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Look no further than co-creator Shawn Phillips for the future of the phenomenon.
Long before the selfie and social media, long before any of us knew about strategic angles and filters for our phone camera shots, the before-and-after photo was born. And we were transfixed by the raw images of people holding out the waistband of their far-too-large pants.
Shawn Phillips and his brother Bill sparked the phenomenon with Body for Life, a program that combined nutrition, mindset and physical training for dramatic results. Phillips also is known for his own bodybuilding prowess, having a physique described as one of the most photographed of a generation and remarkable for Phillips’ symmetry and signature abs.
Decades later, the program has evolved with greater scientific understanding of nutrition and mindset—as well as physical training—and it continues to transform the lives of thousands of people. Following the explosive success of Body for Life, the related Transformation Challenge, the success of Muscle Media magazine and EAS Sports Nutrition, Phillips wrote “Strength for Life” (Ballantine Books, 2008)—appropriately subtitled “The Fitness Plan for the Rest of Your Life”—a breakthrough, inside-out total transformation program.
24Life caught up with Philips and found out how his fitness philosophies have changed.
24Life: Bring us up to present-day. What have you been doing, and what did you learn from the early days?
Shawn Phillips: I turned away from bodybuilding toward more of a holistic fitness approach in the early 90s, and together with my brother, we launched MetRx in 1991 and EAS sports nutrition in the mid 90s. I built a couple of other companies, and then about eight, nine years ago, I became obsessed with creating the world’s great total nutrition shake—a true “performance fast food” which came to be my Full Strength Nutrition Shake. The Full Strength Shake was brought on line in a very select, member-only model just before I released the integral transformation program in Strength for Life. My focus, over time and from my own experience with transformation—and generally fitness—has become about moving from the “doing” of fitness to a deeper, more internal state of “being” fit. Believe me, this is much more than symantics. It’s about getting out of your head and into your body.
24Life: So Strength for Life takes a more holistic approach to fitness?
SP: I don’t try to get people to [follow] a list and a diet and a workout. I want people to get to a place of beingness where they are actually [living] in a healthy, vital way through freedom of choice, not through discipline. Discipline is great to get you started, but ultimately, beingness transcends motivation and discipline. If you’re aware of how your body’s feeling in the moment, if you’re aware of the foods you eat that don’t serve you, you don’t have to be on a diet because the diet is self-directive. When you reach the place of “being,” where you are living from your internal alignment, the need for discipline and effort falls away. You do the right thing not from fear or pressure, but because it’s who you are.
24Life: You also define strength differently; what does that word mean to you?
SP: Ultimately, we’ve got to be accountable to our own strength, our own vitality. To me, strength is an integration of body, mind and spirit. Where most people—consciously or unconsciously—define “health” quite literally as the “absence of illness,” I view strength as an abundance of physical, mental and emotional energy, a force for good in this world. It’s about more than “just enough.” Strength is the ability to contribute to others, not just survive for yourself.
Accepting this widely held view of “health” as the absence of illness can have you walking through life, 40 pounds overweight and pre-diabetic but thinking, I don’t have cancer, so “I’m healthy.” This is a silent, dangerous mindset that is readily relieved when people adopt strength—or “optimal health”—as their goal.
24Life: Body for Life was and is very results oriented. How much does that factor into your Strength for Life program?
SP: For me, there’s something really valuable in the old-school strength training. … It’s really a practice about me versus the iron—or gravity. When you get to the domain of mastery, you’ll always find that the masters like doing the work. They have let go of the story of resistance, the dialogue of boredom or the story of pain.
There’s always something inside there that you weren’t looking for that you find. I like to say creativity isn’t thinking, it’s being out of the thinking mind and allowing wisdom of the universe to arise in you.
24Life: Your nutrition philosophy changed, too. What’s different?
SP: “Nourishment” is the word I am drawn to use when I think about food. Nutrition is a very tactical thing. It’s more of a numbers game we can measure in calories. But nourishment to me is wholesome goodness. How am I feeding my body, mind and soul? How am I serving myself with this? Ultimately, I seek to teach people to awaken what I call “Nutritional Freedom,” which is the ability to eat the foods that are best for you not because you have to, but because they’re the foods you want the most. Quite simply it’s about flexibility, freedom and a strong connection between good, healthy foods and feeling great, strong and energized.
An athlete will consume fuel they need for the bike or a run in a very intentional way. If they do not, it will have a clear and profound impact on their performance. Yet, most people who are simply eating to get through their day fail to connect how they feel, how clearly they think, how they perform each day to the food they eat. It’s a complete blind spot.
What an athlete eats is going to have a direct and profound impact on the next two, three and four hours of his or her life. Well, how is it any different for an executive, a mother or father? How you eat is going to affect how and if you show up in the rest of your day—day after day. Hence, the food matters and the more strongly you connect your well-being and performance with the foods, the more likely your food choices will reflect this effortlessly.
24Life: Has the concept of nourishment changed your overall thinking about health, as well?
SP: A lot of people declare, “I want to get better at dieting” when what I believe they really want is to look better, feel better, live better. A diet—not dieting—is how you achieve the goals you are really seeking. Not a better diet, but a better body and life.
When you think about food in terms of nourishing your body, you naturally see things differently. Not in terms of good and bad, but simply more or less nourishing. And this very much aligns with my core philosophy of strength: Strength is about enjoying an abundance and not always being just on the edge of mental, physical, energetic bankruptcy.
24Life: What are some of the questions you still get asked, and how do you answer?
SP: One of the questions I get is, “I’ve gotten off track. How do I get back on?” You just do. You don’t beat yourself up. You don’t dramatize it. You just choose to take a step back in and then another.
