Carlos Méndez

Aseema talks to Abu Dhabi based Carlos Méndez about life as one of UAE’s most sought-after fitness specialists. With an ever-growing base of happy clients who vouch for this effectiveness, Carlos certainly knows a thing or two about keeping fit and active. His highly effective and customized training methods have made him one of the most in-demand personal trainers not just in the UAE, but also as far away as Mexico, Lebanon, Italy, Spain and Ireland.

Carlos has one of the most interesting and specialized backgrounds that we’ve come across. A double degree Engineer by training, Carlos realized his true calling in Fitness training which he took to with gusto (he is even trained in specialized areas such Neuromyofascial Release in addition to TRX, Yoga, Pilates, Lagree, UFC, Spin & 7 Lesmill).

Today Carlos continues to be a hugely respected figure in UAE’s fitness industry, as he helps a happy base of clients transform into their most fittest selves. Carlos talked to Aseema about the fitness principles that he lives his life by.

“Getting to the gym is the first step. Being consistent in the gym, that’s what’s going to get you results.”

Hi Carlos! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today! Could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about how you got into the fitness industry?

I was born and raised in Mexico, where I completed University. After that I lived in the States for a year and then in Italy for another, where I got my double degree in engineering. In 2005 I started working in telecommunications till 2009 when the crisis came around. Unfortunately the firm I was with went bankrupt globally. When there’s massive unemployment in the whole country it’s hard to get back on your feet. That’s when I started going to the gym – to release stress. One thing led to another and they told me I could be an instructor at their club! So I went from taking one class to three, then four programs and since 2009 I’ve pretty much been certifying myself in this field. My last certification was in Neuromyofascial Release, and I’m here now, in Abu Dhabi since 2015. Been in the fitness industry for eleven years.

Would you recommend any certifications for those looking to get into the field of personal training?

I recommend that you do a physical education or sports science degree or get some kind of physiology exposure. I was privileged to be born in a family where my dad was a doctor and my mom, a nutritionist. So conversations and habits around healing and keeping healthy were a constant at home so it was never new to me. Bones, muscles, ligament tissues- my dad taught me much about the human body. And they always encouraged me to do volleyball, karate, swimming, so I was always into sports. I could do a 400 m track in under a minute, which was quite fast for a teenager!

Another thing to note – my body was a mess! I had crooked knees. When I was ten years old I used to I sleep with an iron bar between my heels, to set my feet sideways like (think Charlie Chaplin). So there was always this concern about ‘my knees being bad’ and that I was going to suffer if I didn’t exercise.

But yes, I recommend people to study. You can’t really go out there and tell people “Yeah now do ten push-ups and then ten sit-ups” because you saw that in a YouTube workout! You need to know about healing and about the other person’s background.

Could you elaborate a little more on your specialization- Neuromyofascial Release?

Fascia is the connective tissue, the glue which holds us together by connecting one part of the body to another, giving the body much of its strength and support.  Neuromyofascial Release attempts to identify strain patterns in the fascia and their effects on body function, both locally and as a whole.  It is a way to connect your brain to your body more. In a way that if I’m asking you to do a push up, I’m asking you to place your body along the train lines in the anatomy; Tom Myers identified certain lines of the human body and when you move, you move in certain patterns. If done wrong, you are more prone to injury. It’s not something new, we just know more about it recently because it’s influence in this area is being studied more now.

Who are your clients?

I’ve been working with five year olds as well as clients at the age of 65. I go all the way! I work like an engineer; I like to find what’s wrong and fix it. I like to work with kids because it’s still early to fix things. I know exercises that can help prevent illnesses, build better coordination and games to improve their fitness as well. I worked with a client who had stomach cancer and could not move. I work with pregnant women for both pre-natal and post natal. It’s always like, if I can help you, i’ll do it. I don’t specialise in diet and nutrition to be able to guide you but I can help you move, release stress through yoga, Pilates, HIT, TRX etc.

Are you affiliated with a club in the region or do you freelance?  

I’m sponsored by a club here, but I would say I’m more of a freelancer. I do group fitness for studios but I also give services to private clients. Now though, I’ve only been on zoom all through quarantine.

Of course! What has the lockdown been like for you?

I’ve been here in Abu Dhabi the whole time and it’s been pretty good actually.

