Name (nationality): Diana Tsuruda (American) and Mitch Kondo (Japanese)
Occupations: Diana: dancer, yoga and bodywork instructor; Mitch: fitness coach; both with FlexHIIT Tokyo
Likes: Diana: dance, eco-friendly living, learning new things; Mitch: training, surfing
1. What first got you interested in fitness as a profession? DT: I started dancing and doing cheer in junior high school and continued on through high school and college. I was actually cheer captain, and I enjoyed leading practices and organizing groups. I continued this passion in teaching dance and running several dance teams throughout my life. I always loved the warmup, stretching, technique and conditioning exercises in dance class, and I enjoy doing repetitive movements and perfecting them. Naturally, I gravitated toward teaching yoga and fitness. When I was younger, I was not good at sports and thought I was unathletic, but I realized that I could still strengthen my body doing other fitness activities. When I took a break from any sort of workout, I felt a loss of energy and also wasn’t as happy. Teaching fitness is a great way to always workout and be conscious of my health because I have to practice what I preach. MK: I always liked training and fitness when I was younger, but I started getting more interested in it when I was in my mid-20s. My wife pushed me in the direction of turning it into a profession.
2. How did you meet? DT: I’m friends with Mitch’s wife, who is a professional belly dancer — one of the best in Tokyo in my opinion. He was looking for a partner to do group training and approached me because he knew I taught yoga.
3. What inspired you both to start FlexHIIT Tokyo? DT: We both wanted to bring our strengths to FlexHIIT, and the name reflects what we are both good at teaching. I lead the Performance Flexibility (Flex) training, and Mitch leads the High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). I usually focus on flexibility and maximizing mobility for dance and yoga, and Mitch does more personal training and progressive overload weight training. Because of our collaboration, I started more weight training and Mitch started stretching more. I noticed how HIIT training also benefitted my body, and he also has increased his flexibility. So through our own experience and based on feedback from our students, we feel being flexible and strong is a great combination as a workout for anyone!
4. What’s the most rewarding part about coaching? MK: Seeing people enjoy the programs I put together for the class. Feeling and seeing the change in their body from exercise and good nutrition. DT: I’ve had many injuries, from a herniated disc in my neck to bone spurs in my feet, torn knee and ankle ligaments — dancers put themselves through a lot. I was also hit in a motorcycle accident. After that, my body and balance was not the same, even though I didn’t have any broken bones. I’ve always believed that we have the power to heal ourselves, so I delved into studying anatomy and function, yoga and Pilates, and I found ways to heal myself. I say this because I strongly believe that if I can fix my body, anyone can if they have the right tools. I find it gratifying to help a student connect with their body to have a stronger center, to be more flexible and to fix some technique where they can perform better as a dancer, yogi or athlete.
5. Why is it important to work on both strength and flexibility? DT: We need flexibility to maintain mobility and prevent injuries. It’s no secret as we age, we lose flexibility and muscle mass — we know the old adage, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” However, if you incorporate stretching and some form of weightlifting in your life, you can prevent this loss. People do not need to become a contortionist, or a bodybuilder, but the average person can definitely maximize their stretch and build more muscle. After a one-hour class, or even 10 minutes of stretching, people can feel the difference in better alignment and reduced stiffness. In modern society, most people are working at desks more than stretching and lifting weights. So even training once a week helps.
6. Is there a muscle group or exercise that even people who work out often tend to neglect? MK: The posterior chain like your glutes, hamstrings, upper back and calves get neglected often. They’re the ones you want to be training the most. DT: I find that most people do not know how to specifically engage their deep abdominal muscles until they are shown. Also, there is an art in how to use breath to support movement and exercises. In dance, yoga and Pilates exercises, we train very detailed movements in strengthening the core. These approaches overlap in physical therapy and also athletes are often referred to do dance, yoga, or Pilates to improve their performance.
7. Are there any certain measurements you maintain for your job, or do you have your own personal goals? DT: People should be committed when they come to class. Since our classes are taken voluntarily, all the people who come to FlexHIIT are definitely gung-ho about working out as best as they can for the hour. We have 20 minutes of intense HIIT training and 30 minutes of flexibility training and assisted stretching. Usually people are wiped out, in a good way, at the end of a session. The dedication of each participant makes the group session fun and motivating because everyone is “suffering” together. ( I say “suffering” in jest). It isn’t an easy workout, but it isn’t too hard. You get out what you put in.
8. Is a gym empire in FlexHIIT Tokyo’s future? DT: I like to take things step by step. I think if people like FlexHIIT, it will naturally grow and then we can adapt our business plan and eventually build an empire!
