Celebrity Trainer's Book Turns a Workout Into a Religious Experience

Alec Penix - Getty - H 2018
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Alec Penix's new book, 'Seven Sundays,' is a 43-day challenge.

Already worried about breaking that New Year's resolution to get in shape in 2019? Try putting those fitness plans in God's hands. Alec Penix is a personal trainer to the stars who, in his gym behind the Burbank airport, has worked with the likes of Shawn Mendes, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas and Derek and Julianne Hough, the sibling dancers from Dancing with the Stars.

Now Penix can add another line to his resume: self-help author. His new book, Seven Sundays: A Faith, Fitness, and Food Plan for Lasting Spiritual and Physical Change, puts a fresh spin on the diet-and-fitness genre. His is a 43-day challenge. You'll pray a little, you'll sweat a little, and before you know it, you'll find your abs while finding your Higher Power.

The Hollywood Reporter chatted with Penix about his journey.

When did you arrive in Los Angeles?

It's been eight years. I always wanted to come out to Hollywood and become a celebrity trainer. When I first got out here I was struggling, working at a public gym and sleeping on the floor of a one-bedroom apartment with three roommates. But having a blast. A couple years later I got the opportunity to train Big Time Rush on tour.

They're like a boy band?

Yeah, like The Monkees. They had a show on Nickelodeon and they performed. They toured the U.S., Mexico and Canada and sold out some of the biggest amphitheaters in the country.

Where did you move from?

A small town in Michigan called Chelsea. Have you heard of it?

No. [laughs] So on the back of your book, it says you were "saved." Tell me about that. 

It all started when I was in Mexico celebrating a wedding. We were having a good time the night before. I'll let you read between the lines on that one. The next evening I woke up. I was lying in bed feeling terrible. Probably one of the darkest times of my life. I had people in the wedding party knocking on the door, trying to get a hold of me. I didn't want to talk to anybody. It was probably the first time I ever prayed out loud. I was calling for help.

What happened the night before?

A lot of partying. A good time. But it was a culmination of all the days that led to that. Not having inner peace.

Were you an addict?

No. But I tell people I was spiritually malnourished. I had a lot of image problems, insecurities. I would party a lot but for me it was mostly internal, not external, that I was dealing with. So that's why I came to God.

Were you raised religiously?

I was not. Believe it or not I never even opened the Bible. And when I did get saved, dedicating my life to God, people said you are the last person I ever expected to be a Christian. 

So who saved you?

God did. I started going to things like Bible study. I started finding mentors, preachers, and sought out their advice. I never went to Alcoholics Anonymous or anything like this. I just started going to church regularly and committed to turning my life around.

What church did you go to?

The first church I ever stepped foot in was a Southern Baptist church in Inglewood, Calif. Have you heard of tongues?

Speaking in tongues? Yes.

I didn't know what that was. So people were rolling on the floor, saying all this crazy stuff, and I was freaked out. Not to mention I was literally the only white person in that entire church. It was a crazy experience. But as I went there more and more I got more comfortable. Then a few friends of mine started our own little church in Encino. Now I'm following my own path.

At one point did it occur to you to pair working out with religion?

I wouldn't use the word religion, because I want to be inclusive. It's really about spirituality. And that can mean God for some people, it can mean the universe, it can mean life, it can mean another religion. It gives you a new perspective.

What if a client came to you and said, "I'm a complete atheist. I don't believe in God." What would you say to them?

I'd say, "Let's work out, dude! What do you want to achieve?" God is the catalyst for my transformation. It doesn't mean it's going to work for everyone.

The book is a "devotional." What is that?

It's basically a step-by-step program. You take it one day at a time. Each day you have a different theme: One is about overcoming fear. The next is about how to love more. There are six aspects to tackling every day — "concede," "honor," "offer," "sleep," "exercise" and "nutrition" — and I use a short passage of scripture to help inspire you to achieve it.