Santiago “Santi” Villamil, elite physical therapist, strength/conditioning coach and core specialist, talks about the fitness industry, and his philosophy of “Keep it simple, sweet and powerful.”
As a sought-after Physical Therapist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with a long, successful career in orthopedic and sports rehabilitation, sports performance, and the fitness industry in general, Villamil works every day to find new ways to challenge people and help them live their best lives. Villamil is a graduate of the University of Florida, where he received a Masters in Physical Therapy and a Bachelors in Exercise Physiology with a minor in Nutrition.
Villamil’s highest goal and mission is to empower people to take control of their health and “inspire the athlete in everyone.” As he states, Villamil works with many people with various needs, from rehabilitation to pain relief, to getting people back to doing what they love. Villamil talks about the kinds of people he works with, from athletes, to women with autoimmune issues, to those who suffer from chronic pain. Villamil talks techniques, and the important element of getting back into good shape and conditioning. First, he states, they work on improving the mindset of an individual—performing simple tasks like getting up, being grateful, taking a walk. This process of shifting the mind involves steps that can get you there. Listening to clients is key, helping them channel their needs so they can accomplish their goals.
The conditioning expert talks in-depth about body movement, and changes that can happen over time. He states that sometimes people go too hard in the beginning and the body cannot compensate if the rush to a goal is too quick. The programs that Villamil focuses on always stress the importance of making individualized plans, and considering multiple factors. Wrapping up, Villamil talks about certifications and the qualifications of coaches and conditioning experts. He cautions that everyone should look carefully at the qualifications and experience before settling in with just any trainer or physical therapist for orthopedic work or physical therapy exercises.
In this podcast you will learn about:
The importance of working gradually toward a conditioning goal
How a good mindset is the first key step in resetting your life
How all certified therapists are definitely not equal, and what to look for in a therapist
Richard Jacobs: Hello, this is Richard Jacobs with the future tech and future tech health podcast. I have Santiago Villamil. He is an elite and certified strength and conditioning specialist with years of experience in orthopedic and sports rehab, sports performance and the fitness industry in general. He graduated from the University of Florida with a master’s in physical therapy and a bachelor’s in exercise physiology, minor in nutrition. And his mission is to empower individuals to take charge of their health and inspire the athlete in everyone, which is a pretty cool mission. So Santiago, thanks for coming.
Santiago Villamil: No problem man. Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Richard Jacobs: So inspiring the athlete in everybody, do you have some people that are, let’s say older or in really, really poor condition that looks at you with alternative rallies?
Santiago Villamil: Yeah for the most part, well I’m a strength coach for about over 20 years, but I’ve been a physical therapist for about 16. So that’s where I kind bridge the gap between rehabilitation and getting you out of pain to getting you back to doing the things that you love. And that’s basically what that comes from a lot of people. And the health, especially in the healthcare field, they’re told all the time that they can’t by doctors, by all these different people. Don’t do this. Don’t do that again. Oh, you’ll never run again, it’s bad for your knees, you know, you name it. I hear it all. So that’s my mission to inspire the athlete in everybody again so they can believe in themselves and trust their bodies and regain strength and have a long, long, long functional life. That’s the main thing.
Richard Jacobs: Do you think that anyone is too far gone or even people that are like, just really, really, you know, they can’t walk straight. They’re in wheelchairs, they’re just a mess. They’re older, maybe they’re 70. Do you think that even those kinds of people can significantly improve their health and their mobility?
