Interview with Jorge Unigarro – Taking Ownership

Jorge is a personal training manager for Equinox in New York City. He also has an interesting take on management, leadership, lifts a lot of heavy weights, loves cats, and is the KING of bad jokes. Introducing our first (but long overdue) interview with a cat meme. Thank you Jorge!

Let’s get started…

How did you get started in all this and where did you end up today?

Having wrestled as a teen I feel like that was the catalyst to a lot of things, but what really got me into helping others was being a reservist in the army and helping other soldiers pass the Army Physical Fitness Test. My deployment to Iraq in 2004 shaped me a lot as well. I had the opportunity to be a part of a fitness center where I was stationed at and got to help coach other soldiers.

From there the helper roles were reversed once I got to Equinox 10 years ago. I knew nothing more than my army and sports experience, and I was an annoying little shit. All the senior trainers there wanted to kick my ass so they all trained me when I was brand new. I got exposed to a lot of differing views early on.

Years go by and I’m the (reluctant) senior trainer, doing my dharmic duty, helping and teaching all the new trainers. Fast forward to 4.5 years as a trainer, I’m asked if I want to be a training manager and I accept. Four promotions later, here I am on the upper east side managing the east 74th Equinox’s personal training department.

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What’s something you learned from your military experience that worked very well in personal training, management?

For personal training – embrace the suck. Building a business isn’t easy, long hours, early days, late nights. Learn to enjoy it. There’s a reason why you aren’t successful and it’s probably because you haven’t learned what you needed to. There’s a reason why you don’t want to do something or follow a certain approach, it scares you and isn’t what you enjoy doing. The Obstacle is the Way is a great book for that.

For management, it’s extreme ownership (great book by the way).
As a leader, EVERYTHING is your fault. Makes things easy now that we know who to blame right?
Your employee doesn’t do what I told him to? Were my instructions crystal clear? Bring them in and make sure they are. Instructions are crystal clear and still they don’t comply? I gotta exhaust every method of “motivation” at my disposal. I used all my tricks and skills and they still don’t get right? I’m not the right leader for this individual.

Why did you become a manager and trainer?

I like to help and be of service. Maybe it’s a middle child thing, but I like helping others be on their way to their best self.

What excites you right now?

Seeing friends and family hit life PR’s (personal records).
My dad retiring.
People I helped develop to be managers crushing life.
My future life with my fiancé Sara being right around the corner.
Or things as simple as my trainer Brandon setting a 15 lb PR on his squat, 460 at 155 lbs.

What’s the best piece of advice or lesson you learned from your dad?

Our generation is unique in that we have greater opportunities to do what we love for a living. My dad’s generation didn’t have that luxury. As a minority in the Bronx in the 70’s and 80’s, he had to take whatever he could get. He drove a bus for 34 years. He did what he had to do to take care of the family. That’s a lifelong self-sacrifice that I have the privilege of not having to have made. He taught me what being tough is. Tough is not one moment or a rough month. Tough is getting up every day at 3 am for 34 years, sacrificing your health, driving a bus around the city, and never bitching about it. Why? Because it had to be done. Makes my 4 months of 1 opening floor shift a week pale in comparison.

So I guess indirectly he taught me to appreciate the opportunity I have since not everyone gets to have that.

Tough is not one moment or a rough month. Tough is getting up every day at 3 am for 34 years, sacrificing your health, driving a bus around the city, and never bitching about it. Why? Because it had to be done. Makes my 4 months of 1 opening floor shift a week pale in comparison.

What’s one way you help a trainer to transition to a management path? What do they need the most?

Empathy, patience, and leadership flexibility.

Try to understand their side, most people don’t choose to be assholes. I actually hate to quote our slacktastic former boss Herbert Schmale but sometimes your C game is their A game. Of course it is, I would hope that a trainer with 3 years experience isn’t caught up to my 10. If so, I messed up. Know that they might not get things as quickly as you did, or as your favorite hire did. We as leaders need to exhibit more grit when dealing with tough employees! Keep plugging away with and at them, and when it clicks, it’s so worth it.

Leadership flexibility is just knowing that different people need different approaches. My trainer Karim “the dream” Baylor and I used to get into shouting matches once a quarter. It’s what he needed at the time and how I connected with him. Other trainers wouldn’t respond to that or I to them doing that. Somehow we knew deep down there was love and respect, and that’s how we hashed things out. Some trainers just need pats on their back and others an excel spreadsheet with a PowerPoint presentation.

That’s some great insight. OK, let’s switch directions here and say congratulations on getting engaged! How much does your fiancé squat?

I think I’ve seen her squat 380 lb.

