Elite and ordinary
Take a good look at the above picture of Marcus Santi leaping over a hurdle. Now face the facts: You are not going to look like this.
Fitness programs and apparatus are often promoted by incredibly fit men and women with the implied or spoken message that you will look like them if you follow their simple routines.
The problem is that their routines are not simple. Exercise routines take hours of disciplined practice every week and must be combined with rigorous dieting and God-given good health.
Santi, 38, a personal trainer in Memphis, is an elite runner, lifelong athlete, and all-around jock. In his promotional video, he is running up a sand dune, hopping up on a dresser, doing squats on one leg, and sprinting in a harness. He works out six to eight hours a week, plus the time he spends training others.
"The key as you get older is time management and energy issues," he said. "What I do is try to kill as many birds as I can with one stone by combining lifting with aerobic benefits and flexibility. My heart rate is constantly up, and I am always moving."
Santi started running track when he was 5, starting taking tennis lessons at the Racquet Club when he was 11, played competitive soccer, and ran the 400-meter hurdles at the University of Memphis. Now 6'-1" and 170 pounds, he has never been out of shape.
He takes one or two days a week off — "rest is part of the program" — but never Sunday. No matter what he did Saturday night, he goes to the track and meets his buddies Sunday afternoon to do interval training. You can see the results.
— John Branston
Justin Fox Burks
Fitness and coping with grief
There are harder things than losing weight. Moving on after the death of a family member is one of them. For Justin Fox Burks, a fitness quest was part of coming to grips with his grief over the death of his mother.
Burks, a local photographer whose pictures often appear in this newspaper, is just short of six feet tall, weighs 195 pounds, and competes in triathlons. Two years ago, he weighed 265 pounds despite being a vegetarian and leading a reasonably active lifestyle.
"I was riding my bike and doing the things I thought I should be doing but not with the frequency I should have been doing them," said Burks, 34 years old. "I was eating all the right things but with lots of cheese on them and with too much bread."
Combining running short distances with walking, he worked up to a one-mile run, then a 5K race on the Fourth of July, which took him 35 minutes. In October, his mother was killed in a car accident. Justin and other family members dedicated themselves to raising money in her name for the St. Jude Half Marathon.
"Running became for me a great release to keep me busy and direct my energies," he said. "I definitely became more focused."
With his weight down to 220 pounds, he set his sights on finishing a triathlon and the Chicago Marathon in 2009, both of which he completed. With more training, he changed his diet. He made a $200 weight-loss bet with his brother and their father, which he lost. But he dropped his weight to 195 pounds by going vegan, eliminating beer and alcohol, and watching his sugar intake. He now has modified his diet to "vegan until 6 p.m."
"I eat fresh fruit and vegetables but no dairy until 6, then I will have a pizza or enchiladas after 6, so I never feel deprived."
— John Branston
Fighting the "Freshman 15"
Adventure, innovation, and a regular sleep schedule
College is about intake. You soak up information and skills like an intellectual sponge. And more often than not, you soak up more food and alcohol. The days when your mother force-fed you balanced meals and your high school gym teacher made you run laps seem far away. Before long, your pants are starting to strain at the hips. And really, can you afford new pants?
The best way to stay fit, for me, turned out to be through activities. Many of my friends like biking, so group trips to the park or the river became a regular activity. I spent money on concerts or movie tickets instead of snacks for my room. Cafeteria innovation became a competition: A spinach-mushroom quesadilla uses four different stations, while a grilled chicken salad uses only two. And as simple as it seems, creating a regular work and sleep schedule was the most effective way to get (most of) my assignments done well and on time, while keeping my energy up and my snacking down.
The other strategy that's gotten me through four years of college is cutting myself a break. If I've been in the library for four hours reading Nietzsche's attack on philology, I find a friend, bike to the park, and talk about it. When my mother sends me a huge care package full of junk food and baked goods, I share it, but I save some for myself. When I've had a hard week, I make mimosas with friends, and the next day — broke again — we're back to drinking water. (It's free.) The point, really, is to stay active, avoid monotony, and not think about it so much. If the "freshman five" creeps up, you'll be able to deal with it before it becomes 15.