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👋 Hi! Tell us about yourself and your training
My name is Ivan Polanco and I am a 27-year-old singer-songwriter, personal trainer, and admissions counselor at a university. I’ve been an independent pop/r&b artist for 10 years, and throughout the entirety of my music career, I’ve been a personal trainer, group fitness and martial arts instructor.
My training foundation stems from my roots as a martial artist and athlete from my childhood. I began training in Shotokan karate, kickboxing, wrestling, and playing baseball in my youth. Eventually those interests led to me discovering bodybuilding and powerlifting in my teens after I saw the film “Pumping Iron”.
Once the combination of strength training was coupled with my athletic performance, I saw the value of training beyond the sports, and instead for a healthy life.
Fourteen years later through my strength training, calisthenics, martial arts, and functional fitness journey, I am incredibly happy with how far I’ve come and continue to grow.
Sure I’ve had my setbacks and injuries like anyone else, but training (like my passion for music), is a deep-rooted part of my life that brings fulfillment for me.
I’ve had to adapt my training over the years to what has felt best for my body, but my lifetime PR’s include a 555lb deadlift, 415lb squat, and 305lb bench press at a bodyweight of 187lbs at 5’7”.
⏱ Describe a typical day of training
I’ve experimented with different kinds of training splits over the years, however I’ve really been enjoying lower body/upper body splits now in my training schedule.
I usually train five to six days a week, 60-75 min per workout. I also enjoy training kickboxing and jiu-jitsu as I prefer that for my cardio one to two times per week.
For years, I loved all-out heavy powerlifting included into my bodybuilding-styled weight training, but now I focus more on being selective with my sets and reps due to injuries I’ve developed over time (slightly herniated disk, tendonitis in both knees).
I’ve been forced to train smarter as I’ve gotten older, I’m thankful that my more intelligent workout programming has kept those injuries at bay.
Being that I train upper body and lower body three times a week alternating every other day (with one rest day), I always try to get at least one or two compound movements in for the muscle groups trained, followed by lighter isolation volume work.
As I get closer to the end of a workout week, my final upper body/lower body sessions consist of higher volume calisthenics to work on muscular endurance, to stay strong with bodyweight control, and for the fun of changing up the exercise styles.
I don’t mind training with workout partners, but honestly I do love lifting alone and without music. Something about being on my own in quiet lets it become more of a meditative process, and I really enjoy that time with myself.
👊 How do you keep going and push harder?
The motivation I have to train now as compared to my teen years stretches much farther than just “looking good”. Exercise is a way of mentally, emotionally, and spiritually getting myself back to my center, and it’s saved me during tough times in my life.
Letting go of the big PR’s I’ve achieved in my past was a challenge once I started changing my training to work around my injuries, but now there’s a great peace I feel in not investing my self-worth in how much I squat/bench/deadlift.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want to get stronger or work hard in the gym, because of course I do! It just means that I try not to let my focus be on chasing big numbers all the time, and instead let the improvements come in their own time with my consistency coupled with better exercise programming.
🏆 How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
When I am touring for my music playing shows, I enjoy focusing on calisthenics and resistance bands to maintain and continue with workout consistency. Beyond that, the majority of my training is done in the gym when I am home.
My music is my main source of creative passion, and I have four albums of original music online. I’ve had the opportunity to complete several northeast college tours and regional tours for my music, and this year of 2020 I’ll be releasing a new album.
The ultimate goal for myself is to reach as many people as possible positively with my art, eventually making it a full-time career. I feel being a singer-songwriter that is also an athlete and martial artist helps me stand out in a great way, and it’s become a big part of my branding to have both passions of music and fitness expressed through my content online.
As for my future with fitness, I’ve toyed with the idea of competing as a natural bodybuilder again. I competed in 2014 in a bodybuilding show and placed in the top 5 for the bodybuilding & men’s physique divisions for my height and weight. It was a great experience, and while it felt strange to compete in a new arena like that, I did enjoy myself.
