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FITT Q&A: KOFI HUGHES – TRAINER, ATHLETE, AND ARTIST

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RYAN DEER

MAY 13, 2020

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IMAGE VIA @KOFIHUGHES | INSTAGRAM

In a recurring series, we’re talking to inspirational people doing amazing things in Chicago’s fitness scene. Today, we’re chatting with Kofi Hughes — personal trainer, artist, Indiana University athlete, and former Chicago Bears wide receiver.

You might know Kofi from his days on the field or bumping into him at lululemon, but we caught up with him about his personal identity, painting in his garage, and his secret obsession with Love is Blind.

WHERE DOES THE KOFI HUGHES STORY START?

I'm from Indianapolis, Indiana, raised in an awesome home to parents that loved me. But I'm bi-racial, so even early on I had issues with my identity and finding a place where I fit in.

Eventually, I turned to sports. I grew up playing basketball, then went all in on football. And on the surface, I was there: captain [of Indiana Hoosiers football team], grades are fine. In reality, it was a dark time for me — I was mentally lost, addicted to opioid pain medication, marijuana…

Senior year, I had a catch that was on SportsCenter's Top Ten list against Michigan. And [Former Bears receiver] Brandon Marshall and Chad Ochocinco hit me up that night inviting me to train with them in South Florida for the draft. But [in earning and losing contracts with the Washington Redskins, Houston Texas, and Chicago Bears], I completely sabotaged the biggest opportunity in my life. That’s what drugs will do for you.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE NFL?

I went back home. Started working for LA Fitness. Three months later, Brandon Marshall calls me randomly asking me to drive to Naperville. He asks “can you build me a gym?” [Fit Speed Chicago].

Long story short, I spent three and half years there, but then felt it was time to do my own thing. God was saying, “it’s time to make a home”. So now I have my own space [Kofi Hughes Training] in Naperville. And when lululemon brought me in, I started to see the impact of my brand in the city of Chicago in a matter of months. Now, I train three days a week in the city [at River North’s Lateral Fitness] and three days in Naperville.

WHAT’S THE MOST VALUABLE PIECE OF WISDOM YOU TOOK AWAY FROM YOUR JOURNEY?

My experience in the NFL showed me that you are not what you do. You're not a sport. You're not a football player. That's not who you are. I tell my athletes, “I’m gonna show you who you are so you’re free to play the game.”

@kofihughes | Instagram

NOW YOU’RE TRAINING A LOT. IS THERE A SECRET TO THE HUSTLE?

The secret sauce is definitely finding time for solitude and silence.

I don’t know how trainers can make it having such a large social life when you’ve got 14 one-on-one sessions, serving them, building people up... My favorite thing to do is get alone, get a nice cigar, a nice cup of bourbon, and get my paintbrush popping in my garage.

WHAT ABOUT FOR YOUR OWN WORKOUTS?

Honestly, I hate working out. My clients know it. I don’t even try to fake it. But I love doing things I hate that I know are good for me.

When I approach the workout, it’s like, “I freaking hate you and I’m gonna come after you.” That’s why I work out with the intensity that I do, because I know that I’m getting better and thriving as much as I hate every moment of it.

SO WHAT’S THE SOUNDTRACK FOR ALL OF THIS?

My hangout playlist is one thing, and one thing only: Soulection by Joe Kay. Best vibes in the world, especially when I’m creating.

My workout playlist… either Soulection or some really hard, nasty rap. Something with a lot of bass. I love Migos. I love Lil Baby. I love DaBaby.

HOW ABOUT SOME REAL THOUGHTS ON FOOD?

Food is fuel throughout the workweek — I’ll have like 16 meals prepped in the refrigerator every single week. Just a lot of meat and vegetables. Steak, chicken, and fish with sides of spinach, broccoli, asparagus, and I love Brussels sprouts.

But on the weekend, let’s eat whatever the heck we want.

@kofihughes | Instagram

SO YOU’RE NOT AFRAID TO HAVE FUN. WHAT NEVER FAILS TO RAISE YOUR SPIRITS?

There is something I really love about trash TV. Love is Blind. The Circle. Don’t ever watch that… or watch it because it’s the best worst thing ever.

AND WE HEAR YOU’RE ALL IN ON 'THE LAST DANCE'...

Yeah. And I’m actually reading Relentless by Tim Grover, Michael Jordan’s trainer. It’s all about the mental side of everything and why MJ was so successful. You see how strict and focused he is in the documentary, and then you start to read about the trainer who’s instilling his mindset. I read a little, then I watch another episode.

YOU’RE BIG ON CHICAGO NOW. TELL US THE PERFECT SATURDAY IN THE CITY.

If I finish training at noon in the city, I would be so hype to post up at Ipsento or C.C. Ferns for a few hours to just read and write, John Coltrane playing in my ears. Actually, lululemon’s experiential store [in Lincoln Park] too. I eat there, I hang out there, I nap there.

My wife and I will both get home around 3pm on a Saturday. Order takeout, have some beers, just chill out. You know, as boring as that sounds, that’s perfect.

OKAY, WE HAVE TO ASK: WHAT’S GETTING YOU THROUGH THIS TIME APART?

Now that everything’s shut off, I’ve had so much beautiful time in solitude with the Lord. Other than that, I’ve been painting every day. I can’t wait to have this little art show I’m going to put on when Corona is done. I’ve got some dope pieces that I’ve been working on, and I have this idea that’s gonna change the whole art exhibit vibe.

AND HOW HAS THAT AFFECTED YOUR TRAINING BUSINESS?

I refuse to do online training. It’s just not the business that I’m in. I can’t recreate, or come close to, the effectiveness of my workouts in person without the equipment I need.

I tell my clients the way we’ll adapt is to keep moving. When the world turns back on, we’ll get back to work. And from all the books I’ve been reading, what I’ve been watching and studying, the trainers I’ve linked up with—I’ve Zoomed with [2020 #1 overall draft pick] Joe Burrow’s trainer and [NFL MVP] Lamar Jackson’s trainer a few times—I can’t wait to get back to my craft.

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To check out Kofi’s artwork and get a real sense of what he’s about, peep his Instagram feed or inquire about training with him. Crank up the volume to Kofi's custom Fitt playlist. And for more stories, workouts, and recipes from local personalities, stay tuned to Fitt Chicago’s Instagram.

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