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March 12, 2009 - Health and Fitness

David Chen
Michael Torchia

Michael Torchia is a widely known fitness guru and counts among his clients stars like Matt Damon, Kevin Spacey, and Al Pacino. We had a chance to talk with Michael about getting in shape, some things to watch out for when you're first starting out, and different ways to get your kids in shape.

SOAK: What got you into fitness and nutrition?
Michael Torchia: I was an overweight Italian kid in a rinky-dink town in New York. My father berated me, my loving mother stuffed me full of Sicilian delicacies, and my peers shunned me. After a string of particularly humiliating experiences, I became determined to change the way I looked and felt. I discovered lifting weights and everything changed. My bulk turned into muscle; I constructed a weight training room in my basement. I thrived on it. One day, during an argument with my father, he took a sledgehammer to my weight machines, destroying them, calling me nothing but a “gym bum.” Instead of crushing my spirit, he only fueled my convictions. I became Teenage Mr. New York State and started a personal training business at age 17.

SOAK: What's your philosophy when training someone?
Michael: The first thing I do when working with someone is assess their physical condition. Then I review their eating habits and establish their goals. My philosophy is that most people really know deep down what they want and I am here to help them figure it out and achieve their goals. Most people know what they should be doing, but, they just don’t do it for one reason or another. I design a meal plan with foods they enjoy to eat and a workout program that consists of exercises and activities that they enjoy. Before beginning the workout program, I have to get into my clients head and find ways to motivate them to follow the workout program and the meal plan when I am not around. My ultimate goal is to help them create a healthy lifestyle.

SOAK: You've trained with celebrities like Matt Damon, Al Pacino, and Kevin Spacey... any funny/interesting stories about working with them or any others?
Michael: Over the years, the comedian Sinbad allowed his belly to expand beyond what his 6’5” frame could conceal. Tired of wearing jackets to cover his bulk, Sinbad turned to me to help him gain back his confidence and shape. On top of all this, he had severe knee problems because of the basketball he played all the time as a kid. I had to help him lose the weight and at the same time, strengthen his leg muscles to help take the pressure off his knees. With the extra weight, the pressure on his knees was excruciating. Losing the weight, combined with stronger leg muscles let him move easier. The combination of the enjoyable workouts and my re-working of how he ate helped him lose the weight, become pain free and regain his confidence.

Sinbad and I had a great relationship and working out with him was like being in a stand-up comedy club. Between sets, he had me rolling on the floor with his hilarious, quick wit. He also regaled me with stories about how he gave advice to people like Chris Rock and Jamie Foxx when they were first starting out. He was a role model for them and inspired them to be where they are to today...never stop trying and always keep smiling. Now he needed help and I am so glad I was there to bring him back to being the Sinbad we all know and love.

I remember the first time we walked over to the well-equipped gym in his garage; he started telling me his philosophy on married life. He called it the 3 day rule... how marriages fail because couples spend too much time together and how they get on each other's nerves after time. He went on to say that married people should have two homes and only spend Friday through Sunday together. This way they can spend most of the week getting their "crap” done and be happy to see each other on the weekends! He claimed the divorce rate would dramatically decrease and people would have happier lives together! That day, I knew training Sinbad was going to be a very entertaining and learning experience. Every workout, Sinbad would share his thoughts on politics, obesity in America, and how to make it in the entertainment industry. We worked out together like two buddies and shared stories of life in the World of Hollywood!

SOAK: For someone who almost never exercises, but just signed up for a gym membership, what are the best exercises to do, to ease into it?
Michael: One of the best exercises is walking on a treadmill to warm up. If they have a back problem, I recommend using a recumbent bike. A warm up should be between 6-8 minutes. The first muscle group they should work is abdominals after the warm up. Crunches and bent knee raises are excellent exercises for beginners. Two sets of 15 – 20 reps, with 30 seconds rests between each set and 60 second rests between exercises. There are basic movements such as calisthenics, push-ups, chin ups, and squats combined with some free weight movements such as dumbbell, laterals, and curls would be an excellent start for begins.

SOAK: What's the best thing to do for someone who feels that they've plateaued, or are not seeing any more gains.
Michael: Change their workout program and modify their diet.

SOAK: What's the best type of diet for someone who wants to:
A) lose weight

Michael: Moderate protein and low carbohydrates

B) build muscle?
Michael: High protein and low carbohydrates

SOAK: For someone who can't afford a gym membership, what are some exercises that they can do at home to get in shape?
Michael: Here are a few basic movements that someone can do in their home:

Jumping Jacks, crunches, bent knee leg raises, push-ups, squats, chair dips, calf raises on a step, and lateral shoulder raises. If you do not have access to dumbbells, barbells or exercise bands, you can use books, soup cans and detergent bottles.

SOAK: Is there such a thing as getting injured from working out too much?
Michael: Yes. Most people over train and usually injuries will occur during the first repetition of a movement. People must always remember to warm up properly.

SOAK: What's the best way to get children to start working out, and what is a good workout regimen?
Michael: The best way to get your child to start working out is to find out what sports or physical activities they enjoy. Once you discover what the activities are, you explain to them in order to improve their ability and excel in that sport they must perform certain exercises that will strengthen their muscles.

SOAK: Can you elaborate on your lawsuit against Nintendo, and their Wii Fit?
Michael: I did not file a lawsuit against Nintendo, I was merely part of the class action lawsuit being put together in hopes that the proper changes are made so that it does not come down to this. I am trying to help those requesting assistance to get the answers that they are looking for. I understand that sometimes you need to rock the boat in order to get the attention that is necessary to make a change such as this one, and I have taken it upon himself to help make this change a reality.

Here are some of the requests that I recommend be changed:

Revising the current instruction manual by adding in proper playing and breathing techniques. Also, make the instructions age appropriate. Embed time code restrictions into software (time limits for game play and warning during breaks). Create videos for proper use of games on the Nintendo website and provide a Q & A section dedicated to concerned parents. There is a problem with the sensors, which are not properly triangulating, thus forcing its users to overexert themselves when playing and causing injuries. With a simple modification to the product, this problem can be corrected. Stop promoting Wii Fit as a fitness tool and clearly advise users that it is for entertainment and can be used to increase activity. Finally, advise children be supervised under the age of 8 years old and adults over 65 years of age should consult their physicians before using the Wii Fit and sports games.

I have reached out to the President of Nintendo and its advisors saying that I would like to help them improve their system so that people are not getting injured. I understand the fact that the Wii system is a fun tool that has numerous social and physical benefits, but I feel that the lack of proper instruction is causing harm to some of its users. As a health and fitness expert with over 30 years of experience, I feel that he can help Nintendo improve on the quality of their system and I have offered my services. I have yet to be contacted by the company. I am currently providing my services through my website, www.OperationFitness.com. In addition, through my talk radio program, Shape Up America Fitness Show, I am offering free advice to those requesting it and working with a team of experts to put together video instructions on how to best use the system based on age and physical limitations.

Keywords: fitness, Michael, Torchia, Nintendo, Wii, lawsuit, Sinbad, Matt Damon, Al Pacino, working out, children, fit, gym, weights, dumbbells, losing weight
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