From the IDF to the JCC: Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor Welcomes Challenges
By Tonyia Cone
Personal trainer Sahar Bram brings a unique perspective to her work not usually found in Austin gyms – a philosophy honed while serving in the Israeli Defense Force.
Originally from the small town of Kfar Saba, which translates to “Grandfather’s Village,” in the Sharon area near Tel Aviv, Sahar has always been an athlete. While in school, she ran track, played youth semi-professional basketball and professionally competed in ball dancing.
When she joined the military at 18, she served as a combat fitness instructor, placed in a special unit training soldiers in the Israeli martial art of krav maga.
“Growing up as an Israeli, facing the reality that your family and you have to fight for your country, it's not an obvious thing that you will have a peaceful place to live in tomorrow. It creates a different personality. That, the military experience, and other events taught me that there is almost nothing we cannot do if we set our minds to it. It is a matter of consistency and knowingness, understanding how our body works physically and mentally,” said Sahar, who holds a bachelor of art degree in economics from the Open University of Israel in Tel Aviv.
“I think most Israelis know that from military training. When I realized that, I knew this was something I wanted to do. I want to help people get healthier and happier, to become more satisfied and content with themselves,” she added.
Sahar explained she believes that once someone becomes content with who they are, they are ready to work toward their next attainable goal.
After serving in the military, Sahar volunteered with The Jewish Agency. She worked at a summer camp Pennsylvania, where she was in charge of fitness.
Next she worked for a security company in Israel. They sent her to New York, where she was in charge of Israeli airline security at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
“I caught the America bug. I always wanted to return to the United States and pursue a career here,” Sahar said, explaining that her father’s side of the family lived in the United States for 45 years, so she had visited previously.
Sahar started her journey in America in Boston, Massachusetts, and two years ago she moved to Austin.
“I fell in love with it. It has almost all the good Israel has to offer,” Sahar said.
One of the things Sahar loves most about Austin are the people. She finds those she has met to be warm and down to earth, making the city a great place for her work as a personal trainer.
“I love helping people and communicating with people. That’s what makes me happy. I enjoy the company of people, seeing the results of my training and to see people learning about themselves,” said Sahar.
When Sahar moved to Austin, she connected with the Israeli community. When they found out she was a fitness trainer and about her background, a few people asked her to teach a fitness class in Hebrew. A few weeks later, she began teaching the class in a park but soon began looking for an indoor venue. So she met with leaders at the Jewish Community Center.
“They welcomed me with open arms. When I saw the Israeli flag waving, it just felt like home. It is a friendly, warm, welcoming place. Members get to know each other and the staff is supportive. It’s a family place, said Sahar, who connected with the JCC about a year and a half ago.
Clients who wish to purchase Sahar’s personal training sessions can now do so through the JCC. She is there almost every day from the morning until mid-afternoon.
She also has a studio in Cedar Park and teaches Les Mills Body Pump Training at Gold’s Gym.
“But the JCC takes up most of my day. And I love it,” she said.
Sahar said a high quality of personal physical training could never be only physical, the training should incorporate emotional aspects along with the physical training, together creating a solid base line for new and better version of oneself.
“When we are born, our minds are only limited to physical survival instincts. As we grow and get introduced to society’s norms and rules , we start to create new limitations and borders in our minds about what we can or cannot do. Most of the times those limitations are not equal to what we are capable of,” she said.
“I work with my clients on trying to go back to our natural instincts, and to expand those borders,” Sahar added.
Beginning with an assessment, where she runs tests and gets to know her clients by “digging into their personality,” Sahar tailors training programs to each client.
“You should be having fun and looking forward to it. Emotionally, you should feel satisfied and find things you did not think fitness training would do for you. Then it becomes something you want to come again and again,” Sahar said, adding that once someone finds the right fitness program, they will not need strong willpower for it to become a ritual.
“You’ll want to come to the gym to do it. Every bone in your body will feel like it is the right thing. It takes time; it won’t happen in a day. It happens in about six months. But you won’t make it to six months if you don’t have the right program,” she added.
When Sahar has free time, she plays guitar and loves hiking. She and her daughters, who are in second and fourth grade, also have a dog named Ruti.
Since moving to the United States, Sahar has found that it is harder to maintain Jewish tradition.
“In Israel, you don’t have to work hard to maintain tradition. It’s there, everywhere,” she said.
In Israel, Jewish holidays are discussed on the radio and television, and when people greet each other, she explained, and students learn the Bible in Israeli schools.
“Here I have to work on doing it, which is challenging, and I like it because I like challenges,” she said.
Sahar’s extended family remains in Israel, and she stays in touch with visits and daily phone calls. But she has no immediate plans to return to her native country.
“I just want to continue what I’m doing. It makes me happy to watch my clients; the people I train are getting happier with themselves. And I want to expand that to more people,” she explained. “I love Israel, and I love Austin. So my heart is in both places. We can do anything we want to do, so I can put my heart in both places. There’s no other way.”