Antonio Valladares is an award winning New York City fitness and wellness coach with experience and specialized research in movement & exercise science, stress management, and nutrition. He offers a diverse perspective with a background in outdoor action sports, yoga, various styles of martial arts, scuba-diving, and even punk-rock world touring. Antonio specializes restorative fitness– with people who are burnt out from lifestyle or diet. In this interview he shares his thoughts on topics such as stress management, confusion in the wellness and fitness industries, personal growth, and developing an independent mindset. He'll dig even deeper in his upcoming 1-hour webinar.
Who are you, and how did you first get involved in the fitness industry?
My name is Antonio. I moved to New York City, and I had already done Yoga and martial arts. I was also touring and playing in punk bands. I kind of always wanted to do health and fitness. I applied at a gym and just started working as a trainer.
Your website’s motto is “The Art and Science of Wellness”. To you, what is the main differentiator between fitness and wellness?
It’s hard to tell these days. Both ideas have been corrupted by companies. Dude, the industry is broken. Wellness is one of the biggest industries on the planet, but a big portion of it is homogenized nonsense.
In terms of wellness, what I’m trying to do is present really simple concepts that will improve the quality of your life and reduce stress. The wellness industry is a $3 trillion industry and it’s full of a lot of nonsense or useless ideas. You have to get some education to understand that unfortunately. What I’m doing is trying to do is help people get strong –mentally and physically– improve the quality of life, and reduce stress.
Fitness can be expanded into more specific definitions such as strength and conditioning, hypertrophy, and general physical health health. There are a lot of ways to break down fitness. But I think we should view both under an overarching idea of 1) improved quality of life and 2) general physical health– that could mean preventing sickness, increasing muscle mass, or reducing stress. So fitness will can contribute to wellness, and vice-versa. That’s a pretty simple way to cover it.
In terms of my tag-line, there is a difference between the art and the science of wellness. Scientists are not awesome at communicating. I’m trying to bridge the gap and encourage scientific literacy. But I’m also an artist. The industry is overwhelmingly dominated by corruption: pseudoscience, deceiving people, and straight exploitation. Anyone getting into fitness or wellness today is going to have a challenge. There are so many conflicting ideas. Some are from good people promoting bad ideas, and some are from full charlatans.
I’m trying to be science based, and also artful in the way I communicate and inspire people. Without the art of elegant communication, it's almost impossible to educate and help people no matter how good the information you're conveying is. However, sometimes the best communicators in this industry are people who rationalize lying. Despite the its usefulness for spreading good information, internet marketing has damaged the health and wellness community.
Why did you choose to specialize in “Restorative Fitness”?
I chose it out of a need I saw. The need is still there, and pretty great. And it will only grow. There are a lot of people who are on or off a diet, and lot of people who pursue fitness and health goals. Many people undereat, eventually to the point where it becomes chronic and toxic. In several cases, people will chronically undereat and suffer symptoms of undereating such as metabolic damage and adrenal fatigue. Keep in mind those are just names of diagnoses people use to simplify the problems! Many fitness professionals like to find the answers and oversimplify, so they'll claim something is "metabolic damage" or “adrenal fatigue” just because. And a lot of people are misdiagnosed with things like this, when in actuality their problems could be broader and more complex.
Also, there are people who seek alternative health to resolve a health issue. Some of these people will pursue a diet or exercise program that sounds really good but is actually counterproductive, or even harmful.
My restorative program is for people who want to restore their health from problems like GI issues, metabolic damage, and adrenal fatigue. These people believe that they have something, but they are being sold solutions that are completely invalid.
Essentially, my restorative program came about helping people get healthier and helping corporate New York City clients with wellness.
Was there a particular moment in your life that spurred you to target busy, burnt-out people? ie. “Restorative Fitness”?
AV: I also fixed my health with similar methods and compiled it in a restorative fitness program. Busy people often resort to believing the most accessible information, but the most accessible information is sometimes misleading. It doesn’t matter what you believe. This is what will work for people that will have metabolic damage or adrenal fatigue.
