Name: Shawn Reid
Hometown: Portsmouth, Virginia
Current Location: Chinatown, Philly
Instructor at: Sweat Fitness
Classes taught per week: 4: Tuesday 7 PM at Queen Village: Super Strong; Wednesday 7:15 PM at Old City: Boot Camp, Friday 1:15 PM at Old City: Raw, Saturday 12 PM at Old City: Weekend Warrior, plus personal training
We were so excited to interview Shawn for our FIRST instructor interview for many reasons. Shawn’s classes are easily some of our favorites in the city—they’re challenging AF, and his approach is unique. He starts each class by talking at the front of the room, adding a personal touch and making his students feel comfortable. In class, Shawn has mentioned small tidbits about his life, so we knew he had an interesting story to tell. We were so happy when Shawn agreed to meet with us, and we both left our interview with him feeling grateful, enlightened, and inspired. We hope reading this will make you feel the same!
Philly Fit Foodies: How did you end up at Sweat Fitness?
Shawn Reid: When I moved to Philly, I worked at a place called Iron Works. I was a total meathead. After Iron Works was bought by Sweat, I moved there and met two trainers who humbled me, making me see things in a different light. One of those trainers was Holly Waters, who is hands down the best trainer in this city. I had the privilege of working with her for three years before she moved on, and she changed my entire outlook on fitness. She is 5′ 2”, 100-some pounds, and extremely fit—she wakes up and just decides to run marathons. She owns Fitness Alive in South Philly now. She whittled me down from ~245 to ~185. I wasn’t paying her for training, the transformation just happened by working side by side with her. Working with her showed me that it’s not always about how much weight you can lift—it’s about what you can do and pushing yourself to get out of your comfort zone.
PFF: You’ve joked in class about being a fat kid…how did you get into fitness?
SR: I grew up poor. I had a single parent and was an only child. We ate the cheapest things possible. My mom was a seamstress and worked all the time, so eating whatever, in mass quantities, was my thing. I wrestled from seventh grade through sophomore year of college. I was a heavyweight because I didn’t feel like getting in shape.
Then, on April 22, 1993, my mom died at age 40. I was 20 and in college. I self-medicated to deal with that for 12 years—drugs, food, all the things. I regret that time because I robbed myself of 12 years of my life. I went from 210 to 340 pounds during that time. I was a C-cup, wearing sports bras—no joke.
On April 9, 2005, I had a cardiac episode. I died twice—once in the ambulance and once in the hospital. The doctors told me I needed a heart transplant, but I refused it. They released me from the hospital and told me to go home and “walk to feel better”. What I didn’t know, is that when they used a catheter to look at my heart, they nicked my femoral artery. I was at home taking blood thinners that were prescribed to me, while simultaneously bleeding out. So, back to the hospital I went for yet another procedure.
After all of this, I was bedridden for four months. My neighbor Nicole brought me a Men’s Health Magazine, an Arizona Iced Tea, and an oatmeal raisin cookie. The Men’s Health Magazine stuck with me.
After I was cleared, I started walking every day. I worked up to walking 90 minutes per day, for a full year. After walking and losing some weight, I got the code to my friend’s gym and started going every single day. I knew I had to keep going—if I stopped moving, I wouldn’t make a change. I got down from 340 to 230 pounds.
One Monday afternoon, my girlfriend and I were walking through the super market. Out of nowhere, this mass of man—a 6′ 8” giant human being—came up to me and said, “You look good, but I can make you look better.” This was Big Dave. He handed me his card and told me to meet him at the address listed the next day. I went home and was talking to my girlfriend like, “What do I do?” and I said, “Look at him, I’m gonna go.” I showed up at the gym, and for three hours, he beat the shit out of me. When I went to leave, he said, “See you tomorrow.” He trained me five days per week, for three months, for no money. He never asked for a dime. He saw something in me that needed to come out. While we trained together, we talked about life. He was the father figure I never had. And then, all of a sudden, he disappeared. I came to work out one day, and he was gone—no goodbye, no nothing.
After Big Dave vanished, I joined the YMCA. I knew I couldn’t stop working out. After three months of heavy lifting, my ego got the best of me. I was a meathead. That was all I knew. That was how Big Dave taught me.
