Raising the Bar
I grew up being one of those kids who was a Jack of All Trades, Master of None. Everything from sports, to school, to theater, to singing…I was always up there, but never the best. Like many of you reading this, I always had the desire to be truly great at something. I always had the feeling I was meant for more. But nothing had quite clicked.
Flash forward to college in the late 1990s. This is where I found dancing—and more specifically, swing dancing. I discovered a world of Lindy Hop, Balboa, and Charleston that let me combine my athletic background with my musical and creative background. I was immediately obsessed. I felt this was what I had been waiting for.
My obsession led me to my mission: to be the best at swing dancing. I undertook this quest for nobody but myself, because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Finally, I was going to go big or go home.
In the beginning, looking at the top dancers, it seemed impossible to be as good as they were. This dance was still a mystery to me and a puzzle I might never solve. However, as I put in effort, I found myself improving at a rapid rate. Seemingly before I knew it, those same people I had looked up to now thought of me as a peer.
But success did not come easy. What I did behind closed doors was work as hard and smart as I could to get the highest eventual reward, because to be the best at something, you have to have the best skills, the best technique. The easier road, which most people take, is paved with average technique and average work ethic—a dancer on this road might excel quickly in the beginning but at a certain point their skills reach a plateau, where they might stay indefinitely.
After years of being good but not great at many things, I finally understood that crafting a skill is like building an amazing house: You must lay a solid foundation, have a vision for what your end product will look like, and then put in the blood, sweat, and tears to achieve it. There is no quick and easy path to greatness. It is built with will, persistence, drive, fortitude, and toil. When it came to dancing, this meant I invested thousands of hours in learning, practicing, studying, copying, tearing down, rebuilding, creating, and inventing. I dealt with nasty dance politics that tried to run me out of the scene rather than succumb to them. I was on a mission, come hell or high water.
Whether or not I succeeded on my quest, I’ll let you be the judge. But I’ve made a career out of my obsession, and I’m very pleased with what I’ve accomplished. I also don’t believe this is a mission with an end. I’m still on this journey. I will never be done and will never settle—that’s what comes with obsession.
From Dancing to Fitness
Just under 10 years ago, I was tempted by the allure of the fitness world. Although dancing had kept me in pretty good shape, I wanted to be better. At first, I would go to the gym and have no idea what I was doing. I tried, but there was no consistency. Eventually, I was introduced to workout DVDs, which started to give me a foundation to work from. It took quite a while for me to develop the habits to create change and progress…but once I got a taste of that progress I found myself obsessed once again. I was the guy reading all the fitness magazines and trying to learn as much as I could. This led me to become a Certified Personal Trainer. I was thirsty for knowledge and understanding. It got to a point that if I wasn’t in the gym or working out, I didn’t feel right.
This culminated in my creation of JitterBlast Fitness, a dance fitness program that combined my two loves. I designed JitterBlast to my own standards and vision. I didn’t want this to be just another typical dance fitness routine. Like my dancing, it needed to be unique, something special. I’m really excited with where JitterBlast is heading these days. But I still felt that I could do better on my own personal fitness journey.
However, going to the gym is tough when you practically live on the road (or in the air) because of your dance career. I love my job, but work-life balance and consistency are qualities that I struggle to find. Not to mention battling jet lag, lack of sleep; adjusting to staying in random people’s houses, hotels, and holes in the wall; and having very little time to myself. This makes consistent exercise an almost impossible dream.
After many years, I’ve learned to make do with what I can. I bring elastic bands, a yoga mat, and other portable supplies with me on the road just in case. When I can carve out time for myself I’ll try to get in a workout, even if I’m exhausted. You may have seen me working out in a random corner of a hotel or using my room as makeshift gym. No matter what, it’s never the same as being at my home gym. I do the best with what I can.
Yet more than anything, diet has been my biggest challenge when it comes to fitness. I love food. Oh, and I have a sweet tooth. Growing up and into my mid-20s, I was a fast food junkie. My breakfast was Mountain Dew and a muffin, and the rest of the day’s meals consisted of drive-thru or pizza. But as I got older, my metabolism started to slow down, and those muffins began to show in my cheeks and my belly. (Did I mention I love food? Nom nom nom.)
Even though you hear it time and time again, it’s true that diet plays such a major role in any fitness regimen. You can’t have one without the other for results. I understood it in theory, but until I began to implement it, I didn’t comprehend the full meaning.
For those of you who have ventured into the traveling lifestyle, you know full well how difficult a diet can be: There’s airport food, being at places and events with very little options, and not eating at the times you need to, not to mention that fact that you can’t get the right balance of protein and veggies and the right carbs. Half the weight of my luggage seems to be filled with my protein shakes, bars, nuts, and anything else I can bring. It’s not ideal, but it’s all I can do. (My life seems to be about protein…so much protein.)
