Jo-Ann James played most sports while at Humberside Collegiate Institute and a private Seventh-day Adventist School and pursued physical education at the University of Western Ontario.
After graduating, she did a variety of management facility training jobs with the provincial government and served as the fitness director at the McGill Club for Women and the Columbus Centre before establishing Vital Steps, a state-of-the-art health and wellness centre that offers individualized lifestyle programs to enhance the body, mind and spirit.
The North Toronto fitness studio has been operational for the past 13 years.
“I have always been athletic and when I enrolled in university, I got turned on to the area of fitness because I realized how beneficial it was to stay active and fit,” she said. “Teaching fitness at that time was a little bit odd because everybody doing physical education went into teaching or into finance.”
“In 1997, I had reached to the point in my industry where if I was going to move on, it was either going to be by creating my own business or working with a fitness organization as a manager which didn’t appeal to me because I would have had to go to the high end to do that which was where I was. There is a certain level of clientele that I am used to working with and they have certain expectations.”
Vital Steps, located at 1701 Avenue Rd. near Lawrence Ave W., is staffed by six certified personal training professionals who provide clients with a customized exercise plan that integrate exercise with rehabilitation and weight management programs.
“The majority of clients that we see have had bad experiences in other fitness facilities that include a lack of personal attention, customization and understanding that the trainers have of them and their bodies at that particular stage in their lives,” said James.
Vital Steps caters to women primarily between the ages of 35 and 40 plus.
“How you treat a body at 18-35 is different than how you treat a body from 35-45 years of age, especially in the case of women,” the fitness specialist added. “For men, it stays the same over time in most instances, but women’s bodies change over time. What they could do and get away with when they are in their 20s is not necessarily possible as they get older. Also, they may have had an injury at a younger age that comes back to haunt them.
“Because we are working exclusively with that age group, we have a higher awareness of how to work with our clients and a greater sensitivity and we create an environment and give them services and support that’s attractive to them.”
James, who trains instructors in functional exercise protocols, including self-defense techniques, is certified as a medical exercise specialist with the American Academy of Health, Fitness and Rehabilitation Professionals in the United States where she was taught how to work with post-rehab patients.
Her ultimate specialty is osteoporosis exercise management.
Vital Steps offers customized exercise programs that focus on strength, balance, flexibility and weight bearing activities necessary to maintain or improve bone density.
“I do all the training of the osteopenia and osteoporotic clients here because it’s a little bit more challenging and interesting,” said James. “I have been in the fitness field for over 25 years and working with a healthy body can be rewarding. But when you are working with a body that really needs special attention and you can give them what they need without hurting them, it becomes more stimulating for me. That’s why I have gone in that direction.
“Osteoporosis is also a major problem out there and a lot of women have it, but they don’t know it. You also have women that have it, don’t know it and are doing inappropriate exercises. Most of what I do is personal one-on-one training, but we also have special bone building group classes that are a little bit more economical.”
In addition, Vital Steps offers teen and boot camp classes. Nearly 50 participants attended the first outdoor boot camp last summer at Havergal College in Toronto. Three trainers conducted the weekly three-hour, two-month boot camp.
“This camp involved a group of people coming together and doing military-style exercises and drills,” James, who designs at-home online fitness and nutritional management websites for corporations, explained. “It’s high intensity for individuals who want that extra push. What I like about this camp is that you don’t have to be co-ordinated to do it and you don’t need music. What you need is a good trainer with a variety of tools to get you out there running, jumping, squatting and skipping.
Early next month, Vital Steps will launch online training for motivated clients who don’t have the time to attend the fitness studio.
For more information, call Jo-Ann James at Vital Steps, 416-785-8828.