Trainer Josh Holland Sticks to the Truth—and a Unique Training Philosophy
This doesn’t mean that Holland can’t whip an actor into action-hero shape, as he did preparing “Moon Knight” star Oscar Isaac for the title role of the Marvel Comic series. These days, one of his full-time objectives has been keeping of rock’s living legends, Roger Waters, stage ready for not just his recently wrapped European Tour and his upcoming South American tour, but to keep the nearly-80-year-old icon performing for many more tours to come.
Achieving long-term goals goes beyond the weightroom plan, Holland says. For Holland, who accompanied the Pink Floyd frontman throughout Europe, it means being ready at all times for the possible best and worst of split-second stressors and other situations. To fulfill that role requires trust—it means being up front and honest about any situation—good or bad.
Gaining a client’s trust is probably the non-flashy portion of the personal trainer profession that not every puts enough focus on. Holland, as a young trainer, admits to falling into that category in the early days, until being called on BS forced his to either get better or get a new profession.
When “winging it” to a client question went horribly wrong, Holland hit the books. Now with well over a decade’s worth of experience, he’s become well versed and certified in just about every fitness field imaginable, including holistic science, cellular exercise, even primal blueprint coach. And he’s also an expert in martial arts and dance choreography. And what he doesn’t know, he’s still willing to put the work in to learn.
“I remember [overhearing a potential client], he said, ‘Josh didn’t even know So I don’t know if he’s going to be right for me,’ Holland recalls. “I thought to myself, ‘In the future, I’m going to always still be honest, but I going to make sure to be as well versed into as many things as possible. And I’m going to let my clients know that I’m going to do everything I can to understand whatever it is they have going on. And hopefully, it works out for the best.”
One of his first clients to put him to the test, was another music icon, Madonna, who would pepper Holland with questions—most he knew, the others he says he researched till he got the answer. He considers her a friend and a mentor who has helped shape his philosophy. While his job is to challenge his clients to perform at his peak, being on top of his profession means being ready for any and all inquiries.
“I would say if you’ve built the trust in your client, always had that caveat of being able to say, ‘Listen, I don’t know. But I can find out,” Holland advises to all up and coming trainers. “If I don’t have any idea of what that is, then I will tell them. It might bite me in the ass at first, but I will work to find the answer.”
I think it was Dr. Peter Attia who talked about what it is you want to be able to do in the last decade of your life. If you feel like you’re gonna live to be 100, what do you want to be able to do? That question opens up people’s perspective—that’s a really deep thought to think about. Chances are the answer is not going to be doing a muscle up or running a sub-four minute marathon. Chances are it’s going to be picking up your grandchildren, great grandchildren, walking up the stairs without huffing and puffing, things like that.
By working with Roger Waters. I have a direct example of what that might look like. He used to be able to do lots of cool things that that he can’t necessarily do as well now than when I first started working out with him.
But this guy is still able to do a six-minute plank without even blinking—he’ll stay in that position without moving for six minutes. I can only do a five minute plank. But while I’m out running, he’s not doing that. Instead, Roger’s goals now are to be able to play lawn bowling, he wants to be able to shoot pool. He wants to be able to walk up the stairs.
So if we’re thinking about the long game, then chances are we might want to mitigate some of the damage we’re doing to our bodies now. So, if you’re throwing 500 pounds on a deadlift, simply because you can do it, you might want to think like how your back or knees are doing? How are all these things going to be feeling when I get a lot older? It’s just something to consider.
I’ve done a handful of tours. I did a European tour with Madonna, many years ago. And now I’ve done two world tours with Roger. And throughout all of those tours, a person like myself, obviously gains experience, and in life and career it’s all about experience. As I’m kind of getting more mature and more experience, I’m starting to realize that OK, there’s some things I can do to make my situation and my client’s situation easier. But there are some challenges, especially when it comes to being outside of the United States.
Some of the things that become challenging for me is like simply getting packages. It’s not as efficient in Europe, at least that’s what I’ve found. When I’m home, I’m pretty sure I can get something in a couple of days—maybe even the same day. But when you’re in Europe, you kind of have to pack for every situation, and try to even guess what may occur. So you have to prepare for injuries. You’re eating foods that you’re not used to eating, so I have to make sure to prepare for [stomach issues.
