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Peaking at 58

Pacific Health Club fitness trainer Gregorio Juliano is all about holistic training

By Payne Horning

JulianoIn his time working in the personal fitness industry, Gregorio Juliano, the fitness trainer at Pacific Health Club in Liverpool, has been called a lot of nicknames by the roughly 3,000 people he has taken on as clients: coach, J Tank, G Money.

But the title that seems to be the most fitting is guru.

Juliano is not only wise; he’s a wealth of knowledge, and his approach to training clients is holistic. It focuses not only on helping people lose weight or gain muscle, but also on their overall health with an emphasis on maintaining balance.

This winning formula is something that Juliano has perfected over time through what has been a long and diverse career. Although at 58 he is older than the typical personal fitness trainer, Juliano says he is now at the peak of his career because of his age, not in spite of it.

The first time I trained with Juliano, I was nervous. I had never worked with a personal fitness trainer, nor been to the gym on a consistent basis. The only working out I did was working out excuses not to go to the gym! But it wasn’t anything like what I expected.

With Juliano, fitness training is not just a profession, but a science. Watching him work is a spectacle. He moves through the gym like a master chef in a kitchen, pulling a variety of ingredients that you wouldn’t think to use, but that pair together exceptionally well when done right. During my session, I found myself skipping with ankle weights and doing sit-ups on a large tractor tire. I was skeptical at first, yet by the end of the workout, I felt invigorated.

In the 10 years that Arel Moodie, an entrepreneur and author, has been training with Juliano, their workouts have incorporated everything from rock climbing to yoga to chains. Moodie says these creative exercises are not just about keeping you on your toes — there’s a method to the madness.

“He studies you, learning exactly what you need to do in the gym and what you need from him. I think that’s really unique,” Moodie said. “With other people, it’s almost like a template with the workouts. It was like, ‘Here’s what I do so here’s what you will do.’ I never get that sense with Greg. I always feel like everything I’m doing is built for me.”

Juliano says there are many ways to put on muscle or shed pounds at the gym, but they are often just short-term fixes for a long-term problem. That’s why his approach goes beyond the basic workout routines and weight-loss goals.

“I do it holistically,” Juliano said. “If someone’s overweight, there may be dietary reasons or hereditary reasons or emotional reasons. Maybe they’re using food as a substitute for something missing in their life or food as an emotional outlet. So, you approach the whole person, not just the symptoms.”

Juliano also works with his clients on what he calls keeping things in balance. That means doing more than showing up to the gym; it’s about tending to your health as well — eating unprocessed meals, taking healthy supplements and vitamins, and maintaining an appropriate work-life balance.

John-Michael Emmons, who for the first time in his life has defined muscle mass after training with Juliano, says that’s why he keeps coming back.

“He won’t necessarily tell me what I can’t have, he will tell me what I can have and still achieve my goals,” Emmons said. “It’s more than just the workout. It’s your day-to-day life and how you find that balance. He is invested in me and cares about me as a person.”

“Too many people leave their health care in their doctor’s hands and by that time, usually the damage is done. So, focus on prevention, focus on general heath and take responsibility for it.”

It’s not just the fact that Juliano takes a holistic approach that his clients appreciate; he can also back it up. Juliano has an encyclopedic knowledge of health, wellness and exercise. Training with him is as much a lesson as it is a workout.

Every time you start a new exercise, Juliano discusses the methodology and science behind it, revealing just how much research he conducted prior to each training session.

Mary Pagan, a professor in the health promotion and wellness management department at SUNY Oswego, has worked with Juliano and collaborated with him on various community wellness projects. She says in the time the two have known each other, Juliano is constantly seeking out new information, reading the latest books on healthy living, and even sending current and former clients reading material as well.

“A lot of trainers form a way of training clients that becomes old school and they stick with it even though we’ve learned so much,” Pagan said. “Greg is not a settler.”

Juliano studied at the University of Hawaii and later got a bachelor’s degree in public health from Syracuse University. However, much of what Juliano has learned came not from a formal education but from the rich variety of experiences he gained long before he started working at Pacific Health Club.

Hawaiian time

Even from a young age, Juliano has always been in a gym. He was an active athlete as a child. While at Syracuse Minoa High School, he competed in four sports: baseball, football, wrestling and boxing. He also boxed at Ring 56 in downtown Syracuse during those same years.

After graduation, Juliano enlisted in the U.S. Army where the foundations of his health care education took root. He was sent to paramedic school at a base in San Antonio, Texas and then transferred to Germany to work as a paramedic for the Army at a time when the country was still split into east and west. He was able to continue with his love for athletics there, serving as a team trainer for the Army’s European football team.

“Taking charge of your health is a personal responsibility, not the doctor’s responsibility. That would be the biggest thing I could say for the 65-to-75-age group. A lot of them say, ‘Oh, you know, if something happens I’ll let my doctor worry about it.’ Well, it’s probably too late then.”

Juliano would later return to the U.S. to serve a couple of years at Fort Riley, Kansas. It was at the end of that first tour of service that Juliano’s life would take a major and fateful change.

He was asked if he wanted to renew his contract with the Army. Jokingly, he replied, “Yes, but only if you send me to Hawaii!” The joke didn’t land, but the request did. Two days later, he had orders to go to the Aloha State.

“At the time I was 21 and I could go back to Syracuse or go live in Hawaii and get paid for it,” Juliano said. “So, I signed.”

