Jono Castano: ‘Where I’m at today isn’t some fluke’

Celebrity trainer Jono Castano has worked with the likes of Richard Branson, Rebel Wilson and Chris Hemsworth. Here’s how he overcame adversity to build a multimillion-dollar fitness empire.

As one of Australia’s most recognised personal trainers, Jono Castano is a shining example of a self-made man.

But that’s only the half of it.

Behind his multimillion-dollar fitness empire is a backstory built on blood, sweat, and tears.

Jono first established a name for himself transforming the likes of Chris Hemsworth, Rebel Wilson, and Alex Volkanovski.

Now the 33-year-old Sydneysider with nearly a million Instagram followers has two Acero gyms in Sydney, plus fitness app Acero Drip, merchandise line Wear Acero, debut book It Starts Today, an ambassadorship with Melrose Ignite, and a global partnership with Ovolo Hotels.

But that’s not to say his journey to success has been easy or conventional, for that matter — he’s had to navigate a series of personal setbacks to get to where he is today.


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From humble origins

Originally from Colombia, Jono’s family migrated to Australia during his childhood to escape the cycle of poverty and violence that surrounded them.

“I had a happy childhood in La Virginia, but that’s not to say there weren’t hardships,” Jono says.

“We didn’t have access to hot running water and on one occasion I saw someone get shot.”

When his older brother Mauricio was killed in a horrific traffic accident at only six years old, the devastating loss was the final catalyst for Jono’s family to seek a better life.

“I think it’s really important to stay connected to your roots. Coming from absolutely nothing to having all that I’ve accomplished so far is an incredible feeling, but it’s also a testament to my parents,” he says.

“They risked everything to give my brother Damian and myself a better life, so it’s nice to be in a position where I can give back to them.”

The importance of family

When The House of Wellness chats to Jono, he is soon to welcome his first child (expected to be a daughter), with partner Simone Holtznagel, a model and TV personality.

He says one of the more unexpected joys of impending fatherhood has been the impact it’s had on his relationship with his own father.

“Growing up, my father never said he was proud of me or gave me positive affirmations. Instead, I found that through personal training and connecting with clients,” he says.

“I was distant with my family and it’s always been a tough topic for me, but it’s really nice that we’re becoming closer now.”

With Jono and his brother due to become first-time dads a few weeks apart, the imminent bundles of joy are helping his family reconnect.

And Jono now has even more purpose and an added respect for clients with kids.

“It’s not about me anymore. I want to give back to my daughter as much as I can so she doesn’t go through the experiences I had,” he says.

Dreaming big

Long before Jono built the career he has today, soccer was his first passion and it became a source of solace during his first years in Australia.

“I was soccer mad growing up, and playing professionally was my goal in life,” he says.

He remembers being teased as a kid for struggling with English, with discussions of being held back a year level.

But when his parents enrolled him into a local soccer club, things started looking up.

By his early teens, Jono was training at West Ham United Academy in England.

Then followed years of back-and-forth trips abroad in his efforts to make it as a professional soccer player.

Despite going on to play for clubs in Colombia, Belgium, Singapore, and Indonesia, Jono eventually hung up his boots for good due to logistical setbacks.

“At some point you’ve got to admit to yourself, ‘Hey, this isn’t for me’. But letting go of something you’ve dedicated your life to can be a really tough thing to accept,” he reflects.

Finding his passion

Jono was able to direct the drive and resilience gained through soccer into other career pursuits, and personal training became his new love.

After earning his certifications, he quickly went from training clients part-time at a Surry Hills gym to being awarded Asia Pacific Trainer of the Year within his first 12 months at Virgin Active.

“One of my biggest full circle moments was with Sir Richard Branson. The first time I met him, he was visiting Virgin Active’s Zetland location (in Sydney), where I worked. I got a quick run-of-the-mill handshake and that was that,” Jono says.

“Seven years later, I was travelling in Miami and his team approached me about a one-on-one PT session, which I jumped at. Getting to know him and share my story was something I’ll never forget.”

Taking risks

One of the biggest initial challenges faced by personal trainers is building clients, and Jono had the foresight to realise an online presence could increase his reach.

In the early 2010s, having visibility online was viewed a lot more negatively than it is today, and Jono regularly copped flak from colleagues and employers for his Instagram activity.

“Once, I got pulled aside at work and had to explain my reasonings for promoting myself and showcasing what I was passionate about, which sounds ridiculous now,” Jono says.

“A lot of people fear change and won’t leave their comfort zone, but stepping outside of that and taking a few risks is how I built my business.”

Another tactic that proved fruitful for Jono was offering free sessions to high-profile names by sliding into their Instagram DMs.

“Training Matty J (Johnson) from The Bachelor Australia ended up being a huge coup for me, and his fitness transformation generated a lot of press, becoming something I could leverage with other high-profile clients,” he shares.

Unconventional business strategies didn’t just generate more clients for Jono, they also gave him the means to launch Acero, his boutique gym, in Sydney’s Kensington and The Fullerton Hotel.

While he is proud of his accomplishments, he’s also quick to credit his Acero co-founder and ex-wife Amy Castano, who remains heavily involved in the business, as integral to his success.

There’s a strong loyalty between the pair, who were together for 15 years.

Amy continues to operate the PR side of Acero and whenever Jono needs something, she’s the first person to check in and see if he’s OK.

“Towards the end of our relationship, Amy and I became best friends. She knows me better than anyone, and even when we broke up I never entertained the thought of getting rid of her from the business,” Jono says.

“The way I see it: Life’s so short, why would you ever want to get rid of good people that want the best for you?”

Looking ahead

As an ambassador of food range Melrose Ignite, Jono is proud to represent the brand, which is 100 per cent Australian made and owned.

“I was first introduced to Melrose Ignite when I tried a keto diet and I’ve been a fan ever since,” he says.

“Keto-friendly nutrition and guilt-free snacks are really important to me. The range takes the guesswork out.”

While embracing fatherhood is at the forefront of Jono’s personal life, expanding Acero gyms domestically and internationally is a priority business goal.

He also has “so many exciting projects in the pipeline”.

“Our fitness app is evolving, there’s talk of launching my own perfume line and I’m seizing as many opportunities as I can,” he says.

“Where I’m at today isn’t some fluke,” he adds.

“It’s involved a lot of grit, long hours and free sessions, including experiences in my life that I wish didn’t happen, but it’s shaped me into who I am today.”

It Starts Today by Jono Castano, published by Affirm Press, RRP $32.99, is available at all good booksellers, with proceeds of book sales from Booktopia going to the Refugee Migrant Children Centre Australia, a charity close to Jono’s heart.

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Written by beauty editor Charlotte Brundrett