can Continue To Motivate Others.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    I Do Feel A Responsibility To Maintain My Physique
    So That I Can Continue To Motivate Others.

    [ Q ] And one could have all the knowledge in the world, but if they do not know how to apply that knowledge or how to motivate other people to use it it's a waste of time, right?


    [ Q ] So, as a trainer, would you look for ways to encourage adherence to ones program rather than equip them with knowledge and leave them to figure it out on their own?

      Yes, I pride myself on being an educator in health and fitness. I'm not one of those trainers who are going to say, "Do this, do that" and not explain why. So I want my clients to know why.

      I want them to know why they are doing particular exercises, why they are resting and why there is a certain volume level. That way, when my client is done training with me, when they have reached their goals, they can go off on their own and feel confident when they are working out an will know how to manipulate a certain part of their body based on what they have learned from me.

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    [ Q ] How would you get someone into the gym who is recommended to you by a physician, but who is totally unmotivated to train?

      A couple of times I've actually met clients at their house or maybe for a cup of coffee. And these are clients who need some motivation and are scared of the gym, are a little intimidated.

      What I will do is take them out of that intimidating environment and let them know whom they will be working with where they are comfortable, in their own environment. And once I've established that trust and rapport and my commitment to them, then all I usually have to do is say, "Next time I want to see you in the gym." And it happens.

    Dr. Phil's Ultimate Weight Loss Race.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Dr. Phil's Ultimate Weight Loss Race.

    [ Q ] Getting that initial connection going is the key thing for you?

      Exactly, and that's what I love about training: the human connection. And once you've established that human connection with the client they're yours to work with.

    [ Q ] How do you convey information to your client in a manner that they can understand?

      That is actually a great question. I tend to just keep it real. They know that I know what I'm talking about. And I could use the training-medical lingo and a lot of the time I will, but then I will break it down for them and say, "This means this".

      I can give you the impressive explanatory reason as to why you should do something, but after I do that I will be real and break it down and keep it simple for you. Most of the time you just need to keep it simple.

    [ Q ] Who have been some of your more challenging clients and how have you worked with them to achieve their health and fitness goals?

      My two most challenging clients are the two I'm training right now on TV for the Dr. Phil Show: Joe and Lauren. And there is Tracy Gilchrist from my project on Lauren, at the beginning of the Dr. Phil series, had a big diva problem.

      I needed to get down into her head and her heart, and once I was there, then I could work with her. It is challenging changing someone's fitness, their lifestyle, their way of thinking, their way of eating while giving them dramatic weight loss on a TV show because there is so much that goes into it with production. So that was challenging for myself.


    Dr. Phil's Ultimate Weight Loss Race:
    Shawnee Harkins Promo!

    Check out Shawnee Harkins as she pushes her clients Joe and Lauren to their fitness goals.

      I was challenged as a trainer on the Dr. Phil TV show being able to do what I do and actually having to do it and working it around a TV set, assistants, directors, the crew, having to time it all with breaks to eat.

      But she (Lauren) and her brother (Joe) got it and they are amazing people and doing well. They have lost a lot of weight. But not only have their physiques changed, their minds have changed.

    [ Q ] What are some of the qualities you look for in a client that will ensure their outcome is a positive one?

      I train high profile people now and if I ever get a client who ever really wants to train with me and is really dedicated and committed, that's great. But once I see some slacking I have a responsibility.

      Right now I'm getting a lot of clients who want to train with me because I'm on TV and I'm a celebrity trainer and they are excited by that. But I'm not willing to put my name on someone and their health and fitness if they're not as committed as I am.

      Because the first thing that happens when a client is not losing that weight and are not happy with their body is people say to them, "Well you have a trainer". So it is the trainer's fault.

      And I let them know that they will not be blaming me because I will make sure they get there, but once I start seeing some inconsistencies and slacking and a lack of accountability then we are going to have a huge problem. Most if the time that doesn't happen.

    I Will Make Sure They Get There.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    I Will Make Sure They Get There.

      When I have a client who has lost some weight and they are starting to get really comfortable and really lazy I'll put a weighted vest on them with how much weight in pounds they have lost. They come into the workout and have no idea of what they are about to do, and I tell them that I will remind them of the weight they had lost.

      I tell them, "I want you to wear this weighted vest all throughout your workout, through your running and weights." This will remind them what it was like to be 30 or 40 pounds overweight. I tell you what: I get them back on board again.

      They get it and understand what my point was. That way I don't have to do a lot of yelling. This is how I connect with my clients while being a little passive, yet direct in the same regard.

    For two weeks free training visit Shawnee's website and use access code: shawnee-training.