Wilson Littlehead (right) became a trainer at Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Wellness Center to help clients like Wenayv Yates live healthier lives.

Wilson Littlehead has a passion for people — people losing weight, improving their mental health and becoming well-rounded. He is a personal trainer and fitness technician at the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Wellness Center. Equipped with a gym, a track, workout classes, trainers, a heated therapy pool and an aerobics room, it is where Littlehead wants to be.

“It doesn’t say ‘gym.’ It says ‘wellness center’ because that’s overall wellness,” he said. “It’s not just about the physical attributes of how you feel. It’s about the mental, the emotional, spiritual, and that’s something that I wanted to help instill.”

He studied sociology and psychology at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. Littlehead began working as a Methamphetamine and Suicide Prevention Initiative coordinator in 2011, providing his services to Tribal youth. He shifted careers in February 2017 and moved to the Wellness Center. Human interaction feeds his energy and creativity, and fitness is a mixture of his passions.

“I was terrified; I am not going to lie. Going from working with youth and suicide prevention to now being focused on health and wellness,” he said. “I always wanted to be around people, but switching it up was so scary.”

His love for working out began two years ago while attending spinning classes — high-cardio, stationary bicycle workouts. He also tried boot camps, kickboxing and hot yoga. Besides being a personal trainer, he is a spin instructor at Oklahoma City’s CycleBar, where he teaches what got him interested in fitness.

Fitness philosophies

“I love understanding people,” Littlehead said. “I like to help people figure out their full potential — their true potential, what inspires them.”

His goal is to become a life coach. Physical and mental health feed off each other, and working out is about more than building an athletic body, Littlehead said. He emphasizes finding motivation and remaining positive, which includes going to the gym despite self-consciousness.

“They’re terrified to feel judged,” he said. “The way I see it is everyone works out. Everyone walks through these doors for a different reason, but we’re all here for the same intentions.”

One of his clients used her daughter’s commitment to improving her mental wellness as motivation. Intimidated to ask for help, she came to the Wellness Center to work on her well-being, too. Keeping her daughter’s strength in mind, she began training.

“It takes three weeks to create that habit, and I told her that. I was like, ‘You just keep with this. Just trust me. Just go with this. I’ll push you every step of the way. I’ll be here with you every step of the way,’” he said. “She is down six pant sizes.”

Littlehead enjoys helping clients one-on-one, but he thinks group fitness has benefits also. Seeing people hold each other accountable and inspire each other is rewarding as a trainer. Those in his Wellness Center classes know his sessions are hard work.

“My thing is people don’t want other people to see them struggle, but, in our moment of struggle, I feel that’s where our progress lies,” he said. “I try to instill in everyone, ‘Guys, we’re all struggling together. You guys are all struggling together. Look around — encourage each other.’”

Teacher and trainer

Littlehead teaches midday, 45-minute boot camps at the Wellness Center three times a week. He focuses on circuit training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), both designed to burn fat and calories with rapid exercises in quick succession.

“I enjoy doing circuit and HIIT training because when the class is over, you’re still going to be burning those calories because your body is trying to come back to that resting state,” he said. “Your metabolism is up, and that’s why it’s suggested we only do circuit training two or three times a week.”

Before designing a regimen for a client, Littlehead asks about their hobbies, personality and interests in addition to their goals, fitness background and physical limitations. He considers adaptability and positivity essential trainer qualities.

“Everyone’s different. Not everyone needs that trainer in your face, going to make you not want to come back,” he said. “It’s about helping them realize their true potential. So, adapting to who they are as a person, understanding who that person is. That’s really how I set my foundation.”

To complete his routine, Littlehead rewards himself for his dedication: cheat day. Long John Silver’s fried fish is his guilty pleasure, and he encourages his clients to treat themselves occasionally, too.

Native well-being

“I think there’s something very self-rewarding for me especially working for a Native American tribe because growing up I was very traditional,” he said.

Littlehead is Sac and Fox and Otoe-Missouria. High school sports drew him away from some of the Sac and Fox ceremonies he participated in with his grandmother as a child, but rejoining cultural practices now is a priority. He relishes the opportunities to learn from tribal elders at work.

“Just hearing their life stories — they’re instilling wisdom on me,” he said. “I can walk with them (on the track). I can ride with them on the bike for 15 or 20 minutes, and they’re teaching me something just as much as I’m helping them.”

Spending time with tribal elders is one more reason why he is confident in his decision to concentrate on fitness.

“I’m greatly appreciative for everyone that’s been coming to me. First and foremost, the career change was so scary,” he said. “Seeing that it’s actually having an impact on people is why I know I’m in the right field now.”