[One time] Roger’s wife came to me and asked: “Josh, do you know, Roger’s ankle is sore. He’s limping. He can barely move. Do you know much about comfrey? And I’m like, I don’t—I’ll admit if I don’t know something. She said to look it up and see if you think it might work. And I was like, this looks amazing, I’m definitely going to try to get it. It took two months. It took two months to be able to find something that wasn’t even close to what you can find here. When I got back home, I got it in two days. That’s just one of some of the challenges.
This is one of the most important things when it comes to client-trainer relationships: No one wants their time to be wasted. I certainly don’t want my time to be wasted. And I’m certain that my clients don’t want their time to be wasted at all. So why would we be doing something that is going to eventually waste your time? And sometimes the only way to figure that out is through trial and error.
You could throw things at the system and see what works or you could simply ask questions. Obviously we don’t want a closed ended, yes or no question—you don’t really get much from that. It’s better to kind of find out why are you why are you here in the first place. And then why do you think I’m here? And then that’s a beautiful start to a conversation that goes a long way.
The first day that I trained with Roger, I met him at the elliptical machine. He had his head down and was just going after it. I asked him, “Do you like do you enjoy doing the elliptical?” He’s like, “Actually, I hate it.” I asked why then are you doing it? He was like, “No one’s ever really told me otherwise—I was told to do this as a warmup several years ago, and that’s what I do.”
So in that moment, just from experience, I knew that this is a guy that if you tell him to do something, he’s going to do it. And he’s gonna continue to do it until you tell him otherwise. So I knew that there was a certain power in that. But then I also gained this respect from him: This kid is actually caring about what I want to do, and matching that with what I need to do. And from that moment of paying attention to him, we’ve built a beautiful relationship over the years.
I think we all would do better by understanding our roles. Sometimes it’s easy to get into a situation where you might feel like you become friends with your clients—and I certainly hope you do. I’m friends with a lot of my clients, and I treat them as such in some situations. But when it comes to work, I have a very clear separation between work and everything else. I’m there to make sure to get the job done. And it’s quite easy. Because, you know, it goes back to the old adage: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
If I’m there to work, why would I not do everything in my power to make sure that I’m doing my job?
Roger is about to be 80 years old, and he’s still touring the world. Obviously, he gets a lot of flak in the media for all the things that he’s talking about. That doesn’t go unnoticed, and it creates a big stress on him as a person.
I have to sit there and think about all the implications that he has to go through in order to be able to do what he’s doing. So if I’m overtraining him, I’m not doing my job. If I’m not training him enough, I’m not doing my job. So I have to do everything in my power to make sure that I find that I guess the good the best way to call this the best phrase is balance. I need to be able to balance work and play and everything else. And once I take care of my job, then everything else becomes quite easy. So, yeah, putting him first or we’re putting clients first is something that I probably do too much. I’ve had to kind of take a step back every once in a while to say that I need to focus on me and my family and friends. But it’s never at the cost of losing a client or burning a bridge.
I feel like if I have to pitch something [like a new exercise or technique], then I’m going about it the wrong way. So what I try to do is lead by example. And I would say that one of the easiest tools to do that is social media.
If you use social media in a way that highlights the plethora of modalities and tools and experiences out there, people will come to you with questions, like “Hey, what does that rope flow thing you’re doing do? If I’m in person with them, a lot of times I have the rope with me, so I just toss it to them let them discover what it is in real time. But now, if you don’t have the opportunity to have the person in front of you, to give them an assessment or an initial session with the real flow or tools like that. Then my hope is that when I talk about it on my podcast, or when I’m putting out content, my hope is that people see me with authenticity. And they see that chances are if I’m promoting something, it’s been vetted, and there could be some benefit for you as long as that’s it.
I was once doing a session with Roger. And I kind of noticed that like, he’s such a perfectionist that when he can’t get one of the moves, he becomes hard on himself. I tell him, be gentle with yourself. Beating up on yourself is not going to make you get that movement even better.
Roger is right, very good pool player, and he’s actually taught me to become a very good pool player. He’s said to me, when you shoot a shot, stay down, stay in position. Don’t move until the ball finishes. That’s the best way to teach your brain. If the shot goes in, you did it well—if you don’t, if you don’t stay down, your brain can’t really gather that.
I flipped that back on him: If you’re [beating yourself up], you’re not allowing yourself to process that movement. So let’s go back and let’s do it again. And you see this beautiful evolution of him getting movements down.