For mental health professional and Tonal coach Pablo Schmidt-Escobar, movement plays a significant role in wellbeing. When the world feels like it’s becoming too much, sweating it out gives Coach Pablo the means to get both grounded and elevated. He’s woven working out into his practice in a way that cultivates patience, nourishes inner strength, and celebrates tiny victories.
What initially drew you to fitness?
It’s the love of moving my body and the mental health benefits of it. As a kid, I was always pretty active; I liked to move around and play sports. As I got older, I was going through a lot of mental health problems, and many treatments for mental health involve staying active. Working out became one of the ways to help manage my mental health.
In college, I was studying to be a therapist myself, and I started taking on clients close to my graduation. A lot of them were very sedentary — movement helped me — so I suggested working out together for 10-15 minutes before going into our sessions. My clients loved it and felt so much better and even started coming to therapy in their workout clothes. My clinical supervisor thought it was a great idea, but I wasn’t a trained fitness professional, so I decided to become a personal trainer.
Sometimes when struggling with mental health, it can be hard to feel motivated to move. Do you have any suggestions for how someone can find the strength to take that first step?
A lot of times, it’s just the tiniest movement to get you started. So If you’re feeling a little depressed and don’t want to do anything, if it feels right and you can manage it, start by getting up. If you are lying in bed and want to make a tiny movement, stand up and move to the kitchen. That will get the ball rolling.
It’s exactly the same thing with working out, do the smallest thing, and it’ll start to build up quickly. Doesn’t have to be hardcore. You don’t have to do 100 burpees or go for a long run, or any of that. It can just be holding a plank for a second, squatting, even just walking around the block. Do something little and different to break the cycle.
How would you recommend someone keep building on that?
It’s really about being kind to yourself and treating everything as a victory. Once you’re ready, start to push it and slowly build on your momentum.
Parse everything out into these very tiny steps. Did you get to the gym? That’s great. Did you get on the treadmill for five minutes? That’s also great. Look at everything you do as a tiny victory, and whatever seemed too hard at one point will start to feel easy. If something feels like it’s too much, do be afraid to go back a little bit. I really do think it’s about patience. Slow and steady wins the race.
Do you think that Tonal can be a helpful tool in overcoming any barriers to movement that people struggling with mental health may experience?
I really appreciate it when I hear about peoples’ Tonal journeys. I have had a lot of community members bring that up to me. They’ll say that Tonal has helped them because they were too embarrassed to lift weights at the gym but feel better doing it at home.
I’ve also had many people talk to me about how they struggle with anxiety, and Tonal has helped get them into a routine and feel more grounded. Seeing their Strength Score go up and progressing in one-pound weight increments has also been a positive experience for people.
Outside of that, in the gym, you can get distracted by everything going on more easily. During the pandemic, my boyfriend used Tonal instead of going to the gym, and now, he’s feeling much better about working out. He feels like all the pressure of looking and being a certain way at the gym has been lifted, and he has a better relationship with his body. He says it’s nice to be able to work out for the sake of working out. The gym made him feel a little crazy, and he feels saner now — calmer and healthier.
That’s an interesting point — in your experience, has Tonal been more conducive to an inner strength journey?
I really like the pace of Tonal and just being able to do it for yourself and not worry about other people. We’re all human beings. At some point, we will compare ourselves to others, and a lot of times, that comparison can be very unhealthy.
Tonal caters to being a very personal experience. You see your own stats and successes, and you’re able to enjoy it and savor everything as a personal journey and just be the best version of yourself.
It’s also a lot of fun! You get that dopamine hit when that PR sound comes on. Even the way the colors and numbers move for when your Strength Score goes up is badass. It makes me feel so good.
How has being a Tonal coach changed the way you experience this space?
I came into strength training very staunch about no aesthetics whatsoever, but that comes from my own personal journey and issues with my body and mental health. I’ve learned through Tonal that it’s actually okay to take pride in how strong you look and feel. I’m especially inspired by seeing people in the community and hearing other perspectives.
I love that people can look at themselves and appreciate their hard work. To hear stories from the community noticing their bodies do incredible things and move in a certain way because of Tonal is awesome.
In your opinion, how can what you do while strength training or working out translate to our real lives?
As humans, we go through life, and we have little obstacles and victories, and a lot of it is about how we treat ourselves in those situations. Fitness tests and builds our value system. What do we want to take out of it? How do we respond when we’re not seeing the results or faced with some adversity?
Ultimately with fitness, we get to overcome things — resistance, movement patterns, all that stuff. Those moments are lessons we can move with through life. The biggest thing we can learn is to be patient with ourselves.
We live in a world where everything needs to be done yesterday, so patience gets lost. However, if we can learn to be patient while working out, we can find the ability to do that in the real world with ourselves and other people, and I think that can help make us successful.
What makes you feel your strongest?
For me, strength and feeling strong are about overcoming something. That means being able to stick at it even when it is rough and coming out at the other side having learned or gained something like a different perspective, for example. Sometimes I have to put my hands up and say I can’t do this, and that’s fine because I still learned something from trying.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Strength Stories is an interview series highlighting individuals from the Tonal community.