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Sathish Muneeswaran Wants to Change the Conversation in The Tamil Community Around Strength Training, Fitness & Healthy Eating
Personal trainer Sathish Muneeswaran has been involved with sports and athletics for most of his life. His passion for fitness grew out of an interest in enhancing performance and preventing injuries.
Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host
Canada
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With a Bachelors of Honours in Kinesiology, Sathish has a deep understanding of anatomy, biomechanics and exercise physiology. Sathish’s training approach is grounded in strength training but also incorporates structural balance, bodyweight training and metabolic conditioning.  He firmly believes we should all strive to find our true potential and to become stronger than we were yesterday. He also believes that with a smart approach, along with some good old fashion grit and hard work, anyone can reach their goals.

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You don’t see that many Tamil people that have impressive physiques, and you are one of them (your lat game is crazy).  Why are you so passionate about strength training (along with eating right, etc)?  

Appreciate the kind words sir! I would love to put all the credit to Amma’s curries but that wouldn’t be 100 percent true. I believe the passion truly began when I first started playing sports. I was always one of the top players in most of my teams except when I got to my senior basketball team and was not able to hang with the rest of them. They were all much more skilled than I was. I quickly realized that I needed to either be faster or stronger than my teammates in order to make the starting line-up. 

From then, I have never stopped. I fell in love with the pursuit of improving my mind and body through strength training and nutrition. Whether it was from Tamil Movies as a kid, or influence from role models around me, I always viewed being strong as a personality trait I wanted to be associated with.

My passion then grew to how can I provide this same sense of fulfillment to others around me.  I went on to study Kinesiology and become a Personal Trainer and a Strength/Conditioning Coach. I believe strength training is for everyone, and everyone should be able to know what it feels like to be capable. 

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

This is a loaded question as there are many avenues to consider. I would say there are 2 common mistakes that I see people making.

1. Prioritizing Intensity over Consistency 

When most people start their fitness journey, the usual pattern starts with high motivation and excitement. This usually leads to high intense sessions and extreme nutrition restrictions, which puts too much stress on the body too quickly. Often you will see people following approaches that are rooted in quick fixes and diet trends (Keto, Paleo, etc.) instead of following science-based approaches. I understand it is much more attractive to loose 30lbs in 12-weeks instead of 30lbs in one year, but the unfortunate truth is most people who use extreme approaches often gain it back once the time frame is done. Also, training with high intensity all the time usually can potentially lead to injuries which usually stops activity all together. 

Instead, I recommend clients to start initially with creating small habitual changes in daily lifestyle. Implementing simple strategies that are easy to stick to and have lasting changes. Starting with daily walks, morning mobility, and ensuring adequate amount of nutrition is met (often suggesting more protein). Every gym session does not need to be a hard one and the same goes with your nutrition.  It does not need to be extreme. The routine and diet that provides the best results is the one you enjoy doing and the one you can stay consistent with. The goal of fitness is to be sustainable. Consistency trumps intensity, and always yields results.

2. Training Muscles not Movement

The top goals most people have when starting are usually related to aesthetic goals (building muscle, losing weight, “toning” body). However, I believe this can be problematic if it is the most important goal you have. The unfortunate truth is that most physiological changes take a long time and building muscle isn’t an easy avenue. 

Instead, a different way to approach this is to consider training movements. There are 5 movement patterns that should be a staple in everyone’s training: Squat, Hinge, Push, Pull, Lunge.  As you become stronger in these movement patterns, you will notice the muscles that control it will start to grow. A perfect example would be myself - my favourite pattern to train is pulling and I perform a lot of pull ups, which is why my lats are so developed. Building your body is like building a house - before you start doing any decorating, you need to have a solid foundation. Big compound movements are your foundation. Single-joint isolation exercises are the decorations.

When I first met you playing basketball, weight training and eating right weren’t a big thing in a Tamil community.  I see this changing quickly - what do you think this is?

This is very interesting, and yes, I totally agree. I do think a big part of this has to do with being first-generation children: the struggles and priorities of our parents coming to a new country were more focused on becoming financially stable. Our parents constantly instilled in our heads, growing up, that wealth and education are the means to a successful and fulfilling life. However, as we reached these goals, (because we had no other choice haha) I believe we started to notice the decline in our well-being and also with our parents. Most Tamil parents, have many health problems, that I believe could have been easily prevented if they considered exercising more and eating better at a younger age. I do believe, we are learning from these mistakes, and much more people in the Tamil community are finding ways of making this a priority in their lives.

