Having been a triple threat—actor, singer, dancer—since he was a teenager, Los Angeles native and South Florida resident Brian Varela didn’t necessarily need to add anything to his resume to make it clear energy was his game.
But, when his performing career required him to amp up his endurance and strength, fitness turned out to be just the thing to turn his triple into a quadruple (to say the least). Now, not only is he in rehearsal for Altar Boyz, he’s also working at two different gyms and running his own personal training business, all while shaping his own take on some of today’s favorite workout approaches.
Alongside a compassionate, thoughtful perspective on how clients can get their best sweat going, Varela is melding his passions together to the benefit of his wide-ranging clientele. Read on to hear more about his work, the best mindset when tackling your workout and how you can take advantage of even 10-minutes in the gym.
SBS: What led you from performing to fitness?
Brian Varela: Fitness for me was never a necessity. I rarely hit the gym. It wasn’t until I was performing professionally that I noticed the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Then, when I made a friend at a LA Fitness in Fort Lauderdale, I also finally had accountability. I immediately became addicted to working out.
Now, fast forward, I’m performing and acting professionally in South Florida. The jobs are great but not paying the bills. I was forced to look for a second job and career. Not wanting to return to food service or retail, I explored the idea of flexible schedules to accommodate my acting career. I put two and two together, and I became a personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Then I got to work.
A year later, I was approached to become an indoor cycle instructor. I had zero experience with group fitness, except for a bootcamp here and there at the gym where I worked. The owner of the cycling studio agreed to hire me solely on my personality and taught me everything I needed to know. From there I went on to teaching their small group HIIT classes, and eventually moved on to Orangetheory Fitness, CrossFit, large group HIIT classes, and even boxing!
SBS: What was your a-ha moment in becoming a coach? What is your approach and style as a coach?
BV: My ‘a-ha’ moment didn’t come until after I started coaching group fitness. For a while, I was still feeling like a beginner. I had all this knowledge I wanted to share, however I just felt like my head was barely above water. It wasn’t until I joined CrossFit Fort Lauderdale and Bodytek Fitness, and around that time I found my sense of belonging in this field. I felt like I was able to plant my feet on the ground and own the fact I was meant to do this! Ever since then, I have felt like this is my calling!
My approach isn’t that of a drill sergeant, or that of a bad-ass trainer with a cool haircut or tattoos. My approach to coaching is more understanding. I want everyone to know that no matter who you are, you are capable of doing anything, and you can do it. It’s not about giving up; it’s about believing in yourself to try it in the first place. My goal in every class is to help you unlock new goals and challenges and reach new milestones by encouraging the athlete inside each of my members. It’s not about yelling in my members’ faces. It’s about understanding what barriers lie between them and their next goal, and how we overcome them.
SBS: What is your own company like? What is your mission and what do you offer? What are you developing?
BV: HOTBOX Fitness and Training is simple: Only hard work produces results. There are no gimmicks, no shortcuts, no detoxes, no cleanses, no six-week programs. This is a gym where you work hard every day, and you become healthier and a better athlete. While most people enter a fitness program for aesthetic reasons (weight loss, muscle gain, bigger booties), I treat my clients like athletes, and expect them to dig within them to ‘Unleash the Fight.’ They’re fighting every day to battle chronic diseases, obesity, depression, abuse and/or poor self-image, and they’re coming out healthier, more capable, and overall better than when they began. And while they’re reaping the health benefits, they also will gain those aesthetic attributes they once sought.
HOTBOX Fitness and Training will be a hybrid gym, consisting of a CrossFit Affiliation, as well as my own branded ‘CrossHiit’ workout called SweatBox, a high intensity interval training class rooted in functional, CrossFit-style movements, but without the Olympic weightlifting and the barbell. My vision is to create a space where the beginner and the elite athlete can share the gym floor and become family.
SBS: What are helpful ideas to bring to a trainer? What about things that might hinder the process?
