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Personal Trainer Xavier Pushparaj Overcame Difficult Childhood And Debilitating Injuries To Inspire Others Physically And Mentally
"I had mental health issues and my college didn't help me in any way. As a result, my drinking and smoking habits got really bad. During this time, I smoked 30-50 cigarettes a day. I again somehow managed to complete my degree and in my final year is when I got hooked into the world of fitness."
Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host ("The Tamil Creator")
Canada
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Talk about your upbringing including your childhood, life at school, etc.

I was raised by a single mother after my father died of cardiac arrest when I was 8-years-old.  I gave my mom a hard time as I was a hyper, high-energy kid.  She tried her best to take care of me by paying for karate & dance classes along with buying me shoes & comic books.  She did all of this while also raising my older sister.  The death of my father really took a toll on me.  I was also bullied at school by classmates, teachers and even random people.  I kept hearing nasty comments and I ended up chosing the route of violence to deal with it as I didn't know any other way.  I started to become the bully myself as a preventative measure from kids picking on me.  I had so much rage inside of me and needed to pick up several sports in order to allow myself to go to school - which included karate and taekwondo.  I also participated in different school sports like throw-ball and kabaddi.  I excelled in athletics and would try my hand in any sport that was available at school as it gave me a reason to skip academic sessions.  I also danced for 12 years of my school life, winning several competitions and making money as a kid by choregraphing for small competitions along with annual day celebrations.  This was my first time making money on my own and a powerful memory for me.

What was the major injury you suffered that really shifted the way you thought of health?

As a child, I always had lower back pain which I ignored and rested when it became so severe. I thought it was because I exerted so much energy playing at different times.  During a normal training day sometime in 2014, I heard a crack in my spine while doing an exercise (bent over row) which made me crumble. I immediately stopped exercising, slowly made my way home and laid in bed.  I couldn't get up or walk for the next 2 weeks.  The pain was so severe that I couldn't even make it to the washroom to go and ended up going on the floor or by standing which was embarrassing.  When we did an MRI, they found several red markers including: Spina Bifida, Spondylolisthesis, Bilateral Spondylosis, Pars Defect and Two-Disc Herniations. This pain broke and humbled me at the same time.  

I have also fractured both of my ankles in different situations and ruptured a ligament (which won't grow back).  I'm beating the odds by pistol squatting 40+ kg while lacking this ligament in both ankles.

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What was the process for you to become a fitness trainer? Are you a full time trainer?

I am a full-time trainer.  It was my first job and the only job I've had.  I love it because I get to help make people stronger for a living and get paid, which is super cool!

I'm in my 7th year of coaching and I feel that every day feels like the first day when I started.  I teach the same exercises the 100th time as I did the first time I taught them with the same kind of passion which is why I've been able to stick to this.  

In terms of how I got into the fitness industry, I was thrown out of several schools for my reckless behaviour so I did my 10th, 11th and 12th grade classes in different schools.  Schools were super strict with corporal punishment to bring discpline, so I ended up skipping school a lot to avoid this.  I picked up horrible habits, smoking and drinking at a young age.  I provided choreography services for school and colleges to support myself financially to buy cigarettes and alcohol.  I also had a side hustle of buying phones and selling them a small profit.

I miraculously managed to finish 12th grade and got into an Automobile Engineer program so I wouldn't become a financial burden to my mom even more than I already was.  I chose engineering as a degree because of peer pressure as there were expectations of me to become an engineer or doctor.  I chose automobile engineering because I liked working on bikes when I was a kid.  The experience didn't go well.  I had mental health issues and my college didn't help me in any way.  As a result, my drinking and smoking habits got really bad.  During this time, I smoked 30-50 cigarettes a day.  I again somehow managed to complete my degree and in my final year is when I got hooked into the world of fitness.  I was always inconsistent with my gym habits but I decided that I wanted to more consistent.  I had lost so much weight because of the alcohol abuse.  I was practically a skeleton, if I had continued my lifestyle habits, I would have died back then.  

For whatever reason, I chose to stick to the gym and became sober for 2 years straight where I only missed 8 days of going to the gym.  This set the foundation for my dream career and what I do now.  I literally started living at the gym, as my days revolved around going to the gym and my workouts.  People noticed and started reaching out to me for guidance because of the way I trained and transformed myself.  I was initially self-taught because of all of the time I spent in the gym, reading magazines regarding exercises/nutrition and watching informational videos.  Then at the same gym where I worked out as a member, I started my career as a trainer where I was equipped with several certifications.  I did so many practical learnings, attended workshops and read every day along with taking constructive criticism from others more experienced than me.  

Once I got my Personal Trainer certification from the American Council On Exercise (which is internationally recognized), my gym made me the manager of the facility.  I went from being a trainer to running the show, which expotentially opened up my other skills along with developing my business skills.  I have then gone on to work for several gyms.  I currently have my own online training platform and boutique personal training facility called The Underdog Performance, where underdogs lcan make the transition to be a Top Dog in all ways possible both mentally and physically.  

I have several like-minded people working with me and now I work in different time zones globally because of the power of the internet.  I train all kinds of clients from super models to kids to people suffering from all sorts of ailments.  I plan to stay in my line of work and have a strong support system where I get my clients referred to me from people like physiatrists and physiotherapists.

