Justin Gedalia Walls says he’s just like any other personal physical trainer, with one difference.
“I tell the best Yiddish jokes out of any other trainer in the entire Washington area.”
Walls, 41, operates from his workout studio in a Rockville office building.
The first thing he does with a new client is conduct a medical interview to understand the person’s goals, budget and available time. He then designs a fitness plan and coaches the client through it.
“I find it really gratifying to be a part of people’s success,” Walls says, “to help people find solutions and better ways to live their lives in a more healthy and meaningful way.”
Walls is arguably different from other personal trainers in two other ways. For one, he’s an Orthodox rabbi, having been ordained in 2003 at the Yeshiva College of the Nation’s Capital.
“At heart, I’m really just a scholarly person who really enjoyed learning,” Walls says.
As a personal trainer, he says he sees both male and female clients and is LGBTQ friendly. Walls grew up in Montgomery County and got into the fitness industry due to what he described as the financial difficulties of rabbinical work.
As a newly minted rabbi, Walls says it was hard finding a job, and positions offering livable wages were even more scarce. It was like trying to break into show business, he says.
Finally, he landed a job in 2004 with the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington, the Jewish legal authority for the Washington area’s Orthodox community. In 2009, he became administrator of the council’s conversion court.
“Neither of these things paid very much,” Walls says.
He was already branching out to fitness, which he says he thought would be fun and more easily pay the bills. He eventually became a certified personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine.
Walls still puts his rabbinic learning to use. He says that he teaches an online conversion class.
“He’s a very unique fellow,” says Rabbi Herzel Kranz, of Silver Spring Jewish Center. “He seems to be a very decent and fine human being. He has very fine children. He’s a person of his word.”
Walls distinguishes himself in a third way from other personal trainer. He’s a shatnez tester, a skill he picked up in rabbinical school.
Shatnez is cloth containing a mixture of wool and linen, which Jewish law prohibits, much as it prohibits mixing milk and meat. From time to time, someone will bring their jackets, sweaters or other items for Walls to inspect.
Checking takes a few minutes, Walls says, and simply requires him to look at the threads under the light. He likes to compare shatnez testing to the forensic work done on the TV show “CSI,” but with fabric. Occasionally he will look at the threads under a microscope, if he can’t determine by plain sight if the fabric is kosher.
Walls says his primary focus remains improving people’s physical health.
“The rabbinic stuff that I was doing was a labor of love,” Walls says. “And, fitness, I’m passionate about it. That’s my real business.”
For those seeking to get fit, Walls stresses that they should have realistic expectations.
“The biggest failure in the fitness industry is the idea that a beach body is the goal,” he says. “The goal is actually to be healthy. And people express that differently. And it’s important to empower people with the ability to choose what they define as healthy, and help them accomplish that in a reasonable amount of time with an effective program.”