EDITOR’S NOTE: This story introduces Boris Schaak, who will write an occasional column on sober fitness for GayLifeLA.com. If you have questions, please email them to Boris at Boris@SoberFitness.com. His Sober Fitness Android app can be found on Google Play.
“The same principles that apply to get sober are the exact same principles that are needed to get fit,” writes fitness expert Boris Schaak, founder of Sober Fitness, on his website. As the title suggests, the L.A.-based Sober Fitness is a training program designed for individuals recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. In this realm, Schaak is highly qualified, having worked as a fitness coach and personal trainer for over 30 years. He also is a recovering addict.
“I had issues that I didn’t know how to deal with, so I used drugs and alcohol, like so many other addicts,” Schaak recounted over the phone. Born and raised in Germany, his deep baritone voice is tinged with a gruff accent more reminiscent of Brooklyn than Berlin. “The result is my body and mind fell apart, which led to me being homeless on the streets of Los Angeles for two years.
“Picture a celebrity trainer, making a living by people inviting them into their mansions and training them, their kids, their wives, and then all of a sudden I’m homeless. If I had an epiphany, it was ‘I don’t like being homeless.’ The icing on the cake was going to jail. When you run around for 25 years pretending to be a tough guy, and then you get to hang out with, like, 5,000 really tough guys, you’re like, ‘anything but this’.”
The muscle hunk, who won first place in his first try in the Mr. Los Angeles body building competition, chin-upped his way out of the gutter by using the 12 Step program, the popular addiction treatment system. While sitting at meetings on those cold metal folding chairs, sipping coffee from Styrofoam cups, Shaack noticed similarities between 12 Step and his former life as a personal trainer.
“When you go into 12 Step meetings, they tell you to get accountable, to know when the next meeting is, get commitments,” Schaak recalled. “At some point, I’m thinking the first month when the lights came back on … ‘This sounds sort of familiar. This is what I tell my clients!’
“It’s a fitness regiment, a regiment of accountability. One’s to get sober, one’s to get fit. But the principals are pretty much the same. That’s when I said to myself I want to switch gears from regular personal trainer who wants to get celebrities and movie stars to work with. … I want to help people in recovery.”
Schaak’s Sober Fitness regimen balances the importance of mental wellness with physical stability. Think of it like a yin-yang of recovery. Physical health transcends beyond the gym and incorporates one’s kitchen habits as well.
“We tell teenagers, you need to eat a basic meal plan to feed your brain to go to high school and be able to work,” explained Schaak. “When we get to recovery, we have these addicts who have been destroying their bodies for years. Then they have all this new information, but they are living on Red Bull, donuts, and smoking. You have these people that are already chemically imbalanced, their body is trying to get back into the swing of things, but now they’re nutritionally not capable to physically recover. Not just mentally, but physically.”
This approach to recovery has been especially effective for members of the gay community, who face higher rates of addiction compared to their hetero counterparts. In “LGBT Substance Use — Beyond Statistics”, an article by Brandi Redding published in a 2014 issue of Social Work Today, says “the rate of substance abuse disorders among LGBT individuals isn’t well known, but studies indicate it may be 20% to 30%, which is significantly higher than the general population (9%).”
As a trainer (you’ll see him often at Gold’s Hollywood) and a recovery coach, Schaak, who is heterosexual, has enjoyed a bromance with L.A.’s queer community.
“I am very lucky. I got swooped up by the gay community and they saved my life. I know I’m the token straight boy, and they are my family.”