An Interview with Paul Medina, Founder of Capital Energy Training
by Jessica Lazerov, M.D.
On an unseasonably cool Tuesday morning this past May, the doorbell startles me out of my pre-coffee haze. I sigh and inwardly groan as I shuffle to the front door, sporting sneakers and a scowl. Paul Medina, the founder and president of Capital Energy Training, stands on my porch sporting his giant duffle bag and a knowing grin. “I hope you are ready to crush it today”, he says with infectious enthusiasm as he walks into my home to begin our training session. I am grateful that he is here again to help me reach my fitness goals, but my trepidation waits patiently in the shadows.
Paul has been my personal trainer for over 6 years. As a physician, I understand the importance of fitness as part of a healthy lifestyle but have never managed to make it the priority it deserves. With Paul, I have seemingly cracked part of my wellness code. I often tell him that he is both a blessing and a curse: A blessing because he helps me improve my health, a curse because he knows my avoidance tactics and pushes me further than I would on my own, and that means fleeting discomfort. He knows that I sit at my desk far too often and that I don’t get enough sleep. He is here today for one reason: To make me work out. His uncanny ability to see through my excuses means that he expects me to work hard and is unafraid to tell me so.
As we move from stretching out my aging muscles to increasing the intensity of the workout, we fall into a familiar routine. I mutter under my breath a few of the many reasons that I hate to exercise, and he pretends not to hear me, focusing on his twice-weekly grueling task of pushing me to reach my potential on any given day. Without fail, at the end of the session I feel invigorated and healthier. Paul congratulates me on my hard work as I wonder how I made it through another workout. A common thread that I internalize during our sessions is his sincere belief that I can improve my health and well-being in both large and small ways, even on days I may be battling chronic pain from old injuries or fatigue after a night on call. Though he brings a large bag full of tension bands, yoga blocks, and other tools to optimize each session, the most important thing he brings into my small home gym is his unwavering optimism. This optimism is what allows me to persevere. What sets him apart from other trainers I have had over the years is his insatiable drive to help his clients improve their fitness, health, and lives, no matter the obstacles. Interestingly, this drive is also what makes him a successful entrepreneur.
I met Paul in 2011 when I began training at a personal training only facility in Washington, D.C. By then, he was a certified and seasoned personal training professional with years of experience. As I learned more about his life and aspirations, I was certain, even back then, that Paul would not remain in that position for long. With high standards for his clients and even higher expectations for himself, he represented a beacon of accountability that many who struggle to stay in shape cannot seem to find elsewhere. Paul recognized that he was different than many other trainers in this regard, creating an environment where his clients would not fail, challenging them to reach levels of wellness which they didn’t think were possible. But this was simply the beginning of his story as an entrepreneur.
Where He Started
Paul was born in Youngstown, Ohio, a part of an extended family with political influence. Eventually moving to suburban Maryland, his family is described by Paul as a “typical Italian family with Midwest values”. He credits much of his grit and determination to his parents, in addition to the importance of gratitude. “They taught me how to be a good person and to be grateful for what you have in life, and that’s what centers me in my business and my family”. A natural athlete, he excelled in sports, particularly, baseball. Around the age of nine or ten, his older cousin, who years later became a pain and rehabilitation physician, helped him understand how the human body could be curated to do great things with the appropriate amount of attention and hard work, introducing him to the world of fitness. Throughout his teen years and beyond, he thought deeply about how health, or the lack of it, could impact a person’s life, particularly when family members struggled with life-changing medical diagnoses. He was truly fascinated by the benefits that improved physical fitness could have on those willing to learn and put in the effort.
Paul continued to excel at baseball in high school at DeMatha, idolizing Cal Ripken, the legendary Baltimore Orioles shortstop. “At 16, I could see myself having a career in baseball”, Paul recalled, and his baseball career had many ups and downs. He sadly experienced a shocking loss when his high school summer program coach suffered a massive heart attack at baseball practice, ultimately passing away, despite Paul and his mother helping to perform CPR on the field. Despite the loss, his affinity for baseball was not dulled, working hard and eventually played at the collegiate level.
“My life was baseball”, he says with fondness in his eyes as he described his days as an athlete. In college, which began at Hagerstown, he further solidified his unbreakable work ethic and “all-in” approach to anything he attempted and believes these skills have helped him to this day. But before the end of his second year at Ohio State Paul suffered another loss that would change the trajectory of his life as an athlete: from player, to avid fan. An unfortunate accident with a baseball shattered both his facial bones and his dreams of a potential post-college baseball career. After surgery he was advised that though his eye socket was re-constructed, another ball to the face could be fatal, so he was forced to hang up his catcher’s mitt. This also meant that he could no longer continue to play as a student athlete. He transferred to Towson University where he completed a Bachelor of Science degree in kinesiology and sports studies, and though his life and prospects did not resemble what he had envisioned just a few years prior, Paul’s passion for physical fitness and helping others achieve their best selves would guide his future endeavors, continuing to do so to this day.
