Some ten years back, Culver Padilla would never had the guts to confidently flaunt his physique the way he does these days on his Instagram. Up to now, he’d still cringe looking back at the Bench go-see he attended at 19. Alongside other auditionees, he was asked to take his shirt off in front of a panel. That’s when he realized his gangly 141-lb body would never land him a modeling gig. “When we all took our shirt off, alam ko na, out ako,” he recalls. “Ang gaganda ng katawan ng mga katabi ko, tapos ako payat na payat.”
We meet Culver at Gold’s Gym Sheridan in Mandaluyong where he’s also supposed to train a celebrity client. He is in a black fitted tee and stretch pants. While he has kept his boyish good looks, the 29-year old bears no trace of that awkward teen he was telling me about. At 5’8” and 171 lbs, he doesn’t only have a solid six pack to boast of but an admirable rep as a fitness trainer.
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“My experience during that go-see motivated me to start working out seriously,” says the fitness coach who also once fancied joining show biz. While he’s always considered himself athletic — he was into swimming, basketball, and Muay Thai in his younger years — he had never taken gym workouts seriously.
It was only in 2010 when he changed his mindset. “Iba-iba man kami ng mukha, hindi kami magkakatalo sa katawan,” he told himself. He knew achieving a transformation will be dependent on the effort, time, and discipline he will put into his workouts. “That’s when I got addicted to movement. I began studying anatomy and everything,” he says.
Passion for fitness
Still looking out for a job at the time, he devoted his days to the gym, training five to six times a week, two to three hours a day. It took him four months to achieve the sculpted body he wanted. “Sabi nila overtraining, pero for me, it depends—kung gaano ka kalakas,” he remarks.
While on holiday in Dubai in 2013, he was offered work as a lifestyle specialist for the Gold’s Gym there. “I had no prior experience working in a gym, so I underwent training for that,” he says. As a lifestyle specialist, his duty was to orient clients and assist them in scheduling their workouts. But the fitness manager had apparently taken note of his potentials as a personal trainer and encouraged Culver to undergo training.
He stayed for only three months in the UAE but he came home to Manila already armed with a certification as fitness trainer. He started offering his training services as freelancer — to augment his income as a sales employee. “I started with family and friends. When we started getting good results, I got more clients,” Culver recalls.
It was in 2015 when he decided to turn fitness training into a full-time career. “I noticed that I’d get bored doing my usual routines as an employee, but when I’d do fitness training, time flies by so fast. That’s when I knew that I’m doing something I really love,” he observes. “I decided to take the risk and resigned from my sales job. I had only one client, tito ko pa! He encouraged me to do it — perhaps because he also saw the great potentials this career could offer me.”
He also sees coaching as a long-term career. Everyone needs to get healthy. “Not everyone works out at the gym but I know that time will come when you’ll need to do it for health reasons,” he says. “If your diet is not healthy and you don’t work out, you know the end result of that—you’re going to get fat or unhealthy. Fat is what you see visually; what you don’t see are the complications happening inside your body. I chose this career because I know that I can help a lot of people,” he says.
Make or break
Year 2016 marked a turning point in the coach’s career. “That was a make or break year for me,” he admits. “I was telling myself, kung walang mangyari sa career ko that year, we will just migrate.” But the yearly model search Century Tuna Superbods beckoned. While he only made it to the finals, the exposure opened several opportunities.
“Before I joined, I only had 1,500 followers on Instagram. Before I left Superbods, nasa 80,000 na siya. I didn’t even win; I was only a finalist!” Endorsements started pouring in—Adidas, Del Monte Fit ‘n Right, Century Tuna, Vita Coco, My Daily Collagen, Saladbox Man, Dove Men+Care, Sprinto, Fitbit Philippines, Sperry, Chooks To Go, Kicksomatic, Back Alley Barbershop, Nutrition Depot, H-Audio, Apostol Dental Cosmetic Center, Bayer, and Apollo.
Bearing a well-conditioned physique, Culver was encouraged to join two other competitions that year—Shawn Rhoden Classic (SRC), where he won third place, and the Gold’s Gym Bodycon, where he won Mr. Fitspiration. That was also when he met Miss Gold’s Gym, Hilary Isaac who, before leaving the country, endorsed her clients to Culver — including Iza Calzado, and Neil Poe and his wife Grace, the Senator. That was when his career as celebrity fitness coach took off. “Iza referred me to Belle Daza, and because of Belle, I met Denise Laurel. Through Iza, I also met Ria Atayde, who’s the sister of Arjo Atayde. Then ABS-CBN contacted me to train Jane de Leon, who will star in the upcoming Darna movie,” he says.
Building an amazing aesthetics is crucial to a Darna-esque physique. “Hindi malaki, hindi bulky na nagmumukha na siyang lalaki, pero alam mong may cut,” Culver explains. “Nakikita mo yung shoulder. When she punches, you will see the deltoids, nakikita mo na hiwalay yung muscle na yun, hindi siya isang buong slab na arm. Maganda ang quads or legs. Very aesthetic. Very cartoony.”
The superhero physique of course comes with strength, power, endurance, and movement. “Gusto mo na pag gumalaw siya, talagang mukhang superhero. Hindi yung parang madadapa kapag tumatakbo. Makikita mo navery fierce, intense yung pagkatao niya. So ganun yung gusto natin as a superhero. So yun ang training namin.”
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The 21-year old Jane started her fitness training with Culver in July, and they met four to five times a week. “She had never had a serious workout before that. So bagets na bagets pati yung katawan. I remember warm-up routine lang namin, kaunting bodyweight exercise, nilagnat na siya. So ganun pa ka-weak ang body niya before.
Achieving the desired superhero aesthetic meant measuring Jane’s body week after week. She has an ectomorph body type, which means she has a small body frame—which easily shreds and rips. “To build her superhero body, I need to bulk her up, then shred, then cut. If I shred and cut right away, buto't balat ang ending niyan. Walang laman e. So lalagyan ko muna siya ng laman,” he explains.
De Leon had a very busy schedule last December due to her many projects, so she naturally lost weight. “So our approach this February is to bulk up again. Bawiin lahat ng mga nawala,” he says. The two train thrice a week, so de Leon has time to recover. Then moving forward, he highly recommends they go back to working out four to five times a week—“if she wants to maintain her superhero body.”
Part of his job includes making sure Jane doesn’t sustain any injuries during workouts, and that she is physically and mentally prepared to do her film stunts. “Warm-up is very important. Then I make sure to always check her form. It’s also important to understand how a muscle reacts every time you put load on that muscle. It’s all science, hindi mo siya kailangang hulaan.”
When I foolishly ask what could possibly be the most “buwis-bahay” workout he’d give Darna, Culver says he doesn’t subscribe to the idea. “No pain, no gain—that’s an old school approach,” he quips. “You want to provide a workout that’s sustainable. Kasi ang pinaka madaling gawin ng isang trainer sa isang client yung durugin siya, pagurin siya, hanggang sa hindi na niya kaya. Pero yung magbigay ka ng just enough, yun ang pinag-aaralan. And it’s different for every individual. Hindi tayo nagbibigay ng buwis-buhay na workout. What I advocate is sustainable fitness.”
Photographs by Patrick Mateo