Physical trainer Tomo Okabe has always followed her own agenda, and that agenda is the human body.
“Specifically, muscles,” says Okabe, her back straight and her eyes shining. “I’ve been thinking about body muscles and physical performance since my early teens.”
Indeed, when Okabe was in high school, she chose lifting weights over hanging out with friends during lunch hour.
“My friends were like, oh well, that’s just how she is,” laughs Okabe. “I knew lifting weights would increase my athletic performance.”
As a sprinter and middle-distance runner, Okabe gave everything she had to the track. After high school, she decided to study physical training at the University of Florida.
“Physical training is the cornerstone of my life. I wanted to make a living from it, and there was no better way than to study in the U.S.”
In Florida, Okabe discovered the power of glutes. The muscles in the buttocks are the biggest muscle group in the human body.
“Good glutes are a major asset to the human body,” says Okabe. “They support the entire body and provide you with excellent posture, a positive outlook and an unending source of energy.”
But before Okabe stumbled onto this gold mine of muscles, she had to overcome an obstacle: English.
“I just couldn’t speak or read at a university level,” she says. “I cried for four straight months while struggling to keep up with my classes. My main problem was learning the terminology of kinetics and physiology. We had to learn over 200 new terms every week. I tried translating the pages into Japanese, but quickly gave that up and decided to cultivate an ‘English brain’ instead. I figured if I could think in English, everything else would follow.”
Okabe makes it sound easy, but she suffered under the weight of great pressure and a grueling workload.
“I still get goose bumps when I recall how hard it was,” she says. To acquire her ‘English brain,’ she vowed not to hang out with other Japanese students on campus.
“The foreign students all formed their own communities, but I isolated myself. For the first three weeks, I didn’t even Skype my mom though I was so homesick.”
Okabe attributes her reserve of mental strength to the years she spent training and running in school.
“I think school sports prepare you for life’s hardships, which will inevitably come up, no matter which path you choose to take. Building up your endurance levels at a young age will come in very handy later in life.” All the hardships Okabe experienced in the U.S. have paid off, as she’s now one of the most influential physical trainers working in Japan today. Still, she says that “English and physical training have this in common — it’s not like you can walk away once you acquire the skills and muscles. People think that when they get the body they want or can speak fluent English, happiness and success is sure to follow. It doesn’t work like that. You get to a certain level, you gain confidence — and then the door you worked so hard to open leads to another door, and you have to repeat the cycle all over again to get to the next summit.”
Okabe adds that the physical training industry in Japan still has many challenges.
“It’s very hard to find a good trainer. Sure, it’s easy to look and act the part of a trainer, and many people do this to perfection. But they lack the background context and information on why it’s important to train, and how it affects lives beyond looking good in a bathing suit,” she says. “The really good part begins at the point where mere training ends. When you start wanting to develop your mind and heart, that’s when you start to understand what physical fitness really means.” (Kaori Shoji)
Words to remember
1985年横浜市生まれ。小学生から高校まで陸上競技を続けた後、スポーツトレーナーになるために米国に留学する。フロリダ大学運動生理学部卒業。在学中にプロアスリートに指導できる資格、NSCA-CSCSを取得。2015年、女性専用フィットネススタジオ Spice Up Fitnessを立ち上げ、代表を務める。著書に『筋トレが折れない私をつくる！』（宝島社）や『美尻バンドトレーニング』（講談社）など。