Siphiwe Baleka knows why drivers sign up for his fitness program. "The vast majority of the drivers that enroll in the program come to me because they're scared," says the former trucker turned trainer who has designed a program specifically for drivers. "This fear makes them coachable.”
"Maybe they've just been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, diabetes or high blood pressure,” he adds. “Maybe they have a DOT physical coming up and they don't think they're going to pass it. Or maybe they're having events where they're passing out or they're falling and they can't get up. They may be like the woman who came to me who had gone to an amusement park with her granddaughter, and they kicked her off the ride because they couldn't get the lap belt across her."
To Baleka, drivers have a unique lifestyle that makes them susceptible to weight gain and poor health. They sit all day, rarely exercise, endure stress and make poor food choices.
"Long-haul truck drivers are ground zero in the adult obesity crisis,” he explains. “It is an occupation with high obesity rates. They have high rates of metabolic syndrome and low life expectancy."
Baleka has been working with Prime, Inc. drivers since 2012 and says that the average weight loss for the 13-week program is 19.6 lbs., and between 58 and 63% of drivers finish the program. (At any one time, 30 to 60 Prime drivers are enrolled.) He is quick to add that this is not a diet program but combines a change in eating habits with exercise to produce a healthier lifestyle.
What's different compared to other fitness programs? It's targeted precisely to truck drivers' daily lives, says Baleka. The key is to combine a fast, daily exercise regimen with a diet that emphasizes fewer carbohydrates and increased protein.
"A lot of drivers like to eat Subway sandwiches," says Baleka. "They're convenient, they're economical. They're thinking, 'This has got to be healthy; this is healthier than a burger and fries.' I had a client who was averaging six or seven foot-long sandwiches a week. I showed him that every time you eat that sandwich it was 85 to 90 carbs, which is getting stored as fat, because your body doesn't need all this energy. So, I said, 'Listen. I didn't say you can't eat at Subway. I didn't say, you can't eat your favorite sub. What I said was, instead of getting the footlong, get a six-inch with double meat. Same sandwich, same flavor, same taste, same routine, same everything, but we cut the carbs in half.'"
The program hinges on 15 minutes every day of exercise outside the truck to get a driver's metabolism turned on. "The minimum requirement is four minutes. You can do it right on the side of your truck. You don't need equipment and you don't have to change your clothes."
Drivers keep logs of their food and exercise which is transmitted to Baleka through a phone app. Baleka also addresses drivers' psychological issues that may be holding them back from the fitness they desire.
"It can be things like associating exercise with being uncomfortable, with being a negative thing,” he explains. “A lot of females are uncomfortable working out outside of their truck, either being seen by the mostly male trucking society or safety issues. But generally speaking, a lot of it is embarrassment." Baleka tells participants to think of themselves as lighting a light for others, being a role model.
Woody Sprott felt uncomfortable at first. A driver for Prime, the 225-lb., 5-ft., 8-in. tanker trucker had tried several programs before being introduced to Baleka. At first he was self-conscious about exercising outside his truck in front of other drivers but got past it. He also got past the price. The program costs $339 and participants get their money back when they complete the program. "I thought that would be a good momentum builder, because I’d want to get the money back at the very least. And secondarily, like anybody else, when you’re in a program with other people, you want to win."
He adds: "The exercise part of this, I call it dancing like a crazy person. I would get out at a truck stop and dance like a crazy man with all these truck drivers looking at me. After a while, frankly, I didn’t care, because I started feeling so good as a result of it. I felt sick before and that's the truth. It had been 20 years since I got my heart rate up to a meaningful level. I’ve done walking and other mild things to help lose weight, but I hadn’t really gotten my heart rate up, which is something that Sip emphasizes. It made me feel great. I felt like the rust had been knocked off of a 20-year-old car, and I was enthused by that."
He started the program in August, finished in December, lost 20 lbs., and he's continuing on his own. "It’s a choice, not a wish. I’m not wishing for it to happen; I’m choosing for it to happen, and there’s a big difference." He notes that a big benefit of the programs is that it inspired him to be in control of his life. "I don’t eat in restaurants except when I choose to do so. I control what I eat; I keep it right here on the truck. I don’t find it to be a problem at all."
Baleka gets calls from other carriers who would like him to institute his program for their drivers but that's not his only interest. He wants to go bigger.
"We don't need carriers and fleets to hire Fitness Trucking to replicate the program. Here is a low-cost solution that every individual can do [to make the trucking industry healthier]. If every individual does that imagine the results. At every truck stop you would see truckers exercising for four minutes to turn on their metabolism. What if it became the industry standard because everybody knew that if you don't do this, you're going to die 10 to 15 years sooner."