Santiago Villamil: I think anybody that has the right mindset can accomplish anything that they want. As a strength coach, it used to be all about performance and regaining strength and power and agility and things like that. As a physical therapist you have to think and figure out how I get this person that was walking yesterday and all of a sudden they’re a quadriplegic and how do they function in life. So in my career, it’s really all mindset and you can have the severely Inder Curson that ends up believing that they can accomplish a triathlon, for example, and then they accomplish it, or some of our wounded warriors that get body parts that get blown up, but they still accomplish amazing feats because their mindset is different than let’s say the person that doesn’t believe that they’re going to get any better than basically as what they get. They lose function, they get weaker, they get on medications, and then that’s it. And then it’s the beginning of the end, basically. They don’t have a very let’s just say the fulfilling quality of life because they don’t believe in themselves. So to me, the human body’s amazing and as long as you treat it and challenge it a little bit and stress it enough it’ll adapt and it’ll adapt to whatever condition you put towards it. So that’s what beautiful about the body. We think that we’re this person that we see in the mirror, but really we’re just a blob of cells, man. Just walking around, it’s just an ecosystem that just requires the right amount of environment and stimulus to adapt to something and if there’s like a thing goes, if you lose it, if you don’t use it, you lose it. But if you do something, then your body will respond accordingly.
Richard Jacobs: What do you believe is there a single most important aspect of someone regaining their health or maintaining their health? I remember Pavel Tsatsouline, he is big into the rushing kettle balls, and he was like strength. Without strength he is nothing. Do you have something like that or what’s the pyramid or what’s the base of good health or improving your health? What are the elements?
Santiago Villamil: For me when it comes to health, it is the right dosage of many things. So it’s not a very specific diet.
It’s whatever works for your body or when it comes to strength, yes you need a certain amount of strength. But for what, if you’re going to be a powerlifter, you’re going to need to work on powerlifting strength. But if you just want to be able to go out with your friends and dance at an old age and that’s totally different. So it’s all about the specificity of training per se, and providing the proper dosage of exercise or nutrition or whatever to live the life that you want to live and you can change at any time. That’s what’s awesome about being a human. If you decide that you want to become a runner or you just need to train yourself to become a runner and you can become one, or if you want to go into do more Cross Fit or strength and conditioning, then you can also do that. But you just need to allow the body to adapt and not think that this is going to happen overnight. So it’s all about consistency and tissue at a patient. That’s something that I teach a lot of my athletes and a lot of my clients because they think that they’re supposed to just get it overnight and the harder they push, the better. But ultimately you end up irritating a tissue or you end up with an injury if you don’t do it properly. So really it’s all about the proper amount for whatever it is that you want to accomplish and allowing your body to adapt.
Richard Jacobs: So what kind of people do you work with? Do you work more with athletes or has that changed and now you work with a different segment of the population?
Santiago Villamil: Yeah. It’s actually changed. So I work with athletes, runners, and now I’m getting a lot of people, especially women with autoimmune issues and people that are in chronic pain. Because ever since I started my career as a physical therapist from the beginning, probably a year out I wasn’t getting the results that I was expecting or that my patients were expecting. So I started looking at things outside the box and I basically just jumped into a rabbit hole of let’s just say non-evidence based practice, as most people will see it. Because it’s not on a journal and it was all driven by results. And in the sports industry, we’re more concerned with the performance aspect and the recovery and quick recovery. So sometimes you don’t have time to read all sorts of journal articles. You just go with things at work and get the athletes the results. So I started transitioning that over to just my general orthopedic people and eventually led me to these little discs that Dr. Hoff invented and they’d been out for about four years now. And it’s like frequency medicine. And to me, it’s the future of medicine because it’s how our nervous system actually functions and how it works. So I’ve gone from like helping optimize athletes in treating females that have autoimmune issues or kids with autoimmune issues that nobody seems to be able to help unless it’s the medicines. And it’s just been pretty amazing, people with Parkinson’s who were told they were stuck with Parkinson’s forever. And just the other one of my clients telling me, she goes like, I feel like a real person. I think I almost busted out crying just because it was, you know, a simple little statement like that. But it’s just amazing to be able to help people in that way. So right now I help anybody that comes through my doors or gets referred or anything like that. So my scope is pretty broad right now because of going outside the box earlier in my career.
Richard Jacobs: So what are some of the important elements of, you know, let’s say you haven’t worked out in a while, years, maybe even decades, and you want to get started again. It seems like a lot of people get started way too hard, way too fast, and then they hurt themselves and they just say, forget it or it’s too hard and they give up. What are some of your first recommendations or things you do with, let’s say, again, you have a woman that maybe it’s been a while and she’s not feeling, so how do you start her off?
