Joel Harper – The 411 Dr. Oz’s Personal Trainer

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Jonathan: Hey, everyone! Jonathan Bailor coming at you with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. Truly a joy to welcome today’s guest on to this show because this is an individual who, not only do I respect professionally, but personally has just been a great beacon of light in my own life; one of the early supporters of the Smarter Science of Slim, which is just wonderful. He is the celebrity personal trainer. He is doing all kinds of great work. He’s been creating custom workouts and personal training with celebrities and everyday people for nearly 20 years. His clients range from Dr. Oz to Olympic medalists to just 10-year-old kids learning to appreciate their own health. He is the creator of the Fit Pack DVD series. He’s been in all sorts of media, co-authored and written chapters in the popular YOU book series, and he’s just an awesome guy! His website is joelharperfitness.com and the man is Joel Harper. Joel, welcome to the show!

Joel: Hey, Jonathan. How’re you doing?

Jonathan: Hey, I’m doing great, Joel! It’s absolutely a pleasure to have you on the show, brother. How are things?

Joel: Going good. Going really good. It’s nice to be on the show on July 4th of all days!

Jonathan: I know. We’re recording on July 4th. Well, Joel, let’s back up here for a second but one of the key reasons I wanted to have you on the show was, you have had such a profound and mainstream impact on the fitness and health world and it’s such a crowded arena. Can you tell us a bit about your story and how you ‘rose through the ranks’ – for lack of better terms?

Joel: Well, I luckily moved to New York City in High School. I love this city, there’s always something going on, and it really exposed me to a great variety of people. When I moved here, I got involved in the modeling industry and that kind of easily made it a great segway to get into training and helping people get into amazing shape – which in a modeling career, you’ve got to be in good shape or you’re not going to get work, so they kind of went hand-in-hand. And I love teaching at gyms and I love helping people take their workout to the next level and really accomplish those dreams and get in the best shape they possibly could. So that kind of is how it got me started and I just got addicted to doing it.

But my parents kept saying, “Oh, you’ve got to go back to business school. You’ve got to finish your schooling and blah, blah, blah.” So I went to business school at NYU and I started working for a money management firm – and I liked doing that, but I didn’t love it – and I know how quick time goes by, so I segwayed out of that and started training and helping people get in great shape every day.

Jonathan: I love it, Joel. I love it. What keeps you just personally….? Certainly I never touched the training arena as deeply as you have. I dappled, but could not compare myself to you. How do you keep things fresh – not only for you, but for your clients?

Joel: I’m always taking classes, always learning, and there’s always something new and different out there. So I’m always a perennial student. I always love taking classes and learning from other people and things that I’ve forgot and just mixing it up in variety. In New York City, the weather’s always changing. You’ve got to use that to your advantage by – when it’s great weather, you can go out there and when it’s not, you’ve got to climb up a 60-story building.

Jonathan: Well, Joel, for the individuals out there who are considering maybe working with a trainer, what would you say are some of the key things to look for? Maybe, the top 3 things to look for when looking for a trainer and the top 3 things to watch out for?

Joel: First off, you have to like the person, but not so much. You want to like them but you don’t want to love them because you don’t want to get distracted by their personality and other factors. You want to make sure that they’re in really good shape. It’s like a dentist. You wouldn’t go to a dentist who had no front teeth and their teeth are really crooked. You want to go to a trainer who is in really good shape because if they’re in really good shape, they obviously know what they’re doing. Then after that, you want to make sure they’re breaking up your workout and they’re listening to you. My clients question every single workout. The body has moods just like the mind.

Every day, there’s something different going on with your body. If you slept on one side of your body all night long, if you ate too late last night, if something’s going on with your knee – your trainer needs to know that stuff. Every one of my clients, I know everything about their bodies because a lot of people have muscle imbalance and any trainer needs to fix that and balance your body out, so that you have a well-balanced body so that you can do everything. You always want to leave a workout feeling energized and tension-free. You don’t want to feel like, “Oh my God. I’m completely beat up. I don’t want to do anything else the rest of the afternoon.” So your trainer should always leave you feeling energized and completely tension-free.