The Birth of Capital Energy Training: CET Beginnings
A birthday dinner at a Georgetown restaurant one night in 2013 would change his life forever. Franco Nuschese, a friend of Paul’s, but also an entrepreneur known locally and internationally as owner of D.C.’s popular Café Milano, among other ventures, is considered by Paul to be instrumental in CET’s success. Though Nuschese has thrived in business, creating a D.C. institution that serves fresh, delectable Italian fare to locals and to those within a wide network of influence, he also takes pride in helping others achieve their dreams. On this fateful night at Café Milano, Franco and Paul’s soon to be wife Ally orchestrated the announcement that ushered in the birth of Capital Energy Training. Though Paul was a bit apprehensive, at this point, there was no turning back. As he spoke that night, Paul remembers being incredibly grateful to Franco for his support. Paul’s friendship with Franco was instrumental as it provided a spark for Paul’s business: legitimacy in a crowded industry. “Franco is considered a founding father of Capital Energy Training”, Paul explains, clarifying that Franco’s influence provided him with the support that helped Paul’s business to take off.
“From the beginning, he could tell that I was hard-working and would stay true to my ideals”, Paul says when discussing his early conversations with Franco. On one of the first nights they met, they moved quickly beyond surface-level pleasantries, diving head first into deeper discussions about the difference between happiness and joy, and why gratitude in life was so important. “He not only helped my business, but he also introduced me to my wife”, Paul recounts as he tells the story of how this mutual contact would enhance his life in ways he couldn’t have predicted. To this day, Paul remains incredibly grateful to Franco, but also to his current good fortune in building a successful business that he and his wife Ally both work hard to grow. Paul has been able to gain clients from all walks of life, some of whom are considered high-profile, with national or international influence of all kinds. He makes sure to mention that his discretion is always guaranteed as he is experienced in training those in the public eye, helping them become better versions of themselves in a private setting of their choice.
CET: The Business
Looking back at the days when he considered striking out on his own, Paul says that he wanted to create what he describes as “a triangular value system”, including holistic, wellness, and fitness foundation. His entrepreneurial inclinations and desire to offer a better service than what was already available in the fitness industry in the region drove him to explore the possibility of creating his own business. “I was not drawn to this industry for the money”, Paul offers when asked about his motivation to take the risk as a sole business owner. “I knew that if I could offer my clients unparalleled consistency, excellence, and my desire to make a difference in their health, I could not go wrong.” As he spoke of his business in the beginning, he reports, “I did gain some flexibility as the owner of my own business, but that also meant that I had to meet and even exceed the high standards I set for the service I wanted to provide, every single day”. He admits that it has been an incredible amount of work, but that he would not trade it for the world.
Logistically, Paul provided the capital to begin his business from his savings, which was adequate given relatively low initial overhead costs. When leaving his previous position as an employed personal trainer, he was focused on the gap he saw in the industry that he felt he could fill with high-quality, safe, personalized training. He knew his kinesiology degree and his desire to continue to grow his knowledge base would be a competitive advantage, so he was willing to risk his savings to prove it. “I didn’t really have an involved business plan”, Paul explains, though he did conduct a break-even analysis and understood that many businesses would not generate profit right away. But he went on to explain that he utilized legal services and accountants to be sure he had all of his ducks in a row. Being the sole proprietor of a business provided Paul with valuable learning experiences and has pushed him to continue learning to this day. “I am continually learning as much as possible about business because my success will enable me to continue to offer the services that my clients deserve and have come to expect.”
Paul travels throughout the D.C. metro area and is cognizant of the fact that in-home training requires that he respect client’s homes and boundaries. His incredibly professional style and mastery at putting clients at ease can only benefit his business within this arena. As a client, I can attest to the creativity required of a trainer working in constantly changing conditions.
Paul’s passion for the industry could also be argued as quite timely. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, personal training has been a top fitness trend since their top 10 reporting began in 2006. Also, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that the prevalence of obesity is close to 40%, affecting over 93 million adults in 2015, and the market for products and services to improve the health of many overweight or obese Americans is growing larger each year. The “active aging segment”, as described by the World Health Organization, continues to expand as increasing numbers of Baby Boomers strive to remain active and fit as they enter their golden years. Paul’s clientele spans the generational gamut, and he prides himself in his training methods that not only prevent injury, increase core strength and stability, but also work with clients after injury or chronic pain. Though The National Law Review pointed out in 2017 that “no state or federal law requirements that we are aware of with respect to the standards of certification regarding personal trainers or group fitness instructors”, many consumers are often confused about whether a trainer has adequate knowledge to offer the safest service possible. Paul’s extensive background, including a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology, and multiple certifications from Functional Movement Systems and the National Academy of Sports Medicine, enable him to build a safe training program for any client that will also maximize their performance.
