Philly's Next Top Trainer: Meet the finalists

NTT-headshots
From left to right: John Edwin, Ashley Greenblatt, Nick Deacon, Tawny Basile, Steve Hoffman.

For the first time ever, Philly.com went on the hunt for the best personal trainers in the Greater Philadelphia Area. Dozens of contestants applied to star in their own exercise video series on Philly.com and sport outfits from Lululemon Philadelphia. Our team of judges narrowed down the field to the top five most energetic trainers, and now it's up to you to decide who will be crowned our first-ever Next Top Trainer.

Here's what to do: Go to philly.com/NextTopTrainer, and check out the videos and info from the top five contestants. Once you've scoped them out, vote for your favorite (you can vote once a day). Three random voters will win a 1-month gym membership to Unite Fitness.

Don't wait too long to choose your favorite—voting ends June 20.

Below, get an in-depth look at our top five contestants and their training style:

NICK DEACON

What motivated you to become a trainer? For a long time I simply wasn’t getting the results I believed were possible, so I made it my mission to learn… all of it. I’m curious by nature, so I attached my curious drive to mastering the manipulation of human physiology… you know to look better naked and feel invincible. As a part of this process, the more I learned, the more simple it all became. With that new lens of perspective, I became pretty frustrated that something so simple wasn’t common knowledge in a country rife with metabolic disorders, obesity, and other conditions that may be indirectly influenced by an intelligent approach to training and nutrition.

If you could only do one exercise for the rest of your life, what would it be? Oh man, only one?? I’m going to have to cheat a bit and pick a combo exercise - the barbell/dumbbell power clean to full front squat and press, or as some people know them “thrusters.” I know of few individual exercises that can drive stress so effectively while also taking your body through both pushing and pulling movements in the upper and lower bodies.

When working with your clients, what is the most commonly neglected body part in training? This is a tricky one since I coach a diverse client base from young male studs, women new to the empowering effects of strength training, and older adults with long histories of injuries, surgeries, and other fun obstacles to train around. Alright, enough stalling - I would have to say the hamstrings. Few muscle groups have such a powerful role in decreasing back pain and increasing your ability to train hard as the hamstrings.

What's the biggest misconception about fitness that you'd like to set right? Can I just say how much I love this question? Dramatically transforming your brain, body, and life is simple. It’s not about glutes or gluten, biceps or barre classes, tempo training or eccentric training, intervals or aerobic, nor ketosis or high-protein. They’re all just details.

Ready for the secret? Really? Are you?? It’s stress.

It comes in many forms (nutrition, emotional, physical) but they all contribute to the whole and must be managed in the context of the whole. Drive and apply proper doses of stress (don’t hide from it), allow the body to recover and adapt, …and then add more.  If beginner and intermediate trainees put all their effort into hitting the big rocks of driving stress and eating a diet of nutrient abundance, they’d get enviable results while saving themselves the anguish and effort of investing in meaningless details.


ASHLEY GREENBLATT

What motivated you to become a trainer?  A big motivator in my life is making people feel happy and healthy.  I became a trainer during a time in my life where I wasn't so happy.  I was slightly heavier than I wanted to be and suffered from anxiety.  I began exercising daily as a holistic attempt to feel well.  I saw results immediately.  It became a no-brainer that I wanted to help others struggling with the stresses of everyday life to find physical and mental strength in exercise.  I always say that I train my clients to make them strong physically, and I've been lucky enough to learn and grow from them mentally.       

If you could only do one exercise for the rest of your life, what would it be? Dancing.  Exercising should be fun.  For me, I love to dance.  Whether it's an organized dance class such as Zumba, going out with friends and jumping around in a club, or being goofy in the kitchen with my dog while I make dinner, dancing is a great way to let loose and burn a few extra calories while you're at it.

When working with your clients, what is the most commonly neglected body part in training? This is going to sound bizarre but I’d pick the neck.  My training programs always incorporate stretching.  Without it, the body really tightens up, especially if you spend the majority of your day at a desk.  The muscles get hyperextended, resulting in little-to-no range of motion at the neck, in addition to tension headaches.  It is very important to stretch all your body parts to prevent imbalances and injuries.

