Building up the Corporate Body

Personal trainer Mike Sapp is pumping up Honolulu’s movers and shakers

July, 2004

Several years ago, Louise Ing wanted to get in shape. But the flashy athletic club scene made her uncomfortable, and she was a little intimidated by guys with big muscles. So what did the prominent, petite attorney do? She joined Gold’s Gym, a Spartan haven for Honolulu’s muscle-bound, and started lifting weights with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s old workout partner, Mike Sapp.

Talk about grabbing the bull by the horns.

Sapp is actually Ing’s personal trainer. He meets with her at the crack of dawn three times a week for an hour of stretching, cardio training and some good, old-fashioned weight training. Under Sapp’s guidance, Ing has dropped about eight pounds, and, more importantly, is more toned, fit and energetic. The fifty-something attorney has literally turned back her body clock, testing out at a “fitness age” (a measure of strength, flexibility and endurance) of 33.

“Mike’s got real-world advice about fitness and nutrition, and he’s got a great sense of humor,” says Ing, vice president and director at the law firm Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing. “But he’s also about the same age, so it’s not like a 20-year-old beating up on you, making you do things that only a 20-year-old could do.”

Word of Sapp and his successful methods has quickly spread throughout Honolulu’s not-so-old boy and girl network. In less than four years, he has built an impressive client list, which reads like a veritable who’s who of Honolulu movers and shakers, dozens of high-level executives, lawyers, entertainers and politicians-developer Jeff Stone, Cheap Tickets founder Michael Hartley and Damon Estate chief operating officer Tim Johns, to name just a few. But at $85 an hour, Sapp’s expertise doesn’t come cheap. This is in addition to the Gold’s Gym membership, which ranges from $28 to $48 a month.

“I used to own my own business, so I know what kind of toll working long hours takes on someone,” says Sapp, 48. “I know what kinds of demands are on these people. But I tell my clients that being fit is part of their corporate responsibility. If you fail to take care of yourself, you’re letting your company down.”

Sapp is a member of workout royalty, active in the golden age of bodybuilding in the late ’70s and early ’80s. He started working as a trainer at the legendary Jack LaLanne Gym in Los Angeles, then was gym supervisor at Santa Monica’s Sports Connection, the nation’s first super-fitness club and the epicenter of the ’80s workout craze. In 1980, Arnold Schwarzenegger asked Sapp to be his workout partner in preparation for the role of Conan the Barbarian in the movie of the same name.

In 1989, Sapp relocated to Hawaii and opened The Gym Honolulu, a 20,000-square-foot, no-frills facility in a Kakaako warehouse. The Gym had a staff of 50 and served 4,000 active members. In 1998, he moved The Gym to a two-story facility on South Street, on the outskirts of downtown Honolulu. Two years later, he sold The Gym to Gold’s. Without the day-to-day worries of running a business, Sapp returned to his first love, personal training.

“I’m realistic about fitness. I don’t BS my clients,” says Sapp, whose demeanor is equal parts take-no-prisoners drill sergeant and go-with-the-flow lifestyle coach. “You have to know when to back off, but sometimes I just can’t keep my mouth shut.”

Sapp isn’t surprised by his popularity with the aging baby boomers who know their way around the board room, but are a little lost around a weight bench. He says many of his clients realize that fitness and job performance are closely related and bring the same discipline and dedication that they have in the workplace into the gym.

“If you go to places like the Honolulu Club, you have to look good and talk with everyone,” says Kathy Inouye, chief operating officer, Kobayashi Group. “At Gold’s with Mike, it’s all about getting a good workout and then getting out of there. No socializing, no small talk. It’s all business.”

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David K. Choo