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Oh. Damn. OK. Let’s get her in for an interview soon! I know you lift a lot too, what was an obstacle that you faced with the barbell?

My first 600 lb deadlift.

I first tried to pull it in November 2011 and since then I battled injuries that kept setting me back. My approach of chasing 600 always got me close but never got it up. Once I was less concerned about doing 600 once and focused on dominating 545, 565, and 585 for a good amount of volume 600 then 615 flew.

That story was short, but it’s full of wisdom. I learned that the hard way too. Do you have any good powerlifting meet stories?

Saw a guy tear his quad descending on a squat.
Was at RUM 7 when the first “raw” (with knee wraps) over 1000 lb squat happened.
Got to see Beau Moore lift.
Watched Jesse Norris setting the single ply teen squat world record.
Winning the American Open in 2013 on my last pull was pretty dope.

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Impressive! What’s something in the fitness industry that you wish you knew when you were starting out?

Specialty certs are the way to go. I wish I knew to take RKC in 2006 for example. I was so focused on not being bad, I didn’t think about what it took to be great.

What was the catalyst to go and get a specialty certification? What advice would you give a trainer who says that they are too expensive?

At this point, it’s a must have.

I would tell that trainer that the skills you pick up would be earned back multiple times over.

I agree, when I see trainers come back from a strong 2 or 3 day certification the change in thier coaching is very noticeable, and for the better. What’s one book that changed your mindset or the way you do business? What’s the one thing you took away from it?

Leadership and Self-Deception

That book opened my eyes to how much I bring past bias to every situation unless I’m self-aware enough.

Honorable mention to Dr. Adam Grants “Give and Take”

What are you reading right now?

Just finished Book 12 of Arisen. It’s a zombie novel.

Starting Dan John’s A Lifelong Approach to Fitness.

And…

The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute

How did I never hear of this Dan John book? He’s helped a lot of us out. Can you talk about a breakthrough moment with a client that you helped, and what led up to it?

A client breakthrough that happens a bunch… I’m big on getting people comfortable with failing. Once you see it’s not that bad it’s not something that holds you back anymore. An example I can give is pistols. Just let them fall! There, you fell, what happened? Nothing. Good! Now you are no longer scared of what happens if you mess up a rep.

That’s awesome, I find that working with nutrition coaching right now. It’s OK if you screw up. We all do. What are the top 3 questions or coaching questions when meeting with a client for the first time, and your top 3 questions for someone you’ve been training for a while?

First time:

What helped push this decision to us meeting?

What do you like doing?

How do you feel about bad jokes and cat photos?

Client for a while:

Have you noticed normal activity getting easier?

Have friends and family commented?

How are you liking the process?

OK, let’s hear it. What’s your favorite bad joke and cat meme?

I LOVE business cat memes. Mostly because he looks like my cat, Bubba.

Favorite joke:
How do you invite an ant to a party?
(Get on all 4’s and whisper to the floor) “Hey, you wanna come to a party?”

Classic.

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What do you wish people knew about you but probably don’t?

I act like I’m stone cold but I really just swallow my feelings.

Can you tell me about something that you were really proud of?

Coaching my little sister through an interview and she crushed it.

What is a common mistake you see when interviewing a personal trainer? On the flips side, what has been something that really stood out about a candidate when interviewing them?

Eye contact sucks.
Wandering eyes.
Not answering the question you were asked.

Something that stands out is remembering a detail from the phone screen or even taking notes if we’re discussing a shared interest topic.

How has your programming for clients changed since last year? For yourself?

Much simpler. More focus on mastery of a skill and less focus on manipulating too many variables

What’s a recent continuing education course that you really enjoyed?

I took StrongFirst a year ago.

It taught & reminded me that the details matter in mastering movements.

What’s one thing that you think is really easy, but works well with many of your clients?

Believing in them.

I wrote the plan and I wouldn’t put in anything you’d fail at.
I believe in you and hopefully, you believe in you. If you don’t, then believe in my belief of you until then.

Since you manage personal trainers, what are some characteristics you find in the most successful ones?

Grit.
Happiness.
Variety in approaches to anything.
Being good with calendars and correspondence.
Not being scared to make a mistake.

Any last thoughts or parting words?

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The Hoff approves of this interview.

Watch Jorge answer the question, “What’s New Coach?”, and speak on mastery.

How do we get in contact with you?
Facebook
Instagram
Jorge.unigarro@equinox.com
Tane1982@msn.com (I check this less often)

Resources Mentioned:

Books:

Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALS Lead & Win

Leadership and Self-Deception

Give and Take

Arisen

Dan John’s A Lifelong Approach to Fitness

The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute

The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph