When you talk to Christian Guzman, his relaxed, casual demeanor can be misleading. His voice tells you: I’ve got all the time in the world to answer your questions. The truth: He’s got three businesses to run, and every minute he spends talking to you probably means time spent away from managing any number of last-minute emergencies. He’s got a new gym, he’s just launched a clothing line and he has another video to put out for his Summer Shredding series.
The interesting thing is, that friendly voice you hear is probably a big part of the reason for Guzman’s success. It’s the same voice you hear in his videos, with his girlfriend (Nikki Blackketter, also a YouTuber). That genuine, open attitude has set him apart from the millions of teenage kids posting fitness advice on the Internet and earned him hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Guzman is only 23 years old, and he’s the new face of American fitness. Welcome to the YouTube Generation.
We sat down with Guzman to ask him a few questions about how he transformed himself from a skinny kid playing guitar to the beast you see today and what YouTube means for the future of American fitness.
Apart from the information you share in your videos, it’s hard to find personal information about you online. Is that intentional?
Well, I do want people to watch my videos. YouTube is my main platform. I feel that as YouTube grows, everything else will follow.
Your videos, especially the more recent ones, aren’t pure workout or nutrition tips. There’s a lot of personal mixed in. How has your video brand evolved over the years?
When I first started out, I just wanted to share advice: workouts, protein intake, meal planning, all of it. But as I’ve gotten more comfortable and started sharing more of myself and my personal life, the subscribers really seem to love it.
I did this Summer Shredding series for 2012 [there ’s another one for 2015], which was all about me getting ready for a competition. It was a 12-week diet, but also the mental part, the ups and downs, and I got such a great response.
Did you see a shift in your subscriber base and fan response after you started incorporating more personal stories?
One hundred percent. Being personal lets people become attached to your life. You try to set a good example and give and share your ups and downs, and all those trials and successes.
That’s interesting, needing to set an example, not just for the people you train but for your thousands of subscribers. Does that change the way you live your life?
It keeps me in check. I always remind myself that there are people who look at everything I do. I try to be really honest … I don’t hide anything. People will run up to me at expos and tell me their stories. That really makes it real. It really makes you not want to mess up.
Was there a moment somewhere down the line where you thought to yourself, I can really turn this into a career?
I was a guitar player in high school. I was in a rock band, the whole deal. Going into college, though, my band split up and I had more time to do my own thing. I decided to put my whole focus into my studies and fitness. [Guzman was studying health and fitness management at the time.] I was watching a lot of the old-school fitness YouTubers. I found a lot of motivation there, and I figured, Why not do that myself?
So freshman year of college, I ordered a Sony camcorder. There weren’t a lot of people doing this stuff at the time. I just wanted to post my progress and give some tips and tricks, which at the time I thought were correct … a lot of which I now realize were totally wrong. [laughs]
When did you realize this could be a career, not just a hobby?
The first year, I was posting videos every single week. I stayed committed to uploading frequently. That year, I gained maybe 3,000 subscribers. After the second year, it was 20,000. It quadrupled between year one and year two. And year three, now the channel’s at 260,000. You just keep uploading, and if you’re putting out good content and effort, it will hit.
I came up with a couple of fitness-related digital products when I was in college, and I wanted to respond to every email, to really engage with the people who were investing time and money to transform themselves. There vey quickly came a point where the products and the work were overtaking my schoolwork, and I had to make a choice. That’s when I decided to pursue my fitness dream full time.
Did you ever doubt that decision?
I actually don’t talk about this a lot on my channel. But the biggest obstacle I faced was leaving school. My mom was crying for months. Having your mom cry about a decision is pretty challenging. My father wasn’t initially all that supportive of the idea, either, but within three months, when they saw my commitment, they were both really proud of me.
You mentioned that some of your early advice was “totally wrong.” How do you evolve and keep yourself accountable?
You have to always be willing to learn. I’m constantly reading studies on body composition, nutrition, exercise science, training methods, everything, so I have the most up-to-date information. I need my subscribers to know that when I’m talking about something, I have all the latest information.
With the personal element to your videos, incorporating your family, your dogs, your girlfriend, it seems like transparency is a really critical part of your brand.
People trust me. So if I say, “All right, these products are amazing,” and then they go and buy them, they’re expecting perfection. If the product isn’t perfect, it would ruin my credibility. But more important, I wouldn’t want to let anyone down.
You have a new clothing line, Alphalete. How has that transparency model affected your business ventures?
People still associate me and my credibility with the clothing. We went through samples with a bunch of different manufacturers, and … I learned a lot. I actually had to avoid selling my entire first batch of shirts. There were just thousands and thousands I wasn’t happy with.
But sometimes you have to admit failure in the short term, to have better success in the long term. Showing that you’re being honest, taking that responsibility, even the financial hit, is important. It shows that you’re doing things right, that you stand behind your product.
Does that outlook influence the way you consider brand partnerships? You work pretty closely with Quest Nutrition and GymShark.
I’m a flexible dieter, I count my macros, and there aren’t a lot of macro-friendly foods that taste amazing and someone can incorporate every day and love eating that also help them get to their goals. Quest has nailed everything from taste to macros, everything. It’s really one of the only companies that does that. It’s easy to support the brand when you use it every day. I have a minimum of one bar and one bag of Protein Chips a day because I really enjoy the product.
And that’s the business model I follow for Alphalete. Quest is the second-fastest-growing private company in America, so they’re doing something right. You have to nail your product, and your fans always know and trust that when your brand comes out with something, no matter what it is, it’s going to be amazing.
How do you think YouTube is changing the business of fitness?
American fitness is shifting. You can be a normal guy with his girlfriend and two dogs and still reach hundreds of thousands of people around the world. In the next five years, ginormous companies are going to be reaching out to YouTubers. It’s the only social media that really allows that personal, trustworthy relationship. It’s totally unique.
And as the business grows and expands, how do you keep growing?
Personally, I think you have to remember that someone’s working 24 hours a day to take your spot. The work ethic has gotten me to where I am. I know that if I just stay the same, I’m going to stay stagnant. I always have to push the quality, the content. A lot of people don’t think they need to push themselves in real life AND on social media, but you do. They work together.
To someone who’s reading this, just getting started in the fitness business (or any business), what advice would you give?
Find out exactly what you want to do. So many people really go through their lives not knowing. You should know what you want to be, not what you think you’re supposed to be. And once you find what you want to be doing, find the most efficient route to get there. You can get started reaching that goal today. Be honest with yourself and then go all in.
There will be a lot of people reading this who haven’t seen any of your videos. What’s a good place for them to get started?
I’m doing my Summer Shredding series again. It’s where it all started, and I have a new one for this summer. Take a look at Episode One!