A personal trainer’s job has expanded well beyond the mandate to get bigger, stronger, faster, and the dictum to “gimme three more reps.” No trainer represents the evolution of the role better than Josh Holland.
The duties of a “celebrity trainer” these days go well beyond simply getting a client bigger or leaner. The professional responsibilities have expanded to include being a nutritionist, support coach, life coach, Olympic trainer, and even choreographer.
A look at Holland’s resume—holistic trainer; cellular exercise therapist; biohacker; podcast Host; certified trainer; EMS certified; primal blueprint coach; movement specialist — reflects the diverse roles he may have to undertake with any client at any time, whether it’s getting an actor into stage shape or a post-70 rock legend ready for another tour, or as his most recent assignment, making as superhero out of an actor, as Holland was tasked with when teaming up with Moon Knight star Oscar Isaac. Despite the differences of fitness levels, Holland says each celeb shares one similarity.
“Each one of them has a clear vision of their goals,” Holland says of his celebrity training experiences. So what are the duties of a celebrity trainer? You could check out upcoming book, The Awareness Shift, in which he details his wellness philosophy and strategy, or you could just keep reading.
What title would best label you?
The term more closely aligned to what I do is a health optimization coach, or holistic health coach. Health optimization includes all things fitness — nutrition, sleep, longevity practices, even helping out with a role. For Moon Knight, I was able to put my expertise in dance and martial arts to help Oscar be able to do all different types of things.
And if there’s something Oscar needs that I don’t specialize in, I’ll go out and find the person who does so he doesn’t have to worry about it. This is what I do.
Since you can’t be in 24-7 contact, what is your role when the workout’s done?
Being more than just a trainer enables me to be a little more candid in conversations with Oscar and other clients in emphasizing that although I will help, the responsibility is ultimately on them. I can just say to Oscar, “Hey, bro, you’re the one who’s got to be naked on screen. I’m happy to help you as much as you want. But at the end of the day, you’re the one who’s got to do it and embody this role. When I talk to him in that way, then it’s just kind of like, “OK, got it.”
What were the bullet point goals for Oscar to get “mercenary-ready” for Moon Knight?
For starters, mobility and resiliency are things we worked on. Mobility is something that we incorporate in every program, but even more this time because we knew that he was going to have to be more expressive via the different characters he’s playing. And since he was going to be on screen a lot more this time, his body needed to be more resilient, and some of the best ways to do that is by building muscle. So, in order to both build muscle and stay mobile in resembling an ex-mercenary, we incorporated a lot of crawling and parkour-type movements. We did this at a Brooklyn Gym called Brooklyn Zoo. We would practice jumping from high platforms and falling on crash pads.
I also wanted to stress endurance, because of the long break between training because of COVID, I wanted to make sure we didn’t encounter any injuries.
On top of all of that that, we really had to practice fighting, because since he’s playing an ex-mercenary, it needed to look believable.
How’s Oscar to work with?
One thing I love about working with Oscar is that he learns very fast and wants to deliver better than anyone I’ve ever seen. At the same time, I have to help push him at times like, “Hey, bro, you can only do five pullups now, but in order to get over this ledge in your scene, you need to be able to do five muscle-ups.” Little subtleties like that.
Does the average gymgoer need a health optimization coach or does a trainer suffice?
In my view, the difference between a “regular trainer” and a health optimization coach is simply being able to provide awareness that aren’t as clear to someone from the jump. After 20 years of experience, I’ve learned to identify things that are glaring to me but may not jump out to someone else. Basically, my philosophy is broken down into five optimal health and wellness “pillars”: awareness, quality rest and recovery, quality consumption, quality activeness, and quality exercise. And among those five pillars, to me exercise is the least important one.
You also refer to yourself as a “biohacker.” Do most people even know what that term means?
I think biohacker is an overused term that gets thrown around too often, but there’s a negative connotation associated with the word. Nowadays people just automatically assume that a biohacker uses a bunch of gadgets to test on themselves to try and eke out a little more longevity. On social media, a biohacker uses all the bells and whistles that look cool and may go viral, but at the end of the day biohacking is just learning how to tweak and optimize your body.
What is one your signature strategies you use with your clients?
I incorporate isometrics with all of my clients. I have them do a very basic test of holding a plank and a wall sit — 15 seconds on and five seconds off; it kind of uses a Tabata protocol, but it’s the opposite of explosive. By the time we complete all the rounds, my clients are like, “Whoa, this was way harder than I expected.” And that’s because you’re using raw strength and not momentum. And then they begin noticing themselves becoming leaner because of using just raw strength. From there we can build off that by using other apparatuses like a yoga strap or even an Iso Chain.
How do you assess a client?