I eventually started adding in some cardio. One year after he disappeared, I was on the elliptical on a Wednesday afternoon. All of a sudden, I see Big Dave to my left. He goes, “What are you doing? Training for a marathon? Get back in the weight room.” I got off the elliptical, shook his hand, went back into the weight room, and never saw him again.
Big Dave gave me the key to a whole new way of thinking and living life. I could never repay him for his kindness. But I do. He beat the shit out of me for no money, and I would do this job for no money. I never want anyone to have to go through what I went through.
This job and these classes are my way of trying to pay Big Dave back, because you never know who you can help. There’s no better feeling than to come here and see someone who used to suck ass and doesn’t now, or to see someone who struggles but never quits. I don’t care what you look like. You can’t assume anything about people—they have to prove it. I can’t make anybody do anything. All I can do is give you the template and say, “Here’s what you can do,” and go from there. You come in that door, or any place I teach, and I’m gonna make you have to be better than you think you are. I’m gonna force you to look at yourself and say, “I can do more than I’m doing”—I will take credit for all of that.
I’ve been given the ability to infuse people with self-confidence and self-belief. It’s a privilege and an honor. This job is a gift, and I’m grateful for it. People talk about having “a calling”. I think this is what I’m meant to do for the betterment of the people around me. You never know whose life you can make better until you have the opportunity to make it better, and I think that’s what I do with this stuff.
PFF: Can you talk a little bit about your diet?
SR: I used to eat a lot of processed foods and salt. After my heart attack, the hospital put me on a restrictive diet. When I got out of the hospital, I was on 16 medications, and now, thanks to my revamped lifestyle, I’m down to two. I don’t eat out much. My girlfriend is a fantastic cook and makes restaurant-quality, healthy food for me. I don’t drink coffee, soda, or tea. I just drink water and my shakes in the morning. I’m the most boring guy. The only thing that changes is dinner. I eat low-sodium, high-protein, medium-fat, and medium-carbs. I do have a chip fettish (my favorite chips are UTZ Smokin’ Sweet BBQ). People say, “Don’t you miss this, don’t you miss that?” Once you delete it from your brain, that’s it.
I don’t believe in keto, paleo, tracking macros, etc. Keeping it simple is the best way to maintain. If I want to cut weight, I won’t kill my calories, I’ll do more work. The more you have to think about it, the harder it is to keep it long term. If it looks too good, don’t eat it. If you don’t know where it comes from, don’t eat it. If you eat out more than you eat in, it’s a problem. If you don’t cook for yourself, it’s a problem.
I don’t believe in “diets”. I believe in change. I believe diets are temporary, but to make a lasting change, you have to revamp yourself and make yourself different. You have to completely change your outlook to truly benefit going forward.
PFF: You’ve briefly mentioned your sobriety in class, would you mind talking about that?
SR: I drank in college. When my mom died, I became an alcoholic. Once I got healthy, after the heart attack, I started drinking again, heavily at times. I eventually realized the chemical imbalance that alcohol caused my heart wasn’t worth it. So I quit. I changed my programming. For me, if I say “that’s it”, that’s it. There are better ways to spend your time and money and get your fix of happiness.
PFF: How do you spend your free time?
SR: When I’m not working or working out, I read comic books, watch TV with my dog and my girlfriend, and play video games. I’m a huge nerd. I’m boringly regimented. My days are the same, and it keeps me accountable, because at one point, I wasn’t.
PFF: Is there anything else you want the Philly fitness community to know?
- Find Holly Waters. Look her up on Facebook or Instagram.
- Nothing worth having comes easy. Anything you want, you have to suffer for. If it comes easy, it’s not worth a damn thing. That saying came to me. I didn’t have it at first. I didn’t understand it at first. Now, I give it out to others. You want to lose 20 pounds in a month? Is it really worth it if you get it tomorrow?
- I love what I do, and I hope that comes through to my clients. There’s nothing I enjoy as much as being able to have a positive effect on people. This is what I was meant to do, and I know it. I jokingly call myself “the People’s Champion”. I work for you. I’m very grateful, blessed, honored and privileged.
This post is part of our instructor interview series—where we’ll shine a spotlight on some of our favorite instructors in Philly. Want to be featured or recommend an instructor for us to interview? Contact us to get started.