Today I’m excited to interview Joe Arko! Joe has been an admirable figure in the Canadian strength and conditioning world for years now. In addition to raising two beautiful children Joe speaks at international conferences, hosts two TV shows (Body Fuel and Training with Pros), sits on the board of directors for CASK (Council of Amateur Sport Kickboxing), runs personal training courses through the SPI (Sport Performance Institute), and has developed his own business (Dedicated Fitness).
Needless to say Joe has been successful in a number of different aspects in the fitness world. Thankfully he agreed to tell me a little about his journey.
1. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions Joe. Can you tell me a little about your background and why you decided to get into the fitness industry?
I am where I am today because of one reason…when I was 17 I was drafted to the OHL to the Kitchener Rangers. When I was drafted their main recruiter came to visit me and said, “If you are serious about playing hockey at this level you need to gain at least 20-30 pounds…you’re just too skinny!” Well over the course of 4 months I put on 30 pounds! I went from 165 pounds to 185 pounds and that’s when my love for training began.
By the time I was 19 I was writing programs for my friends and I just fell in love with the fitness industry, helping out others and right then I felt as if this was my purpose in life.
2. Where was your first job as a trainer? Can you speak about two things you learnt from that experience that helped you later on in your career?
Oh boy, my first job at a gym wasn’t as a trainer it was a “gym rat”. I worked at Absolute Fitness (now Good Life Fitness) in Mississauga. I worked from 7am-7pm every Saturday and Sunday. I opened the gym, cleaned the bathrooms, put all the dumbbells and plates away and walked around offering spots. It was far from my idea of working at the gym but doing that for as long as I did really help me see the industry and I learned two things that still stick with me now:
- YOU HAVE TO PAY YOUR DUES!
- There is always more to learn!
I learned quickly that even though I wanted to have the cool PT hours and my own schedule and train people I had to put in my time, that luxury wasn’t handed out, it was earned! And secondly I was surrounded by some really good trainers and therapist at that point and at a young age I learned that I didn’t know everything and I never will! It was okay to intern, constantly learn, ask questions and constantly try to better yourself. I still apply both those philosophies today.
3. What was the next step for you? Why did you make the change?
The next step for me was going to school and being a personal trainer. I studied Human Kinetics at York University and after that time moved to Ottawa. In my second day in Ottawa with a whopping $500 in my bank and going back to school again, I applied to be a trainer at Good Life. I needed a job that allowed me set my own hours so I could study, go to school and still make money. I was hired that week, and started training and took my Can-Fit Pro certification and became a trainer. This was about 11 years ago.
4. At what point did you decide to leave Good Life? Was there any one deciding factor that told you to make the change?
I worked for Good Life for about 4 years. I did very well there. In a short time I went from a basic trainer struggling to find clients, to being in the top 15 companywide in sales almost every month to becoming the Fitness Manager. For me, I’m constantly striving to better myself, my business and who I am. I got to the point where for me personally I felt I did all I could within the confines of Good Life. There were a ton of things I wish I could have changed within the company, but I have to say, they gave me the platform and education to allow me to do what I am doing today, so for that I’m thankful for my experience there, but I knew quickly that it was just a stepping stone for me.
5. Were there any times in the development of your own business where you had second doubts? If so, what did you do to regain your footing?
I’ve spent a lot of years working independently out of private studios and now finally a place that I know I will call home for quite some time. I always had doubts once I left Good Life. It’s very scary when you are out on your own. Inside a gym you’re always seen. It’s easy to network, get consultations, and have others see you train your clients and get to know you. In a studio you’re isolated and you need a completely different approach to attract and retain clients. But for me, trust and faith in my abilities and the work I do has always been my crutch. I’ve always prided myself on providing an excellent service and having faith that I’ll always find a way to make it work!
6. How did you get your all-star client (Muzammal Nawaz)? Was it difficult to gain initial trust?
Well the first part was luck, the second part was tough! I met Muzammal (Maz) through a seminar I got asked to speak at. Maz was putting together an annual coach’s conference and through a mutual friend found me and asked if I could give a presentation on Strength and Conditioning for Kickboxers. Apparently he loved my seminar so much he decided to ask me to work with him for his upcoming fight.
Here’s the interested fact….Maz has three degrees one of which is in exercise science AND Maz has NEVER had a strength coach during his entire fighting career, he’s always done it himself. So needless to say I was nervous when I first started working with Maz and training him. It took some time to gain his trust and for him to fully give me the control of his train and diet.
Three years later and we are still at it, preparing him for another fight at the age of 42 and Maz has gone on record stating that he’s in better shape now than he was 10 years ago and he wouldn’t be able to compete at the level he’s competing at had he not found me. Working with him has been one of the best experiences of my life. He’s not just a client or a fighter to me but someone I will always look up to and respect.
7. How did you get to become the host of Body Fuel and Training with the Pro’s?
Becoming the host of Body Fuel is a funny story. Years ago my first business was called Better Bodies. A few years later I changed business names and let the domain name go. Well three years ago I had looked to see if it was still available and came across a TV Show called “Better Bodies” and they shot their show near me. I contacted the producer Aida to see if I could be on the show. They had already wrapped up the season but I had put her name in my newsletter list and she received my monthly newsletters for some time. A year or so goes by, I come back from a trip from Florida and Aida had sent out an audition notice to her email list casting for a new show called Body Fuel. Being away for a few weeks, I had missed the audition dates. I didn’t care! I called her and pleaded to come in and audition….she finally caved and let me come and audition. I ended up getting the part and had a fantastic time with the cast and crew on the show. We shot 14 episodes in 4 LONG days but would do it again in a second!
As for Training with Pros, one of the Producers of Body Fuel knew our Producer for Training with Pros. At that time they were looking for a new host with some sports background, preferably Hockey and MMA with some TV experience…I just happened to fit the bill and my information was passed on to them. The show has been a blast and just a wonderful experience. The show has also taught me that there is such a ripple effect in business; you never know who you are going to meet or what one job or client will lead to. Always seize opportunities and always be professional.
8. Can you leave our readers with two pieces of take home advice for new trainers wanting to make a name for them self?
- You have to pay your dues. It’s a must. A weekend certification will never prepare you to train a professional athlete or give you the knowledge to really take your clients to the next level very quickly. Put in the time, network and don’t rush the process.
- Learn! After 12 years in this business I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface. I’ve had the opportunity to intern with some amazing coaches and therapists and one thing I always noticed is that even the guys at the top…the ones teaching….are always learning. That’s when I realized that if I ever want to be in their shoes, I can’t stop learning!
Thank for you taking the time to answer these questions Joe. Your story is a great inspiration to any trainer out there trying to make a name for them self. Where can our readers reach you if they have a question?
Joe has also agreed to become a coach at the PTDC and we look forward to more material from him moving forward! You can view his full bio here