Interviews / August 16, 2012

Sal Marinello

By Charles Platkin, PhD

He is the owner/operator of the Millburn-Short Hills Athletic Club – suburban New Jerseys first private, personal training facility, as well as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a Certified Personal Trainer though the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), a USA Weightlifting Certified Coach, and the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at a New Jersey high school. He writes two recurring feature columns on

Diet Detective: Tell us how you got to where you are now.

Sal: In general, I’ve had great people — family, friends, and business contacts — who have been incredibly helpful, generous and supportive over the years. I started in the real world right out of college and was doing pretty well, but didn’t love it. After going through 2 mergers in less than three years I knew I had to make a change. A high school friend of mine managed Plus One Fitness Clinic in Manhattan, and wanted me to go and work for him. They needed someone with my sales and marketing experience. I had always been an athlete, and continued to work out after my college days ended. So Plus One provided me with the formal training that I needed and I gave them the benefits of my sales and marketing experience. Early on I realized that the area where I grew up in New Jersey was a perfect place to start a personal training business. So I trained private clients from 6 AM until 10 AM, worked out, showered, got on a train to the city and did the Plus One thing from 1PM until 9PM. I did this for about 6 months until I had enough clients to stay exclusively in the suburbs. That handful of clients that I developed 20 years ago served as the foundation of my business, the first high end personal training-only facility in North Jersey. We were the first and we’re still the best.

Diet Detective: Define and discuss failure.

Sal: Failure is not doing what you want to do, and not doing what you are best at. I made a lot of money in my first job, and would have continued to do so. No matter how much I made or what my zip code would have been, I would have been a failure because I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do. I was good at it, but it wasn’t what I did best. Money doesn’t matter as a goal. People who used money as a goal are doomed to fail. If your goal is to do what you love to do and do it to the best of your ability, the money and all the other stuff will take care of itself.

Diet Detective: Is there anything about yourself that you’ve changed your mind about in the last 20 years?

Sal: I’ve always known who I am and what I believe in. However, I never thought that I’d be as good at being a father as I am, if I don’t say so myself. We had twin boys which really put me — and my wife — to the test. She’s incredible. But I’ve brought my “A-game,” too! I can take care of the twins and my older son all day, every day. I can take them places and change them and all of that. I’ve surprised myself!

Diet Detective: What’s the next major item on your “to-do” list?

Sal: I want to be able to reach a wider audience. There really aren’t too many people out there who are as good at this as I am and have the experience that I do. Twenty years of training at least 30 private hours a week, 50 weeks a year is a lot of experience. And this doesn’t even include the hours that I’ve spent with high school kids and teams, and on youth sports fields. I realized a while ago that I have the knowledge and experience that can benefit others. I’ve worked with celebrities, wanna-be’s, debutantes, society types, athletes of all levels and abilities and tons of regular folk as well.

Diet Detective: Define individual responsibility and how you react to adverse situations.

Sal: Individual responsibility is tied into integrity, and I like to use the saying “Integrity is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking.” I think that’s how it goes. And I’ve never really faced true adversity. I’ve been very fortunate. Without going into a whole deep philosophical thing, I’ll just say that I don’t consider anything that I have ever gone through to be adversity. I just hope that if I ever do have to deal with real tough times that I’ll rise to the occasion. I think that’s all anyone can hope for.

Diet Detective: When do you have time to think about your mistakes, mishaps, achievements, and minor victories; in other words, do you have any reflective time for yourself of your career?

Sal: I swim once or twice a week, and during these 40 total minutes my mind goes over these kinds of things. But I don’t spend a lot of time on reflection. There’s too much to do that I haven’t done yet.

Diet Detective: What is your most influential story, fiction or nonfiction, from a film, book, magazine, newspaper or parable? Explain its impact on your life? What’s you’re favorite saying?

