Inspiring ‘Biggest Loser’ Trainer Gets Minds, Bodies in Shape
By Leo Smith
Roger Schultz freely admits he was just a “fat ass” when he began working with trainer Bob Harper on last season’s TV weight-loss competition “The Biggest Loser.”
Schultz, a former all-conference lineman and strength coach for the University of Alabama football team, felt comfortable with himself, but at 363 pounds he knew he had to make some changes. He knew, too, that he needed someone tough to whip him into shape.
Fans of the NBC show, the new season of which premieres at 8 p.m. Tuesday, might think he chose the wrong trainer. Jillian Michaels, Harper’s colleague on the show, has a tougher reputation. But after observing their styles for awhile, Schultz knew Harper had the approach he needed.
“The reality is, Bob is an extremely tough trainer,” says Schultz, who lost 164 pounds and finished second on the reality show. “What Bob brings to the table is, yeah, he’ll work your ass hard, but … he taps into your self-worth. Bob is kind of there to guide you through the transition.”
Harper has extended that guidance to the masses with his new book “Are You Ready! Take Charge, Lose Weight, Get in Shape, and Change Your Life Forever” (Broadway Books). In it, he combines the mind- body approach to fitness that Schultz found so successful.
Getting into shape is a process that involves what Harper terms the “inner compass” — determining if you’re really ready to get into shape, accepting yourself and forgiving yourself, loving yourself and changing your internal dialogue.
“When I first started working on this show, I thought it was going to be simple — show (contestants) how I wanted them to eat, how to work out … until I really got to sit down and work with them,” Harper said. “I found out just how difficult it was for them to find their self-
worth, to get to the technical stuff. They were finding every horrible thing to say about themselves, and this is how they would live their lives.”
The trick, Harper said, was to help them turn that negative thinking around.
“OK, this is the body you have, this is the body God has given you. What can we do to get you feeling better, stronger?” he said. “It was about finding a way to get people to forgive themselves.”
That change of attitude, he said, opens the door for improvement.
“Once you cut yourself some slack, you give yourself the opportunity to grow, and then you can make lasting changes,” Harper said. “Then it’s about finding something, finding one thing that they can love about themselves, that they can appreciate. That’s one thing I learned that is a very helpful tool. When you get someone to start feeling better about themselves, then the sky’s the limit.”
Harper, 43, got into training in the 1980s while living in Nashville, Tenn., in an apartment next door to a gym. Though initially intimidated, he said, he eventually ventured into the fitness center and felt a connection.
“I had graduated from high school and was figuring out life on my own,” he said. “I worked at a bank, in a credit department of a bank. It was one of those kind of things where I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. The gym was like a beacon calling me — God tapping me on the shoulder, saying, ‘This is what you should be doing.’”
Harper said he’s in the best shape of his life now, but can relate to the frustrations his contestants — and the public — often feel when trying to get into shape.
“It’s definitely a gradual process,” he said. “Plateaus are inevitable. It’s getting people to focus on the big picture. It is discouraging, but they just have to stay on track.”
One of the main draws of “The Biggest Loser” series is the weigh- in — on a giant scale — at the end of each episode. It’s dramatic and helps to determine each week’s winners. Harper said he finds it ironic, given that he generally encourages people to ignore the number on the scale.
“It’s about not allowing so much power in the number coming off the scale,” he said. “You have to look at the technical side, too. How are your clothes fitting? I can’t wait for the day I get to blow up a scale.
“I think it’s important, when you’re working with someone who’s never done this before — I don’t want to shock people into this,” Harper said. “It’s about uplifting people, not breaking them down. My job is to motivate them, that as bad as it’s gotten — I’ve sat with a man who’s 421 pounds — I can show them that anyone can do it. I’m giving them that empowerment. That’s what it’s all about. With any relationship, it’s about the foundation you create at the beginning.”
It works for Schultz.
“I tease about the little Bob over my shoulder — WWBD — What Would Bob Do?” he said. “He lives how he preaches, and he preaches how he lives.”
Leo Smith (310) 540-5511, Ext. 417; firstname.lastname@example.org
THE BIGGEST LOSER
>When: The new season premieres at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
>Where: NBC (Channel 4).
ADVICE FROM THE TRAINER
Trainer Bob Harper will get contestants into shape through a program of diet and exercise beginning Tuesday on the new season of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” Here, he offers tips for starting your own fitness program.
ESTABLISH A ROUTINE
It’s important to actually schedule your exercise time, Harper says, especially if you’ve never worked out before. “That, to me, is the biggest thing,” he says.
DON’T FORGET THE DIET
“Try to get off sugar immediately, because of all the empty calories,” Harper says. And consider cutting portions in half. “When you cut everything in half, you will absolutely lose weight,” he says.
START WITH CARDIO
Buy yourself a pair of sneakers and just go for a walk before work or at lunch. “People ask me, ‘What do I need to do, Bob? Do I need to get a gym membership? A trainer?’” Harper says. “No, just relax and get started.”
WORK UP TO THE WEIGHTS
If you’re exercising for the first time, wait about two months and then add in weight training, Harper says. “Fat and muscle don’t like living together,” he says. “The more muscle there is, the more fat burning there is. When you start weight training, don’t think that you’re going to start getting all muscle-y. You’re just going to start burning fat off.” Some trainers suggest using heavy weights and limited repetitions, others prefer lighter weights and increased repetitions. Harper combines the two approaches. “I like heavier weights and lots of reps,” he says. “Combine those two and it works really well.”
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