I’ll take them through this movement analysis pattern that I developed. This also allows me to identify various other things. It’s 10 movements, starting by performing a deep squat with your elbows inside your knees as an anchor — but if you can’t even get into a deep squat, then there’s almost no reason to go through the rest of the movements. Then it goes to squat with arms forward then extended over your shoulders with thumbs up to show external rotation, and then continues to progress each time.
What are you looking for during this assessment?
I can learn a lot from this strategy. How is the client breathing? What are they doing when the movement becomes tough? Are they holding their breath? Are their heels lifting? Knee or hip pain? Ankle blockages? Can they do it both with shoes on and barefoot?
Then I start to embed other things outside of the fitness movement piece. For instance, I might say that we’re gonna do that for more time. Sometimes people will look at me like, why? There are Type A’s who need to know how many rounds. I want to see where their trigger is. So I’m able to extract a lot of info from just this, and now I know where I’m headed with this person.
Are you the ideal coach for everyone?
Not at all. I almost always start a conversation with every client with, “Hey, we’re gonna start with a session, and here’s my single-session rate and this is what it’s going to look like. And from there we take it to the next stages and keep building. But I always let someone know that we may not be a great fit — and I use the word “we.” For whatever reason, if it doesn’t work, I’m more than happy to send a referral to other great trainers who may be a better fit for you. And I always want to make the client aware of that right at the beginning, before we even start.
Why should a client trust their fitness with you?
I always say trust no one, and what I mean by that is to be constantly curious. I want a person to have confidence in me and, and be able to rely on me as a resource. But I don’t know everything — and I’ve never professed to know everything nor do I want to know everything. That’s a lot of pressure. But I know a lot of people who collectively, we can probably come up with some damn great solutions. At the end of the I want to be on your team, and that’s when we can get to the real root of what’s going on with any kind of issue.
How have you evolved since your first client?
I had a very unconventional start into the fitness business. I worked a GNC while I was living in Oklahoma. Before I was fully certified, one of my high school basketball teammates came up to me and said he’d pay me to show him some of my programs I was doing. I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time.
But as a professional trainer, one of my first real clients was Madonna — this is the reason why I say it’s very unconventional. She was when I started to really learn how to train someone. It was Madonna who helped me skyrocket into becoming a legit trainer.
In what ways did she help you become a better trainer?
The reason I bring up Madonna is because she was one of the main people who always asked why to everything I suggested. At first, that used to make me nervous because I thought it was because she didn’t believe in me, but it was never that. She wanted to make sure I knew what the hell I was talking about so that if nothing else, she could wrap her head around it and tell others why her coach had her doing such and such a move.
At the same time, because she’s quick to call you out on your bullshit, I also had to learn not to bullshit my way around something. I had to be willing to say, “I don’t know, but I’m willing to figure it out.” I think that lesson has enabled me over time to become a trusted resource to a lot of people over time.
How do you adjust when a strategy doesn’t go according to plan?
When a plan is set, usually it’s a big picture type of plan, but the journey to get to that end result can be down many paths. It’s very rare that I have to completely abandon something, maybe in the case of an injury, in those cases we have mitigation strategies. One example was with Oscar for Moon Knight. Neither of us realized early on just how busy he was going to be — I mean, he’s going down there every scene, because he’s doing so many different characters in this series. So we didn’t have nearly the amount of time we thought we would.
So I had to drastically change what I thought we were going to be doing. We originally planned five times a week for training, strength training mixed with some form of cardio, pretty typical. But we weren’t getting nowhere near that type of schedule. We had to train whenever we could, sometimes it had to be just in his trailer during set changes or weather delays.
What’s a piece of advice for those who don’t use a trainer or coach?
They need to be more aware of their movement because awareness is something that is gained with another set of eyeballs and a different perspective. And so I think somebody who is going to try to go at anything alone, just be willing to create various perspective and vantage points. I would also say try and utilize video. There’s a difference between thinking you’re doing something correctly versus actually seeing it.
What’s the message you want to convey in your book?
I essentially wanted to provide a resource and address a lot of the questions I keep getting asked, like, what do you do with clients? Why do these big-name clients work with you? What is your approach? And I finally laid that out in a book format and kind of explained everything I do. It’s very hard to put like everything I want to say into one book, but at least now I wanted to provide some kind of framework to what it is I do with clients. And so if any of my clients were to pick up this book and read it, they would go, “Ah! That’s what he’s been doing with me.”
What’s your favorite reward of being a coach?
What’s beautiful about working with clients like Oscar, for instance, is I can now watch Moon Knight each week, and see the episodes unfold. And that’s almost like seeing my artwork, like at the end of Episode Two when you see Oscar’s body, as well as certain moments in Dune. These are those moments where I can just smile to myself.
Another example is training Roger Waters. He’s 78 years old and about to go on another tour. He literally told me, if it wasn’t for you taking care of me, I wouldn’t be doing this.
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