What are some shortcuts popularized by the media that stressed people think can work, but are actually nonsense?
Three things stand out to me:
1) The Anti-Sugar Cult:
Most people seeking health are told to eliminate sugar. This usually creates an extreme mindset that leads to restriction, lack of energy, and hormonal damage. Carbs and sugar are excellent to keep mental and physical energy high, and facilitate a proactive response to stressors.
2) Anti-Aging and Wellness Industry:
Full of products that are completely ludicrous. People are spending quite a bit of money on things that simply don’t work. The reason companies in this industry are so successful is because they do a fantastic job of gaining consumers’ trust and representing themselves as “pure” and “friendly”.
3) Corruption of Mindfulness:
Anything that is valuable eventually becomes trendy and tarnished. There is nothing wrong with increased productivity, but there is definitely something wrong with turning something meant for mental health and stress reduction into a means for being able to generate more work.
Corporate American culture is sick– for example, being overworked and underslept is thought of as a virtue in the startup and financial worlds. Don't use mindfulness for the wrong way. I did a presentation on mindfulness at a corporation recently. I was appalled by the response. The people were arrogant about what they thought was correct about mindfulness. They didn't want to learn from me, they wanted to affirm their preexisting beliefs.
How does one keep an open mind and avoid such arrogance?
If anyone wants to get involved and improve their health and wellbeing, be careful. If you Google this stuff, man you’ll be taken for a ride. The smartest thing to develop is science literacy. The more you can understand and apply science, the more you can cut through the nonsense. I grew up a punk-rocker. To be skeptical is a working ethic of being punk-rock, and this trait has definitely kept me sharp being in this profession.
My advice for people like entrepreneurs is that criticizing someone doesn’t mean you’re envious of someone’s success. Instead, there is a valuable lesson to be heard. If you oversimplify and deceive, you’re going to make a ton of money. If you’re honest, and provide real knowledge, which might entail thoughtful disapproval of others, you certainly won’t be as popular, and will have to deal with criticism.
The biggest problem is that the [fitness] industry is very ethnocentric. Most people are giving prescriptions, telling people what to do and how to live. These people have no idea how the majority of people on Earth live. They don’t have any idea or basic awareness. All their ideas of wellness are based on privileged culture. There is a fight to be heard, and the more outrageous and extreme the person is, the more popular he will be.
How have your clients’ lives changed after following your holistic (mind and body) model of health? Any client transformations (could be mental or physical) that really stand out to you today?
My pregnancy clients have been the absolute best part of my clientele. They are strong throughout their pregnancy, recover in a healthy way, and their babies are healthy and wonderful.
We can learn some lessons from these clients. The core thing is that they’re self-motivated. They have a legitimate reason. I’ve had a client that had five heart surgeries in one year before he decided to exercise. Everyone has their reasons and motivations, but not everyone becomes aware.
The majority of people are deluded. Part of their unrealistic expectations is the media. Some other people do have reasons to achieve good health. The most important thing to recover from burnout or get fit is to be clear on your reason why.
What is the biggest problem you see among ambitious people neglecting their stress? What are the barriers? These type of people clearly know how to achieve their goals as busy working individuals, but when it comes to their stress, they either don’t realize at all that they are plummeting themselves into the ground, or fail epically to regulate the stress if they try. It’ pretty much a norm today.
I've seen this in my experience with financial industry clients in Manhattan. There are clearly problems with corporate America and the actual culture. Overworking and being unstressed is considered a virtue– and that couldn't be more wrong.
1) It is a structural issue, just the way our professional industries have developed. The illusion of success.
2) In my experience, people pursuing health and fitness pursue ideas that they think are helping but can often cause more stress themselves. For example, low carb, anti-sugar movements stress people not only physically due to the effects of these diets, but also mentally due to the restriction.
Also, I worked with this dude who was a multi-millionaire. The first day I came in he said, “I was so bad last night. You need to crush me.” Ideas like this are harmful. They’re popular, you can get a trendy new jerk trainer, but they don’t understand any of the psychological stuff. The dude really thought he should have been punished for eating cupcakes!
