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Ten fitness questions for John Rowley

By Angela Arsenault
Posted On Mar 16, 2015

By Andrew C. Stone


Top trainer and author John Rowley recognizes it’s hard to get started on the road to fitness, but that doesn’t mean you have an excuse to stay put. The director of wellness at the International Sports Science Association (ISSA) Director of Wellness, this Raleigh, North Carolina-based fitness pro overcame extreme adversity through his singular dedication to fitness and study of kinesiology, anatomy, nutrition, and exercise. He went from being a janitor in Brooklyn to a hotshot Senior VP at a major Manhattan real estate firm before assuming ownership of the famous gym where Pumping Iron (1977) had been filmed. In the years since, he’s written the best-selling books Old School New Body, The Power of Positive Fitness, and Climb Your Ladder of Success Without Running Out of Gas; imparted his fitness philosophies on his website, Johnrowley.net; and formulated the UX3 Perfect Meal Formula. Here, Rowley shares his take on the traps that keep us from sustaining our optimal health, and the guidelines that have brought him decades of success.

NEW YOU: John, what’s the driving force behind your fitness philosophy?

JOHN ROWLEY: I got into this type of fitness out of desperation. I was a collegiate athlete—a very high-level runner—but had a near-fatal car accident in 1979. I got all my teeth knocked out, my breastbone split in half, and my nose basically ripped off. I needed to fix my body—that was the motivation for getting into the shape I’m in. I needed to find a way to use my right hand and to walk again. I took a job as a janitor in Brooklyn and starting going to the gym where the film Pumping Iron, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, was filmed. As a side note, I went on to own that gym. Most people don’t have such tragedy in their lives; their insulin levels are just too high. They’re beat up mentally and physically, and their energy level is blow.

NY: Now, most people—especially those out of shape—can’t identify with the guys in Pumping Iron. What’s your philosophy for getting to the gym floor and sticking with it?

John Rowley
Top trainer and author John Rowley

JR: Keep it simple. You don’t need to be extreme like the Rock. You’ve just got to get into the gym, on a plan that works for you. You’ll stimulate your metabolism by stimulating muscle growth.

Remember, muscle burns calories and fat doesn’t. Muscle shapes your body. You might lose the weight, but without any muscle you won’t have any shape.

NY: How about diet? What are your do’s and don’ts?

JR: Eat all the lean protein you want—the fewer the legs, the better. What I mean by that is, the best is fish, followed by chicken and turkey. Eat all the green veggies you want. Avoid junk food—and if you want to know what qualifies, ask a five-year-old what they like to eat most. Fruit will never make you fat, but if you already are fat and have a problem with your insulin, fruit can be a “cautious carbohydrate.” That said, it’s the last one you cut out. If everybody just ate protein and vegetables, we could solve the obesity problem in a few months.

NY: Now, a lot of adults are very allied to their breads and sugars. What do you say to someone who really refuses to budge on those food items?

JR: As far as nutrition goes, you have to take some responsibility for your life. You know what you’re eating. The thing is, so many people won’t take responsibility for themselves. Your health is your responsibility.

NY: What about people who are currently in an unhealthy physical state and try to apply their will power yet find it really daunting and give up?

JR: When I meet people like that, I try to be compassionate. We all have issues that cause us to respond in certain ways. Some people drink or do drugs to make pain go away, other people do it with food. It’s the most powerful drug out there—and you don’t have to show your ID. People eat heavy carbohydrate- and saturated fat-laden foods, because they act as a calming depressant. People who have trouble are often eating eat a lot of crap at night, and it makes them tired through spiking insulin levels.

NY: And what if people just put on the apathetic act?

JR: You have to just understand: You’re killing yourself. And the way I look at it, you’re being selfish. The world needs you. If people looked at themselves as an asset, they’d take better care of themselves. Look, there’s always someone prettier and richer. And people who are already beautiful destroy themselves to meet unrealistic expectations. If people looked at themselves as the treasures they are, the world would be a better place.

NY: You’ve written several best-selling wellness books, and you bring up the idea of “fooling ourselves healthy.” Why do we need to “fool ourselves healthy”?

JR: Most of us take ourselves too damn seriously. I love sitting at a restaurant and taking my jacket off—a 54-year-old man with a 31-inch waist—and have the food will be piled mile-high. I’ll have eight servings of sliced sashimi tuna, one of my favorite sources of lean protein, while people’s eyes just pop out of their heads. I’ll have fun with it.

NY: It seems like you put a high premium on fun in all things.

JR: If people had more fun with things—even with exercise—they’d have better results. So many people consider going to the gym a chore. I can’t wait to get there. Get into the gym and set goals for yourself. I always like to have a goal set for myself, 12 to 15 weeks out… Perhaps something like a road race. Or, it’s almost swimsuit time. I know I’m going to be at the pool soon. My staff and I go to the gym together, four of whom are my children, who are 30 and under. I stay with the young people on the gym floor so I feel young.

NY: One of your endeavors is UX3 Nutrition (ux3shake.com), a buzzworthy new protein supplement. What’s that about?

JR: I’m a big believer in supplements, yet the market is so competitive and a lot of the stuff out there is crap. I was just buying whey isolate protein—which can be digested entirely—then putting fiber and MCT oil from coconut oil in it. I wanted to create the highest-end, best-tasting meal replacement in the world. It’s oat-free, with your essential fatty acids in it, and is completely digestible.

NY: What are some common fitness traps people fall into, and how can they avoid repeating them?

JR: One of the most common pitfalls is thinking in an “all or nothing” way. They’ll follow this particular TV workout or diet plan, and if they get off course they feel like failures. Just start something and be consistent. Learn to eat right and exercise properly. Cut the fast food; replace your bagel with egg whites and oatmeal. And I get it; it’s easier to do nothing. But the reality is, more people are dying of diabetes than AIDS, yet everybody wants to be nice about the fact that people are big, fat, and lazy. Think about it this way: You get financially successful by working and saving your money. It’s the same with fitness.


john rowley