Santiago Villamil: A lot of education. So our first is just mindset, belief in themselves. When people are in an emotional state then they’re not thinking clearly or there’s no belief, then it’s difficult for them to even see the end goal. So at first we just start with really simple tasks, like getting up at a good time and drinking water and then just going for a simple little pain-free walk. Getting some sunshine in the morning, just sun gaze, doing things like being grateful every morning and saying thanks for grateful for. So just shifting the mind allows them to start believing that they can accomplish anything. So then comes like, let’s say the interview, if somebody says, okay, I want to be able to do a five-kilometer. A lot of people are like, okay, let’s do the couch potato to five-kilometer and eight to twelve weeks. I’m more like, let’s look at next year because I want to make especially have not been doing anything as you said, and they’ve let themselves go. We really just start with very simple tasks such as walking or more being consistent with, let’s say they work at a desk, get up from your desk every 20 minutes. If you’re watching TV during commercial breaks, give me 20 squats or 20 sit to stands. I call them. Because they think of them a little bit differently. And then one, like you mentioned Pavela, something that I’m really big on is telling people that eventually they need to be able to get up from the floor efficiently and smoothly like a Ninja. So that’s the ultimate goal without any effort and without any grunting. So I don’t follow very specific principles because to me, every human is completely different. Their movement backgrounds different, their nutrition’s background is different. The way they perceive movement is different. So everybody’s very individualized. So it’s very difficult for me to kind of say these are my parameters or just because I treat everybody individually. And that’s why I get good results because it’s the ability to listen to the person and really hear them out with where they want to go with their health or their fitness and giving them not what I think they need, but giving them what they believe they’re going to be able to get. So it’s like giving them the promise. Instead of focusing so much on process, I keep them focus more on like the promise of, and they’ll get there, then they don’t mind that. They start comparing themselves to the Cross Fit or that, but he just did 220 pounds and I’m like, it doesn’t matter. That’s not you. They’ve been doing that for 20 years and we just started and let’s just say they never even played a sport. So it’s like a totally different body. So that’s the important thing is. Seeking somebody out, like understanding that fitness isn’t just going ahead and go like you said and go hard. It’s finding somebody that will take the time to see where you’re at and prep your body accordingly so it can adapt without the fear, injury or irritating. Because a lot of people lose interest in fitness one because they try to do something that a friend told them to do, but they really don’t like it. So they’re not going to be compliant or they do too much too soon and then something hurts and then they’re like, Oh yeah, this is hurting me. I’m not going to do it again. So then they go back to being unfit. So it’s finding something simple. At first. I follow the kiss principle, keep it simple something. If it’s a senior, I say keep it simple senior.
Richard Jacobs: Right. I gotcha. Is there any guideline for someone’s age? Therefore it’ll take this amount of time to get to a state where they can be functional or if someone hasn’t worked out for five years on average, how long will it take them to get to a good state again? Like is there any rule of thumb on how long it takes?
Santiago Villamil: What I usually go by is how they tell me they’re feeling after we do certain things. So if they’re like, Oh, I had a lot of pain, we go into like, what type of pain? Because sometimes they’ve been in pain for a long time. Let’s say somebody that gets him in for chronic pain and all they know is pain or like somebody would follow mild yet, so they have a different perception of pain. So as we get into movement, then it’s more of like, okay, what kind of pain is it? Like muscle soreness because they might not know that to them. Anything, any sensation to them is just pain and it’s not good for them. But then we just break down what pain is really telling them. And then once they have an understanding, then they’re fine because then they understand that after you did your exercise or after you did your walking or whatever, I’m experiencing muscle soreness and that’s totally fine. Or if it’s more of stiffness then in their joints send out, they’ll say, well, maybe you lifted too much, so maybe we need to back off. So it’s really, I go with pain and how they’re feeling. And then also when doing the workout together, I’m very particular in how their movements. So I have a Kenai and whether they’re moving efficiently or they’re compensating in some way, so I just back it off in some way, whether it’s weight-wise or whether if we’re doing squats, how high they’re getting their butt down or if it’s a pace with that runner, we just kind of move around those little parameters so that way they feel good during the movement instead of feeling like they’re being strained. Especially in the beginning. Once, let’s say six to eight weeks is usually hauling, it takes somebody to adapt to like a new regimen of fitness or health. Then at that point, you can start pushing it a little bit more. But the guidelines are still the same. Is it a muscle soreness or is it something’s not right. Or the physical therapists or the strength coach or whoever has to have a keen eye and how their movement is and whether it’s a strained and compensated movement or something that just flows. Whenever you watch any professional athletes or anything like that, you see them move and they just flow, like how did they do that? It doesn’t mean that the amateur can’t do it, but they will be able to if they slowly progress themselves.