Jonathan: Joel, I love what you said about ensuring that you’re working…. Or let’s use a better phrase because that was a great example of “You wouldn’t go to a dentist that has no front teeth.” It seems like, quite often, we see individuals in the fitness industry whose physical manifestation does not seem to represent adherence to the very guidance they recommend. Why do you think that is so common?

Joel: It’s common everywhere. There are therapists who can’t get their lives together and it’s just they ended up in that field. A lot of people got into training because it’s easy, it’s a great way to make quick money, you can create your own schedules – there are some very good perks about it. Just like with any business, you get a wide variety of people in it. Some are great at it and some are not so good. I get emails all the time from people who do my DVDs and they’re like, “Oh my God. I love your DVDs. Do you know somebody in my area because my trainer doesn’t push me or doesn’t get the results that I get from just doing your DVDs.”

So you really want to find somebody who listens to your specific goals and helps you with those goals every single workout. Training’s expensive, whatever city you’re in. It costs a lot of money. That’s why I recommend people if they don’t have a huge amount of money to spend on it to do workout DVDs, because you can do them in the comfort of your own home and you can work out with some of the top trainers.

Jonathan: Joel, I love how you mentioned your specific goals because I can imagine you’ve seen… maybe ‘opposite’ is not the right word… but kind of the opposite problem where you have a man or a woman who is a genetic anomaly, meaning they can achieve dramatic esthetic fitness results, potentially, even sitting on the couch. They’re eating not so well, they’re doing potentially terrible form exercise, and they still get ripped up just because they’re blessed genetically. Then they become a trainer and they want to say, “Well, clients, you should just do what I do and you will see results like I do.” Do you see instances where that happens as well?

Joel: I do. That’s why that’s key, as what I said before, is listening to the clients. The trainer has got to be a good listener. With all my clients, I don’t project on to them. It has nothing to do with me. It has all to do with them, their body, and their personality type. At the same time, Jonathan, I ask them questions throughout the whole workout. I work on a number scale from 0 to 10. 0 means you don’t feel it very much, 10 means you really feel it because everybody’s face is different. Some people will make a face at a number 4, some people make a face at number 8.

So in order to give them a really good workout, I need for them to understand the number scale and to spit it out during the entire workout. It also goes with their eating, with their sleeping, with their water intake, with their attitude, because I want my clients not only to be in great shape, but I also want them to enjoy it. I also want them enjoying all the other hours they’re not with me because if they’re not enjoying their life, they’re not a happy client, then I really didn’t do my job.

Jonathan: Joel, that is such a critical distinction that I really appreciate you making because it seems that one of the most common – if not the most common – approaches to people getting educated on how to exercise is to go to the gym or go to some place where people exercise, to find someone who looks the way they want to look, and to say “What do you do?” and then think that if they parrot that, they will get the same results.

Joel: Right. Yes, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it doesn’t, because we all have different metabolism. Everything’s different about every one of us. We’re all very unique. So what my goal is to try to get my clients to figure out their bodies, their body types, their moods. Some people, it makes them feel really good working out in the morning, so they work out in the morning and it’s great for their day. Other people cannot stand working out in the morning; they’re very lethargic and it’s just not the right time for them. Some people, it’s great to work out in the middle of the day.

So I help my clients figure out what works best for them. You can’t read it in a magazine. You can’t read it in a book. You have to figure that out yourself. Some clients work out great in the evening and it makes them sleep really well. I have another client – he will miss his appointment and he’ll try to reschedule in the evening, he’ll work out in the evening and he’ll be up till like 2 in the morning. So he’s got a workout in the morning. I can’t tell him that. He tells me that and then I help him figure out exactly what’s best for him. That’s why I get emails and questions all the time, saying “Hey, when’s the best time? When’s the best time?” The best time is when it’s right for you and your body.

Jonathan: Joel, you literally used the phrase that I think I went on a tirade about a few weeks ago, which is people asking you or people asking me or people asking anyone who’s in this industry, “Is X good or bad?” Certainly, there are things which… “Is taking heroine good or bad?” Well, it’s bad. But there’s a huge gray area in there and when people say, “Is X good or bad?” It seems like we should really flip that around and say, “Well, have you taken X? Did it take you closer or further from your goals?” And if you ask that question and you look to yourself and you look in the mirror, you can really answer your own question better than anyone else ever could.

