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Expert Answers: Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist Matt Berenc

In this new franchise, we’re asking trusted experts all our wellness and finance questions and sharing our top takeaways. Next up: Matt Berenc, CSCS, a Los Angeles-based personal trainer and VP, Live 1:1 Coach Development & Technology at FORME

First Things First: Meet Matt

My name’s Matthew Berenc. I’ve been a trainer for north of 20 years. The dual role that I fulfill is educating trainers to be the best they can be and developing fitness products for both trainers and fitness enthusiast. [I] also continue to work with clients because that’s my passion. 

I have my degree in nutritional sciences with an emphasis in exercise physiology. I dive into anything I can learn that will serve and support my clients and/or the trainers I work with.

The Top Takeaways

What does wellness look like to you?

I’m a product of the physical things I do with my body for training and nutrition, but also my social life, who I spend my time with, my cultural background, my family and our traditions, habits, and history, and the environment I live in. All those elements play into my health and wellness and ensuring there’s a balance between them, to me, is wellness. If it’s a more stressful part of my life, then I may put more focus into the physical side because that’s stress relief and helps me manage that stress. But if everything’s going well, I want to have that even balance because if I’m being physically active or I’m really anchored to that physical side, but I’m ignoring the social or cultural, I’m really not living a balanced life.

What does your heart rate say about your overall health and fitness?

Higher than normal heart rate can point to higher stress levels or even be a signal that you are potentially coming down with an acute illness. The anchor here is that recovery isn’t optimal and this can be reflected by a higher heart rate.

On the fitness side, it really is a true reflection of how you’re experiencing the intensity [of physical activity]. And then long-term, looking at my resting heart rate can show my fitness level. So if I have a lower heart rate, that allows me to stay in a lower stress zone when I’m experiencing higher intensity. It doesn’t tax my body as much and my heart doesn’t have to work as hard to supply my body with the blood and fuel that it needs.

Why is 150 minutes of elevated heart rate activity a key goal?

That number came from a balance of research as well as public relations and communication. So the actual number range is 150 to 300 minutes of moderate activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity on a weekly basis. What they saw within those time ranges was a significant impact on all cause mortality, cancer, cardiovascular disease, [and] metabolic disease, as well as mental health benefits.

The number 150 was used as the primary point of focus because it seems more achievable for the average person—if you’re able to get 30 minutes, five days a week, that’s more achievable than if I tell you I need 60 minutes, five days a week. Part of what sets somebody up for success is making it achievable for them. And a lot of people take an all or nothing mentality, saying, “Well, I can’t get my 60 so I’m out altogether—nothing’s going to work.” This a way for us to say, well, you can get 30. It’s why they also frame it on a weekly basis: It doesn’t matter if today I only get 10 and tomorrow I get 50, it’s the cumulative nature of what you’re doing. It’s a means of setting you up to turn this into something you can do on a daily basis so you can make it a habit.

What’s the most common question clients ask you ? 

They’ll often come to me and say, “This is what I’m doing.” And they’ll list out their current routine. The implied question is, “Is that good?” When it comes to that question, there’s always context to it. What’s their goal? What are they capable of doing and how long have they been following that routine? And so it really turns into a discussion: Is this something that you feel you can sustain? Is this something you enjoy, you find value in, that you see results from? It’s trying to create awareness around how impactful or how effective what they’re doing is. 

A lot of times people will try to fit a mold of what they think they should do versus what they want to do. Running tends to fall into that category. I love running. But a lot of people don’t and to try to wedge themselves into having to run just sets them up to either go to the cycle of starting and stopping or really not pairing a positive emotion with physical activity.

Fitness can go into a lot of different categories. If they like dancing, then cool, there’s an avenue of fitness through dance. If they like lifting weights, great, let’s focus on that. [Daniel Lieberman] put it very well [in his book, Exercised]: In order for somebody to stick with a workout or with routine, it’s got to be fun and it’s got to be necessary. So you have to enjoy it, but then it’s got to be necessary. So it’s got to serve a purpose for you. 

So is it fair to say that building a fitness routine you’ll stick to is not one-size-fits-all?

That’s 100% the case. You want the routine to truly serve your lifestyle. That goes from the amount of time you’re committing to it, to the exercises you select, to the type of workouts you do, to when you do the workouts—everything should fit you versus you fitting it because that’s what’s going to ultimately lead to it being part of your life and what you do, and then changing your identity to somebody who works out.

What does financial self-care mean to you?

[Once a month,] I’ll go in and I’ll look at my spending. I’ll go through either my credit card or my bank statement and I just look for things that I’ve spent my money on that are outside the realm of a need, and just consider whether or not I should’ve made that purchase. It’s not bad to want things; it’s not bad to spend your money on things that you can have fun with that don’t serve a need. It’s just understanding the when and the why.

And I link that to nutrition. Nobody has [a] 100% clean diet, but if you eat cleanly for 90% of the time, that 10% of the time that you want to have pizza or ice cream, you can enjoy it and you know it’s not going to be the end of the world and you’re making a conscious decision around it. 

So for me, [financial self-care] is going back and reflecting on what I’ve spent, where my money has gone, where I could potentially [have] made some better decisions and then [setting] myself up to move forward.

What’s been your best personal finance decision?

It’s this idea of looking to live below my means and recognizing [the] difference between a want and a need. And that has allowed me to really be judicious with what I choose to spend my money on, how I’m comfortable living and ensuring that I can always have what I need and if I want something, I have the buffer there, because I’ve saved and I’ve been conscientious of what I’m doing with my finances.

What’s been your best fitness-related investment?

The best investment I made was building my home gym. I have a garage gym that I work out in. And that started off with a single kettlebell. It was a small monetary investment, but it gave me so much time back in my day. 

I worked in gyms for quite some time. But the reality is I often [didn’t have] a chance to work out there. I would have to get home and take care of my personal life (and even more so now—I have three kids). And so, especially when my first child was born, the ability for me to just walk downstairs, have that kettlebell to start with (and now the gym that I have), removed the barrier to entry for me to actually [be] consistent with my training. And I’m also able to involve my children into it. That has been one of my greatest joys in my life.