Friday, July 22, 2011

Interview with JC Santana

Here is an interview I conducted with a HUGE mentor of mine and someone I really respect in this industry--not only for his charismatic approach and great knowledge--but because JC Santana tells it how it is and has nothing to hide. JC Santana runs the Institute of Human Performance (IHP) in Boca Raton, FL and has been an international speaker for personal trainers, fitness fanatics, and professionals around the globe for a number of years.

When I first heard Juan Carlos Santana speak, it was in Boston around 2001. I was knee deep in my first real full-time personal training gig and I was at a seminar looking to learn new things. I listened to 4 speakers before JC took the stage, and once he did---not only to he grab my attention by the throat whereas the others did not, but I felt the passion and enthusiasm in his voice! At that time, I believed every personal trainer should be cut out of this mold: having a passion for your clients' well-being. I believe JC possesses that 10-fold. 

This fitness maverick has been doing things his way for years; and time and time again he has success. While the scientists review the research and write the books, JC leaves the lab coat behind and hits the Free Motion cable press or hits the bag a few hundred times.

While he is busy managing 8 businesses, training MMA fighters, or running numerous group training classes at IHP (Institute of Higher Performance in Boca Raton, FL), JC took some time to share with me his thoughts. And they were good thoughts...

JOHN: You have been noted as calling fitness "the most powerful concept known to man". You have compared fitness to love---also a very powerful concept in human nature---as a verb and not only as a noun.

JC: Hollywood made it a noun. Love has always been a verb first; but you have to do it in order to get it –and that you can’t cheat! This is one of the many wonderful and basic principles left on this earth that can’t be cheated! It is not so much that people look for love in all of the wrong places. The big problem is that they try to buy it with the wrong currency! The currency is altruism, compassion, forgiveness, and time! This quick, “I want it now!” society seems to be running short on that currency.

JOHN: I understand when you say that and would like to know,how and when you discovered this comparison?

JC: I have always known it, but just lately I have put the pieces together where I can conceptualize it and teach it!

JOHN: How important is discovering this concept to the success of a fitness professional?

JC: It is essential to anyone –the faster you learn it, the better you life is. If we raise our children with these principles (Fitness can play a huge role in this) we may be able to undo what Rap and Hip-Hop have done in one generation. JOHN: Your business has had HUGE success using functional training concepts for the general population clientele, as well as athletes. Yet, lately the idea of "functional training" is being shunned by many of today's fitness experts (first we have to define what an expert is) that solely preach heavy loading, HIIT, and anti-unstable surface training.

JOHN: Your business has had HUGE success using functional training concepts for the general population clientele, as well as athletes. Yet, lately the idea of "functional training" is being shunned by many of today's fitness experts (first we have to define what an expert is) that solely preach heavy loading, HIIT, and anti-unstable surface training.

JC: We have to define what an expert is. Just because an engineer is an expert in electronics, does not mean they know crap about bridges and buildings. Therefore, an exercise physiologist, a researcher, or an Olympic Weightlifting coach, should think they know anything about what gets done in a fitness or sports gym! That is the major problem –people who know nothing about this method of training speak out of terms and “out of school.” These “experts” often take something that has been “mis-represented” as fact and go on rants! These rants that give way these types of questions. The concept of unstable training is also something that has been bastardized. When the phrase was first used, it was used to differentiate between fixed positions (i.e. Bench press, Chest machines) versus unstable positions (the Standing Cable/Band Press). From here, we took the damn things into the circus world with Paul Chek’s Standing Ball squat, the BOSU revolution, and over-emphasis on unusable balance exercises! People have started to over emphasize balance and forgot about stability. So we try to balance a pyramid on a point and forget to make it strong on its base (where it belongs). So the unstable training has been misused and abused. This is where much of the problems still remain. A little balance is OK, but nothing beats getting on your base (with nothing under your feet), attaching as much weight as possible to the distal points and rocking it!

JOHN: Why has functional training endured so much crap and why does it still work if so many professionals discount it?

