Fitness enthusiast and trainer Laura Mak of Kirkland has this palpable passion that’s drawn thousands to her social media and encouraged likely as many to develop a healthier lifestyle.
The Michigan native got her start as a gymnast in kindergarten, and by fourth grade, she was traveling with a competitive team. She remembers watching Nadia Comaneci at the 1976 Olympics become the first to score a perfect 10 on the uneven bars, and thought, “I want to be able to do that.”
Mak ultimately went on to perform in the opening and closing ceremonies for the 1996 Summer Olympics and has remained a lifelong lover of fitness. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in exercise science from Michigan State University (where she received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics) and has spent the last 25-plus years helping people achieve their fitness goals under the moniker Mak Attack Fitness. After living around the country, gracing the cover of several magazines — including Oxygen — participating in fitness competitions, and training celebrities, Mak moved to Kirkland in 2015 with her family.
Now, as a brand ambassador for athletic clothing company Athleta, she teaches in-person classes at the Bellevue store, and continues to work with at-home clients and co-operates a members-only online fitness group with live workouts and chats featuring other experts from the wellness industry.
We spoke with Mak recently to learn more about her approach to a healthy lifestyle.
Tell us about your early days in sports. How did you get into gymnastics, and why were you passionate about it?
In elementary, I dabbled in a couple other things, like cheerleading, softball, and even, piano. I played piano for about five years. But ever since my first gymnastics class, there was never a time I didn’t want to do gymnastics. I always loved it. It was something where you keep practicing, and you get better. You have good days and bad days, and you get through those. It’s fun to see the progressions, and I was good enough to get a scholarship for gymnastics at a big-time school.
How do you approach fitness now? What kind of workout regime do you find works best?
For myself, I’ll do a combination of some weight training (I’m still battling a shoulder injury), yoga, and some form of cardio — whether it’s a power walk or interval strength training … As far as the clients, it depends on the wear and tear on their bodies, the intensity that they want, and also what they’re looking for in their fitness program. We’ve done everything from yoga to mat Pilates, weight training, and any other body-resistance training, which is one of the reasons I love personal training. No two clients are ever the same, so no two days are ever the same, and no two programs are ever the same. It allows me that creativity in designing the body, so to speak.
How much should fitness and nutrition be tailored to an individual person? Do different bodies respond better to different approaches?
There’s an overall platform of what things need to be done, but they (fitness and nutrition) should be specific to you. Overall, you want to have some sort of strength or resistance training, whether you’re using your body or using resistance with weights or bands. You want to have you heart rate up, so you want to do some cardio.
Nutrition-wise, it’s making sure things are more balanced — making sure you have enough protein in the diet, clean carbs (because you actually do need to have carbs), and healthy fats. There are so many diets out there, but not all of these are necessary for each person, unless you have an allergy or something.
Usually when I start working with a client, for the first month, we only focus on weight training for our exercise portion. I’ve usually found that by week two, people are making smarter choices, just on their own without having to tweak things. Most people have a good idea of what they should and shouldn’t do, and then it’s just taking it to the next level.
Have you noticed there are typical missteps people make or misconceptions they have when trying to achieve a healthy lifestyle?
Yeah, it’s a lifestyle, meaning your entire life. Training really hard for the first two weeks, and then nothing for the next two months, and then going back at it — going too hard, too fast, too soon. That’s not a long-term solution. It’s about finding a healthy balance. Can I work out three to four days per week with three days of weight training and another day or two of cardio or interval training? How can I make healthier choices 80 to 90 percent of the time? I would never say you can never have cake or a glass of wine again, because if that’s your lifestyle, you’re not going to take away all the things you enjoy.
Do you have any advice for people to keep workouts fun, so they don’t feel like a chore?
A lot of times, I train clients in 30 minutes. Sometimes going for that one hour can be overwhelming, but even if you can’t get to the gym or you don’t have a trainer, you can get a great workout in within 20 to 30 minutes. Sometimes with that shorter period, you can push yourself a little harder. Pick 10 moves, and see how many sets you can do in 30 minutes. Make a game out of it.
What’s a go-to lunch or dinner that’s simple for those with hectic schedules?
A go-to lunch? Something simple. Maybe half a cup of brown rice, throw on some stir-fried vegetables — a combination of broccoli, asparagus, green beans (right now, there’s lots of squash and zucchini). You can just sauté those up in a little olive oil with some herbal seasoning and some chicken or salmon, and that’s an excellent lunch.
You can do the same thing for dinner, or use a sweet potato or butternut squash instead of the rice. You do want to have clean carbohydrates, because you do need those. But late in the day, it’s not like you need a ton of energy before you go to bed, so decreasing the carbohydrates at that time would be a better idea.
Why do you love what you do? What keeps you going?
I love it because it’s so exciting to see the results of the clients and their thrill when we do a measurement and do it again in a month, and they’re like, “Whoa, I didn’t know I lost that many inches.” Or I have clients that started out doing four or five push-ups on their knees, and within a short period of time, they can do regular push-ups. Then, not only can they do regular push-ups, but they can do wide push-ups for 30 repetitions. (I love) seeing how their strength improves and how it improves other areas of their lives — like their relationship, or business acumen, or spiritual (practice). It translates into so many other areas of their life, and their confidence just explodes.
Photos by Courtney Wilde Photography