Sal: I’ve always seen this question asked and answered by people in interviews and I’ve asked it of myself. But I can’t point to any one thing as having this kind of influence on me. I always felt that I’m the product of a series of events and experiences — especially family. I think that by reading the paper every day and by being aware of the world that surrounds us, individual works can’t have that kind of impact. I have two favorite sayings, “Even a broken clock is right twice a day,” and “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”

Diet Detective: Was there a defining moment in your life when you made a decision that changed the course of the rest of your life forever?

Sal: Sure. When I decided not to take another “real job” and embarked on my fitness career.

Diet Detective:What’s the most bodacious chance you’ve ever taken?

Sal: I went to Lehigh University and all my friends were in big time, high-paying jobs in finance and Wall Street. No one was doing what I did. So for me to leave that kind of business world and then use all the money that I’d ever saved — and borrow more — to start my business was a huge step. Looking back I’m kind of amazed and proud of myself!

Diet Detective: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about yourself? What’s the biggest lesson you haven’t learned?

Sal: I’d go back to the fatherhood thing. With regards to my career, I never doubted what I could do. With kids there’s so much you can’t control. But I’m doing it. If there was something I really knew I needed to learn, I’d go out and learn it. I guess I won’t know until it happens. Not to say that I know everything, because I certainly don’t.

Diet Detective: What keeps you going (your motivation)?

Sal: I guess because I never feel like I’m working, I don’t really think in those terms. I just love what I do, so I don’t need to motivate myself. What I will say is that I know how much I can do to help people — whether a young athlete or a old guy like myself — and that’s my favorite part of the job.

Diet Detective: On those days when you’re not motivated to work out, but you know you have to, what’s the one thought that gets you going?

Sal: I think because of my overall approach I don’t look at working out in this way. If I don’t feel like training on a given day, then I don’t force myself. Over the course of time this one session is insignificant. I never stress about this, which is probably why I’m consistent with my routine.

Diet Detective: If you had to choose a specific song or band to get you psyched for your workout, what would it be?

Sal: I’ve been training for over 30 years. This question might have had some relevance for the first 10 years or so, but as I got older I got away from the whole getting psyched for a workout kind of thing. I think it is ultimately counter-productive. I like to keep an even keel so this way I’m not relying on an adrenaline rush. Over the past 15 years I’ve done more in silence than I ever did with music.

Diet Detective: If you could eat one forbidden food whenever you wanted without gaining weight, what would it be?

Sal: In my mind there’s no such thing as a forbidden food. I eat what I want to, whenever I want to. I eat well, so when I indulge I enjoy it. Because I eat well, and have done so for so long, I don’t really dwell on food or think of certain foods as being forbidden. If you don’t eat a lot of bad stuff you lose your taste for it, and therefore don’t crave it. I used to sneak in a little KFC once or twice a year, but as years passed I lost my taste for it because I ate it so infrequently. I don’t miss it. And I never look at any one meal — or if I really go nuts, any one day — as being responsible for me gaining weight. Consistency in both your diet and your routine over the long term takes care of any little bump in the road.

Diet Detective: What dessert do you dream about?

Sal: I don’t. Since I don’t deny myself, I don’t ever dream or wish for any kind of food.

Diet Detective: If there were one healthy food item (something you love) that you had to eat every day, what would it be?

Sal: Again, I just don’t look at food this way. But I do find Clif Bars and their other products and a good protein powder an indispensable part of my eating routine, particularly during the work week.

Diet Detective: What is the one food or meal you always eat before an event? What about before training?

Sal: Before and after a particularly tough training session I use carbohydrate gels. I think this product is the best thing you can do to help you both get through and recover from intense training/competition. I coach high school football and all my guys use the carb gel. It’s been a big help.

Diet Detective: What’s the best book about health that you’ve read?

Sal: Hands down, Eat, Drink and Be Healthy by Dr. Walter Willet. The second best is The Development of Physical Power, by Arthur Saxon who was considered to be the strongest man in the world in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Diet Detective: What are your two favorite health magazines?