The Current Quest
About a month ago I found myself with an almost four-week time period at home (as rare as a good Nicolas Cage movie), with the only disruption being a welcomed JitterBlast Instructor Training in the middle of it. As you’ve probably realized by this point, especially if you know me personally, I’m very goal oriented and like to give myself challenges…and I don’t do anything halfway, not anymore.
So I decided that I wanted to spend those four weeks developing a real 6-pack—not just small outlines, but a real one. Of course, I posted the challenge “on the line” to hold myself accountable. I decided cap off my four weeks with a fitness photo shoot. Whether or not I succeeded with the 6-pack, this photo shoot was happening, and I was going to post pictures for the world to see and judge. (No pressure.) I also wanted to build my chest a bit to create the perfect symmetry I was looking for,
because symmetry is everything in fitness.
Now, if any of you have tried to build muscle while also becoming leaner, you’ll know this is a very tricky balance. It takes the perfect calibration of nutrition and exercise.
Here’s my “before” picture. Just like all before pictures, it requires bad lighting, no smile, just-woke-up bags under the eyes, and no holding in of the gut.
I have no idea what my body fat percentage was to start with, but I wanted to know the final result. I scheduled a Bod Pod test at Vanguard University’s kinesiology department the day before the photo shoot. This is a very interesting test that uses air pressure and other awesome science things to give a very accurate read on body fat (gotta love science). Most male athletes are between 12-15% body fat, and 8-12% is considered lean. Below that is considered very lean (and really low is considered unhealthy).
To work on my 6-pack, I did five days on, one day off. I love going to my gym and I added cardio to most of days. My main source of cardio was (surprise, surprise) JitterBlast. It burns quite a lot of calories. On the days I didn’t teach JitterBlast, I did morning-fasted stairclimber or running. Practicing a Lindy Hop Showcase routine with partner and fellow JitterBlast instructor Nikki Marvin also added a bit of cardio. I also added an ab workout five to six days a week.
I did supersets on many of the workouts to maximize fat burn. I also implemented pyramid training to all barbell exercises (adding weight to each set). Rest intervals were usually between 45 seconds and a minute, and on the heavy lifting exercises, occasionally up to 2 minutes if needed.
Oh, the diet. The hardest part of it all. I ate clean, cutting out sugar, alcohol, and everything else fun you can think of. I started off with a high-protein, average-carb intake six to eight times a day. This means I was eating or taking shakes every two hours or so. This combined with the cardio allowed me to start dropping fat and building the muscle groups I wanted. The last 10 days were the most crucial. It involved systematically dropping my carb intake while keeping a high protein diet. I measured and calculated everything to allow me to drop the final fat I needed for the photo shoot. In the final days I switched to a high-carb, lower protein diet in order to fill out the muscles and I also cut out all sodium to encourage water shedding in the last two days.
The hardest part was the food prepping. I couldn’t eat out because it wouldn’t follow what I needed. I have a very irregular schedule so I felt like I was constantly prepping and prepackaging food for the day…for six to eight meals a day. Eventually I started to get efficient at it. After all is said and done, I think I created some good lasting habits with this process…even though it’s still a pain.
The Photo Shoot
I have to admit, I love being in front of the camera. I feel comfortable there. I grew up in theater and film, so it’s a natural environment for me. Funnily enough, I’m an introvert. Most people see me in dance world and think I’m outgoing, but I experience myself as quite the opposite. You’ll see me out dancing and having a blast, but as soon as I step off the dance floor you can see me go into my shell. A term that Mike Meyer’s wife called him and that I always liked was a “situational extrovert.” Give me the right environment and I will release the Kraken—working out is one of the ways I recharge my introvert batteries.
Some realities of fitness modeling are not talked about as much. Tanning…nobody wants a pasty model. But the most obnoxious is the waxing and shaving. Fitness models don’t show body hair. I’m doing great with the top of my head, but this is the first time I’ve ever shaved my legs. First time around I only had a few nicks and cuts (cue first name jokes) and I missed a few spots (hey, I have big legs). I must give mad props to all the ladies out there who shave their legs on a regular basis. Mad props. (Do people still say that?)
I was both excited and nervous to go into this shoot. I wasn’t 100% if I’d be able to pull it off and have the body necessary to make a shoot like this successful. I was working my butt off, but could I achieve the great body I wanted?
The final tests.
First, my body fat percentage. What did I get it down to? Drum roll please…10% body fat.
Not bad for my first time around.
And now the photos. I’m proud of what I was able to do this first time. I want to send a big shout out to Stephanie Albao of Intuitive Images (www.intuitiveimagesphotography.com) and also LeeAnn Adams for the help and JitterBlast photos. But now, bearing all for everyone to see:
I came away from the photo shoot with an amazing high. The endorphins were aplenty. Quite honestly, I’d love to pursue a career in fitness modeling. Since I already have a career in dance, and JitterBlast is starting to spread around the world, I really have nothing to lose. The worst they can say is no. And since I’m a persistent SOB, I’ll eventually give them no choice but to say yes. Never give up. Never surrender.
***edited by Chelsea Bromstad Lee