Joel: Exactly. It’s about honesty and just being true to yourself. ‘How much water did you drink?’ A lot of people, when I get them to verbalize it, they’re like, “Oh my God. I did great on water.” I’m like, “Okay, good. What number?” They’re like, “9 or 10.” Then a few minutes later, they’re like, “Wow! I thought about it and it’s really more like a 4. I didn’t drink much water yesterday at all.” So, I just get habits and patterns and spitting out the information and I help them become really truthful so that they get the results that they want.

Jonathan: Joel, being in New York City, working with celebrities and actors and yada, yada, yada, there’s certainly a lot of hype and glitz and glamour and ‘this new thing’ and ‘this new thing’. How much do you see of that really being helpful and like ‘Yes!’? For example, a year ago, you started doing this new thing and it’s revolutionized your clients’ actual results versus potentially just being a distraction and if folks can just stick to basics…. Where have you found the most success?

Joel: I have found the most success in consistency. Consistency is the key. I look at it like brushing your teeth. The more you brush your teeth, the better it is for you. I mean, you can’t over-brush it, you can’t under-brush it. You can’t just brush your teeth on Saturday. There’s going to be new fads out there. What I do think what it does with all the glitz and the celebrities, it gives people role models and it gives them goals and it helps them see what it looks like to be beautiful and in amazing shape. So, it puts it out there. So then it helps people achieve what they want to achieve just by visually seeing it.

It’s great to be at a party with really smart people and they’re fun to talk to; it makes you like, “Oh my God. I’ve got to go home and read this book. I’ve got to watch this movie. I’ve got to go do that.” It puts you in that environment, so I think that’s great about it. I think it’s great that there’s all those new fads and there’s new stuff coming out because people like doing new stuff. They like mixing it up. They like variety. But the bottom line is, being consistent – consistently doing it. Not being ‘Oh my God, I did great this month’ and then falling off the next month. It’s about doing it consistently and that is the bottom line right there.

Jonathan: I love that message, Joel. People get in these debates, which really don’t matter, along the lines of ‘What is best and what is most effective from this approach or that approach?’ when it sounds like, and actually the research very much supports, that anything that you can do consistently, as you’ve said, is superior to anything else that does not fit in your life consistently. Instead of having these esoteric debates, it seems like it’s really – whatever you can do that you can maintain consistently is the most effective approach for you.

Joel: Exactly. That’s what’s key. It’s finding out what it is, sticking to it, and keep going. That’s the bottom line right there.

Jonathan: Joel, one other thing that I want to get your insight on is you’ve done a lot of really great work. You did the PBS best-selling DVD Firming After 50. What have you found to be the key differences or distinctions for some of your more experienced clients when they want to firm up? They’ve been on this earth for a while. They may have been taught some information that was the best knowledge available 30 years ago, but exercise, science, and nutrition has certainly evolved – just like any other field has evolved. How do you uniquely help those individuals?

Joel: Using your body as your gym, first off, which is free and it’s easy and you’ve already got it. Exercise, stretch, exercise, stretch. I find that works the best for my body and with most of my clients because what it does is you want to really burn the muscle out and really isolate it and then you want to balance it back out by stretching it in those breaks. And it uses your time very efficiently and effectively. We’re all really, really busy, Jonathan. We all have so much to do. I try to make it very simple and very easy for people to get in good shape and automated because the more automated stuff is, the more likely you are going to do it. With the Firming After 50 DVD, what was so successful is because it hits a target market, it hits the body parts that they want to work on, and they leave the workout and they’re like, “Oh my God. I have more energy.” And that’s what you don’t want to do to people – you don’t want people to do something and feel worse afterwards. Everybody should feel better from exercising afterwards. They should have more energy and they should be completely tension-free. That’s a lot of people.

I go to parties and I meet people all the time and people are like, “Oh yeah, I want to workout but I have this really bad back problem.” I’m like, “Oh, okay. What’s wrong?” And they kind of explain it to me and I’m like, “Oh, okay. Can we go over here to this chair?” And I show them a few simple stretches and they’re like, “Oh my God. I feel so much better!” And I’m like, “You have this in your repertoire. This is just a simple using-your-body-as-your-gym stretch.” It’s like flossing your teeth. People go around and automatically everybody knows to floss their teeth. They have food in their teeth, go floss it, it’s gone. The same is with tension to your body.