I'm a huge advocate of mental health and creating awareness on men's health along with chronic pain awareness.  Pain doesn't take a day off so I figured I wouldn't either.  People reach out to me to get stronger and my goal is to make them ridiculously strong.  My dad starts at 5 am and ends around 11 pm.  I work a minimum of 9 hours (sometimes going up to 13 hours) and i love every bit of it.  

What is the “devil’s circuit”? How did you conquer/complete it?

Devils Circuit is the perfect obstacle running event to test your strength, skill and endurance. Packed with military-style hurdles, it tests you on various grounds as you rope climb, sprint on a slippery slope, slide straight into the water, and cross various monkey bars. I have done several other obstacle course races across the country and have conquered them all.  Endurance sports are very demanding on your physical fitness and i started to do them, mainly to raise awareness for people who suffer from chronic back issues or any forms chronic illness.  I wanted to give a lot of people a hope that they can pursue their dreams even if they have fight pain every single day.

I do all kinds of training from gymnastics to calisthenics to strongman training.  I'm currently preparing for my upcoming powerlifting event.  If you can lift 3+ times you bodyweight, that's a sign that you've entered an elite league of human beings, one that I've recently joined.  I train for performance and aesthetics comes as a byproduct.  I mainly train for my mental health as well.  

What are some common mistakes you see people make around training?

1. Training only to lose weight/fat.

2. Falling for fad diets and fake transformational videos, as anything that comes easy won't last.

3. Expecting to lose all the weight in 2-6 months, where as the weight they gained was over a period of anywhere from 2-10 years.  

4. Doing randdom exercise plans they come across on the internet rather than sticking to a simple well-structured plan for a year.

5. Assuming their trainers/coaches will do the work of creating motivation for them to do the work and change.  It doesn't work that way as only you can change yourself even if you have a world class coach training you.  

6. Believing everything they Google or see on Instagram.

What are the few tips you would give people to live a healthy life?

1. A lot of problems can be solved just by removing certain foods, people and habits from your life.

2.  Aim for small wins as some progress is better than no progress.  Your progress still counts even if it's only visible to you.   

3. Don’t compare yourself with others.  It's always you vs yourself.

4.  Do not work out because you hate the way your body looks.  Work out because you love your body and want to be a better version of yourself. 

5. Consistency over perfection.  

How have your friends & family supported you along your personal health journey & then becoming a personal trainer?  Did you have anybody question your decisions?  

In my case,  my mom was initially happy because I was doing something positive for once.  She was also happy as I progressed and has been a huge support.  Beyond my mother and my ex-girlfriend, there's been no support of any kind, but that's all I needed anyways.  The profession of being a personal trainer is not widely recognized or appreciated in India. We are changing perspectives and bringing in more responsive & passionate coaches for the community which I'm happy about.  

I get people who ask me what I do for a living to which I just laugh and move on.  I'm happy that my job is real, purposeful and pays well considering I love what I do.  The people who scoff at what I do, I'm pretty sure I make more than they do but I don't say anything haha.  

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What’s a failure you've experienced in the last few years and what did you learn from it?

Expecting people to treat me the same way I treat them.  Once I stopped having this expectation, I stopped being disappointed.  

I learned a lot in terms of how not to a run a business as anything you do outside of what is expected will be taken for granted.  

Learned how to serve instead of selling.  Job satisfaction gave me more peace than the extra money I would make selling something which I wouldn't buy for myself.  

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I hope to be still screaming and encouraging my fellow human beings to continue to improve and grow.  I would love to expand my business across India, which is something I've started working on. I would also like to make strength training simple and effective enough that it reaches every doorstep globally.  And finally, be super strong - where I could lift at least 4x my bodyweight.    

What do you do outside of work for fun?

Working out gives me the most pleasure any given day, as I continue to explore what the human body can acheive.  I also travel to hill stations and city escapes by gym hopping by mornings & club hopping by night.

In terms of your personal legacy, in a few sentences, describe how you want to be remembered by your family and friends?

I want to be known for making people fall in love with strength training.  I’m not sure about what my family & friends think of me but I’m trying to be a better son & a better friend (constant work in progress).  I didn’t change everything, but I changed something and it left a lasting impact on many people.

What do you think you would tell 16-year Xavier looking back?

I would tell him - you will figure things out, don't be anything but you and continue to have big dreams (don't let people talk you out of those dreams).  

What is your favourite book(s) you've read recently or a podcast(s) that you've listened to recently that's had an impact on you?

Currently my schedule is so hectic where I get to sleep roughly 5 hours a day, which I'm not proud of.  I hope to get back to reading soon.  It’s been more than a year since I have read any books apart from educational content in my field.  Looking forward to listening to & reading more around entrepreneurship.

What is a new belief, behaviour or habit that has most improved your life?

I've considered myself an atheist all of my life but recently I stopped addressing myself as one because I feel more agnostic right now.  I still may change my views again as I'm still figuring this out. 

I've cut out drama from my life and it feels amazing. 

I started talking more about my mental health and being vulnerable about it to encourage others to do the same, especially other men.  

If you were given $1 billion, how would you allocate the money to change the world?

I would reach out to 9 other like-minded people in different fields to give them equal shares of the money.  I would ask them to invest the money in their work and hire more people like them to create more opportunities in those fields. 

What is your favourite Tamil food (meal or dessert)?

Mutton briyani every day.  I have sometimes eaten biryani for all 3 meals in a day and even for 7 days/week sometimes haha.   

What is your favourite Tamil movie?

Anbe Sivam (I love even the title itself).

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Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host ("The Tamil Creator") | TamilCulture.com
Canada
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