I’ve also explored the idea of competing in jiu-jitsu tournaments one day as I am a lifelong martial artist and love grappling as well as striking. There’s always room to improve as a martial artist, which is why I love it, and competing in jiu-jitsu would be a safer route than competing in boxing, kickboxing, or MMA in my opinion (even though I enjoy those disciplines too).
🤕 How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?
I like to make my rest days on the weekends mostly so I can enjoy true days off from my work week Monday through Friday. Being that I portion my training volume carefully throughout the week, I thankfully have the energy and strength to get through five to six days of training without a problem and then enjoy a good rest day or two sometimes.
As for injuries, the two major ones I’ve had (herniated disc and tendonitis in both knees) forced me to lay off heavy lower body movements for four months back in 2016. It was an incredibly humbling time, but I did my best to turn it into a blessing in finally realizing I had to train smarter.
I’ve found that the best medicine when being forced to nurse injuries is to remember that “setbacks” are lessons, and you don’t have to be defined by them.
If I didn’t get my herniated disc while deadlifting like a madman when I shouldn’t have been when I was 22, or when I was squatting heavy with too much volume several days of the week when I was 23, I would’ve kept on going until I hurt myself beyond repair.
Letting go of what you can’t control is easier said than done, but it’s definitely necessary in order to make a healthy recovery.
🍎 How is your diet and what supplements do you use?
I count macronutrients and have found that it’s the easiest method for me to manage my weight. I’ve never been a big supplement guy, but now I do take whey protein. When it comes down to it however, make sure to still get the majority of my calories from natural food sources.
I’m not a big coffee guy and I’m not a fan of pre-workouts. Training first thing in the morning on an empty stomach is my favorite time to workout, that way it gets my mind ready for the day. I also do intermittent fasting and eat within a 4 hour window each day during the work week.
👍 What has inspired and motivated you?
My biggest inspirations for fitness are two men: Bruce Lee and Batman. As a lifelong martial artist, I grew up idolizing both these men for their incredible work ethic, amazing physiques, and most importantly what they could do with their bodies.
Bruce Lee and Bruce Wayne (Batman’s true identity for those who aren’t comic book fans!) were martial artists that used strength training as a means to improve the power, speed, and endurance of their techniques.
While Batman is a fictional character, he’s still always portrayed as a hulking figure that has a mastery level of martial arts skill.
Bruce Lee was a real man who truly embodied that description in his life before passing away at the young age of 32 in the 1970s. He took inspiration from bodybuilders and used weight training to enhance his martial arts training, going on to revolutionize the film industry and martial arts world.
I often joke with friends that the only pre-workout I need is reading a Batman graphic novel or watching a Bruce Lee movie. Nothing gets me more pumped to work hard in the gym than that!
✏️ Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?
I believe the journey towards self-improvement is never ending, but if I were to give some words of advice on the topic from my own experiences, I’d say trust in patience.
Everyone has their own goals, whether it be weight loss, building bigger arms, running a certain amount of miles, or training to compete in a ring, but the one commonality is that you won’t be where you want on that first training day.
Results take time to build, and they’ll only come as long as you pay those dues with consistency and training smart. Most importantly amidst the days and nights of working towards your fitness goals (or any goals for that matter), keep in mind that you don’t need that end result to be happy.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been way too hard on myself when a certain performance didn’t go as I planned, or when I didn’t do as well as I hoped against a sparring partner during a training session.
Getting to train, breathe, and feel your life flowing through that body of yours is a gift. The journey towards the goal is where the real gold is.
🤝 Are you taking on clients right now?
I’m not currently taking on clients right now due to my schedule being very busy with my other career as an admissions counselor at a university. I ultimately chose at the end of 2019 to find a different occupation to take on full-time that would provide benefits, salary, and schedule flexibility for me to perform my music.
Finding this new position as an admissions counselor is very different for me, but thankfully it requires my client-relations skills from personal training, so the transition has been positive.
I still train clients part time when I am not performing my music at shows, so in the future I might have more openings for clients in my area of Westchester County, NY and Fairfield County, CT.
📝 Where can we learn more about you?
You can learn more about me through my website, ivanpolanco.com. My original music is all on Spotify and Apple Music. Follow my music and fitness journey through my social media sites: