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By Michael Torchia
Fitness Advisor to Hollywood’s most elite celebrities
With Bill Dobbins

Do you know what advertising campaign is considered one of the most successful of all time?  It’s that old Charles Atlas “Hey, skinny - your ribs are showing” advertising a mail order muscle building program.  When I was a kid those ads were everywhere, in all sorts of magazines and comic books.  It was one of the longest-lasting advertising campaigns ever.

In the heyday of this campaign youngsters were mostly concerned with building muscle and getting stronger.   This was before we were faced with the “age of obesity” and all the problems that involves.  As a teenager, I certainly wanted to be stronger and have more muscle – what kid that age doesn’t.  But I was a long way from skinny.  A very long way, indeed.

Of course, health, fitness and exercise have been a part of my life for a very long time now.  But people who know me as a competitive bodybuilder, personal trainer to the stars or a fitness advocate are usually surprised to learn I used to be a “fat kid.”  At that point nobody in my life would have expected me to become a bodybuilding champion in just a few years.  It wouldn’t have seemed possible.  But I made a promise to myself that “I will never be fat again” and I turned that decision into the reality of how I have lived my life.

It started for me in school when I played basketball for a coach who was so intent on winning that he was not about to put a slow, overweight kid into the game.  Holding back tears, I pleaded, “But Coach, you promised.”  “Maybe next year, Pugsly”

I was devastated.  I couldn’t hide my humiliation at home.  In an attempt at keeping up my morale, my mother signed me up at the YMCA gym.  At one time I had shown her an advertisement for the gym with a picture of a bodybuilder.  I had told her, “Ma, I want to look like this guy.”

Joining that gym was the first in a series of steps that took me to competitive bodybuilding and then on to become a personal trainer to a variety of major stars and celebrities.   So when people come to me and tell me they think betting fit and changing their lifestyle will be too difficult or they aren’t sure they have to ability to make that much difference to their health and fitness, I know exactly what they feel like.  That’s a place I’ve been and a road I’ve traveled in my own life.

I know from traveling all over the country that there are more and more people who are making the same sorts promises to themselves that I did. They want to lose weight, to get in shape, to lower their blood pressure, to be more active and improve their athletic performance.  They want to look better, feel better and adopt a lifestyle in which “wellness” is a priority.

However, its seems that nowadays we seem to live in two mutually exclusive, contradictory realities.  One the one hand the “fitness revolution” has motivated millions to dedicate themselves to getting in shape.  There are gyms in every city and town and no shortage of personal trainers as well as books and DVDs about all aspects of fitness, exercise and diet.  

But at the same time we are faced with an epidemic of obesity, with 40 million Americans considered obese and three million morbidly obese.  These numbers mean a marked increase in the prevalence of medical problems like heart disease, stroke and type II diabetes – which means a significant increase in associated health costs.

But it is a simple fact that whatever the state of your health and fitness, whether you are just a little overweight or have a lot of pounds to lose, wanting to start an exercise program or are already working out and looking forward to getting even better results, as the old proverb says: a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  When I was a teenager I stopped being a fat kind by taking action, not just by wanting to.  As the ads declare, at a certain point you have to “just do it.”

But lots of people want to get healthier and improve their fitness, in fact are desperate to do so.  The problem is they just don’t know how to go about it.  It just seems way too complicated and the obstacles way too intimidating.  They need somebody to give them the simple facts regarding exercise, diet and health so they can make intelligent and informed decisions about how to alter their lifestyles for the better.

Which is what this book is all about.   I am constantly being asked in seminars and events all over the country questions like
“Mike, what kind of exercise program do you recommend?”
“Do I need to work out in a gym or can I do it at home?”
“What is the best kind of aerobic exercise to help lose weight?”
“What kind of diet program should I use to get lean like you did?”

Actually, the answers to these questions are fairly simple – but that doesn’t mean they are intuitive.  Sometimes you have to have specialized information and can’t rely just on “common sense.”  In fact, common sense really refers to being able to drawn on your experience in order to understand things and make decisions.  The kind of knowledge that makes common sense a useful approach to making plans and solving problems has to be developed over time.

My goal with this book is to give readers the benefit of my experience and knowledge and provide what really is a common sense guide to fitness, exercise, diet and health. A kind of consumer’s manual to allow anyone and everyone to make enlightened choices as to how to include a better level of fitness and health in their everyday lifestyle.

Trying hard is usually a necessary ingredient in achieving any kind of success.  But trying smart means you will be much more effective and efficient when it comes to attaining your goals.  I had to learn a lot to go from fat kid to bodybuilding champion to fitness and health expert.   This book is my way of sharing that knowledge with you.

I saw a science-fiction movie the other day about a computer run amok that was threatening to take over the world and destroy all of humanity.  The hero defeated the machine by subjecting it to such a tremendous information overload that it broke down trying to process all that data.

It seems to me that a lot of us are in the same situation as that computer.   Never before in history have human beings had access to so much information from so many sources – the media, computers, the Internet, social media, smart phones, iPads and more.   It’s like being in a room with dozens of people all shouting at you at the same time.  There is so much “noise” created that it’s hard to hear anything at all.

In addition, so much of the information you get is contradictory.  Especially when it comes to health, fitness, exercise and diet.  An exercise physiologist explains that sit-up and leg raises aren’t actually primary abdominal exercises.  Then you pick up a fitness magazine that feature photos of a model with great abs doing sit-ups.  A nutritionist advises that most of us get enough protein in our normal diets – while supplement companies warn us we need to take in extra protein to get results from our workouts.   Everybody has an opinion, all sorts of claims are made, and lots of people are trying to sell us something.

Actually, many seemingly contradictory claims are not really that much at odds.  The average person who does moderate exercise a few days a week will have different needs than a marathon runner or serious competitive athlete.  People with slow metabolisms that put on body fat very require a different approach to exercise and diet than do those with a genetic predisposition to stay very lean with little attention to how much they eat.  Different strokes for different folks.  What you need to maintain a Ferrari is different than taking care of the family sedan.

We can do a lot to change our bodies and our health.   But there are limits.  We are all subject to the limits of out genetics.  If you don’t believe in genetics then try getting taller.  But if you know what you are doing you can be leaner than you are or more muscular or stronger or more flexible or develop greater endurance.  The trick is to understand the principles of how you get from Point A to Point B in your own search for improved health and fitness.

This is why understanding the basics are so important for most people.  If you’re planning on competing in the Olympics or entering a fitness or bodybuilding shows you have probably already worked on gathering a lot of knowledge.   But most people don’t want to invest so much time and effort in becoming experts in all the aspects of health, fitness and diet. 

And that includes major celebrities, movie and music stars.

“Hi, I’m Mike Torchia, and I’ll be your personal trainer today.”  As a motivator and fitness expert, I’ve been saying that to celebrity clients like Matt Damon, Al Pacino, and Kim Cattrall for nearly thirty years.  I’ve learned that Hollywood stars, just like everyday people, struggle to lose weight, look good, and lead healthier lifestyles.  And for them, as for anyone else with a busy life, moving forward one step at a time truly does work. It’s the accumulation of seemingly minor positive steps that go a long way to developing a healthy lifestyle.

Celebrities, movie stars, CEOs and others I train hire me because they can count on me to set up training and diet programs and to advise them on a healthy lifestyle they can actually put into practice.  Like all of us they have other things to do, other concerns on their minds.  They are often involved in projects in which millions of dollars are at stake and can’t afford to be distracted. But you don’t have to be a movie star or celebrity to be in that same position.   Everybody has lots to do, lots of concerns to deal with and would like to improve how they look and feel without getting the equivalent of a Ph.D. in order to achieve their goals.

And setting the right goals is also important.  There is a movie actress I’ve worked with who called me a number of times over the years, tell me “Mike, I have an awards ceremony to go to and I need to lost 10 pounds and slim down right away.”  Or she’d get a movie role and want to look her best in front of the cameras.  After helping her to do this several times I finally said to her, “You know, you wouldn’t have to go through this over and over and subject yourself to so much stress and anxiety if you could adjust your lifestyle so that you didn’t put on those ten extra pounds.   Life would be much easier for you.”

We had known each other long enough that she decided to trust me and take my advice.  I put her on a program that kept her weight under control – and she also found this helped her to feel better and to have more energy.  The point is that she had a lot of discipline and was able to crash diet and do a lot of exercise in order to prepare for movies or public appearances.  What I convinced her to do was to train smart as well as hard and set more comprehensive goals than just being able to fit into a dress twice a year.

And that’s the kind of approach to health and lifestyle that everyone needs to adopt.  The purpose of this book is to give you the same basic information I’ve been able to impart to my clients over the years to help you do just that.  I will suggest programs to follow that the average person can do without major disruptions to their lives, without having to constantly look up terms in textbooks or spend large amounts of money. 

It seems to me that engaging in a healthy lifestyle is a lot like recycling.  People will recycle if the city makes it easy for them – provides recycling bins and regular pickups.  But most people don’t have an interest in gathering up and sorting trash on their own and delivering it personally to a recycling site.  In the same way, people will be motivated to take better care of themselves, to exercise and lose weight, to be more active and pursue a healthier lifestyle if they are provided with a simple, easy to understand and to follow set of guidelines.