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I know being a personal trainer is something you do full-time which historically isn’t a career choice easily understood by the Tamil community.  How have your family and friends supported you through your journey?  Did you have any doubters?

I love this question as it helps to bring light to the upbringing many Tamil children have growing up with different cultural influences including our parents and environment (neighborhood, friends, school). My parents kept pushing me to continue my education, but I knew my true passion was in sports and athletics.  I knew once I completed my Kinesiology degree, I was going to be able to create the opportunity to sit down and talk to my parents about what I wanted to do. 

Being a Personal Trainer has many great benefits that are often overlooked. You have the ability to earn as much, or as little as you want. The reason being that the career is very flexible unlike many different career paths. This flexibility not only allows you to determine your income, but it also gives you space to craft the kind of career you want. I believe once my parents saw the passion and success I had, they have supported me the whole way through. Now I am often the person my friends and family reach out to when it comes to lifestyle tips on becoming healthier. 

What has the impact of social media been on your work?

Social media plays a big role on being a personal trainer, it is more or less my business card, where people can understand more of my story and approach when it comes to fitness. It has given me the ability to connect with a range of people around the world, which I know I couldn’t have if not for platforms like Instagram. 

Nevertheless, it also opened the door for exploitation. Many individuals have rose to ‘insta-fame’ by gaining many followers strictly by their aesthetics. These people then claim to be a fitness experts. These “experts” now have a platform to exploit the opinions of the general public and their desires around fitness. As fitness professionals, we should be aiming to use social media with a positive influence by promoting healthy and ethical fitness practices that support the interests of the people we are trying to help.

I personally view social media in a positive light.  I see it as a tool that can be used for good or bad (similar to a car).  Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

Yes, I do agree, there are pros and cons to social media for fitness, as so much valuable content is now posted online for free. You can search free workouts, nutrition advice, different types of training methods and even research papers. This has allowed the general public to make their own informed decisions and can be a motivating factor for someone who was previously sedentary to start exercising!

On the other hand, you do need to be careful of the information you read on social media, making sure it comes from a reputable source. Higher forms of education are always preferred and if you’re looking at nutrition guidance, always ensure they are a qualified dietitian. Anyone can post content on the internet; it doesn’t always mean that it is correct.

What’s one goal that, if you were to accomplish it over the next three months, would feel like a big win for you?

Right now, it’s getting the gyms back open! It’s been almost a full year (because of COVID) where gyms have been closed, and doing virtual sessions has taken a toll. The ability to connect and interact with clients is what I miss and I am looking forward to getting back in the gym!

Where do you see yourself in the next 3-5 years?

In the next few years, I would like to see myself becoming more established in my industry by being able to become more of an educator than just a personal trainer. I would love to be able to teach courses and create different pathways where I can share my knowledge with a range of people. 

Personal training is not the most affordable venture but fitness and wellbeing should be important for everyone. I would like to be able to create opportunities where more people can understand more of how to improve their lifestyle through strength training and fitness. 

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

I would like to be remembered as someone who was happiest when they helped. My parents didn’t have the most growing up, but whenever they could, they would give, whether it was putting food on the table for their children or giving what they had, to people in need. My family never felt poor when they gave, only richer.  I hope to continue that legacy. 

Who is one person from the global Tamil community and one person that isn’t Tamil that you admire and why?

Absolutely it is Kamala Harris, she is the purest definition of adversity. I love that she is able to make her way to such a powerful role often dominated typically by white males. She always protects and fights for those who are most vulnerable with great pride and confidence. 

A role model for me that has helped me when I was younger and even now is the rapper J. Cole. Through his music he has remained authentic to who he is and what he stands for.  I admire the fact that he had the ability to create success for himself by sharing his struggles and his perspective of the world (which is full of countless problems). I listen to him a great deal to help me through tough times.

What is a failure you’ve experienced in the last 5-10 years that you’ve learned the most from?

Although most wouldn’t look at an injury as a failure, I do believe tearing my ACL on my knee was a defining moment where I had to face adversity. A huge part of my identity, in both who I am personally and professionally, is in the capabilities of my physical body. When I tore my ACL I truly believed I have lost something truly essential to me and to my identity. 

However, going through this has really taught me some valuable lessons. First, I kept thinking of all the things that I used to love to do like playing basketball and squatting heavy weights that I could not do any more. Through the process I was able to gradually shift my mindset to things I am still able to do. I learned more of the human body and the steps to becoming more resilient. I became much more passionate on the rehab side of training and how to blend it with tools used to build strength. Now I use this approach to many of my clients who deal with injuries and still want to train. 

