Introducing Eric Leija, aka the Primal Swoledier. As an Onnit Academy Senior Kettlebell Coach, Leija has dedicated his life to human optimization and helping others tap into their full potential. Having only been coaching for a few years now, Leija's physical training courses and online instructional videos are already recognized as being among the best the industry has to offer in terms of simplicity, functionality, application and execution.
The Swoledier recently joined the ranks of the SHEATH Army, giving us a chance to sit down with him for a discussion to find out a little more about the man behind the kettlebell. Check out the exclusive interview below.
So where did you grow up? Were you active in your youth?
I was born and raised in Austin, Texas. I was a chubby kid growing up. I loved eating fast food and playing video games. My older siblings teased me about being fat, told me I would never get a girlfriend and would make fun of me for not having kissed a girl yet (I was in middle school). At age 11, I stopped eating junk food and started running, working out and doing bodybuilding exercises that I learned from my brother’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding with Schwarzenegger on the cover. I got myself in shape to play and do well in 7th and 8th grade football.
When was your first experience with the kettlebell? Was it love at first swing?
After middle school football was over, everyone was excited to get ready for high school football, but I didn’t feel the same way. I wanted to do something more real, something tougher. I fell in love with combat sports, mixed martial arts specially. I immersed myself into the lifestyle of MMA fighters and, all throughout high school, I trained in Muay Thai, jiu jitsu and wrestling. I had the opportunity to train with a lot of high level pro fighters, many of which fought in the UFC. I saw the way they trained and prepared for battle first hand and I quickly realized that the conventional, outdated strength and conditioning techniques I was doing were not helping me in my combat practice. The pro fighters I trained with were doing unconventional techniques to condition their bodies, and among those tools and techniques was kettlebell training. The way they used kettlebells in their training helped them make real world, sport-applicable gains in their grip, core strength, muscular endurance and mobility.
When did you decide you wanted to become the inspirational figure now known as the ‘Primal Swoledier’?
I started working at Onnit in the warehouse with the fulfillment department. Packing supplements, kettlebells, gear and shipping them to customers. I worked in the warehouse for 2 years before Aubrey, Onnit’s CEO, approached me to become one of the trainers in the new Onnit gym that was opening soon. In addition to getting certified and receiving training experience, my head coaches, Juan Leija (my older brother), John Wolf and Aubrey encouraged me to become active on social media. At the time, I was against social media and saw it as a waste of time, a place for attention seekers, people full of themselves and silly videos. They told me I needed to put myself out there and promote myself and my practice. I was so against the idea of being active on social media that I thought to myself, “I hate Instagram. I don’t want to make a profile. What’s the dumbest name I can think of? What’s the cheesiest handle I can go by?” Sure enough I came up with Primal Swoledier. The marketing and creative team laughed and loved it. It sort of just stuck and people dig it now.
What keeps you motivated?
Constant improvement and learning new things is what keeps me motivated the most. I like to think of myself as a student for life. I try to remain humble and constantly try new things to expand my horizons. From listening to new music, to practicing with a new fitness tool, to trying a new dance, to eating at a new restaurant, new experiences help me get better by shining light on the things that work for me and those that don’t. I take a non-dogmatic approach to training others as well. I don’t like to teach as if my way is the ‘right’ way, but rather that it’s what works for me and for many others. I welcome students and clients to listen, but apply the knowledge I share to what they already know. My advice shouldn’t discount anything you may have already learned, but add to it to create a more complete picture with a new perspective.
What has been the biggest inspiration in your journey?
My girlfriend Francheska has been my biggest inspiration. For a while, I was stuck in my old ways. I was doing the same training routines, eating the same foods and listening to the same tired music. She has helped me conquer my mental laziness by pushing me out of my comfort zone. She is an exceptional dancer, mover and specializes in Animal Flow. Since meeting her and falling in love, I have incorporated so much of her advice into my personal fitness, lifestyle, nutrition and much more. I am happier and I feel more complete with her in my life because we are constantly evolving and improving together.
As you know, kettlebell exercises have dramatically increased in popularity in recent years. How has the art of kettlebell lifting evolved from when you started to where it is now?
When I first started on my journey, there were 3 kettlebell moves that were glorified as being the only ones you needed: the swing, the snatch and the jerk. Now, I’m seeing more and more people accessing the full potential of the simple tool. It is, afterall, just a weight with a handle on it. The possibilities are endless when you have fun and mix it up. Getting creative with kettlebells can yield gains in cardio, muscle mass, strength, mobility and much more! With its versatility and accessibility, you can achieve many of these results with just one kettlebell. I see that the simplicity of kettlebell exercise is helping more and more people take a step in the right direction of being active and excited about fitness.
What are some of your long-term goals? Have you given thought to opening your own Swoledier Training Facility, or something along those lines?
I have not thought about opening my own gym, but I did launch my website, EricLeija.com, where anyone can learn from me and follow along with my workout videos. I look forward to continue to be a positive influence to those who look to me for advice.
That's awesome. I have just one more question for you: What advice do you have for fresh recruits in the Swoledier Army?
I recommend conquering your inner self doubt and being confident in the process. Don’t look to the “end goals” as being the end all, be all that’s going to bring you happiness. Enjoy every minute of the journey. Keep your head up and keep learning and growing!
Thanks for reading! If you've made it this far, take the next step and unleash your inner Swoledier by checking out some of Eric's workouts, courses, personal training programs and much more by visiting: