Fit message resonates with beginning marathoners

craig.hill@thenewstribune.comNovember 3, 2012 

Two years ago when Chuck and Toni Johnson first met Tessa Effland, Chuck thought the personal trainer was annoying.

“She was this ‘Peppy Polly,’ bouncing around and talking about running,” Johnson said. “I thought she was crazy and wanted nothing to do with her.”

At the time, the Johnsons were at an informational meeting for a 2011 Capital City Half Marathon training group. Toni wanted to run. Chuck didn’t. Tessa wanted to introduce them both to a healthier lifestyle.

Chuck, a retired Army infantryman, wanted to support his wife so he agreed to walk five miles of the 13.1-mile race and train in the group. He had no intention of listening to Effland.

For the first five weeks of training when Effland talked, Johnson, 46, put in his headphones.

Almost two years later, Chuck and Toni are among a growing crowd of Thurston County residents crediting Effland for changing their lives at her Fit Life Studio.

Effland started Fit Life 2.5 years ago in her 500-square-foot garage. Today she has nearly 500 members training with her in a 3,000-square-foot, two-story building on Tumwater Hill.

She won over Chuck five weeks into the 12-week running program. The workout was an 8-mile run and Chuck and Toni decided to walk. Chuck finished well before Toni, but after almost everybody else and noticed Effland waiting at the finish.

As they waited for Toni, Chuck and Effland had their first conversation. They talked about fitness and nutrition and, Effland said, “being healthy from the inside out.”

It was then that Chuck’s perception of Effland flipped.

“That’s when I realized she was not the devil,” Johnson said. “Not only was she pretty cool, but she knew what she was talking about. That’s when I decided I was going to start listening to her and she motivated me to start doing more.”

Chuck and Toni didn’t end up walking the Capital City Half Marathon in 2011. They ran. They entered an 18.6-mile trail run a few months later. They entered mud runs and set a goal to run a marathon.

The name of Effland’s studio seems to sum up her approach to fitness. Her goal isn’t simply to help people drop a few pounds or slip into a smaller dress. She wants to help them live fit lives.

Her classes rarely use traditional exercise equipment. Instead it uses TRX suspension straps, kettle bells and circuit training.

“I’m very passionate about muscle confusion,” Effland said.

In addition to the workouts, Effland, stresses nutrition. She shows her clients how to read labels, eat healthy and cut back on sugar and sodium.

It’s hardly revolutionary. As Effland says, “It’s stuff you can read in books, but nobody seems to be reading them.”

She tells her clients to pay close attention to the lab work they get from their doctors. “That’s your life clock,” she said. “When the lab work comes back really good, that’s more time on your life clock.”

Despite having an exercise science degree from Western Washington University, Effland never thought of becoming a trainer. She coached soccer at Olympia and Capital high schools and basketball at Saint Martin’s University.

“And I was just passionate about working out,” she said.

Then one day while working out in a Thurston County gym, one of the participants mentioned she looked like a trainer. The comment sparked the idea that has grown into Fit Life.

As her studio has grown, Effland has hired three people to assist her and allow her to practice what she preaches: “a balanced life.”

Even as her client base grows, Effland says she remains passionate about helping each client find success.

On her website,, she lists life coach among her titles. She and her staff meet with clients and try helping them identify patterns in their lives they need to break out of in order to be healthy.

“It’s my job to believe in them until they believe in themselves,” Effland said.

When clients miss sessions she notices. In fact, she calls them with dates and times for makeup workouts. Sometimes she even meets them for a workout.

“I’ve met people for some pretty intense workouts,” she said. “Intense enough that they decide they’d rather be back at the studio.”

Chuck says Effland has helped him and Toni “re-pattern” their lives. When they met Effland, Toni weighed 30 pounds more than she wanted and Chuck had gained 50 pounds after five years without exercise.

“I’d let my self go so far south I was in Antarctica,” Chuck said. “She helped turn things around.”

On Oct. 27, Chuck and Toni ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C., something they once never dreamed they could do.

“Tessa motivated us without even realizing she was motivating us,” Chuck said. “She is amazing.”

Craig Hill’s fitness column runs Sundays. Submit questions and comments via and Also get more fitness coverage at and

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