JC: It has lasted and will continue to explode because it works if you know what it is and how to do it. It works so well that even people who misuse it get results (e.g. better performance, eliminated pain, etc.). PLUS – it is fun and full of diversity – it is not the same old machine or BB and DB exercises everyday! Grow to love it because it is not going anywhere. Dr. Stu McGill is the #1 functional training and spine researcher right now. I published a paper with him proving what we have known for years (that the bench press has nothing to do with pushing from the standing position), so, more “master of the obvious” stuff with the scientist. They want us to prove what we have known for years through practice – but forgot one thing…. That’s their job! I’d say they are running a bit behind (about 15-20 years or so), wouldn’t you?

JOHN: It is all too obvious that your passion for fitness has elevated you to the top of the industry. It seems that the passion to understand "fitness is a journey to discovering yourself" is lost among fitness professionals. Do you think that true "genuine-ness" and passion are prerequisites for success as a fitness professional?

JC: I think realizing how fitness plays a roll in teaching all of the wonderful principles we are losing in society will certainly allow any fitness professional to inspire and motivate any client. However, we (the fitness industry) still think we are in the business of fitness and exercises. We are no more in that business as a surgeon is in the business of scapulas or a carpenter is in the hammer business. We are in the “Make people happy by improving their lives” business! AND, that is done through inspiration and motivation! Fitness is the vehicle and exercises/workout/programs are the tools we use to improve their lives (make them happier).

Most people that stay active and fit DO NOT REACH THE GOAL THEY CAME TO FITNESS WITH (99% of the times is to drop 10-20 pounds). However, they stay with their gym, trainer, or program……WHY? Cause they had another problem, and it was not a weight problem; they were not happy with the way their life was going and fitness made it better! SO it is not weight loss, or exercise knowledge, that brings people to fitness (although they may think that at the onset of their journey) – they come to fitness because movement and physical effort are part of the human psyche (more so then the human body) –as much as we may have alienated ourselves from that concept. So the “lessons/benefits” of fitness are much more them meets VO2, your HR, or even your big guns!

JOHN: If so, do you think it was lost along the way and where?

JC: What we have lost is looking at us right in the face. We want more for less, we want to over consume without care of what it will cost in the end, we want buy stuff to be happy, and we have lost the discipline necessary to stay the course of common sense and logic. Look at the mess this world is in! Try to hire in today’s work force and see what you get……..CRAP! It just so happens that this is the same generation that lost Physical Ed in school…… Coincidence?.... I say not! This is what you get when you don’t learn the basic fundamentals of humanity (physical staleness let’s the mind run astray and rap/hip-hop, as a culture, sends it in the wrong direction).

JOHN: JC, we both know injuries suck. You are recently coming off a major injury. What is your philosophy in regards to injuries as we age in the weight-room?
JC: I have rehabilitated a Complete ACL Reconstruction in 9 weeks, and now a HIP resurfacing in 14 weeks! I’m nothing special – if I was I would not needed these procedures. However, I was raised by the Greatest Generation, and I’m an “old-school” immigrant (I came to the US as a 7 year-old). So, I have always used my immigrant experience, hard work, physicality, and optimism to get me through challenges. Yes, sometimes challenges suck, nobody likes to be broke, injured, tired, or disillusioned! However, I see these unfavorable conditions as challenges and I always meet them the only way sports and life has taught me – with hard work and optimism. This approach I learned from sports and fitness and it has carried me through many troubled waters! That is why I’m such a believer in fitness and want to teach this outlook on life.

In terms of age and overuse injuries – it is pretty simple. You can’t sore with the eagles with out a price (unless you are a genetic freak). I was not gifted with physical genetics – I’m a Santana – which I have taught my children means… “You have to work twice as hard as others to be half as good……BUT daddy stood in a very short line when it came to genes… the line where HARD WORK AND PERSEVERANCE was being handed out.” Where others got looks, speed, power, and grace, I got the fuel to out last them all – thus, I’m where I am.

JOHN: The personal training industry has been one of the fastest growing professions in the last 5-10 years according to IDEA. However, in my experience as a fitness professional and a manager, I find that a "good" trainer is hard to find. You would think with so many young trainers entering the field, they must possess the passion to help others, but something along the way is being lost. I have found that many young fitness professionals possess an "elitist", or condescending tone with their fellow man and simply do not have the temperament to pick someone up when they are down. Was it lost in your opinion and if so, when?