Richard Jacobs: Well even within professional athletes, I mean, what people don’t see and what I think happens is a lot of them like destroy their bodies performing at that level and no one sees them broken and in pain themselves years later.
Santiago Villamil: Exactly.
Richard Jacobs: I think it gives people a really unrealistic idea of what’s possible.
Santiago Villamil: Absolutely. And a lot of people compare themselves to that. They see something and they’re like, Oh, I want to be able to do that.
And then they go balls to the wall. They just go hard and it’s like, man, those guys, they had a gymnastics background and then they’d joined Cross Fit so they can do all these things much more fluid than you who maybe never worked out. And your sport was like, let’s say band practice like that’s the way you move your body. You never really played a sport, but then you’re in your thirties and your forties and you’re like, man, I’m getting fed. I don’t look at how I’m looking. I mean, let me get fit. And then they start joining all these different gyms and they go too hard. They will look something up and they’re like, I’m going to go with this. And at first, it might feel good, but again, what I noticed is that I get a lot of people coming in six to eight weeks within their program. When you should be ramping up strength or pace or whatever it is you’re going to be increasing because they started so fast the body was adapting eventually just run out of the way to compensate. And then that’s when you start feeling the hip or the knee or the neck pain. So that’s what people don’t recognize that they need to start with I guess the boring stuff in the beginning, but there are ways to make it challenging. You just have to think as a professional and how to make it fun, how to make it task-oriented and think who you have in front of you rather than just looking at the program. I think a lot of people focus too much on the piece of paper on, the programming aspect of it and trying to fit the person to the program rather than creating a program for the person as they go. Because sometimes stress can affect the way you move. You had an amazing workout the week before. Then you got into a fight with your wife and then you had a hard work week and then you didn’t eat right and then you drank with your friends cause you were traveling and you got back and then you started to work out. Well at that point, your body has been under stress and you’re trying to hit it hard again, while the tissue is going to be like I’m not ready for this. You don’t have the proper energy systems and things like that. And then the tissue breaks down, but you might not feel it right then and there, but that’s where something began that you might feel four weeks later, right. As a little ache or sharp pain in your knee or something like that.
So there’s a lot of factors that people have to take into consideration.
Richard Jacobs: Well, one important question I have is, this is also for me too. How do you find not just your run of the mill personal trainer that’s like sitting there texting while you’re doing their standard workout and they’re thinking like, Oh my client’s not sore? They’re not going to use me again. And like how do you find someone really good? How do you find your trainer, I mean, and what do they even call that? They call the personal trainer, how do you find someone that knows about working out and they know about personalization and that they care and they know about the physical therapy aspect of it and they care about your pain and they’re not just like some schlep that does like a standard program.
