Modern Wellness with
Where do you want to take the fitness industry from here?
Who said that? Tell them I wanna send a thank you note. I mean, [sighs] not to sound like an ass, but I’m lucky. I’m an Ivy League-educated black guy, that played a sport, that had a family, that is invested in health, dad is a doctor, I don’t take that for granted. I don’t think there’s been an influx of people like me into this space, and I provided a different perspective on it.
I’m not in it for the money, I’m really in it to help. I’m in it to curate and be multidisciplinary, and to really just raise my father’s legacy. I like to bring in other disciplines besides the one I’m supposed to be focusing on. Because fitness, at the end of the day, is the easy part. A lot of people want to do these crazy bodysuits, use the newest fitness equipment etcetera. I look at it the other way. How do I first upgrade the analog, and only through there do you utilize these other tools for the best results. So I think it’s because I flip it.
Can you tell me why people say you’re a trainer ahead of the times?
Virgil and Naomi’s trainer.
Author: Vanessa Lee
Photography: Liz Barclay
"I want to raise what the definition of modern wellness is."
Data is Your Friend
Twenty years ago, most people wouldn’t have been able to relate to our current obsession with wellness: a gluten-fearing world of juice cleanses, step counters, countless supplements and the discovery of a new superfood every other week. Enough hubris exists following our cultural obsession with health and wellness that it’s now an industry worth $4.2 trillion worldwide—engendering a whole new view on the old adage “health is wealth.”
Despite the “luxury” side of the wellness industry being his bread and butter, this idea that health is not something everyone can afford is one Joe Holder is working to change. His celebrity trainer status—with clients the likes of Virgil Abloh, Naomi Campbell and Derek Blasberg—puts him in a unique position to recalibrate the way we currently view health and wellness as a luxury commodity. “What’s the point of being an influencer if you can’t use your influence for good? I’m sure a lot of people don’t give a fuck and just wanna use their discount codes, pile up the money and look good on Instagram,” he says, trying—and failing—to sound impassive. “But that’s not how my parents raised me.”
Joe Holder is in a unique position to take it all in, having had a health-conscious upbringing as a child and young adult. His father is a doctor of integrative medicine who practices a combination of standard and alternative methods in a clinic attached to the family home. His mother grew her own wheatgrass, made smoothies and fed her seven children wholesome, organic fare. There was a Vitamix in the house for as long as he could remember.
Theory > Rules
Below, Joe Holder shares six strategies for modern wellness:
Simplicity Over Opulence
Consistence Over Persistence
Integration of Different Disciplines
(It’s Bigger Than Fitness)
We > I
“Why can’t a community service event be run like the best Fashion Week party?”
An Ivy League-educated college athlete, Joe is also deeply aware of the infrastructure in America that places African Americans and other minority groups at a socioeconomic disadvantage. “I exist in a culture that doesn’t fuck with me,” Joe says calmly. “It hasn’t respected African Americans or people in general when it comes to food, unless you’re in a high socioeconomic bracket.” Simply look at how much it costs to eat a week’s worth of McDonald’s versus buying a week of organic produce at Whole Foods.
To spread the practice of health and wellness as a foundational human right, he created System of Service. The goal is to “use service like a muscle” by connecting with local communities through action-based service. System of Service brings his work and employers such as Nike and Smartwater together with local charities, and it’s common to see his high-profile clients at the events in full support.
It wouldn’t be right to call Joe’s approach new age. There’s something quite old-fashioned about how he prioritizes the basics above all else, from spending a Saturday making sandwiches for the needy to how he speaks about “upgrading the analog” in client training rather than throwing them on the latest high-tech equipment. The way he conceives of wellness is at once something extremely simple yet exacting in approach, and ultimately about much more than just fitness.
His modern wellness model, OchoSystem—an acronym for “one can help others and others can help one”—shares a foundation with System of Service. By regaining control over our physical health, we’re better able to take care of our mental and spiritual health—the final result being that we’re all in better shape to take care of the world around us. Given his roster of high-profile clients, that’s a lot of extremely influential voices making the world a better place. “Why can’t a community service event be run like the best Fashion Week party?” he muses. Judging from that single sentence, it’s easy to see that right now we don’t have many people around who think like Joe. And this is exactly why we need him around right now.
Science is a self-correcting discipline. It’s not infallible, instead it keeps improving off of previous research. Many people view science in a vacuum, which is why when the newest research comes out, people are quick to seize upon a conclusion instead of taking it in context. This has led to years of often-faulty advice, especially when it comes to nutrition.
To not fall victim to this, think in terms of guiding frameworks that allows for balance, while at the same time meeting our goals. Less “low-fat,” more “less processed foods” and “more fruits and vegetables”. Less “calorie counting,” and more “mindful eating” (read: chewing food thoroughly, focusing on nutrient-dense portions). Creating something akin to an amoeba-like structure in lieu of rigid doctrine will help you sustain constructive habits which lead towards your health goals.
I want to reduce its importance. I know it sounds weird. That’s the only way, I think, to create autonomy. I want to figure out better ways for people to rely on themselves instead of other people. I want to raise what the definition of modern wellness is. I want to take that concept of wellness where, in five to ten years, it’ll be thought of as totally different. I want to take away the idea of fitness as being the end-all, be-all not because of working out, but because we need it. The world would be in a much better place and we wouldn’t have to deal with all these health issues we’re dealing with.