JC: “As I mentioned before – good people are hard to find these days. We have created a society that lacks the principles (not to be confused for values) that once made us a great nation; work ethic, commitment, and passion are the stuff of speeches, not practice. The condescending tone you hear comes from the sense of entitlement this new generation has. Generation X (the part of the baby boomers that did not identify with the greatest generation) parted from the values instilled by the greatest generation. Generation Y, as in “Why Bother?” is the turning point where we started to lose it the strong traditional values many of us look for in employees, friends and associates”.

JOHN: Your products always seem to stand out among the hundreds of products on the market. Please tell my readers a bit more about your newest product "Midlife Makeover". Why did you choose to create a product based on your personal life experience?

JC: “It is really simple; as good as I tried to be and as hard as I worked – I crashed! While some thought I was living their dreams, I was depressed and at an all time low. So – I figured – if this happened to me –what about the rest of the world? I was the quintessential trainer and personal training client all in one and I was crashing. So I figured that personal trainers that worked as hard as I did, and lost their way could benefit from my story. I also realized that I was “our clients” and if we could understand them better we could help them better –it’s that simple.

I have always thought I had my shit together, John. I’m strong minded, hard working, a good family man, a good friend, etc. I work very hard at being as good as I can be. I fell in love with many traditional values and took them to extreme. The results were…. My kids got their big birthdays, the wife got her nanny and I got the red-eye from California. I finally got into a depressive state and I went on medication for 10 days. Then I got it – I learned a huge lesson, got some balance back into my life, and forever changed my views on many things. I wrote the book to help others while at the same time involving myself in a very cathartic event, recollecting, and organizing my entire life.”

JOHN: You tend to distance yourself from many other fitness professionals.

JC: “WOW – did not think anyone had noticed. You’re the first one to mention it! BUT – so very true!”

JOHN: I don't see many of your articles posted on fitness websites and I don't hear about you rubbing shoulders with "so n' so".

JC: “I write for magazines and journals (e.g. Ultimate Grappling, NSCA journal, some pop mags, etc.). I don’t have time for forums, blogs, etc. It gets to be a little sewing circle in most cases, and people start writing crap about each other (putting each other down) and I’m not into that! So I write for my friends, colleagues and members. We keep it positive, provocative, stimulating, and kind (whenever possibleJ). That is why you don’t see too much of my writing on other people’s web sites.”

JOHN: Do you find that finding colleagues that share your similar beliefs gets more difficult the more the fitness industry grows? Or am I completely off the mark with this question?

JC: “NO – you’re actually right on. I learn more through analysis then by being dished information. Few people I can read, and fewer I can actually listen to. I think too many “experts” make things too complicated, which begs the question, “who are they trying to impress and why?” I’m certain I have been guilty of that and if some old dude thought the same of me a few years back I would agree with him 100%. I’m convinced we don’t do half of what we think we know, so I’m concentrating on the creative aspect of exercise and program design. Making it the best, making it safe, and making it fun is where I am. Let the scientist talk and study what I do – but I will not let them tell me it does not work – I can replicate it time and time again with the same excellent results.

So many topics, such as flexibility, functional training, spinal rehabilitation, nutrition, biomechanics, etc. have such grey areas that we really don’t know shit! Yet, experts pontificate with an absolute certainty in their hypothesis that they sell it as fact. For example, nobody knows what ‘scar tissue” really is and if can be eliminated through any means. Show me the before and after biopsies –they can’t even read it in an MRI! And –the muscular balance/imbalance stuff is killing me –they don’t even know what balance is….. How about a neutral spine – what the hell is that? And the list goes on and on!

All I know is that muscle does only on two things; it lengthens and shortens under load (the concept of overload). Through adaptation it does that with greater loads (the concept of progressive overload). I also know that this body moves as a coordinated unit –not as individuals muscles (neuromuscular coordination) and as we learn movements we get better at them until they become second nature (neural engramming). I also know that the harder you work, the more you can (increased functional capacity). Sooo –whatever progressive overload, functional movement, and hard circuit training can fix – it ain’t mine to fix!:) So life becomes very simple – but I guess that is not a popular notion when all we are selling these days is a lot of cheeseJ If you ask me what I do I’ll say the same thing every time, “I make bullet - proof Mother F&^%$#s at IHP.” We train hard and we train smart. The rest does not keep my attention.” [END] 

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