Sal: In any given issue of most health magazines — with the exception of body building magazines — there is some useful info, but by and large I’m not a fan of them. Besides serving as catalogs for mostly worthless nutritional supplements, these magazines offer people nothing other than a skewed view of what people should look like. The vast majority of these magazines also purposely confuse appearance with capability, which has led to a whole host of problems, one of them being people with a poor body image. Recreational golfers realize that reading an article about Tiger Woods swing technique won’t turn them into Tiger. On the other hand, way too many people who read fitness articles look at the models and think that that can — or should — look like them. I can’t tell you how many times a client has brought in a nonsensical routine from a magazine because they liked how the model in the pictures looked!

Diet Detective: What do you consider the world’s most perfect food? Please be specific and try not to answer with a category but rather with a specific food item: for example, not “whole grain” but “raisin bran cereal”?

Sal: This is a simple one. I don’t consider any food perfect because there isn’t any food that a person could eat at the exclusion of all other foods. Are there good or great foods? Certainly, but there are way too many to list. I think a great meal — if prepared properly and presented in the proper serving size — is spaghetti and meatballs. By the way, if my ancestors had decided to make whole wheat pasta back in the day instead of the real semolina-based pasta, pasta wouldn’t be quite so popular.

Diet Detective: Do you have any sports superstitions or rituals?

Sal: None. Never. And coaching high school kids, I do whatever I can to keep them from engaging in these things, which are just distractions and excuses.

Diet Detective: How do you take total control of your mind and body to achieve the focus you need during pivotal sports moments?

Sal: This has to be taken care of during training. If you are contemplating, or recognize, the enormity of a pressure situation during that pressure situation, you’ve lost. I’m lucky enough to coach high school football with one of my best friends, and we took over a program that had suffered through 18 years of nothing better than extreme mediocrity, at best. In our third year we made the state finals and played at the Meadowlands, in large part because we got our kids to believe that they could beat anyone, anytime, anyplace. This happens off the field and during practice, so when you step on the field it becomes automatic, instinctive.

Diet Detective: What do you think is the best training location in the world?

Sal: Either on a beach somewhere or in the mountains of Vermont, with nothing more than a couple of kettle bells.

Diet Detective: What do you do to reduce stress/relax/center your mind? Do you participate in an organized relaxation activity such as yoga, meditation or tai chi?

Sal: My swimming routine helps in this area. And I’m also a big fan of video games. Gaming helps me unwind. I’m not a yoga/meditation/tai chi type. I think it’s great for some people, but that stuff is not for me. Training is relaxing for me, and it can be for anyone who lets it be.

Diet Detective: Are there healthy restaurants that you enjoy and would recommend?

Sal: I don’t look for healthy restaurants per se. I think it’s obvious when a restaurant prepares and serves quality food, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in New Jersey, Manhattan, Florence or Paris.

Diet Detective: Do you have a favorite healthy recipe or cooking tip? If so would you share it?

Sal: I do cook a lot. The “Marinello Men” have always felt comfortable behind the stove. I don’t know about tips, but I have something for you if you’re an oatmeal lover but hate to eat hot cereal in warm weather. Before you go to bed put some old fashion oatmeal – not the quick cook – into a Tupperware and add apple juice to cover the oats. You can add raisins or grapes if you like. Then cover it up and put it in the fridge. The next morning the oats will have absorbed the juice and be ready to eat. Since it’s in a Tupperware you can take it with you if you’re in a rush.

Diet Detective: Do you have a Calorie Bargain? What food did it replace? Was that an important food in your diet, since you ate it so often?

Sal: You could probably tell by my previous answers that I don’t do this. But I will say that since I don’t eat a lot of cake and cookies anymore and don’t regularly eat dessert, once in a while I have an Archway oatmeal raisin cookie. I don’t know how many calories it has, but I really don’t care either!


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