Although his contract with the Army lasted for only four years, his time in Hawaii extended far beyond that. Juliano lived the next 25 years of his life in Waipahu, a city of nearly 40,000 about 20 minutes north of Honolulu on the island of Oahu. They were formative years for Juliano, who says he became enthralled with the Hawaiian culture and way of life.

“From the first week when I moved there, I felt at home,” he said. “I just felt so comfortable. I thought the people were so nice. They’re very family oriented, laid back, less materialistic, and very insightful. I felt like I could connect with these people.”

Juliano also appreciated the focus on health in Hawaii. He says during the ‘80s and ‘90s, there was a major “fitness scene” in the state. Many professional football players were coming from Hawaii at the time and ESPN used to broadcast workout programs based in the state.

It was in that fertile climate for fitness that the seeds of Juliano’s career were laid. He opened his own gym: Juliano’s Fitness Center in Waipahu. Most of the competing gyms in the area were designed only for people interested in bodybuilding. Juliano’s gym — much like the philosophy that guides his training in present day — catered to people of all body types and focused on general conditioning, offering a range of classes from weightlifting to Pilates and yoga.

A few years later, a group of doctors bought the gym and turned it into a counseling center. Juliano then took a job with a holistic health company on a federally funded grant initiative. He says the program was aimed at preventing diabetes and heart disease in Native Hawaiians.

After that, Juliano returned to his entrepreneurial roots by opening another business. Extreme Power Models was a modeling agency that provided in-shape extras for television shows filmed in Hawaii. Juliano says the company regularly worked with “Baywatch” and provided extras for big-name talents, like Steven Seagal.

That wasn’t the only celebrity Juliano rubbed elbows with during his years in the Aloha State. He met Marvin Hagler, a former professional boxer, actor Tony Danza, and music artist Bruno Mars, whose name at the time was Peter Hernandez.

“He performed on the same stage as one of my classmates at [Hawaii] University,” Juliano said. “I spoke with him many times and he was just an energetic little kid. He then moved to California and blew up big time.”

Juliano also ran into Tom Selleck on several occasions at the restaurant the actor owned. The Black Orchid was a fine dining restaurant with live entertainment where Juliano celebrated several of his birthdays.

Home sweet home

Juliano decided to move back to Syracuse in 2007 after making several roundtrip flights from Hawaii to take care of his father, who was diagnosed with cancer. He took a job with Wellness Enterprises, a company that worked on health and wellness programs for corporations like Carrier.

While there, Juliano designed a gym for Anheuser Busch’s plant and ran some of the fitness programs in that space.

Juliano would go on to work at Gold’s Gym of Syracuse and Trillium Fitness Center in Syracuse before taking a job at Pacific Health Club in 2014. Bob Natoli, owner of Pacific Health Club, said he instantly wanted to hire him.

“When you are a personal trainer, you have to have a certain dynamic aspect to your personality because it’s not just about training, it’s about convincing people that they need it,” Natoli said. “The health industry should be loaded with very friendly, dynamic people. That’s how it grows. That’s how it prospers. Greg had all of those abilities.”

Natoli says he didn’t think twice about Juliano’s age when he was interviewing him. If anything, it might have helped. Natoli said Juliano brought far more experience to the table than many of the candidates he’s hired in the past.

Even today, though, Natoli says Juliano’s age isn’t a factor.

“I look at him and he is at his peak,” Natoli said. “He’s in fabulous condition.”

Moodie learned that the hard way. During one of their workouts, Moodie wanted to joke around by trying to tackle Juliano to the ground, but he was the only one who actually made it there.

“It felt like I had grabbed a granite statue. I was like holy crap, this dude is a rock,” Moodie said. “It made me realize that even though he’s older than me, he’s stronger than me in many ways. He’s very inspirational in the way he’s holding his fitness at his age. It shows what’s possible at any point as long as you stay focused, and that’s what I admire.”

And it’s not just strength that Juliano possesses. In the last decade, he competed in two Upstate New York “Dancing with the Stars” competitions, taking home the gold in one of them. Juliano credits his success at this stage of life to the culmination of everything that he has learned. It’s why he says he’s stronger and faster at 58 than he was at 27.

“Over time you just learn more and more efficient ways to do things, more efficient ways to eat, more efficient ways to meal plan, more efficient ways to supplement,” Juliano said.

Passing that lifetime of knowledge onto others is part of the motivation to keep working for Juliano, even though he sometimes dreams of returning to Hawaii for retirement. And while he could pursue a career as a teacher or college professor, Juliano enjoys the one-on-one connection that personal training offers. Through his work, he has met a lot of interesting people and built lifelong friendships — he was even a member of Moodie’s wedding party.

But perhaps the most rewarding aspect, Juliano says, is the impact this type of work can have. In one case, he helped a college football player build enough muscle to win a pro football contract in Europe. And in another, Juliano aided a college track star in her recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury; she would later go on to set new record speeds.

And then there was one of his newer clients, Madeline Rosado, who came to Juliano at Pacific Health Club in 2016 while facing a slew of health issues. She was on several medications at the time and as result, fighting bouts of depression.

“I was just interested in losing the weight I had gained due to so many personal problems,” Rosado said. “Now, I’m a different person.”

Not only does Rosado no longer need those medications, but she has also become an award-winning power lifter. She credits Juliano, who helped her learn balance, focus, and how to combat stress.

Juliano says it’s stories like these that make it all worth it.

“When you change somebody’s life, they’re usually grateful to you for a long time,” Juliano said. “It’s not about making the most money or having the most clients — the reward is changing lives for the better.”