Over time, as Paul’s business has increased, he understood the need to expand his triangular system. Paul explains that partnerships are becoming more important for his business model. “I began to understand that health providers would be an important partner for me in order to support my clients better, but also to increase my potential client base”. Capital Energy Training’s current partners include a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, dietician, licensed professional counselor, rolfer, and Capital Cryo, a cryotherapy facility in the Foxhall area of D.C., where Paul also rents a small space to work with clients who prefer to train outside of their homes. “I like to focus on the triangular system, but also have curated a list of trusted experts available for my clients when needed.”
When starting CET, his marketing efforts began as a “word-of-mouth” network, but now also utilizes social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Paul strives to share relevant links and thought-provoking information to his subscribers in order to push the boundaries of what is expected from fitness professionals, but also to share highlights from his life and with permission, insights of his clients and partners.
Why Paul is Different
“It’s really about hard work, reliability, and continual improvement”, Paul remarks when asked why he thinks his training business has been successful. He prides himself on giving clients his best at every single session, which means that he values quality over quantity. “I take this into consideration when deciding whether I can take on new clients”. As he speaks about why he is often able to make remarkable progress with clients Paul explains, “The nervous system craves predictability”, and he explains how he uses this fact to help clients overcome obstacles. Paul’s ever-expanding understanding of the nervous system is unusual from a personal trainer, but welcome, revealing yet another competitive advantage that he has over others in his industry. His focus on customization, functional movements, along the aforementioned triangular approach to wellness are less common these days in an industry promoting fads and “fast fixes”. Though he mentions that he could certainly offer services that tap into our human desire for rapid results and less emphasis on safety and longevity of results, and likely improve his profit margins as well, he rejects these products and services, saying “That’s not what CET is about”.
“I really honor my family and my roots in how I approach business and life”, he says earnestly, recounting how his family raised him to be a “good person” above all else. When recounting his life’s choices, he continually goes back to qualities he admires most in others: integrity, humility, a strong work ethic, gratitude, and loyalty. These ideals are fundamental in his family life, but he also finds these qualities equally important in how he approaches business.
Struggles and Strengths
When asked about his greatest business challenges, Paul’s answer comes quickly and without hesitation. “It is extremely difficult to hire additional trainers with the degree of commitment, skill, and reliability that my clients and I expect”, explaining how scaling his business model has been challenging. After hiring a few trainers over the years to expand training availability, he has not yet found the right fit that meets his extremely high standards. Another valuable lesson he has learned was that he needed to become aware of the more nefarious aspects of business, specifically potential partners who were more interested in taking advantage of his honest and wholesome approach than forming mutually beneficial alliances. “I can be cynical and less-trusting now in some cases, which is why he says that his wife Ally is “such a great partner in business and life.” It is clear during our conversations that Paul’s wife is an unwavering source of strength and support. He says that his greatest lesson has been that “my greatest strength and weakness is my wife and family. Paul credits Ally with much of his success. “She knew me well enough to push me to make my dream a reality, but if forced to choose between his family or his business, Paul smiles confidently, saying, “My family will win every time”.
But Paul willingly admits that his business is a huge part of his life, though over time, he has worked incredibly hard to create a lifestyle that is sustainable. “My faith has been extremely important in keeping me grounded in what is important”, Paul mentions. As an active member of the Catholic Church, Paul’s marriage to Ally has been blessed by the Pope at The Vatican. He also credits his meditation practice when managing his busy lifestyle, citing certain aspects of neuroplasticity, an increasingly discussed concept regarding how the brain is able to change in response to regular meditation practice. Now with a baby girl on the way, Paul’s life continues to be both energizing and abundant. He trains clients most days of the week, sometimes in excess of 12-14 hours each day, having trained over 500 clients since Capital Energy Training was established.
But is He truly a Social Entrepreneur?
Paul’s willingness to discuss his life and business with me is a testament to his openness to spreading his personal mantra that he shared publicly with everyone at his birthday celebration at Café Milano years ago: “In order to receive, you must learn how to give back”. Aside from helping people as a trainer, he is also involved with advocating beyond his own clientele. Paul was honored to be a part of the White House Dialogue on Men’s Health in January of 2016.
Paul comes across as a person who humbly understands that he excels at helping people improve their health, approaching his work as an immensely enjoyable activity and honor. “Starting out, I knew that I could help others in a way that would make a difference in their lives”. When asked if he considers himself a social entrepreneur, he made an interesting observation. “I do see the ripple effect of my work with clients”, discussing how his training enables his clients to feel healthier, more energetic, and more successful in their lives, no matter their profession or ultimate life goals. “Healthier people will do a better job in their own careers, and sometimes their work is to help others. This means that I can have a positive impact on many more people than I can train personally”.
But at the core of his day-to-day efforts is truly his desire to maximize the potential of his clients. Witnessing the pure joy and fulfillment on his face as he talks about his clients’ successes through the years is a testament to this fact. “I didn’t do this to become rich or famous. I am on this path in life because I love what I do and can’t imagine doing anything else. When you operate a business like that, the rewards will come eventually.”