One thing I’ve noticed is that as much as some people have been stressed about safety in gyms- they’ve found that in an online class they can be on the other side of the screen, where no one is watching them. So even if they were afraid to try something new in a regular class, where they would probably hide in the back, they’re more open to trying it out now, behind the safety of their screens. Normally as instructors you’re worried that that person at the back is going to hurt herself. But now because of the screens, I can just look and correct it. Zoom gives them a lot more confidence. Even now, with gyms opening, people are saying, “Carlos, can you keep online classes for me please, I don’t want go back to the gym!”

What is the current state of clubs and studios in your region?

Clubs are doing a great job of following the guidelines of the sports council and the Abu Dhabi Health & Safety Authorities to keep people safe. They’ve demarcated areas, and you have to stay within that square- whether you jump, run whatever, you don’t get off the square. I think it’s fun- in the past we’ve seen members sometimes fight for their spot in a class!  And another thing is the sweat. Imagine a very intense class where you are running, jumping, doing burpees, the whole deal, and you have the person that never sweats next to the guy that is dripping in sweat. So where there was maybe some discomfort, now there’s none because everyone is isolated from each other!

Do you think online classes may be here to stay?

I think there’s going to be a good balance between people going back to the gym and those staying at home.

I don’t think it’s going to be a trend; I think it’s just the need of the hour. I want to hope that in the future, there won’t be the fear of a virus and we can go back to the real normal, not this new normal, but one where we can be closer to each other. But in the meantime I think a lot of people will like to stay home, more because of the fear of putting themselves and others at risk than anything else.

“Seeing or hearing about the positive impact of what I do in people’s lives- that’s what keeps me going.”

Are you building an online presence?

I was never really comfortable putting myself out there doing push-ups, showing my six pack and saying come to my class! I was always a word-of-mouth guy. This virus forced me to open Instagram. I think I got on Instagram two years ago, and maybe had what, 4 posts in the whole of that year? But since March, there’s been this pressure to get out there. My plan is to have a website sometime soon, to have structured programs. But for now, I’ve just been working. So far I’ve been getting more clients and more classes purely based off recommendations, which I’ve been really thankful for.

What is your favourite part about this career?  

Looking or hearing about the positive impact of what I do in people’s lives. As an engineer I was happy telling myself that by connecting centres at Chicago or New York I was helping a lot of people! I was happy doing it, but now that I get to see the person come in to my class regularly and say that they feel so much better, or that they don’t have this pain anymore, or that their anxiety has reduced- that’s what keeps me going. That’s what makes me want learn more. If there’s something I don’t know, I want do a course about it so that I can learn, and I can help. That’s the thing I love most about what I do.

One memorable moment in your journey that you’d like to share with us?

That’s hard. There’s too many that could make me cry right now!

One was the client with cancer. He had his tumour removed. We were still exercising while he had it. His passion was playing soccer. So naturally, he was very frustrated mentally and emotionally, because of the feeling of being stuck. Through coaching, breathing, yoga and other exercises we started doing, he’s now back at it and how! He went back to playing soccer three months after his surgery!

What does a day in your life look like?

Very busy thank god! I’ve had a lot of work; I have a lot of private clients that I train online so I schedule them back to back. I’m connected to the phone the whole time! I start from 6:30am till 8 at night. I’ve also started doing classes for Mexico on request so I now teach in Spanish 3 times a week! And then log in here in the UAE. Lockdown has me working with clients in Lebanon, Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Mexico. So yeah, it gets pretty busy. I do switch off in the weekends though! I take that time for myself.

Do you have any advice for people who want to start working out or start yoga?

It’s all about your mind set. People think that just going to the gym will change them. Getting to the gym is the first step. Being consistent in the gym, that’s what’s going to get you results. Find a schedule that works for you. And stick to it. You don’t have to go through painful workouts to get results, but it’s about getting there and getting moving.

Don’t look for results in the short term. Wait for a month. If you want to weigh yourself (which I do not recommend), weigh yourself at the end of a month, don’t do it everyday. Get into the mind set that you’re going to create a new lifestyle.

Also, focus on what you eat. That’s the game changer. Again, it’s a lifestyle choice, not a 4-day detox. Temporary solutions will get you temporary results. Mind set is the key.

Do you have any advice for trainers looking to enter the industry?

Be humble. Be honest with what you’re learning and what you’re giving to the client. Don’t try to sell because you’re in a hurry to sell. If you don’t know, say you don’t know, and learn. Help people in whatever way you can. In the end that’s what this is about.

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