Phil Mickelson may well be most the famous golfer in the world for coming in second. Yet, in his maturity he’s developed a truly remarkable capacity to overcome the demons that marked the first two decades of his career —he’s learned how to “get back on track” in an instant.
At the 2013 British Open, he was into the final day with a 5-stroke lead, and at the 12th hole, he just duffed his second shot out into nowhere. Previously, this would have been where he went off the rails—and collapsed in the final round. Yet, in this case he simply looked at his caddie, Bones, smiled, and said, “That was the best shot I had in me.” He let the bad shot go, went on to save a par on the hole—and win the Open.
That’s it: The moment where you just say I’m going to let it go, play it where it lies and move on. When people build a history of fitness, they have a movie running in their head that says, “I failed this many times” or “I struggle at this” or “I’m no longer any good at it.” The reality is you can just let the tape go at any moment, start anew and be your best.
24Life: What’s the best workout to do?
SP: The workout you will do is the best workout you should do. Pick the workout. Don’t spend a bunch of time debating it. Don’t compare it to your friend’s workout. Just do the workout. It’s not three sets of this, five sets of that. We overthink it. The reality is quantum change comes from simple things repeated every damn day, right? There is no perfect formula for sets and reps. I just say have a plan and work the plan. When you’re done, welcome another plan and live that plan.
24Life: Still, people aren’t always sure where to get started. What do you tell people who don’t know where to start?
SP: Sometimes it’s great to start people on a bench press. There’s something amazing about the act of pushing with power “into” the world. There’s a feeling of personal power that awakens in people, for most often the world’s coming over us. When you feel your true power, you can start to feel your strength.
As for a full workout plan, there are as many ways to start as there are people needing to start. Don’t overthink it. Ask for help. Hire a trainer. Or take a balanced, basic and easily applied workout plan like Strength for Life or Body for Life and follow it like it’s the Bible.
The most important thing is to be present and feel into the movement. Think of your time training as an active meditation. The deeper you connect your mind to muscle, the faster you will be rewarded of body and mind. And may I suggest, leaving the phone in the locker and enjoying your time without distractions.
24Life: These days, you also cycle. Has that changed your fitness philosophy?
SP: What I’ve found is cycling has brought that same level of intensity and challenge as I’ve so enjoyed in my years of weight lifting. Cycling brings in what I learned from strength training, which is how to push the edge, to find and dance with the red line, meaning I climb to a point where I don’t know if I can go any farther and then everything just focuses in. It may be one more pedal stroke, one more rep, one more, one more. No more, no less.
I began cycling in the first place to join some friends on one of the nation’s epic cycling events, the Triple Bypass. It’s 123 miles and 12,000 vertical feet over three Colorado mountain peaks. Well, you can’t fake that. I had to find my way into that different version of a spandex pant and become a cyclist. What worked for me is the community—being accountable to others. I find people I can hang with because I wouldn’t go out if they weren’t expecting me to be there.
The guys that taught me how to ride took me out, taught me what cadence was and how to move my bike. Three years later, I found myself paying it forward—taking new people out to same epic rides where I got started. Ultimately, that’s the difference between someone who gets in shape and someone who truly transforms: People who stay fit after a transformation, who really are transformed, always give it away. They’re always giving it away, always teaching.
24Life: So many of us give up on our fitness dreams. Why do you think that is?
SP: I find that the getting unstuck—getting an object (your body) from at rest to moving is very tricky. We are convinced that we just need to do this, eat that … all the promises make it seem like it should be a no-brainer.
Here’s what I’ve learned: People are already exhausted, they’re stressed out, fatigued and not just mentally or emotionally. They are literally suffering from a biochemistry cocktail of stress. And when you get struck by the “damnit” motivations and fling yourself into a new regimen of diet and exercise, your body doesn’t celebrate. Already stressed and struggling, your body just goes, “Oh man, more stress.” and so it starts to shut down. It can’t discern “positive stress” from plain ol’ stress.
Thus, people start with a splash and fade away—duped into believing it was a failure of willpower or discipline. This is a bad message to hold and the wrong one.
I remind people that you don’t climb Mount Everest from the ground. You first go to basecamp to acclimate. In Strength for Life, I have all people start with a 12-day basecamp people I call a “ReBoot.” This is a very simple but effective way to heal and revitalize your body—to acclimate yourself for performance and transformation ahead. You heal your body first with six simple practices. It’s removing things and setting a little framework that helps people start a transformation program from a position of strength.
24Life: Let’s face it, appearance still has huge appeal. Is there a more important reason for people to be interested in transformation?
SP: I wrote about this in “Strength for Life.” You can get away with murder in your 20s if you don’t get caught physically. In your 30s, most people fake the last half decade—for we carry some of that momentum of youth. As we approach our 40th year, most of us are trying to pretend we are not in a physical and energetic freefall. Yet, most of us are heading towards a crash.
Regardless of any year that has come before, I am absolutely certain that you can make your 40s the most vital, healthiest and happiest decade of your life—and to do so is not simply your option but your responsibility. How you live from 40 to 50 will most certainly dictate how strong and vital you are the rest of your life. And you not only owe it to yourself to set yourself up for a life of strength, energy and freedom well into your 80s, you also owe it to your family, your community, and even your country—to all who depend on us to be a source of strength and a force for good in this world. Let’s face it, as John F. Kennedy said, “It’s not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” To which I’d add, “A stronger U for a stronger US makes for a stronger USA. Strength truly begins with YOU.”
Want more Shawn? Discover the Zen of strength, write a blueprint for your fitness success, and get motivated for your transformation.
For deeper insights and game changing fitness tips visit http://mystrengthforlife.com/meet-shawn/
Photography: Windstar, windstarstudios.com
Grooming: Jessica Chynoweth, purelymakeup.com