Running the streetwear game takes stamina: Virgil Abloh, Heron Preston and Eugene Tong get theirs from Joe Holder, who helped Tong complete the New York marathon this month.
“It’s crazy that I’ve gotten to work with and befriend them,” says Holder, a New York- and plant-based performance specialist and health consultant. “Virgil came to know me through Heron, and Eugene through Dao-Yi [Chow of Public School] and Nike.” (Holder became an official swoosh trainer after he was scouted while teaching a class at S10, the gym that he trains out of, and has appeared in Nike ads and commercials.)
It helps that Holder is not only sincerely interested in streetwear but also in his clients as people rather than pay cheques, keeping tabs on their wellbeing and providing support even if they don’t have time to make it to the gym. “The way I think about performance is different to many in the industry and I believe that resonates with them,” he adds. “Plus, creative capacities go hand in hand with sport so we just happen to mesh.”
Holder did football, basketball and track and field growing up, eventually settling on football at the University of Pennsylvania where he studied sociology, psychology and marketing. But injuries and stress laid him low. “I was depressed,” he admits. After forgetting his dad’s birthday, Holder tore up his mental playbook and created the Ocho System: a holistic philosophy that promotes productivity and physical progress while bridging “the behavioral and cognitive gap” that causes people to fall short of their goals.
Below, Holder explains in his own words how to balance the want to improve with the need to be happy, high achievement with downtime, and going hard with going home.
“Penn face” is a thing: where you maintain a happy exterior while struggling on the inside. After dealing with my own issues, I soon realized that so many of my peers had similar problems. No one told me that I was a good player: I was only told how much better I could be, without anyone letting me know what I was good at for the moment. Granted, athletes don’t deserve to be coddled. But there are moments where positive reinforcement is needed.
Remove the negative emotive response that can be a result of introspection. Review yourself as a stranger and objectively - but not harshly - reflect on the things that you need to improve. Now you have two data sets: one that allows you to be happy and content with your current situation but another that you can create goals from.
I make sure that my own social media accounts exude honesty and show my own difficulties. Hopefully I can then inspire. In terms of my clients, I want them to practice periods of time in their day where they remove themselves from social media. Understand the veneer that is associated with it and don’t take everything literally.
Football beat me up, so strength training for me is now about “structural insurance” and injury prevention. I’m not big into heavy lifting because I experienced enough of that in college, but I incorporate micro-cycles of it into my training. I’m hugely into conditioning though: I think that it’s a way to create kind of a metabolic resistance adaptation without needing to incorporate Olympic lifts where form can get sloppy.
Warm up with five rounds of 40-yard prowler pushes and one minute of jump rope. Next, do five rounds of 10 pull-ups, 10 hex-bar deadlifts and 30 seconds on the battle ropes, followed by five rounds of 10 weighted push-ups, 10 dumbbell lateral lunges and 20 seconds on the assault bike. Then a mobility cooldown.
I’m busier these days so it’s hard to fit in my own training. People have the misconception that I’m working out all the time but I’m not a class instructor, more of a coach, so I don’t work out with my clients and I have to find time when it would be easy to just chalk a skipped session up to fatigue. But I try the best that I can to stay active. A typical week of training for me might be three sessions of lifting or conditioning, two to four runs, one session of yoga and one session of Pilates.
If more men “worked out like women” and vice versa, we’d all meet our goals faster. I think that spatial awareness and mobility are two attributes that can always be improved; yoga and Pilates help me with this.
Gains come from recovery. When I’m really on it, I get a massage and do a recovery session once a week. Life is an added stressor so any way that I can enhance recovery is important. Saunas and ice baths also get me used to being uncomfortable and kind of reckoning with what I have on my mind. Sometimes I’ll sit in a sauna for a couple hours and just meditate and have these creative breakthroughs. It’s special when it happens.
As an athlete, you look to impose stress in a beneficial way to create an adaption with the minimal effective dosage required. Many of these trendy high-intensity fitness classes provide an outlet - which is important - but mask the stressors that people need to address in their life. I won’t say avoid it altogether, but recognise the impact that it’s having on your body, and shift your focus to performance and general optimisation. Recovery, nutrition and lower-intensity sessions are all part of that.
One of my favorite yoga sutras basically states that you’re only selfish in the pursuit of selflessness. You have to take the time to “refill your cup” because others will not do that for you, and also set aside time to do the important, reflective work. That will then allow you to be of better assistance to those that are asking for your time.
I started cutting out meat in college, not really on purpose, but just because I wanted to incorporate more nutrient-dense foods into my diet. I approach food from a perspective of inclusion and not exclusion. Breakfast is a smoothie with plant protein powder, BCAAs, berries, ashwaganda, spirulina and dandelion greens. My mid-morning snack is nuts or fruit. Lunch is a breakfast bowl from Jack’s Wife Freda. In the afternoon, another smoothie. Then dinner is a salad or greens with root veggies and beans.
Most people conceptualize diet in an unhealthy manner that makes it difficult to be successful. You really shouldn’t diet to earn a reward or avoid a punishment. That’s an odd way of thinking about it. The first step is reframing diet from “a diet”. Then I try to get deeper into the underlying reasons behind why someone wants to change their eating habits. From there, you can typically stay on track a bit better.
I have an odd habit of setting my alarm early and waking up to ruminate on any issues that I need to hit that day. I then go back to sleep; when I wake up again, I meditate for about 10 minutes. My day is so at the whim of other people’s schedules that if my morning is not on my own terms then the day will be a wash. Also, a smoothie. Without that, it’s dead.
On my workout playlist is a lot of the “Rap Caviar” from Spotify and classic Lil Wayne tracks. I’m not the type of guy to listen to a podcast or eBook while I’m training. Outside of the gym, my head is probably buried in a book or some random study.
My go-to gym outfit is all-Nike gear, of course. I’m not a big Metcon fan but I typically train in the DSX version. I like to work out in sweatpants and a hoody and then the shirt is probably coming off... Outside of the gym, I’m probably still in workout gear or some kind of streetwear: NikeLab, Off-White, Heron Preston, Public School, Felt-type stuff. I’m minimalist in what I wear — it reduces mental fatigue for me. But I have way too many sneakers. That’s my clothing vice.
I don’t have a problem with fitness being fashionable. What I do fear is the “chic” aspect of it taking away from the underlying fact that we have a public health crisis on our hands and the underserved communities who need access to fitness the most may not be getting it. I’m all for fitness being fashionable but let’s not make it inaccessible.
I remember having dinner with Virgil in Milan and picking his brain. To him, stagnation is the cousin of death. He’s constantly connecting, constantly working. It’s amazing to see, and why I look up to him. Busy people like him just want things to work efficiently. So I would say find times of stillness when you can reflect, but also incorporate increased activity into your daily life when you can. And eat well: it’ll allow you to keep up the frenetic pace.
Embrace the chaos. People will always tell you that you need to relax, but if you can manage the stress of the lifestyle then by all means keep going.
Next up; here are 15 fitness tips from Adi Gillespie, personal trainer to a Saudi Royal.
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