Carlos Soto hopped onto an elliptical trainer at Life Time Edina at Southdale on Thursday.
“Gotta warm up,” he said with a smile.
The 43-year-old truck driver from Little Canada always has a long drive ahead of him — he typically drives between 3,000 and 3,500 miles a week — but he doesn’t skip his workouts: He has spent years planning his routes and his routines around Life Time health club locations — all 152 of them in North America.
They’re his homes away from home.
“I’ve been to all of them,” he says. “They’re always there for me.”
The trucking life
Back in the 2000s, Soto wondered if driving a truck would be hazardous for his health.
“When I went for my CDL (commercial driving license), I trained with a guy in Salt Lake City, Utah,” he says. “We were in a truck together for about eight months. Looking at his habits — pizza at the truck stop, drinking Coca-Cola every day — I was always asking if he was concerned about his health. I thought it was just him, but the more I kept driving, living the trucking life, I learned there were a lot of drivers living like him.”
In fact, a 2010 survey by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, published in 2014, found long-haul truck drivers were more likely to smoke, be overweight and less likely to be physically active compared to other U.S. workers.
That wasn’t how Soto was used to living. Growing up in Costa Rica, Soto played soccer and surfed. Later on, bodybuilding became a passion.
“When I started trucking,” he says, “I didn’t want to give up my active life.”
By 2010, he had joined Life Time. The chain suited his life on the road, with locations “pretty much everywhere” and some clubs open 24 hours. He had to think about parking, too.
“They have massive parking lots,” he says. “So I can pull in with a 53-foot trailer without blocking anyone, or anyone blocking me.”
So, instead of truck stops, Soto structures his stops around Life Time locations.
“When he’s planning his routes, he makes sure he is literally on a pathway for Life Time,” says his wife, Drina Soto. “That’s base camp for him when he’s away from Minnesota.”
His truck is home, too.
“I sleep in my truck — it’s like an RV,” Soto says. “It has a queen-sized bed, microwave, refrigerator, closet … the only thing it doesn’t have is a washer and dryer or a bathroom.”
The truck stops have laundromats, and Life Time has bathrooms and showers — as well as food and friends.
For food, he might have a protein shake or the Rainforest Acai Bowl at the club’s cafe. For friends, he’s always making new ones.
“My wife jokes that I’m a social butterfly,” he says. “Everywhere I go, I spent the first half-hour to 40 minutes just talking to people. Sitting down and talking about life.”
That’s how he found love, too.
“I met Carlos at the gym,” says his wife. “I was teaching one of my Zumba classes at a local gym, and (he) saw me through the windows in the studio and talked to me afterward.”
She now owns her own place, Fierce Fitness Studio, in South St. Paul.
“For us,” she says of fitness, it’s been a lifestyle.”
That lifestyle is how Soto has made friends with Life Time staffers around the country — including Shawn Severson, the manager of Life Time Edina at Southdale.
“I first met him in Des Moines,” Severson says. “He saw me cleaning and said he appreciated it.”
They’ve also seen each other at Life Time clubs in St. Louis and Arizona.
“He really does plan his routes based on where the Life Times are,” Severson says. “It’s a symbiotic relationship — he energizes a room, talking to anybody and everybody in an uplifting way. And, in the life of a truck driver, he doesn’t feel like he’s living in a no man’s land on the road, because he has Life Time.”
His family sees that when they travel with him.
“They greet him by name,” says his wife.
Food as fuel
Soto usually works out before each day’s drive.
“It energizes me for the rest of the day,” he says.
He eats well on the road, too, avoiding junk food or even too much caffeine.
It wasn’t always that way.
“At the beginning, I was only concerned with the working out,” Soto says. “But after not seeing any changes with my health or physical appearance, I began to realize that food is 99.9 percent of the way you look. It didn’t matter if I was working out three or four hours a day if I was eating large portions, not controlling carbs and not looking at what I was eating.”
It took awhile to come up with a plan.
“Healthy stuff is very, very, very hard to find on the road,” he says.
It’s also more expensive.
“It’s easier to buy a $1 burger than a $15 salad,” Soto says.
He has found a way, though.
“I found different small companies where the guys cook and make homemade prep meals,” he says.
This solution pairs well with his refrigerated trailer, which he currently uses to transport pork meat from Minnesota and produce from Mexico.
“For example, on this run — which is about 1,600 miles each way — I’ll call a guy in McAllen, Texas — Meal Preps to Go — and order meals like brown rice, broccoli, tilapia; sweet potatoes, grilled chicken.”
He’ll keep five or six of the prepared meals with him in the truck and the rest in the trailer that is as chilly as his fridge back home.
“No matter where I go,” he says, “I carry my food with me.”
Homes away from home
Woodbury was Soto’s first Life Time club. Through the years, some locations stand out, such as Life Time Sky in Manhattan (“You look down at Times Square”) and Life Time Boca Raton in Florida (“There’s such a diversity of people — from Amsterdam, France, Italy … and the people are super nice. Many of them are retired and have tons of time to talk”).
When the pandemic shut down our lives this spring, it also shut down Life Time’s clubs.
But Soto kept up on his routine as much as possible.
“I still pulled into their parking lots to sleep,” he says. “It’s been my routine for so many years, I didn’t know what else to do.”
He also kept eating well and exercising.
“I was running at truck stops,” Soto says, “and doing jumping jacks and push-ups.”
He was on the road more than ever, staying away from home for eight weeks to avoid inadvertently exposing his family in case he got sick with COVID-19 (fortunately, everyone stayed healthy).
Now that the clubs are open again, Soto has resumed his usual routine, which includes working out while he’s home on a break — he recently made it a goal to visit all the clubs in Minnesota. With Life Time uniformly focusing on cleaning and ventilation, he says he feels safe.
It’s not as easy to get a workout in these days, though, after Life Time produced a video sharing Soto’s membership story.
“People say, ‘You’re the guy in the video!’ ” he says. “They want to take pictures and say hi, have a little chat with me. It’s been crazy!”
He feels especially good about sharing his journey with other truck drivers that he chats with at the gas pump or in truck stops.
“To be honest, it’s very rare to see muscles in a truck driver,” he says. “So sometimes, they will ask me how I stay in shape.”
He tells them they need to join a gym. He talks to them about nutrition. He tells them it’s all about health — now and in the future.
“One thing I say to truck drivers is, ‘The money I spent on supplements and food and gym memberships is money I don’t have to spent on hospitalizations,’ ” he says. “I haven’t been sick in five years. When I say that to them, I can see the wheels turning.”