In a conversation with trainer Phil Evelyn, Polari learns just how health and fitness magazines create false hopes, and how he advocates an effective alternative that, with a little patience, results in tangible as well as sustainable benefits. His approach is holistic minus, he tells us, all the usual hippy connotations that go with the word …
What is at the core of your approach to fitness training?
Firstly, I don’t want to be Men’s Health magazine, and say you can have a 6-pack in 6 weeks, because you can’t. It’s not possible. My approach is not, “come to me and I’ll get you super fit, come to me and I’ll make your arms ten times the size they are now”, it’s “come to me and I will make you feel better about yourself by adjusting your diet, by getting you in the gym and getting your fitness rate up, by making you feel happier about life the universe and everything”. That’s where the word ‘holistic’ comes in.
What does that entail? Say I came to you and said, ok, I’m about a stone heavier than I used to be, I need to sort that out.
First we need to find out how fit you are, how fit you feel you are, and what it is you want to focus on. In the back of my head I’ll do an assessment. We’ll look at blood pressure, heart rate, to make sure everything is ok, and that if I put you on a treadmill at 12 miles an hour you’re not going to keel over. Then it’s a mutual decision: this is what I think you should do, but let’s find out what you enjoy. Some people hate the treadmill. I would adjust what needs to be done to what you like to do. Let’s find out what you can at least tolerate.
How do you deal with the quick-fix mentality that people have, thanks to the promises you see on magazine covers? How do you handle people’s expectations?
You have to downplay it. It’s a constant repetition: you do understand that when Men’s Health say you can have a 6-pack in 6 weeks they’re saying that to people who almost have one in the first place. They’re not saying it to people who have got an inch or so of padding around their middles.
You don’t want to dishearten people. You go in stages and slowly build it up, start with losing 2lbs, then 4, then 8 so people understand the goal they have is achievable and realistic within the time frame they have set.
How do you think the supplement culture affects expectations? By which I mean the vitamins, sea kelp, Q10, amino acids, all the additions that Holland & Barrett tell us we need.
I think that if you think it works for you do it; but I don’t, unless you’re Arnie or Linford Christie. It’s the quick fix culture. You have a burger so then you have a supplement to fill in the gaps. Or you had a few beers the night before so you have a supplement rather than making yourself a good breakfast of oats and fresh fruit. Worst of all to me is filling yourself with vitamins, amino acids or creatine to boost your performance before going to the gym. It may but again, unless you’re Linford Christie you’re not likely to notice except through the placebo effect. Hence why I say if you think it works and you have spare cash, go ahead but I’d rather you spent it on something that worked … namely me!
How do you manage the psychological side of people’s food habits, and that sense of need that comes in when you give something up?
To me it’s not about an overnight change. If you say you’ll stop eating carbs on Monday morning by Wednesday afternoon you’ll be screaming, “I want to have cake”. You’d want to, say, stop eating bread one week, and then the next week stop eating pasta, then change your potatoes to sweet potatoes. Then once a week go a little crazy. Whatever makes you feel like you’ve had a treat.
Slowly, when it starts to pay off, you stop bloating, and then when you go have an entire 12” pizza on a Sunday, you’ll feel it and wonder if it was worth it.
Is it also about giving people alternatives?
It’s part of the process of “don’t cut out, make a change”. And so you move from white rice to basmati rice, because it has a lower GI, and then from white basmati to brown. Change from sugar to Agave as again it has a lower GI. From catching the bus all the way to work to getting off a stop early and walking. Maybe you don’t cut out bread, you just change to whole grain. Maybe you can’t live without cup cakes so change something else to compensate, run longer, do an extra set when you workout. This is about people’s happiness not just about their fitness, although hopefully the latter helps with the former.
What about bagels?
I say, go to The Beigel Shop on Brick Lane, it’s the best bagel you’ve ever eaten in your life, and the next time you go to Tesco you won’t want one of theirs: it’s just bread shaped like a bagel.