What would be your dream job if you weren’t a Personal Trainer and why?  

This is one is easy, the first Tamil NBA basketball player.

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

I would give 3 pieces of advice (although I doubt, he would listen):

1. Treat everyone, even those you don’t agree with or even don’t like very much, with great kindness and respect.

2. Try your best to surround yourself with people who are ethical, gracious, and are trying to make the world a better place.

3. Keep up with the rapid changes in society and remember that no matter how fast the world spins, for good or for bad, it is evolving in ways that are often unpredictable and sometimes scary.

How would you describe your dream life?  

My dream life would consist of being around my loved ones; friends, family and my beautiful girlfriend. I would love if I could train, and eat well every day. Although, growing up in a fast city like Toronto, I would love the ability to be still and move slow. Warm weather would be nice as well, I love being outside and it would be good to do that without a big heavy jacket.

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?

"Thinking, Fast and Slow" is a book on psychology and behavioral economics by Daniel Kahneman. The book is about how an individual acquires their rationality. It shows you how two systems in your brain are constantly fighting over control of your behavior and actions, and teaches you the many ways in which this leads to errors in memory, judgment and decisions, and what you can do about it.

In my industry, it is very easy to start believing that your approach is the best, often many professional advice is given based on cognitive biases. This book has helped me slow down, step back and think critically with my decision making. 

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

Two big behaviour changes have been:

1. Less screen and lights after 8:30 pm – this helps me fall asleep more naturally and have a more restful sleep. Often screen time and overhead lights are what limits the release of melatonin in our body. Melatonin is a hormone that helps to start prepping your body for sleep, and help to tuning down. 

2. Sleep extension – an interesting study I read, was that the best way to improve quality of sleep is to increase time in bed. I know, crazy right! As simple as it sounds, I was guilty of going to bed and giving myself only 7 hours. After using a few tracking apps, I was noticing I was only averaging 5-6 hours of actual sleep! This is because, throughout your sleep, there will be many times where you wake up for short periods of time.  The accumulation of all that is sometimes adds up to an hour! So now, I give myself 9 hours in bed, knowing that I would at least get 7-8 hours of sleep. Changed the game for me.

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

That’s a lot of money! I believe I would first, selfishly change the places I have a personal attachment to. First, I would start with the inner-city populations, specifically immigrant families and Toronto housing communities. I would change the infrastructure in these areas, that allow for larger households for families with lower socioeconomic status. I would love to create more community centers where there is accessibility to fitness and wellness facilities. Additionally, I would create different ranges of programs that offer knowledge and aids around topics like nutrition and healthy lifestyles. With the youth, creating more scholarship opportunities for post-secondary school or continued education. I would help to change the culture of many school cafeteria programs, where kids will be taught the value of eating healthy whole foods.  Making nutritional and organic food cheaper than that of fast food, I would even go as far as restricting fast food restaurants around lower socioeconomic areas.

Then I would make my way back to Sri lanka: build schools, recreational centers, and gyms everywhere I could! With whatever money I had left, I would like to create the same changes in Sri Lanka around accessibility of proper health, fitness and nutrition.

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How would you describe the impact that the Tamil community in Toronto has had on your personally and your work?

Growing up in the Tamil community, especially around the many Tamil sports communities, I was able to get a lot of mentoring that pushed me the right direction as a teen.  The ability to connect with others with very similar stories and with a bit more experience, was important to my upbringing. 

Unfortunately, in my industry there is not a strong Tamil community. There seems be a stigma in the Tamil communities around fitness and wellness, as it's often a low-priority. Parents care very little about the health and fitness of their children if they are not playing sports. Tamil women especially deal with a lot of resistance due to false belief that lifting will make them ‘masculine’. This needs to change and I hope to collaborate with other like-minded individuals to help change this stigma in the Tamil community.

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

Amma’s sorru curry always hits the spot. It needs to have all the items, served rolled up in her hand and mouth-fed the classic way for it to be the perfect experience.

What is your favourite Tamil movie?

Alaipayuthey, Madhavan and Shalini are an amazing duo!

What does Tamil culture mean to you?

To me, it embodies a way of life including customs and beliefs going back to our ancestors from a different time.  It gives me a sense of identity and belonging.  I feel accepted but I also feel unique if that makes sense. 

Connect with Sathish via his TC profile

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Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host | TamilCulture
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