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Health: The Meanest Trainer in Dallas

Jimmy Campbell could tell you that you have the eating habits of a 200-pound football player. This might make you cry. But he doesn’t want to be your paid personal pal. Can you handle it?
By Ellise Pierce |

TOUGH GUY: Jimmy Campbell’s no-nonsense training techniques have earned him the nickname “The Killer.”

On a recent rainy Friday morning, a ponytailed strawberry blonde named D. is doing modified push-ups in the corner of a no-frills gym. Wearing a size XL t-shirt and shiny teal leggings circa 1985, the 42-year-old mother of two has her knees pressed into a thick blue pad. She’s clearly struggling, resting back on her heels between push-ups, breathing hard.

D.’s been coming here for about five months, and her husband still doesn’t know about it. He’s aware that she’s been working out. After all, she’s lost about 30 pounds and plans to lose 20 or 30 more so she can slip into a size 8. But her husband thinks she’s at the Y, not here at the Park Cities Gym in Travis Walk. “Then it’s, ’I got my wife a trainer,’” she says. “This is my deal. I’m doing it for me.”

She’s doing it for herself, but also for her trainer, who watches her strain for each push-up. He shows no sign of sympathy as sweat trickles down her reddened face.

“We call him Frankenstein,” she says. “He’s mean as hell.”

“Terms of endearment,” he says. “Ten more. Let’s move on.”

His name is Jimmy Campbell, and he’s earned a reputation as the meanest trainer in town. He’s also the secret to many of Park Cities’ trimmest waistlines and some of Dallas’ biggest weight-loss success stories, like D.’s. He does not advertise, maintain a web site, or employ a publicist. He doesn’t need to. He’s got a waiting list of future clients, men and women eager to sign on to Campbell’s rigid program of diet and exercise.

After she finishes her set, D. sits up and puts one arm in front of her chest, like a broken wing. Campbell reaches from behind her, wraps his beefy arms around her like a vice, and stretches out her right arm. Then, her left. She grimaces. They’ve done this routine so many times before that they don’t even need to speak. When he has worked both arms, she stands up and smiles, satisfied. Twelve more minutes to go.

“He is not nice. He is not sympathetic,” D. says after her hour-long workout. “He’s not abusive, but he doesn’t take any crap from you.” As she tries to catch her breath, she takes gulps from a bottle of water. Campbell has her drinking up to a gallon a day.

“He is an a–hole,” D. says. “I’ll show him my food diary, and he’ll say, ’Are you lying? This and this’—and he does his math—’should be 2.3 pounds lost. You can pay me, and I’ve got people that can replace you, and you can go back to bed. I’ve got your money. I’m keeping your money.’”

Other clients have barely made it through their first meeting with Campbell. “He made me cry,” says one 42-year-old woman. “He told me I was eating like a 200-pound football player. He practically cut my food for me. He said, ’If being as big as a football player is what you want, just let me know.’” She hung in there and is now 107 pounds lighter.

Another Campbell convert.

Americans are fat, and we’re getting fatter. About 64 percent of Americans are overweight. Nearly 21 percent are obese. Tommy Thompson, secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, has made weight loss a priority for the country. Dallas’ own Dr. Phil McGraw has entered the fray, with segments on his television show and his best-selling The Ultimate Weight Solution: The 7 Keys to Weight Loss Freedom.

People in Dallas could certainly lose a few. According to recent rankings by Men’s Fitness, Dallas is the ninth-fattest city in the country. (Houston is No. 1—for the third year in a row.) People need and want to lose weight, but they just aren’t seeing the results.

Enter Jimmy Campbell.

Originally from Richardson, Campbell played football and basketball and ran track in high school, but he loved boxing the most. He boxed through college at the University of Texas-San Marcos and University of Texas at Dallas. In 1990, he became an amateur boxer, competing in both the heavyweight and super-heavyweight divisions. He also competed as an all-natural (meaning drug-free) body builder. To support himself, Campbell did what he knew best: he began working as a trainer, teaching others what he’d learned through trial and error with his own body.

His gig at Park Cities Gym began 10 years ago. Six-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Campbell, who likes to shoot wild boar on the weekends in Turkey, Texas, is an imposing, oversize GI Joe. He has serious, piercing blue eyes that match his fuzzy Polartec top, and his light brown hair is shorn to an eighth of an inch.

Like Dr. Phil, Campbell has tapped into certain people’s need for tough love when it comes to losing weight. He berates them. He hounds them. He tells them what to eat, when, and how much.

“That’s what they’re paying me to do,” he says, matter-of-factly. “My job is to help them, support them, and hold them accountable to do what they need to do to get where they paid me to get them. I’m here to get a job done. I don’t want to be a paid personal pal.”

Typically, trainers coddle their clients, encouraging them with an “Atta girl” or a “You can do it.” Between-set banter is a casual conversation, not unlike what one might hear at a hair salon. Those kinds of fitness trainers use more carrot than stick, but that’s because their clients respond to the carrot. Campbell’s clients react more to the stick.

“A lot of people are taken aback. They don’t know how abrupt he is,” says Cindy Williams, 51, now a petite blonde who’s in the middle of a set of 100 ab crunches. “He just scares you to death when you meet him.”

Williams says that she signed up with Campbell after nothing else worked. “I was doing spin classes three times a week, aerobics two times a week, and yoga once a week, and I was fat. I was a hog. I was the Pillsbury Doughboy.”

Now, she’s a 4 or a 6—depending on the designer—instead of a 12. “I was so hungry. I’d call Jimmy, and I’d say, ’Jimmy, I’m so hungry.’ And he’d say, ’Oh, poor Cindy. Guess what? You’re gonna be hungry.’ When I was losing weight he’d call and leave messages, ’What’s in your refrigerator?’”

She’s finishing up her six-week program next week, but she’s still hoping to lose “1 or 2 pounds.” Because she has already reached her initial goal, Williams is allowed two “cheat days,” when she goes out for Mexican food with her husband and allows herself six tortilla chips.

Campbell’s clients buy into his program—or else. Once a week, each one weighs in, and at each of their three weekly workouts, they review with Campbell what they’ve eaten during the last 48 hours, along with why and when. If results don’t appear on either the scale or the body-fat index, he fires them.

Campbell’s disciples go through a lot just to get there. Every six weeks, he takes on a new group of 20 to 25 clients, which recently has been about half men, half women. He takes only referrals, and of those, he accepts roughly one out of five. During extensive interviews, prospective clients must give good enough reasons for wanting to get in shape. Then, before they hand their $2,600 checks to Campbell for six weeks of training, he makes them write their specific goals on those checks.

“It’s not rocket science,” Campbell says. He speaks without hyperbole, clear and to the point. He does not take credit for any client-success stories; he insists that there’s no magic in his formula.

“What it basically boils down to is good, quality, whole foods, eating the appropriate quantities, and making sure your cardio and weight program is matched to the goal. Nobody wants you to know that it’s that simple.”

Local freelancer Ellise Pierce writes for People and Newsweek.

Photo: Sean McCormick

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