Santiago Villamil: Exactly. The key with that is, you know, with anything that, not just personal training or a physical therapist or a strength coach or a doctor or like whenever I speak with any of my clients they’re paying the money and yes, you might be thinking of that person as an expert that’s going to help you, but you need to feel that they’re listening to you. You need to have this gut feeling of like, they have my best interest, not just, Oh, how many sessions, there’s a lot of times they just try to sell you on their sessions or sell you on their plan of care, sell you on all these things and the testosterone injections or they’re trying to sell you and all these different things. Anything that promises quick fix that’s the number one red flag when somebody is like, all right, in the six-week program, you’re going to lose this weight and you’re going to get this much strength. You may, but it might not be the healthiest way. So it will be results-driven, not longevity, right. Or resilient, body driven. You might get a result short term, but then later you’re not where you needed to be because all you did was just stress your body to get a result. So whenever you seek somebody out there, just make sure that you interview them, see what their philosophy is. Don’t just sit there and listen to what they’re telling you. They need to be doing a lot more than listening. And that’s to me is going to be the property of the health care professional or proper trainer. Somebody that’s going to be more in tune with the best interest for your health. Somebody that’s truly listening rather than somebody that’s just moving their mouth about how good they are or how many credentials they have or everything like that. If you just take that as a red flag, somebody that’s not letting you talk or not listening to what you’re trying to tell them, then move on from that person because there are people out there that are willing to listen and take the time and do a program specifically for you rather than the cookie-cutter quick loss program or strength King’s program
Richard Jacobs: Are there other certifications that would give you an idea that it’s maybe more likely that someone will be able to help you? Are they called different things? They are. Yes. So let’s say
Santiago Villamil: They are. Yes. So let’s say in the personal training world, physical therapist or doc obviously that you got to go to school, you know, right now all kids graduating now are doctors or physical therapists. They have been training for about seven years or eight years. But you also want to that just like trainers or doctors, there are different types. So if you have a personal trainer who only treats athletes and they’re always at a high level let’s say program or programming and then you’re like in your sixties and you just want to get into shape, they might not have that much experience working with a sixty-year-old, they’re going to try to modify things, but they’ll throw all sorts of high-level things that should be, ’cause that’s all they know. So that’s one thing, but when it comes to certifications, the CSCS what I have or they had, you have to have a bachelor’s. Whereas most other ones you can, I mean there’s so many out there. You can go to a weekend course and say you’re certified and same thing with Cross Fit. You go to the weekend and then you become a level one coach and it doesn’t mean that you had that knowledge. You have to be really careful with interviewing them and find out from them what it is that they like doing number one and how they can help you umber two, mass numbers of certifications because there’s so many out there, but I would just go with the national strength and conditioning association, which they need a bachelor’s. Obviously I’m biased as both. I’m strength and conditioning but also a physical therapist. But I always tell anybody to go to a physical therapist that understands a movement. You can go to physical therapists that only knows neurological stuff for pediatrics, so they’re not going to be the best one. So go to somebody that has a background in training or has done athletics before or has done some form of fitness in order to help you with your fitness goals, but also find a physical therapist that understands a movement. We are the movement experts. So I always say, go see a PT first so that way they can then help guide you with where to go. Because to me a lot of people trust their doctors or their trainers or massage therapist and there’s some that know a lot, but when it comes to the training, I’ll say that it’s like going to your general practitioner for brain surgery. Makes sense. But people don’t think of that when it comes to fitness or movement. They will just all put in the same. But really know what your goals are as far as fitness and then try to seek somebody out that’s going to listen to you. Not trying to sell you something. If they’re doing more of the talking then that means they’re not listening to you and therefore they’re not going to know what to do for you specifically because they did all the talking. It makes sense. They’re coming out like, Oh I know everything. I know what to do. I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that and maybe just wanted to learn to square dance.
Richard Jacobs: Well it makes sense. So Santiago what’s the best way for people to find out more about your programs and what you do and if they’re local to you, if you’re even taking your own clients, but how can people follow up?
Santiago Villamil: I’m in the Gainesville area. I’m changing my website because I’m doing a lot of different things. But they can find me on Facebook @Santivillamil or they can find me on Instagram @Santi_the_physiosensei. And that’s about it. I mean, really, if anybody has any questions or anything that can reach out to me on Facebook, whether its health advice or fitness advice, I’m willing to help them out.
Richard Jacobs: Santiago thanks for coming. I really appreciate it.
Santiago Villamil: Awesome and appreciate you.
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