9. What would you say to people who claim they “don’t have time” to workout? MK: Most people nowadays know that is BS, so I don’t really get (that excuse) a lot. It’s my job to help them find the time to train and make sure that they get their a— to the gym. A good way to make sure you get some time to train is to pick a few days and times you can go the gym and work your schedule around it. Work your schedule around your training, not your training around your schedule. (I got that from somewhere but I can’t remember where.) DT: I say we have to change our mindset and really understand the difference it will make in our lives to do some sort of stretching and resistance training every day. I don’t do a full workout every day, but I always do a few stretches, like a cat or dog stretch; I raise my arms over my head, loosen my shoulders, stretch my neck and hips, go down and touch my toes. I understand I probably do this more than the average person. Everyone is different, but everyone definitely has five to 10 minutes a day to do a plank, some pushups and stretching. I confess: I do stretches in the bath or shower. It sounds funny, but I incorporate my stretching with something that I do daily so now it is a habit. While the hair conditioner is setting in two to three minutes, I do stretches to release my shoulder and neck tension. I recommend making achievable goals though so you don’t feel guilty if you don’t workout. It doesn’t have to be every day, and it doesn’t have to be for long. Once you start working out, your body starts to want it like food, so your workout regiment will become longer and increase in intensity.
10. What’s the difference between health and wellness? DT: Health refers to the condition of physical body, whereas wellness refers to broader aspects such as mental and emotional well-being. Wellness reflects more of the lifestyle choices one makes to achieve a balance in health, which can incorporate healthy eating choices, working out, meditation, social activities and anything that helps you adopt behaviors that enhance your health.
11. Is Japan’s gym culture changing? DT: I still see more men at my gym on the weights. And I have more women in my yoga and dance classes than men. I definitely see an increase in the number of personal training gyms everywhere I go, but so maybe more women are getting into resistance training. I still meet many men who confess that they are so tight that they avoid stretching or yoga class, but want to increase flexibility. I don’t have so many women who say they want to gain more muscles, but they do want to overall be fit. In FlexHIIT we want to have an equal number of women and men — so far, we have a good balance.
12. Do you have a go-to pump-up jam? DT: I personally don’t workout to music. I am probably rare in that. If I am on the treadmill, I watch YouTube videos! Sometimes I watch cooking videos, or dance videos. Other than being on the treadmill, I don’t listen to music. My workouts are mainly dance and yoga, and for yoga, I like to put on repetitive sounds of nature like waves, and for dance I practice to the music that I am doing choreography to! MK: “Duality,’ by Slipknot. Good stuff! Really gets you going.
13. Athleisure — suitable to wear in daily life, yes or no? DT: Yes, athleisure all day. Half of my wardrobe is now yoga pants. Also I like comfy mixed with a little bling like skirts, dresses, suits and sneakers!
14. What three things are always in your fridge? MK: Yogurt drinks for my kid, eggs, some sort of cooked chicken. DT: Eggs, avocados, broccoli.
15. Are treadmill desks or ergonomic chairs worth it? DT: I think that any efforts made to improve health and alignment are worth it. I like the fact some people can sit on a yoga ball at work or have standing desks. I haven’t experienced a treadmill desk or ergonomic chair, but a comfortable chair has value! If you can concentrate on work tasks and walk on a treadmill, why not? MK: I don’t know much about treadmill desks, but ergonomic chairs are designed to help you sit comfortably for a long time. But you shouldn’t be (sitting a lot) anyways: There are a lot of people nowadays with low back problems, and sitting for long periods of time is one of the main reasons.
16. Who is your role model? MK: I don’t really have any. But I do admire people who work hard and make something of themselves. DT: I don’t have one specific role model. I admire a lot of people both famous and non-famous, people who do great things out of love, people who are intelligent, passionate about their work and beliefs, and set out to make their mark or make the world a better place.
17. Do you collect anything? MK: Surf gear and boards, eye glasses, shoes. DT: I have a lot of clothes, costumes and accessories. I don’t specifically have a collection of something though. I love the things I have, but I definitely am always trying to declutter, Marie Kondo-style.
18. It’s your cheat day and you can eat anything you want. What are you having? MK: I’m not on any super strict diet at the moment, just making sure I get the right amount of protein, carbs, fats and veggies. But if I was going to have a cheat day, I would say a nice juicy burger. DT: I don’t have a cheat day. The majority of my diet is healthy such as lean meats, lots of fruits and veggies, and a small percentage of is rice and other carbs . My pleasure foods are dark chocolate, cookies, sugary coffees, and occasional fried foods and ice cream.
19. If you had a useless superpower, what would it be? DT: I would love to bend myself in half in all ways, and be able to make people flexible … but that would be useful wouldn’t it? MK: To fly, because you can go anywhere you want. Your choices are endless.
20. What’s your favorite inspirational quote or saying DT: I have three: “If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it,” by Yogi Bhajan; “Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration,” by Thomas Edison; and “Be nice to people. You never know what’s going on. Ever,” by Caroline Flack. MK: “Get active, stay active.” That’s the one thing a lot of us don’t do anymore. And it sounds cool, bang!