Personal chemistry – Toni Koski

It’s 5am, and I’m meeting Toni, director of operations at the Mietoinen plant, beside the door of Target Gym. Why this early? That was the question on my mind at 4am, when I started my journey from Turku to Naantali. There are several reasons for the early start. Some of them are easy to understand. Toni has five children and is actively involved in their hobbies. Other reasons are more closely tied to his personality, which is so complex and multifaceted that if he were a character in a soap opera, viewers would not find him credible. This morning’s agenda includes a lower-body strength workout – in other words, it’s a leg day at the gym. I put on my gym gear and participate, even though weight training doesn’t feature among my favorite pastimes. While working up a sweat, we discuss what it’s like to be a manager at Chemigate’s reagent plant.

Toni  father, husband, coach, director of operations
at Chemigate’s Mietoinen plant, tough guy, and real mensch.

The weight training and combat sports (hapkido and mixed martial arts) he practiced in his youth have shaped not only his body but also his mind. Somehow, the two seem to balance one another. Toni has an easy smile and a hearty laugh, and he can also laugh at himself. This big man exudes self-confidence and tranquility. Even though the mental image of Toni and yours truly pumping iron together caused mirth at the office, Big Toni does not mention the difference in the weights we lift, measured in hundreds of kilograms, even once. In fact, coaching seems to come to him naturally. 

He responds to the question about his early mornings with a shrug, saying: “It’s a little like brushing my teeth. Once it becomes a habit, you don’t give it a second thought. It’s just what you do.” For Toni, weight training means challenging oneself. He looks in the mirror only when he wants to check that he is performing the moves correctly. Toni is also very methodical about training. He records every single set and repetition in his training diary. “I like to be organized about things,” he explains. This characteristic is reflected in the way he manages the Mietoinen plant too. In addition to being methodical, he is always looking to develop and move forward. Whereas his progress at the gym is visible from his yellow notebook, the work put into the operations of the plant is reflected in the facility’s results. Over the course of Chemigate’s history, the production volume of reagents has doubled. An energy-savings project launched at the plant also gets a stamp of approval from the director of operations. “This project will decrease our carbon footprint and improve heat recovery in a way that represents a major step forward,” says Toni. 

Toni records his progress meticulously in a yellow training diary.

A rowing machine and two-footed jumps take care of warming up. Next, we work out the back of the thighs. With Wednesdays and weekends off, Toni trains at the gym four times a week. His easy training program for beginners can be found at the end of this article. Weight training primarily helps Toni feel calm during a busy day at work. It is his coaching activities that have taught him some of the skills a manager needs. Working with the girls’ under-17 ice-hockey team has taught him that all people are different.

While doing exercises on a machine to strengthen the backs of our thighs constituted a civilized activity that allowed conversation, the next part of the workout program is something altogether more primitive. The heavy-metal music blasting from the speakers creates a fitting atmosphere for the next exercise: the barbell back squat. According to Toni, this move is the king of gym exercises. After a few warm-up sets, we add more weights to the bar, which is already looking impressive. Today, the single-repeat maximum weight is a little over 200 kg.  Toni makes easy work of the weight, though the bulging veins on his reddening face are beginning to resemble a map of Finland’s waterways.

Pumping iron.

All the weights on the barbell are of the same color and face the same direction. Toni laughs and says, “I’m on the autistic spectrum when it comes to placing weights on the bar. If you put mixed weights on your barbell, I won’t be able to use the same equipment as you.” This might come as a surprise to an outsider, but when I call him Rain Man, there are no “Hulk smash!” yells or threats to tear my limbs off. Instead, he lets out a contagious laugh. 

A rookie vs. the master.

As we move on to calf-muscle exercises, we note that thoroughness and care bordering on pedantry can be only a good thing when it comes to safety, which plays a major role in both weightlifting and modern-day industrial production. “I’m not saying that this job couldn’t be done differently, but this is my way of doing it,” says Toni, and the weight of his tone matches the weight on the barbell.

This may sound hard to believe, but it is possible to work out till your legs shake so much that you can’t hold a pen in your hand. We’ve been at the gym for almost two hours before Toni says, “Let’s end the torture with some ab exercises.” This involves hanging from a bar and raising one’s legs straight upward to a 90° angle. At least it does for Toni.It’s almost 7:30am when we approach the plant and it’s time to discuss who is going to be our next victim. “Ask Maisa,” says Toni, knowing that this challenge is hard to turn down.   

Toni’s training program for aspiring gym bunnies

MONDAY (pushing moves):

  • bench press 3 x 6
  • overhead press with dumbbells 3 x 8
  • reverse fly with dumbbells 3 x 10 
  • dip 2 x max. number of repeats

WEDNESDAY (pulling moves):

  • pull-up 3 x 6–8
  • bent-over rowing with a barbell 3 x 10
  • deadlift 1 x 5
  • biceps curl with dumbbells 3 x 8

FRIDAY (legs):

  • leg curls sitting / lying down 3 x 8
  • squat 3 x 5
  • step squat 3 x 10–15
  • calf raise sitting / standing 3 x 8