A Chef’s Workout Helps Him Keep Up With the Demands of the Kitchen

When Ryan Pera started talking about opening a second restaurant in 2013, his wife had one condition. He had to get back in shape.

Mr. Pera, 43, chef and co-owner of three popular Houston restaurants, is married to Lori Choi, a vascular surgeon. “She laid down the law,” he says. “She’s on the front line seeing the effects of poor health every day.”

When the couple started dating in 2002, Dr. Choi persuaded Mr. Pera to train for a marathon with her. “She really introduced me to fitness,” he says. But in 2011, while opening his first business, Revival Market, a whole-animal butcher shop and cafe, Mr. Pera fell out of shape. “I threw my back out butchering a pig,” Mr. Pera recalls. “I couldn’t even do my job because I was so out of shape.”

In the lead-up to the 2014 opening of Coltivare Pizza & Garden, Mr. Pera’s vegetable-centric restaurant, he became a regular at Timberline Fitness Studio. For the first year, he worked out with a handful of different personal trainers. “I liked getting different perspectives, and I needed to get comfortable and confident in the gym,” he says. “One trainer used basketball drills, another focused on weights.”

He clicked with Jeff Raben, a former U.S. Army infantry officer who experiences chronic lower-back pain related to years of carrying heavy weight over long periods. “Since day one I connected with Jeff,” Mr. Pera says. He “understood what I was going through, and what types of exercises would help ease the pain and make me stronger so I didn’t reinjure my back.”

Their workouts using Pilates equipment focused on core strength and flexibility. After a year of Pilates combined with cardio workouts, Mr. Pera says he experienced back spasms less frequently, and he was able to go from 190 to 150 pounds. Two-and-a-half years later, he has maintained the weight loss and opened his third restaurant, Eight Row Flint, in December 2015.

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary