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Former Penn football player Joe Holder believes that fitness revolves around eight factors: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, environmental, social, occupational, and financial, also dubbed the ocho system.

Credit: Laura Francis

When speaking with fitness guru Joe Holder, his humility and kindness come to the forefront as well as his unique journey to where he's gotten to now and how that journey affects all aspects of his profession today.

A child in a family of seven kids, Holder remarks that his initial upbringing was definitely interesting. 

“I was homeschooled three separate times in my life," Holder said. "My mom taught me to read as a kid. My parents were super into holistic education. My dad is an MD, an integrative doctor, and my mom is a certified Montessori teacher and is Trinidad and immigrated. They raised us very well.”

As he grew older, Holder continued to play sports and compete, while also balancing academics, both of which came naturally to him. A two-sport athlete in high school while also running track, Holder was a star on the basketball court as well as the football field. After wrapping up his phenomenal high school career, Holder found himself looking to continue playing sports in college. 

Although he received some interest from Penn, Holder wanted to play both basketball and football, so he looked to potential Division III targets. However, he decided to apply to Penn as a normal student, got in on his own merit, and later joined the football team. 

As a Quaker, Holder booked strong stats. He recorded a solid rookie campaign with 218 yards on the ground. His sophomore season was similar, as he charted 203 yards in his eight games played. His 67 yards receiving were also his season career high. Holder’s athleticism and role-playing in 2009 helped the Quakers lift the Ivy League trophy, maintaining a perfect 7-0 record. 

In his junior and senior years, Holder moved to the defensive side of the ball. As a defensive back, he tallied three interceptions, 7.5 sacks, and 99 tackles in his last two seasons as a Quaker, winning another title in 2010. Additionally, he was awarded second-team All-Ivy in both 2010 and 2011 for his standout play.

However, despite solid stats and impressive accolades, Holder’s time at Penn was riddled with injuries. Dealing with a severe ankle sprain in spring football his sophomore season, he remembers a hasty return causing the prolonging of his injury. 

“I tried to come back too soon; I should have listened to my dad, who said I should take more time off," Holder explained. "I tried to come back too soon and it eventually ended up in bone bruising, nerve issues, [and] some possible spurs. 

"Nobody could tell me what was wrong was the issue.”

This injury forced Holder to miss his next season (which he ended up redshirting).

“I was depressed, school was hard, I wasn’t playing, coaches weren’t sure, doctors couldn’t tell me what was wrong," Holder said. "My strength coach at the time, who is no longer there, Jim Steel, was hinting that I was faking my injury … it was debilitating at that age.” 

Although he eventually was diagnosed correctly and did find a remedy to his injury, Holder remarked that this experience changed his perspective on his body. 

“I worked back with my dad, we revamped my mental practices, revamped the way I was eating, changed the way I was training, and I came back," Holder said. "I was playing super well, and that was the birth of the Ocho System.”

This name was inspired by Holder’s belief that someone improving their physical fitness puts them in a better position to help those around them.  

The Ocho System also has another meaning, one centered around the number eight. Holder believes that fitness revolves around eight factors: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, environmental, social, occupational, and financial. He applies this system to his daily life by staying open to trying new things. 

In addition to using the Ocho System in his daily life, Holder has used Ocho in his business practices. As a renowned consultant, his work with Nike, Smartwater, MasterClass, and Dyson, for example, has seen him use this philosophy to help improve the health of others. 

Holder believes that no one is well until all are well. Whether this is a group or community, he is guided by the idea that helping others is key to elevating the whole. Helping and improving oneself will help them to elevate those around them.

In addition to his work with the Ocho System, Holder is incredibly accomplished as a fitness columnist and trainer in New York City. He frequently writes columns for GQ and has trained impressive clientele including Virgil Abloh and Naomi Campbell. 

Despite his famous clientele and some of the more “fancy stuff,” as he says, Holder is adamant about giving back to the community around him.

In high school, he was given the option to choose an underprivileged area around the United States and serve there. He chose Camden, N.J., and in his two weeks of living there and helping out, he was only given $5 a day for food. 

“We volunteered in a whole bunch of spots around Camden, that totally changed the way I looked at things,” Holder said. 

After Holder began to develop the Ocho System and started to talk with professors, he took many different paths, enriching himself with information. From going into the communities to helping children cook to free talks, Holder started to try and gain as much knowledge and form as many relationships as he could. 

From professor Angela Duckworth’s positive psychology classes to his social entrepreneurship professors, he developed the Ocho System to be applicable to everybody, what he thinks of as a “Tylenol for other people."

After looking at the body of Holder’s work, his message is clear: Good health and wellbeing are extremely complex and rely on a number of factors.

Similarly, Holder views the success he's had, and the success that others can have in similar ventures, as coming from a distinct set of factors that someone has to go through.

“If you really want to do something outside of the standard realm, there are going to be times you have to sacrifice," Holder said. "That’s the thing that’s hard for a lot of people because [when] you’re a creative or an entrepreneur, you have to build and design your own world."