What's the biggest misconception about fitness that you'd like to set right? That there is a fast track to being fit.  You can break the bank on gym gadgets that guarantee faster results in less time, try to exercise your way out of a crumby diet, guzzle gross green drinks, but at the end of the day, being fit and healthy is a lifestyle choice.  Therefore, it requires daily dedication in order to see results. Anything worth having is worth working for, and you'll be proud of yourself for doing it.


JOHN EDWIN

What motivated you to become a trainer? Before becoming a trainer, I was working a corporate job as an account executive.  While the pay and benefits were good; I found myself unhappy.  I wanted to make a real difference for others.  Becoming a Personal Trainer allowed me to help people achieve and exceed their health and fitness goals, which is my real passion!

If you could only do one exercise for the rest of your life, what would it be? The Deadlift!  This is an incredible exercise that works your entire body!

When working with your clients, what is the most commonly neglected body part in training? I find that most people neglect their legs.  First, because it is the most exhausting to exercise but also I believe people focus more on their upper body because that's what they see in the mirror.  I focus more on legs with my clients than any other body part because we burn more calories, lift our overall metabolism, and get the strongest through our leg exercises.

What's the biggest misconception about fitness that you'd like to set right? When people who are trying to lose weight focus on a lot of abdominal work.  I do believe it is important to have a strong core but we can work our core so much more efficiently by doing high-intensity interval training, compounding and functional exercises instead of plain old crunches or sit ups.


TAWNY BASILE

What motivated you to become a trainer? When I was 11, I started lifting with my dad and instantly fell in love with the lifestyle. I realized at 15-years-old that training others and helping them to reach their goals is what made me happy. For me, there's no better feeling than when my clients tell me they made progress such as feeling confident on the beach or are now able to play tag with their children without feeling winded. 

If you could only do one exercise for the rest of your life, what would it be? I'd have to choose squats. Not only do they strengthen the lower body, but they also keep flexibility in check!

When working with your clients, what is the most commonly neglected body part in training? It's different for men and women. For women, chest is the most neglected. For men, the legs are the most neglected. 

What's the biggest misconception about fitness that you'd like to set right? The biggest problem right now is quick fixes. This issue is especially prevalent in social media. Think: fitness models who have glute implants, but tell their followers it's from squats. Or they will be on long prep diets, but tell their followers to use waist trainers or to take a fat burner. The fact is that there is NO quick fix to getting your dream body. It can take years of hard work, education and dedication.


STEVE HOFFMAN

What motivated you to become a trainer? I grew up very inactive and lacking self-confidence. I could barely look people in the eyes when talking to them. I was very unhappy and uncomfortable. Then I found fitness, and was addicted. I started exercising, running, lifting weights, playing basketball, and other sports. Improving my health and wellbeing with exercise and physical activity has literally changed my life. I want others to experience the transformation that I went through as well.

If you could only do one exercise for the rest of your life, what would it be? My favorite exercise is the Deadlift, which involves “lifting” a “dead” weight off of the ground. The deadlift works more muscles simultaneously than any other movement. Your glutes, lats, spinal erectors, hamstrings, quads, traps, and all of your core musculature must be working synergistically to complete each rep. You can you use the deadlift to reach any goal and it translates functionally to everyday life.

When working with your clients, what is the most commonly neglected body part in training? Too many people these days do not know how to properly activate their core and their glutes. They come to me with super tight hamstrings, underactive glutes and tight lower backs. An estimated 75 to 85 percent of all Americans will experience some form of low back in their lifetime. This has largely to with a majority of the population being seated at a desk job with a computer/smartphone all day. When working with my clients, I put a major emphasis on glute activation (with deadlifts, squats, Bulgarian split squats) and core activation in various planes (with anti-rotation, stability, side plank leg raises, and chaotic core exercises). 

What's the biggest misconception about fitness that you'd like to set right? Women still think they shouldn’t lift weights because they will “bulk up” or gain mass. Doing compound lifts with heavier weights (deadlifts, squats, etc.) will not build size UNLESS you are eating like a bodybuilder or eating a large excess of calories. In reality, it is EXTREMELY hard to put on mass and size, and takes years of precise nutrition and dedication to do so. Women can experience numerous benefits from lifting weights including burning more fat, decreased risk of osteoporosis and better curves in the right places. So ladies please, don’t be scared to hit the weights!

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