CLINTON — For Alex Brandy, as a New England Patriots cheerleader, bootcamp workouts included running up to the top of Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. in March.
That meant running ramps – some 1,820 feet long and rising 180 feet and doing squat jumps all the way up to cheap seats in the 16-story stadium.
“You have to be pretty much in the fittest shape of your life when you go to try out for that team,” the 27-year-old remembers. “If you’re not ready for that, you’re not making it. It’s intense.”
Brandy, a self-professed fitness fanatic, looks back on her four years as a Patriots cheerleader as a training ground for her new personal training business, Ascend Experience.
Brandy introduced her business right before COVID-19 restrictions were mandated in March. Yet, that didn’t stop her from continuing her mission of keeping her clients fit.
While she was already working virtually with some clients, she added others to make sure they continued their personal fitness journey.
For Lindsay Stopa, who met Brandy though the Clinton Parks & Recreations body toning class, this meant getting her workouts online and working out through Facebook live with her trainer.
“She was really good at working with us in terms of trying to make sure we could get a workout in and do it through Facebook, which was kind of cool to do it way,” says the Clinton resident.
One of Brandy’s clients, Lisa Zaccagnini, has been an Ascend Experience client since 2015, before Brandy made her business official. Now that they are living in different parts of the state, the workouts are done online.
Planned for Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 8:30 a.m., Zaccagnini loves the time spent with Brandy.
“It’s so great,” Zaccagnini says. “It’s nothing like in person, having her physically there, but she works out with me. It was huge request of mine, from the moment we met, that if she was going to be my trainer that we work out together.”
Zaccagnini appreciates having her workouts tailored to her specific needs
“It’s very encouraging,” the 54-year-old adds.
Stopa stresses that Brandy pushes her to do her very best.
“She’s really good in terms of modifying things, if you need modifications,” she says.
“So, she pushes you, but she doesn’t push you too much,” she says. “She knows what your max can be and how to push you and motivate you further. She’s very encouraging and motivating and just really positive, all around.”
Now that some COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, Brandy is able to again meet clients in person. She is working outdoors with all her clients and stresses that she is practicing safety protocols with every workout.
In addition to donning masks and practicing social distancing, Brandy stresses that she sanitizes all the equipment before and after every session.
“So, it’s getting double sanitized,” she says.
All of this is worth it, just to see her clients in person.
“It’s wonderful,” she says. “There’s such a personal aspect to personal training, so being able to do it face-to-face, being able to really show people and explain things is a very nice change after a long quarantine.”
Stopa is happy to be back working out with Brandy face to face. She and a friend work out with Brandy in Stopa’s backyard.
“It is really nice”, she adds. “She’s definitely right there, she doesn’t get close to you, but she can see your form and tell you how to fix it if it’s not correct.”
Brandy prides herself on this personal service.
“I bring ease and convenience to the workout,” she says. “I literally show up at your door. I have the workout planned…and I come in, I give you a great workout.”
With a trunk full of exercise equipment, from barbells, hand weights, resistance bands, boxing equipment, slider discs, risers, aerobic gear and yoga mats - it’s all there.
While she loves her vocation, Brandy didn’t always aspire to become personal trainer. Her dream was to become a professional dancer at first. Yet, this was put in jeopardy while studying dance at Dean College Palladino School of Dance in Franklin, Mass.
In 2014 she tore her ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) skiing and “the surgeons told me, ‘You’re not really going to be able to dance again. You’re not going to be able to perform,’” she remembers.
“Dance is all about twisting and that’s what you need that ligament for,” Brandy adds.
It was during her recuperation that that she studied for her personal training certification.
“I wanted in that world,” she remembers. “I wanted to surround myself with fitness, surround myself with nutrition.”
Following her recovery, in 2016, she made the Patriot’s cheerleading squad and was also able to work alongside the cheerleading squad’s personal trainer.
“What better job to be working out all the time and helping other people work out when you’re all about health, fitness and dance,” Brandy says.
Standing at 5-foot-7-inches and weighing 140 pounds, Brandy focused on fitness and perfecting her dance moves as a New England Patriots cheerleader and was able to participate in three Super Bowls.
“The focus is not on skinny, it’s on strength,” she says.
“I think that is a huge thing among anyone in the industry where your body is part of a job - ballerinas, models, NFL cheerleading,” she explains. “Our team is diverse, but we’re all strong.”
This strength comes from lots of intensive training and workouts.
“Something that people don’t understand with the Patriots’ cheerleaders is that we’re not really cheerleaders,” says Brandy. “We’re actually a dance team.
“So, we don’t do stunting,” she adds. “We do a few cheers, but it’s primarily all jazz and hip hop.”
While Brandy’s days of cheerleading are over, she is taking that experience and her involvement with personal training over the years, to her new venture.
Along with her fitness expertise, Brandy brings along her nutrition knowledge.
“I think that you have to do the whole person instead of just making them lift weights and get a good workout in,” she says.
Nutrition discussions begin on the first day of the training.
“I like to take it one step at a time,” Brandy says. “OK, let’s focus on one little thing that we can tweak, make that a habit and then add onto that.”
This may include determining how much water her clients are drinking or incorporating breakfast into their routine.
“It’s definitely a cohesive unit, for sure,” she says. “It’s kind of like that hamster on a wheel type thing. You’re constantly going to be chasing your tail if you’re not doing the nutrition with the fitness.”
For Brandy this means eating “real food,” which she describes as something either from the land, sky or sea.
“If you can get back to eating real food your organs are going to function correctly and your body’s going to feel better on the inside,” she explains.
For Joy Peck, who has been working on fitness and nutrition with Brandy since 2015, it is all about changing her views on what food.
“All natural, no processed foods,” says this 59-year-old. “The first week was a little rough giving up all your sugars, except for your natural sugars.
“No portion controls, per se, for the first couple of weeks until you’re used to eating real foods,” she adds.
Peck says she has learned that the nutritional part is all about “how to combine the right amount of grains, with the right amount of fruits, with the right amount of proteins.”
Brandy admits she has had to prove herself as a personal trainer because of preconceived notions about cheerleaders as entertainers only.
“I definitely had to break down barriers with clients, for sure on that,” she says.
“Sometimes women are very intimidated or they think you’re the flighty, you don’t know what you’re talking about-type of person,” she adds.
“So, it takes that interaction with somebody for them to realize that ‘Oh, my gosh, they work so hard on that team,’ she adds. “I kind of like the challenge of breaking down that barrier.”