I’m at a point right now where I’m done with people trying to prove to me how much they know and trying to impress me. There are all sorts of problems out there, but if you’re fortunate to find a good coach and program, and you can stick with it, you will have fantastic results.
You have quite some experience traveling the world, engaging in exotic activities, going on rock tours, Yoga trips, and doing other really cool things. So after all of your adventures around the world, what made you launch a fitness career in NYC, one of the most stressful places on earth?
My intention when I came to New York was not about fitness. It was about music. New York City was the epicenter of punk rock, so I came there. Eventually I realized touring was pretty hard. It was a little rough staying up until 4-5AM in the morning, and I was very passionate about health and fitness, so it was very natural transition. I got to the point where I didn’t want to continue doing music touring. I got my fitness and nutrition education and certifications, and was hired by great gyms and worked with great mentors in the NYC region.
I found it interesting you managed to remain clean-cut in the punk rock scene. I’m sure there was a lot of pressure to do things you were uncomfortable with. Did you use any strategy to get around this pressure, or are you naturally an independent, strong-minded person?
For me, I was raised independent, and didn’t have those pressures. Straight edge punk rock was a wonderful experience. But I will say my experience is unique. I personally took a different stance. I had a positive motivating force. With punk rock we were trying to create something.
Most people weren’t raised by a single mother who was amazing. I was unique and outspoken my whole life. Even then, people were still spreading negativity about me. I was called gay in 9th grade behind my back, only because people were envious that I was dating the most attractive girls.
Punk rock was thought to be for druggies. Anyone who is independent in a culture of conformity will get a lot of flack and pressure. If you’re going to stand out and be unique, people are going to hate you. Probably that is normal in any society, but I think that if you manage your expectations, you should be okay.
No matter what you do, there will be people that will love you and hate you. You should know both, but if you take a strong stance on anything and prepare expectations, your lovers and haters will become obvious, and won’t take you by surprise. This will especially help in the modern Internet and business era, where harassment is very real. With success comes inevitable criticism, so just manage your expectations so you’re not caught off guard.
You said you experienced a lot before 21. What were some influential things that you experienced at a young age?
–Being a raised by a single mother in that era:
My mother was a strong, free thinking woman and an immigrant. I was a first generation American with a very unique upbringing. I appreciate that my mother encouraged me to explore different areas, especially music.
–Traveling more than anyone I know:
My mom started me out with the gift of traveling, and I'm glad she inspired me to be adventurous. I went to high school in Israel. I went scuba diving and shark-diving in different places around the world, practiced extreme sports, learned different styles of martial arts, and went on a couple India trips to learn Yoga.
–Growing up with a diverse group of friends in Miami:
Racism and prejudice were never even considered growing up. This has really contributed to my open mind today.
Started playing in bands and toured all over North America and Europe. This allowed me to express myself, and develop a trustworthy group of friends.
The three things that helped me the most were traveling, playing music, and having a unique role model [mother]. However, I realize these things are a luxury that not everyone can appreciate.
If there is one piece of advice you can give to young, ambitious people in particular for them to better their lives, what would it be?
I could probably come up 3-4 answers to this, but here’s a big one:
My biggest career mistake would be a valuable lesson. I did not have proper long term planning or management. I did really well in this industry, and then I burned out. Looking back, I could have properly planned or managed my career better. If you’re enthusiastic about something and you love, it’ll be easy to burn out. You just need to plan and manage your long term planning. You’re investing yourself emotionally.
Regarding the whole "do what you love” life coaching and positive thinking community– which I have a lot to talk about– I think a large portion of it is deluded. All of this mindset coaching is an artifact of people being unaware. They pride themselves on being conscious, but they don't even understand what real consciousness is. Not everyone can do what they love. That gives unrealistic expectations.
Thanks so much for your time. I had a lot of fun talking to you. Your perspective needs to be heard by more people passionate about the body, mind, and truth. Excited to dig into the details and practical application of these topics in your upcoming webinar.
No problem. Look forward to it, I have a lot to talk about.