Genaro Sandoval always dreamt of creating a nutrition and fitness program tailored to people with addiction and mental health issues. He grew up in San Diego with a love of sports, especially soccer – the sport he was recruited to play at Alliant International University. As part of his volunteer work during college, Genaro ran a soccer camp at the YMCA. Many of the children had parents struggling with addiction and mental illness. Wanting to better understand these issues, Genaro changed his major to psychology/sociology, became a licensed chemical dependency counselor, and accepted a position as a behavioral specialist at a preschool. Later, he worked as a family therapist at a program for children with behavioral issues, where he again noticed that addiction was at the root of many family problems.
Realizing a Dream
In 2011, Genaro’s dream became a reality. He founded Recovery Fitness, a nutrition and fitness program that uses evidence-based approaches to build strength, flexibility, stamina, balance, coordination and other elements of fitness. What started as a 60-day trial at Spirit Lodge continues to be one of guests’ favorite aspects of treatment years later. Genaro, better known at Spirit Lodge as “G,” is ideally suited for this role. In addition to being an athlete and a licensed counselor, he is a certified anger management therapist, a certified CrossFit coach, and program director of a Right Step intensive outpatient program in Austin. He has trained in just about every fitness approach – distance running, weight-lifting, endurance training, mobility training, resistance training, CrossFit, and most recently Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu – all of which are incorporated into his classes. Not surprisingly, people describe Genaro as energetic and full of life. If he’s faced with a challenge, he does whatever it takes to make it happen. In his free time, he enjoys working out, biking, running, swimming, playing sports, and doing just about anything that keeps him healthy and active.
Individualized Fitness and Nutrition Planning
The Recovery Fitness program begins with education. Using a nutrition workbook and classes developed exclusively for Spirit Lodge, guests learn everything from the basics of self-care and the foods that can help repair the damage of addiction to the addictive potential of sugar. Genaro and his team meet with every guest who comes to Spirit Lodge. Following fitness, nutrition and wellness assessments, guests may meet with a licensed dietitian or receive an individualized nutrition plan, depending on their needs. After determining their readiness for physical activity, guests also participate in Recovery Fitness group exercise classes three times per week and personal training, if desired. “We get to know each person’s strengths and areas they need to work on and develop a program suited to their age, health and fitness level,” Genaro says. “Our emphasis is on proper technique – for example, how to correctly do a squat – to prevent injury and make sure each class is a positive experience.” Designed to suit people of all ages and fitness levels, Recovery Fitness tailors its fitness plans to each individual. Genaro has trained athletes; he has also trained 67-year-old grandmothers. To him, the differences are less significant than most people think.
Fitness for Everyday Life
Recovery Fitness includes a little of everything – from yoga and resistance training to kayaking, hiking, biking and swimming. It also includes innovative approaches, such as Aqua Flex, a pool-based fitness program that includes water aerobics, circuit swimming, aqua weights for resistance training, and other activities that put less strain on the joints. With Recovery Fitness, cross-training is the name of the game. It not only helps prevent injury and promotes full-body fitness and functional movements, but also makes exercise fun. “We’re constantly varying the exercises guests do and using compound movements to activate the neuroendocrine response system – the root of the ‘runner’s high,’” says Genaro. “This makes exercise fun and helps counteract symptoms of depression and anxiety.” Guests also receive a Fitbit mobile tracking device that monitors their calorie intake, activity levels and sleep quality. The Fitbit is a great educational and motivational tool. It also allows guests to stay connected with their coaches, trainers and dietitians both during and after treatment. “Our program targets three main problems that individuals in early recovery struggle with: lack of time, lack of motivation and boredom,” Genaro says. “We have different workouts every day and trainers encouraging guests to achieve their goals to help address all of these issues.” Most workouts take one hour and involve activities and equipment that can be used at home. Genaro and team emphasize flexibility, mobility and functional movements, such as twisting and turning, which people use in their day-to-day lives. “You won’t find any fancy equipment in our gym; the tools we employ are those of the barbell, kettle bell and pull-up bar variety,” Genaro says. “We also encourage guests to bike, run, swim and row.”
A Truly Holistic Approach
After a session with Genaro and his team, guests emerge smiling and calm. They work hard, but they have a lot of fun doing it. Whereas clients at other treatment facilities often find that they gain weight during drug rehab, guests at Spirit Lodge get healthy in mind, body and spirit. “Holistic has become a buzz term in substance abuse treatment. When I hear facilities claim to have a holistic approach, I’ve come to ignore it. Everyone says it and it always means something different,” says Genaro. “But Spirit Lodge is truly a holistic addiction treatment program, both in terms of its philosophy and in the treatment modalities offered.” Most treatment centers that offer a fitness program focus on occasional personal training. Recovery Fitness, by contrast, is a comprehensive health and wellness program that features both personal training and group fitness classes. Personal training teaches proper technique and gives a great workout, but group training offers the added elements of camaraderie, motivation and fun. “When you go to the gym by yourself, it’s easy to lose motivation or get bored,” Genaro says. “By offering both personal and group training, we see guests encouraging each other and holding themselves accountable.” Genaro believes the essence of recovery is changing negative behaviors into positive ones. Good nutrition, relaxation and exercise all play an important role in the process of change. “Nothing makes me happier than seeing people get healthy,” Genaro says. “That means making healthy diet and fitness choices but also staying sober for life.”