I wanna upgrade the algorithm, what’s the new wellness? What’s the new fitness, how do we upgrade our own emotional IQs? I think fitness is going to take a bit of a drastic turn where it starts to refute all the glitz and the glam, and we really just get back to upgrading ourselves instead of upgrading the places we go to work out. Fitness is going to have a quantifiable self and get more mainstream. People will want to do data-driven simplicity, instead of tool-driven opulence.
Capitalism takes its course. If you look at research into the global health institute or whatever, everyone who’s been looking at trends has been predicting this and calling it a problem, calling it the “reverse ghettoization of wellness.” These ivory towers are created where access is restricted by money. We’re creating a situation where people who need access to health can’t get it because there’s an artificial barrier of money.
We have to play to the benefits that that may have. So if there’s luxury involved, it means it’s infiltrating the cultural zeitgeist, and there’s more opportunity to utilize corporations’ existing infrastructures to make access more achievable for everyone, whether that be through social justice initiatives or CSR (corporate social responsibility) stuff. Luxury isn’t a bad thing. It only becomes a bad thing when you lose sight of the total vision. My thing is, can we innovate into the luxury side to make sure that it’s happening, but also making sure we give back to the people that need it the most. Health can’t be a new currency—it’s a human right. The ability to achieve decent health is a human right and you have to help push the envelope for it.
How much of the health industry has now become a luxury industry?
Yes and no. I would say it’s easier, but at the end of the day, we’re still in a public health crisis regardless of socioeconomic status, with the levels of obesity, with the levels of struggle. But it just becomes that hindered health is a means of control on the population. It hinders a child’s ability to succeed in school if they don’t have enough breakfast. Then the blame is put on that family, or that there’s something wrong with the child, but it’s the cultural infrastructure that makes it hard for them to succeed. That’s not to take away individual responsibility. Everybody needs to have that, but it’s taking away that neoliberal meritocracy myth where if you’re not succeeding, then it’s all your fault. Which isn’t really the case.
Health definitely is wealth, but it should be a bottom need. It shouldn't be this super luxurious—which is what’s being seen now—situation, where basically you’re just making people who are healthy healthier instead of raising the line overall. That’s what I struggle with day to day, figuring out how to get more involved in that. I started System of Service and some other community outreach things and I try to keep my hair a little closer to the streets. I don’t take for granted the access that I have, the people that I work with, the things that I can do. But long term, I just want to help bring the world to a better place.
Do you think the saying “health is wealth” goes backwards, where having wealth is actually health?
I have this thing called Plant-Based Gang, so basically I follow a mainly vegetarian diet. It just works for me and helps me with my energy. It also helps in those moments where you have to eat a little shittier. In my opinion, the body can just handle it better. A lot of people think I’m always super strict, but with my lifestyle that just can’t be the case. I just try to eat nutrient-dense foods and I restrict my caloric intake so I never eat until I’m full.
But I really just think people should eat more fruits and vegetables in their diet. I’m cutting out meat but I’m also including more nutrient-dense foods, yet also going out into the world and understanding that I exist in a culture that doesn’t fuck with me. It hasn’t respected African Americans, it hasn’t respected black males, it hasn’t respected people in general when it comes to food, unless you’re in a high socioeconomic bracket. I’m not gonna indulge in that. If I have a situation where I’m going to go out every day and make more mindful decisions about the way that I eat, it’s a bit of a middle finger to the food culture that hasn’t really respected me or my people or, currently, a lot of people.
"Health can’t be a new currency—it’s a human right."
Can you tell me a bit about your diet and personal regimen?
Curate what works. Try new things to see if they work, not just for the sake of novelty. Too often we want to try the newest trend instead of investing in practices which already have a high chance of success. This makes us bounce from trial to trial, but never committing enough time to anything to see success.
Little tricks and tools only work when the underlying substrate is quality. Focus on the things that account for 99% of your progress before trying the tweaks that make you 1% better.
Drink more water, get better sleep, try to exercise 3 times a week. You don’t need fancy treatments before engaging in the basics.
Find the best ways to get data on yourself so you can lead a healthier lifestyle. Go to the doctor. Get necessary tests done. Don’t be afraid to take control of your health. Do the little things that will go a long way. Empiricism is still vital!
There’s a hyper-glorification of the man that persists: relentlessly slugging through a difficult workout to then lay in a pool of sweat and utter exhaustion. That’s a dysfunctional ethos. Instead, we should focus on doing a little bit every day, over doing a lot on occasion, to achieve results. Whether it’s exercise or work-related, there will be times where maximum effort is required, but more often than not, we’re better off in the long run if we do something every day that saves us a bit of time tomorrow.
Set small benchmarks to produce best results. Commit to working out 4 times a week for 30 minutes instead of twice a week for an hour. This will provide more room for slip-ups, but at the same time, we get more chances to practice showing up on a consistent basis.
This story was originally published in HYPEBEAST Magazine Issue 25: The Mania Issue as “Setting the Bar.” Find out more here.
Wellness is much bigger than fitness routines. It takes into account the emotional, mental, social and financial. Striving towards wellness requires a modern, well-rounded approach, especially in a situation where many of us are freelancers or don’t hold traditional jobs.
We’re at a point where we have to think of wellness as a collective endeavor. It’s no longer simply about looking good, but instead, about reconceptualizing how we can make our communities and our world better. Invest in yourself, so you can go out in the world and serve.
Wellness is not just a buzzword – we look after ourselves so we can look after each other.