It’s not everyday we come across individuals like Ivan Barrera. As a young entrepreneur, Ivan has defied a lot of odds on his path to success. At just 21 years old he opened his first gym, Faster Fitness in California and has since grown to be a revered fitness and business coach. He now does seminars and travels to teach other entrepreneurs his keys to running a successful business. His goal; to spend his time transforming bodies, businesses and lives. We sat down with Ivan to discuss his journey to fitness, his lifestyle and how he became “The Transformation Expert.”
By Raven Duran
Ivan what’s your background? How did you become a personal trainer?
I was born in Lynwood, California and I moved to Brea, California in 2005. I got into fitness when I was 17 and I got my first personal training certification after a failed attempt at college basketball. I experienced an injury where I tore six ligaments around my ankle and after that I didn’t really want to try anymore. Fitness was always a big part of my life so I was trying to stay healthy and workout every single day. The college that I was going to had a Personal Trainer Certification over the weekend so I took it and passed. I couldn’t work until I was 18 so for a whole year I spent time studying and trying to figure out everything about the body and how to get people results.
What was that journey into entrepreneurship like? How and when did you decide to open up Faster Fitness?
I was very young still, turning 19 deciding to do this while also attending college. I got my business license and I started training at a park, slowly getting clients. And then from there, I started renting space at a local gym where they let independent contractors do whatever they want. I was there all of 2012. I did everything and anything to get as many clients as possible and help as many people as possible. Being there I realized that I did want to go that extra step, I did want to pursue this full time, so I dropped out of school.
I decided that school was getting in the way of me going all in on the business. About 10 months into being at that gym where I was renting space I was driving around the city trying to see if I could maybe get a place of my own (and if I could even afford it). I felt like my clients deserved a better place, a better environment, because I feel like our culture was on a different level.
That day I stumbled upon the location where I’m at today. I looked inside the windows and it was previously an Enterprise Rent-A-Car. It was vacant and when I was looking inside the window I visualized exactly what it would look like. And that’s exactly what I have today. I just decided to go all in and I signed the lease in October of 2012. I spent all of the holidays getting ready to open up in January and literally put in everything I had. I had $100 left on my bank account when I finished everything.
I was scared but I always knew that this was the direction where I was supposed to go and what I needed to do so I felt good about it. I opened the doors January 3rd, 2013. I haven’t looked back since, six years later. My gym has become a big staple in the community, we’ve inspired hundreds of people that have walked through the door. Right now I’m definitely loving life and loving all the impact that we’re creating in the community.
What would you say is the key element of the Faster Fitness culture?
I feel like a lot of gyms and trainers have different things that they’re good at but for us it’s always been about the people. It’s about actually building relationships (and results). Our little formula is “Community Relationships = Transformation Results”.
We wanted to build a place where people can call this their second home. I’d say in the business world it’s, “the third place.” You have home, you have work and then you have “the third place.”
Back in the day Cheers was a thing, people would go to the bar after work but we’re trying to make healthier choices now so we want the gym to be their third place. I really feel like we’ve created a place where without knowing it, members they have built lasting friendships here. I see them live on social media and they’re going out to places or going out to eat or going to concerts – it’s the coolest thing to see what’s become of these relationships from my philosophy here.
As a trainer when you find that your clients aren’t making progress what do you do?
With the few hundred clients that we have here I think the most difficult part is actually staying in tune with each and every one of them because we do promise an individualized experience. For me as the owner and for my coaches here one of the key elements to our success is making sure that everyone is getting results and that everyone is having a great experience here.
What we do stumble upon is that certain people joined simply because they love our community. We can say and do as many things as possible for them to get results but at the end of the day it’s up to them. But who am I to hate on those people when they’re having a good time here anyway? I think people join for different reasons and people get into fitness for different reasons and if the reason is just a sense of belonging and being a part of something bigger then I’m definitely not going to stand in the way of that.
How do you tackle nutrition with your clients?
Nutrition is a little tricky thing especially in this industry. I’m by no means a nutrition expert nor am I a registered dietitian which I feel are the only people who should be actually creating meal plans. As trainers we’re not able to do that and the industry is not paying attention to that. Thankfully we have someone on staff here that is an expert in nutrition and with his teachings we offer several things for people, whether that’s posting on social media every single day about nutrition tips or holding seminars here once a month teaching people how to eat, rather than just giving them meal plans. That’s not sustainable for people. Diets aren’t sustainable for people so our approach here is tweaking people’s lifestyles for the better. If people are struggling with dinner we just focus on dinner for however long it takes until they get that mastered and then we move on to the next thing. It’s more of a habit based approach.
What is your one best piece of advice for people trying to create new habits and stick to a new regimen?
