Joe is the Founder of RUNGA, and has been a wellness and performance coach for over 15 years. Influenced by his own experience of healing after a traumatic brain injury, Joe’s teachings focus on engraining profound mindset shifts, giving individuals the courage and the tools to align their actions with their objectives throughout daily life. As Head of Sport at Spartan Race for 8 years, Joe trained professional endurance athletes and taught trainers all over the world how to best support their athletes year-round.
As a coach, what are the things you most consistently prescribe?
Although today I work almost exclusively with executives and “weekend warriors,” the core of my approach hasn’t changed much from my days of working with college athletes and professional runners. Essentially, no matter what you use your body for, us humans have the same operating systems, compensating in many of the same ways, with similar underlying patterns.
For this reason, the most consistent things I prescribe are breathwork, lower-extremity mobility work, and walking. Breathwork begins with proper diaphragmatic activation and spills over into breath-holding drills, patterned breathing, and torso-expansion exercises, such as belly-breathing. This helps the body improve from the inside-out, calms the nervous system, and ensures that the foundation is set for greater work to be done. As for the lower-extremity mobility work, years of walking on a concrete jungle—and often in tight, narrow shoes or high-heels—leave us with feet that hardly function. This creates a ripple effect of dysfunction, starting at the feet and ankles, and moving up to the knees, the hips and so on. Many are surprised to learn that pain anywhere in the body can be rooted in the feet.
As for walking, it simply ties both of these together. After mobilizing the feet and activating the breath, going on a walk can help “upload” a lot of the new software. Sitting is the new smoking—our bodies desperately need movement to be optimally vital and healthy.
We know that your own health journey has hugely influenced you, both personally and in your career. How would you sum up your wellness philosophy?
I truly believe that our emotional states, belief systems, self-care tendencies, our day-to-day joy and the quality of the relationships in our lives make up the majority of our wellness. I think of wellness as being the zest an individual has for life, perhaps best represented by the energetic impact they have on the people around them. Interestingly, in contrast to health and fitness, wellness can’t really be measured.
On my own journey, I learned that it isn’t possible to maximize all three—health, wellness and fitness—at once. At my fittest, I could pick up nearly 400 pounds from the floor, but I was far from well mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. When I finally began to work “in” and tap into my higher self, I didn’t have as much space for working “out” anymore.
Today, I’m finally catching my stride with all three. Wellness takes the most effort and patience, but once you do the work, you can play with health and fitness with great passion and excitement. In a sense, wellness sets the base level of consciousness that fuels the other two as hobbies or mindful pursuits—as opposed to punishments for that cheeseburger you ate last night or something.
Digital detox used to play a dominant role in your messaging. Where does that element fit in now?
Our reliance on our electronic devices is even more of a problem today than it was a few years ago when I promoted it as part of my, and RUNGA’s, core program. Ironically, the reason that the problem has grown in gravity is the same reason that I don’t pay lip service to it as heavily anymore. The people that need it the most aren’t aware they’re afflicted! The digital addiction is so subcortical that the messaging often falls on deaf ears, or simply doesn't appeal to people. It’s far easier to get their attention with pictures of wine bottles and sandy beaches, and then give them what they really need when they show up!
So although I may not lead with it, I still believe in it whole-heartedly. In fact, the ambiance and culture of a RUNGA event is not very conducive to people being on their phones. Hence, we sort of show people the light and the value of “digital detox” without smacking them over the head with it.
What’s a risk that you’ve taken and you didn’t regret?
Ha, all of them! My favorite one was probably the time I took a week’s vacation to the Virgin Islands and then decided to stay another six months. At the time, I had a very successful personal training business in the height of its growth stage. With many other things going on in my life at the time, including rehabilitation from a traumatic brain injury, I knew in my heart that I was beat and truly had no idea how long I could sustain the business.
When I came home, the business was—for the most part—waiting for me. And on top of that, I had restored my energy and my vision for the future was so refined that I ended up building a far more successful business, which I sold two years later.
Is there a particular person that influenced you in your career or personal development? What qualities did you admire in them?
The first person to come to mind is Dr. Pete Percouco, a Chiropractic Neurologist in the Boston area and one of the doctors I would frequent during the rehabilitation of my traumatic head injury. Prior to meeting Dr. Pete, I was delivered the crushing blow that “[I’d] be Michael J. Fox by 30.” Needless to say, I was feeling depressed and helpless.
Living within the paradigm of “90% of success is showing up,” I made sure to walk in every day and go through treatment. One day, Dr. Pete—who, by the way, is a larger than life kind of guy—woke me up. Truly the Tony Robbins of my life, he ingrained in me that success is not just about showing up—rather it’s having the belief, the faith, and the intent in, not just the process, but also your unique journey.
From then on, our sessions started lasting an hour or more at times. Dr. Pete taught me about the brain, the areas of my brain that were injured and what those areas controlled. He even taught me about the neurotransmitters that I needed to feel well and believe in myself, and what we were doing to build them up. I learned that you are a walking placebo effect—whatever you think and believe is what you get. Dr. Pete put me on the path that led to where I am today.