BV: A red flag is when people bring a list of demands: They want these body parts to tone, but not these. They only want to develop one part of their body, and they will absolutely avoid x or y exercises and body parts. I can work around injuries and past medical issues, but when a client gets picky, I tend to encourage a more wholistic approach.
A good sign is when people begin a fitness routine with an open mind. They are willing to try and do anything the trainer recommends, in good faith, of course, that the trainer has the client’s best interest at heart. They will work hard to improve all aspects of their health and fitness, and also be willing to trust the process.
SBS: What are fitness trends you love and/or hate?
BV: Trends that I love are the HIIT/CrossFit phenomenon. The fact that more people are going to classes and willing to put their body to the test, to work past old barriers and to push themselves to their limits is such an amazing thing to be a part of. They also become a part of that community that holds them accountable, and lasting friendships are made.
Hate is a strong word, but a word I do not like is ‘tone.’ There is a big misconception with this word. In this case, many people want to ‘tone’ and not ‘bulk’, so they opt for lighter weights and remain in their comfort zone. I am not saying that a lighter weight at a higher volume doesn’t produce tight and sore muscles. The fact is that people use the word ‘tone’ as an antithesis to heavy weightlifting. They reference elite athletes and say, ‘I don’t want to look like that.’ They make lifting heavier weights a negative experience, they deem it unfavorable and also adopt the notion that ‘big muscles look ugly.’ In reality, engaging in a weight-lifting program that is progressive and increasingly more challenging is the way to become toned. I fight this misconception every day, encouraging and reassuring my clients that lifting heavier does not make you bulky.
SBS: What is the most overrated or misunderstood exercise?
BV: The most overrated or misunderstood exercise pairs with my previous answer. I feel that although mini-bands are deadly torture devices and absolutely burn your muscles out, they are not needed for every workout. Sometimes you see gym goes with two or three pairs of minibands to do an exercise that can have been accomplished with none. Most people only know what they see on Instagram/social media, so many believe that minibands are the solution to everything.
SBS: What’s a great 10-minute, equipment-free workout?
BV: One of my favorite exercise routines is using the Tabata format: 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest, traditionally for 8 rounds, but you can increase it to whatever time you have. Throw in pushups, squats, sit-ups and burpees, and that can prove to kick your butt, even in 10 minutes!
SBS: What do you hope to bring to the fitness world that you think is lacking?
BV: Compassion. Many gyms and fitness professionals focus on ‘Never give up,’ ‘Don’t stop,’ and ‘No excuses.’ While these are all great mantras to keep us accountable, we all live very real and unpredictable lives. When I coach, I’m not a drill sergeant. I’m a coach that sincerely wants the best for you. I know you are capable of more, which makes me push you. However, I only push as much as you’re willing to bring. I can’t force you to do anything unless you’re ready for it. I thrive in coaching when my clients are willing and ready to work. That’s why my slogan for my gym is ‘Unleash Your Fight.’ Each of us have a fighter within, but only you can summon that champion.
Brian’s Sticky Be Mantra: Be Brave has always been a mantra of mine since college; I almost got a tattoo of that on my arm! It symbolizes the courage to make a choice. It symbolizes the choices, simple and tough, you make every day. I’d rather make a choice, realize it was wrong and learn from that experience, than to regret never making any choice. I will never live my life from regrets. Be Brave and move forward.
The best, zaniest part of being Brian: I love to dance. I express myself as a professional dancer and as a quirky fitness instructor who loves to shake his booty. If you’ve ever been in one of my CrossFit or HIIT classes, you may see me bust a move on the gym floor and twerk it out while my students are sweating and suffering from the workout!
Brian’s Florida Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: Myapapaya
Splurge Restaurant: New York Grilled Cheese Company
Fun Activity: Rollerblading
Calming Activity: Going to the beach close to dusk
Yoga Studio: Hot Yoga hOMe in Pompano Beach
Fitness Studio: ROAR Station in Flagler Village
Athletic Shoes: NOBULL Trainers