At the end of the day if your mindset is not there and you don’t truly want to change – nothing is going to change. It really boils down to the person feeling ready and having that “aha” moment where they’re ready to become a healthier version of themselves. They’ve got to have a clear understanding of why they’re doing what they’re doing and why they want to get in better shape or eat better. They have to be there mentally.
We’re seeing more and more Instagram fitness experts and people that are claiming to be experts, but they’re really not. How does a person that doesn’t know anything about fitness or nutrition go about finding a trainer to work with? What kind of qualifications should they have?
Just like anything you need to do your research. I know there’s millions of accounts out there that are going to pose as the expert. Let’s just take for example, a mom of two kids who is short on time but is wanting to get workouts in and improve their nutrition a little bit. I don’t think it’s the right move for her to just hop on Instagram and see a girl who is in great shape and doing these exercises claiming to improve “x, y, z.” I think you’ve got to dig a little deeper. That mom of two needs to check to see if this so-called expert has before and after pictures or transformation stories of other moms who’ve gone through their program.
Talking to other trainers now, how do you go about individualizing yourself and standing out in a crowd? There’s a lot of trainers that have huge followings and but have no real business or clients.
Truthfully I don’t pay attention to anyone in the industry. The reason why is there’s a lot of people in the industry who pose as the expert and are just trying to gain popularity and to me that’s not a true professional.
I would like to think that every single person that joins this industry is because they’re truthfully trying to help people. Somewhere along the way people forget about that. I’ve just always stayed true to that. The people who trust me enough to hire me or hire my coaches mean the most to me. I don’t have time to see what other people are doing. I don’t have time to see how they conduct their so-called business or an actual business if they have one. I just know that the people who come in my doors or reach out to me online mean everything to me so I’m going to do anything and everything to help them. I think having that approach has gotten me to where I am. The coaches that are under me have adopted that philosophy where it’s just all about the people. Who cares about followers, who cares about your popularity?
You’re doing seminars now and talking to other professionals, giving them advice. How did you evolve from training into business coaching? What are some of the key topics you discuss with other fitness professionals?
It was a natural progression for me because I’m over here just trying to run my business, grow my business and impact as many people as possible. From the very beginning of my career I’ve been a true believer of hiring mentors. I’ve had plenty of mentors — some that worked out, some that didn’t work out. I have one right now his name is Todd Durkin and he, for me, epitomizes what a true business coach is. He is a true fitness professional and just an overall great person. He is the guy I look up to, so he is someone I try to emulate every single day. He has given me opportunities to speak at his conferences which opened the door to speak at other conferences. Business coaching wasn’t something I planned on doing. It happened because people were starting to notice me being around Todd and him posting about me. They see my facility, they see what I’m doing and we have a bunch of people in our session and people feel free and open to ask me questions.
It started with free advice which I gave all the time. I don’t mind hopping on a call with anyone and just giving back because that’s where my heart is. Some of the things I talk about with other trainers is not needing a huge facility or a million different services to actually have a successful business. I talk about keeping things simple in business because truthfully it should be. Your business shouldn’t be complicated. I talk about how to create massive impact in your community because I feel like we’ve become a staple in the community and that’s why we continue to get clients coming in every single month. I just share a couple different tips on how to improve their visibility in a very bombarded market.
What is your personal fitness routine like?
You can see I try to keep things pretty simple in my life so my routine is no different. I work out anywhere between five and six times a week. I love strength training so I do a lot of that throughout the week. I try to incorporate cardio in between those workouts if I can just to maximize my time. I work out anywhere between 45 to 90 minutes depending on what I’m doing. My nutrition routine I also try to keep as simple as possible. I’m not the greatest cook of all time so I tend to just do a lot of meal preps making sure that I’m eating the correct things. Other people are doing it for me really, I’m seeking out experts as well which is something I tell people to do all the time so I’m doing it for myself too. My nutrition coaches make my meals for me and I know that I’m eating the best things possible. Don’t get me wrong I still have a lifestyle too. I still have a lot of events like everyone else goes to during the weekend so a cocktail here and there or a couple of cheat meals here and there is OK. I’ve just made sure to create a fitness and nutrition routine that supports my lifestyle and not the other way around.
Do you think it’s possible to be successful if you’re only offering personal training as a hobby?
I know a lot of people who use this as a side gig but for me I don’t have a plan B doing this, so that’s why it worked out for me. I did not give myself a parachute. When you have your back against the wall like that you’re going to do anything and everything to make it successful. I know it’s a scary thing if someone’s just jumping into it but if you are extremely passionate about it you will be successful. I was even more passionate about transforming people’s lives and I trusted my gut enough to actually create a business out of that.
Knowing where the market is now, if you could give one solid piece of advice to a younger person who wants to break into the industry what would that be?
