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Work it Out: Meet Mariana De Carvalho, The Fitness Guru of SF

Mariana De Carvalho. Courtesy of Mariana De Carvalho

By Emily Merrell 

When I first joined The Assembly, I took Mariana’s “Stronger” class. After nearly collapsing from how challenging the class was, I was excited by how hard she was pushing me and I looked forward to getting stronger after each class. As I took more classes from her, we also became friends! Despite thinking that Mariana had always worked in the fitness industry, I was amazed to learn that she once worked in finance before she jumped into her fitness career. Keep reading to learn how this strong lady made the leap and what keeps her motivated.

SDS: How did you make the decision to leave a stable corporate job and focus on personal training?

Mariana De Carvalho. Courtesy of Come Plum_Praise Santos

MARIANA DE CARVALHO: The decision didn’t happen overnight and took more self-discovery than I knew I had in me – but ultimately, it came down to trusting my intuition.

I started my career in finance and like any eager analyst, immediately focused my ambition on climbing. For five years, I obsessed over work and was handsomely rewarded with more work. By navigating my way through the layers of bureaucracy, I was able to find a few mentors who helped me see the bigger picture. The only problem was once I picked my head up, I realized I didn’t really like where I was going. I didn’t see myself becoming a Managing Director at the firm, but I was also afraid of losing the identity that I had meticulously crafted at work.

The uncertainty I felt in my gut led me to make a few decisions that seemed crazy at the time, but now it’s all tied together. One of those leaps was to take a yoga teacher training. For the better part of a year, I spent my nights and weekends learning a new practice. Many of those nights, I came home exhausted, confused and overwhelmed. But today, I am so glad I had the patience to allow myself to grow a new identity and passion.

A lot of people ask me, “How did you find your passion?” I think anyone pitching a clear-cut answer here might be projecting their story a little too much…I believe there is no secret formula. No magic bullet. You must actively choose to explore all corners of your life (the good and bad parts of it) to understand what really drives you. Yoga was one of the first corners of exploration that uncovered my passion for teaching and movement. Nutrition, lifestyle changes, and strength training followed.

With time, I became more aware of how the story I wrote about myself as a finance professional didn’t jive with my chronic lower-back pain and increasingly acute food allergies. Once I decided to actively connect what I did with how I felt, it was easy to build momentum. Cold emails turned into lively coffee chats and brainstorming sessions morphed into my actual business plans. Every decision since then has just been about strengthening my commitment to writing one story, not two.

SDS: So many founders talk about their “aha” moment – did you have that moment when you left your job behind? 

MDC: The closest I ever got to an “aha” moment took place in my then-manager’s office a few years ago. He asked me, “What position do you want next?” and I just blanked.

Prior to that point, I was always laser-focused on the next milestone. But I had reached a tipping point where a change in title or pay would not have changed how I internalized my job. By the time that meeting came, I had mentally ‘tried-on’ different professions for years and just got to a fork in the road where I didn’t need to keep working to know where it led.

In the back of my mind, I envisioned myself helping others become the best versions of themselves. At that point, there were no logistics or plan, but there was an idea that I loved obsessing about.

SDS: What advice would you give to someone hoping to make a change in their career or lifestyle? 

MDC: Discover what you want your life to be about and work backwards from that dream. Once you know what you want to do, you can start to break down the steps to embody that in your day to day.

At the beginning, I only knew I wanted to feel strong and successful. I wasn’t taking care of my body, so that was one easy thing to daydream about. Second, I had to redefine how I saw myself and how I sought validation. I started to realize I cared a lot about seeing how my energy could steer the course of someone’s day and then eventually their habits and health.

When I train with my clients, we commonly debate whether they spend their days thinking and solving the types of problems that make them feel mentally challenged and strong. I think a great starting point is to ask yourself, “How aligned is the life I live today to what I want my life to be about?”

Mariana De Carvalho. Courtesy of Chris Jones

SDS: As a personal trainer, what’s been your greatest accomplishment so far? 

MDC: My greatest accomplishment is helping others personalize their definition of health. Personally, I don’t think wellness is about sacrificing everything until you get that “hot body”. Rather I reframe fitness as the commitment to your physical wellbeing, to connecting your mind and body, and even to your spirituality.

I consider myself an educator more than a physical trainer. My new clients are often off-balance during their first sessions – they’re surprised to learn workouts can be mentally taxing. I obsess about my clients’ mind-body connection and try to instill a sense of ownership. I’m not there to help clients check a box. I’m the one pushing them to connect their future aspirations to their daily practice. When a session’s intensity picks up and their grit starts to fade, I remind them why they are there.

The result for my clients is fewer medications, pain remission (if not elimination) and mental clarity. Many of my clients use their momentum to transform different parts of their lives and I love seeing their strengthened sense of control. 

SDS: What’s your mission and how do you hope to spread it to others? 

MDC: My mission is to help others unlock their full potential through health. Whether exploring how my clients move, breathe, or sleep, I dedicate my time to personalizing each person’s routines to help them thrive in life. It is my job to make sure the speed and intensity of transformation is appropriate. This approach helps my clients develop mental and physical strength while keeping their lives in balance.

 Given my corporate background, I know firsthand how challenging it is to juggle the grind with wellness. But I also know that elevating your fitness improves your performance in all areas of life. I am passionate about re-evaluating how my clients relate to movement, stress, and nutrition so that they can build momentum in (and out) of the gym. 

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