You need to learn and use stretches to get rid of that tension immediately – the right kind of stretches – so that you don’t have a shoulder problem, a hip problem, a back problem. A lot of that stuff is completely unnecessary. If you’re turning that around day after day. Like having food in your teeth is going to give you a cavity. You want to get that tension out. That’s what I try to teach people first off. They’ve got to get rid of that tension so that they feel better, so that if they trip or if they fall, they don’t have muscle imbalances that’s going to aggravate the situation even worse.

Jonathan: I love that. Almost a ‘yin and yang’ view there, Joel. I know that’s even hit me at home. I spent a decade of my life really just being ‘get stronger!’, ‘exercise!’, but really no respect for the yang or the being flexible or stretching or balancing things out. It was only when I started…I personally do yoga, but just a derivation more of stretching rather than strengthening yoga or balance yoga. For me personally, having that strength and that balance combined with that stretching, having both, let’s say, more demanding and then more restorative forms of activities really transformed my life. Again, like you said, exercise should never make you feel worse. It should make you feel better. I mean, sometimes maybe it seems a little less sexy. Like, we see these DVDs on television that are like ‘raw’, ‘extreme’, ‘get ripped’. Maybe people don’t feel that stretching will rip them up, but it’s certainly really important. So how do we stay motivated to do that more restorative type of activity?

Joel: Well, first of all, you want to focus on how you feel. For some people, those videos make them feel great at the end of it because they feel completely energized and those are right for certain people. But if you go into those with a little bit of muscle imbalance or you slept on one side of your body or you’re at work all day and you didn’t stretch it out, you can kind of hurt yourself because the muscles aren’t balanced before you go do the exercise, so then you could easily tweak something. So it’s really important to be aware of your body first off. But then you really want to focus on what’s right for you and what feels right because you’re going to leave with that feeling.

You may not be aware of it all the time but if something doesn’t feel right, then you’re not going to come back and you’re not going to do it again. So what I want people to focus on is feeling really good and what’s going to make them feel the best. Not right now in this one second. Sometimes stretches are like, “Ooh! That’s really tight.” You want to feel good but you want to open the muscle up. If you don’t want to feel good all the time, because you have to push your comfort zone and do some stuff. One guy I had this morning, he didn’t want to do a trial run, but I did it and at the end of the work day, he was like, “Oh my God. I’m so glad you pushed me to do that. I feel so much better now. I just broke through that pattern.”

And that’s what a really good trainer should do is to take you outside of the box and push you to do stuff sometimes that you don’t want to do. Some people have that trait already. They will push themselves and they know when to push themselves, but some people don’t. I try to teach my clients to pull that trait out during their daily life. Sometimes there’s stuff at work, you don’t want to procrastinate – those four emails that are going to take 30 minutes each. You just want to crank in and get those out of the way right away so the rest of your day is a little bit easier.

Jonathan: Joel, your message of personalization and taking personal ownership for how you feel, looking in the mirror and continually making progress, really resonates with me and that’s just…. Folks, I want you to check out joelharperfitness.com because Joel really is a great example of someone who’s out there celebrating the similarities, just working to heal the world, literally; not bringing a bunch of baggage and really keeping things positive and, as you can hear from his words today, keeping things very insightful. Joel, thank you so much for sharing your time with us today. Brother, what’s next for you? You’re always damn busy.

Joel: I’m always up to something. Right now I’m staying in New York because I’m working on a book. That’s a little tricky for me, time-wise, to sit at my computer and really use my mind and write because I’m so busy training. I’m a very active person. So right now I’m in lock-down in New York City, printing that book out between all of my clients.

Jonathan: I love it, Joel. Well, I am certainly excited to see the next book from Joel Harper. Folks, again, like I said, please do check out Joel. He has been a wonderful supporter and a great friend for years now and his website is joelharperfitness.com. Joel, it’s been an absolute pleasure and I’m hoping to do it again.

Joel: Thanks for having me on, Jonathan.

Jonathan: Thanks so much, Joel. Folks, I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation as much as I did and please remember – this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Chat with you soon.