I think the biggest piece of advice would be authenticity. I think there are a lot of copycats in the industry. If you just look at a couple scrolls on Instagram everyone’s doing the same thing. In order to stand out I think you need to pick a specific market that you enjoy serving. For me, something we’ve learned was that we have a lot of moms coming our way so we’ve educated ourselves on how we can better serve moms which is the reason why I think we’re so successful now. All of our coaches here are very educated on how we can better serve our moms and how can we get them better results. A lot of the content that we post we try to make specific to moms. I think finding a specialty is the biggest thing.
Identify the type of person you want to help. You can write it down and visualize who it is that you want to help. That’s going to help you on the long run because everything you talk about and post about is going to be to that specific person and that’s the kind of person that you’re going to attract. Ultimately those are the people that are going to pay for your services because they visualize you as the expert.
And of course just being yourself and not copying anyone else’s style. There’s a quote I absolutely love which is, “you can’t beat what you copy” and I think that’s real. I see it in the industry all the time between gym owners and other personal trainers. They try to copy programs and try to copy different business practices but they don’t know if it’s even working in the first place.
You talk about keeping things simple and living a simple lifestyle. You seem to keep everything pretty consistent with that concept. What do you think about the fitness enthusiasts that are always looking for a new fad, or a new supplement or workout enhancement?
The shiny objects. Those people tend to always be chasing something that’s not real. They’re trying to find a quick fix. They’re trying to find something that’s going to solve their problems over the weekend. Nothing in life works like that. Fitness is the simplest thing ever and people make it very complicated. I think the problem begins with people posing as experts with perfect bodies and the regular person who’s trying to get in shape and lose weight sees that they’re like, “Oh my God, this is what I have to get to.” When in reality those people are just genetically gifted. They work out a lot. They sacrifice a lot. They don’t go out they live that sort of life. And this is the example for our industry? That’s the part of the industry that I don’t like.
Fitness is just this, you take a look at yourself in the mirror, you finally come to the conclusion that you don’t like what you see and you want to make a change. But the problem is people have been jaded by it because they’ve tried diet plans and they lose weight then they gain it right back when they jump off the diet plan. They decide to tell themselves “I’m going to work out two hours a day, every day” and end up failing after week one. They just have these crazy unrealistic expectations of what fitness should be when in reality it’s making little changes one day at a time, one week at a time, one month at a time. It’s a long game. It’s a forever game.
Even for us as fitness professionals. I’d like to consider myself a pretty above-average healthy individual but I was not like this all the time. I’m not genetically gifted. I’m the only one in shape in my entire family. I don’t have that going for me so I have to work at it and that’s why I preach about lifestyle a lot. I preach about having your lifestyle be fitness and nutrition. Not having to slave to a diet plan. That’s not realistic because you’re going to end up quitting. There’s nothing, not one pill, not one supplement, not one program that is going to change you overnight. It doesn’t exist. When people grasp that and finally understand that and instead decide to do little changes day after day — they’re going to get there eventually.
When it comes to fitness routines, for the person who knows nothing about fitness, what are some basic workouts you would recommend?
Your body is the best tool that you have. Starting out with the just working out your body by doing bodyweight exercises. When you start doing that you can still get amazing results. Going back to the shiny object syndrome, people are doing dumbbell workouts, kettlebell workouts and they think that’s what they have to start out with and that’s absolutely wrong. You have to make sure you master the way you move your body by itself first. I think people should start out with body weight and master it before you move on to the harder stuff. Stick to the basics.
At our facility we do different things, body weight workouts are a part of that. If it’s just you at your house right now trying to get in better shape, definitely find someone who has a good body weight program you like to start.
What types of programs do you have available online for people?
On top of the body weight workouts the next level is progressing you individually. We do group challenges a lot, motivating a group of people who are in that same stage of life to start. From there we do individualized coaching. I have clients right now who are past the bodyweight stage of their fitness journey and they’re moving up to weight lifting. I create individualized programs for them that they can do on their own while I keep them accountable throughout their journey. The same philosophies and programs we run here in the gym is exactly what they’ll get with online and phone coaching.
Last question. Lifestyle changes go beyond fitness so are there any people, speakers, authors or other wellness resources that inspire you? What do you recommend for people to get their mind, body and spirit totally aligned?
I try my best and I know this sounds a little interesting but… I try my best not to listen to a ton of people. I’m not bouncing around different videos, authors, podcasts etc. If I really enjoy someone’s work and I enjoy what they talk about I continue to listen to them because I relate to them. I gravitate towards them.
I think when it comes to what you watch and what you listen to, research it first. My best piece of advice is if you truly enjoy someone’s education and knowledge, continue listening to that person. Really hone in on all of those lessons and pieces of education that they have. Then move on to the next thing. You’re going to be in different phases in life when you’re going to need to learn different things so when you get there you’re going to find those people, listen to them and then take action. Then move on to the next lesson.
Simplicity. Right back to simplicity.
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