And that’s what “On The Road To Fitness” is all about.  You still have to do the work but now you’ll have a clear idea of how to set goals and to pursue a program to achieve them.

When we talk about fitness we are generally talking about being in good physical condition.  Being strong, having endurance and having good muscle tone with relatively low body at. 

This chapter explores in more depth what each category of fitness really means and what kind of exercise and diet programs are best for becoming fit – and how fitness relates to being healthy.

Exercise is physical activity designed to improve some basic aspect of physical performance – such as strength, endurance, flexibility or balance.  All exercise involves physical activity but not a given percentage of activity is designed to actually improve some aspect of performance improvement.

Different types of exercise create different times of physical improvement and while all exercise involves physical activity not all kind of activity is actually good exercise.

Resistance training for the muscles
Cardio training for the heart, lungs and circulatory system
Stretching for flexibility
Agility training for balance and coordination.

Resistance training is any activity in which the muscles are contracted against resistance.  Progressive-resistance training involves gradually increasing the resistance involved to continue to challenge muscles, as they get stronger.

The most efficient and effective form of progressive-resistance training is the system of exercise developed by serious bodybuilders over the past 50 years.  There are other ways of building muscle than training with weights in a gym but this is the most efficient

Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise is anything, which stimulates the heart, lungs and circulatory system to deliver additional oxygen to the muscles to help support energy metabolism.   To be aerobic and exercise has to be of low enough intensity that the body is able to continue to supply sufficient oxygen to the muscles over an extended period of time.  Jogging is aerobic.  Sprinting is anaerobic, meaning the effort is too intense for the body to continue to supply enough oxygen to continue for more than a short time.

Flexibility refers to the ability of a body part to move through a great range of motion.  What stops you from being flexible is the nature of your own body.  Muscles and tendons are programmed to contract against stretching to protect against damage.  Stretching or flexibility training gradually resets these limits so the range of motion is extended.

There are programs of stretching exercises.  Yoga is an ancient and very effective system of stretching.  Modern athletes use more scientific approaches such as (get name).

Agility refers to your ability to move with nimbleness, to move easily and change direction.  When you are in better shape, when your body is stronger, leaner and more flexible your agility improves.  But there are all sorts of exercises, drills and sports that improve agility.  When you see football players running through a series of tires you’re watching an agility drill.  Boxers, basketball players and other athletes also train for increased agility.

Body composition is the amount of lean body mass (muscle) compared to the amount of stored body fat.  The body stores energy as fat when you take in more calories (food energy measured in terms of heat) than you expend in basic metabolism and activity. 

There are three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrate and fat.   The micronutrients are vitamins and minerals.  The idea diet supplies you with enough calories to sustain your activities but not so many as to make you gain body fat, an adequate source of energy and a minimum of good intake that could be injurious to your heath.

Most fast food is high in fat, sugar and salt – all nutrients are were essential to the survival of our distant ancestors but which take in large amounts act on us today like a drug and create something very much like an addiction.

Being fit is part of a healthy lifestyle because it helps prevent lifestyle related illness like heart disease and Type II diabetes.  Problems like heart disease and high blood pressure are less likely or not as severe when you work out and watch our diet.  Exercising and attention diet prevent obesity.  Focusing on fitness helps protect you against bad health habits like excess alcohol consumption, smoking or taking drugs. 

There is no absolute way to prevent illness as we age but being fit and healthy reduces the risk of many kinds of disease and makes us younger and more energetic as we get older.  There is a reason that 40 is the new 25 and 60 is the new 40.  In the past what we thought of, as aging was largely the deterioration of the body over time due to poor health and exercise habits.  Staying in shape keeps you from getting old before your years.

As I said above, a lot of what we think of, as “common sense” really isn’t because a lot of beliefs as to how things work are not based on any real experience.   So I see a lot of myths and misconceptions regarding health, fitness, exercise and diet in my seminars around the country.

Here are a few of them:

1.  There is one "best" way to exercise
2.  There is one ideal diet for everyone.
3. The longer you work out, the bigger you get.
4. Heavy weight for mass, high reps for definition
5.  You need to "bulk up" to gain muscle size.
6.  I can overcome genetics with enough hard work
7.  Exercise machines are more "high-tech" than free weights.
8.  Supplements don't make any difference.  Or Supplements make all the difference
9.  I can lose weight and/or get leaner and harder by restricting my water intake.
10.  Restricting my water or salt intake will help me get defined
11. Men and women need to train fundamentally differently.
12. I’m too old to get fit.
13. Exercising primarily to look better is just vanity.
14. Lots of high endurance exercise will prevent heart disease.

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