Giving Gains a New Name: The Story of Carmen DiDonato

By Lisa Maguire

“Perseverance. I think that’s the number one word I’d use to describe Carmen’s journey,” HAC personal trainer Eric Neil shares.

For many of us, thinking about gaining weight being a “struggle” is nearly eyeroll-worthy. However, it’s a common insecurity among men who have naturally high metabolisms. For several men, the thought of going from lean and thin to having a medium or large muscular build seems not just overwhelming, but impossible. Eric says that just about anything is possible if you put in the work, and his client Carmen DiDonato is walking proof.

Carmen has been an on-again, off-again member since HAC opened in 2007, coming irregularly and at times feeling unsure how to get the results he wanted. Carmen is a mechanic, often working long days in a garage. This made exercising a challenge, but even more impactful, and eating any meals, let alone balanced, nutritious meals was difficult with his schedule. Standing at 5’11” tall, Carmen was barely getting to shovel in a small meal during the day between clients and a fair-sized dinner at night. Getting in just two meals a day, he was depriving his body of necessary calories to recoup what he was expending at work.

At the end of summer 2019, Carmen was just 128 pounds, which is considered underweight for his frame. It was at this point that he decided he was ready to truly commit to his goal of gaining size and inquired about getting a personal trainer at HAC. He started out training twice per week with Eric and working out in his home gym, but he quickly outgrew that option. To see the results he wanted, Eric encouraged him to work out five days per week and wrote specific programming for the days they wouldn’t be training together.

“At the end of summer 2019, Carmen was just 128 pounds”

Hearing about Carmen’s limited diet, Eric also warned him that if he didn’t have proper nutrition, no amount of working out was going to get him the results he wanted. He encouraged Carmen to begin increasing his food intake and to consider working with HAC Dietitian, Ashley Boyer. Ashley has taught Carmen how to select nutrient-rich foods for quick lunches and no-prep snacks to make sure he can meet his daily caloric and other dietary needs.

As weeks turned into months, Carmen slowly began to see the fruits of his labor. The workouts got progressively more advanced and with heavier weights.

Just before the pandemic shut non-essential businesses down, Carmen was weighing in at nearly 30 pounds heavier and very pleased with his results. To ensure he wouldn’t lose any of his hard-earned progress, Carmen was going to have to figure out how to recreate his workouts at home and continue his improved eating patterns. “I kept in touch with Eric the whole quarantine,” Carmen says, “he’s been a huge supporter throughout my entire journey.”

“It was important to me to check in with Carmen,” Eric adds, “I truly want to see my clients succeed.”
Carmen managed as best he could throughout the nearly 12-week closure but was elated to return to HAC and keep working. He was back at HAC the day we reopened like he’d never left.

Carmen training with HAC Personal Trainer, Eric Neil

“When Carmen wants something, he figures it out and he gets it done,” Eric says, “he’s got a commitment to the process that can’t be taught or even encouraged through motivation. You have to want the end result.”
Eric also adds that he thinks making sure the coach/client fit is critical to achieving real and lasting results. “You have to have someone that understands your journey and has the knowledge to get you from point A to point B,” he comments. Carmen was Eric’s first client at HAC, and their shared interests and intensity has made them a perfect match.

Now, about two years into Carmen’s quest for gains, he’s an impressive 185 pounds – nearly 60lbs bulkier than his starting weight in 2019. When asked if he ever planned to compete in bodybuilding or strongman events, he says he would like to someday, but for now his work schedule just doesn’t allow for it.

“I’m so happy with my progress,” says Carmen, “but I’m not stopping here. I want to see just how big I can get.”

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