The short version
I’m an award-winning journalist, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, a contributing editor to Men’s Health magazine (you can find most of my articles here), and author or coauthor of many popular books about diet and strength training.
My latest book, Strong, came out November 10, 2015. Alwyn Cosgrove and I wrote it as a follow-up to The New Rules of Lifting for Women, which is by far the most influential of the five books in the New Rules of Lifting series.
I also wrote The Lean Muscle Diet with Alan Aragon, which came out in December 2014, along with The Book of Muscle (with Ian King), The Home Workout Bible (with Mike Mejia and many other contributors), and The Testosterone Advantage Plan (with Jeff Volek, Mike Mejia, and Adam Campbell).
I recently self-published my first novel, Saints Alive, and I’m a coauthor of How to Get Published: Writing Domination in the Fitness Industry, which I wrote with Sean Hyson and John Romaniello for all the trainers and nutritionists who’ve asked me over the years how to break into my field.
Thus ends the commercial portion of this biography.
The longform version
If you happen to read Saints Alive (no pressure, but it would be really nice if you do), you’ll see that it begins with Sebastian, the 14-year-old narrator, being humiliated in a soccer game. You may wonder how I was able to write so vividly about the act of sucking in sports. Is that based on personal experience?
Yes, in fact, it is. I grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri, as a sports-obsessed kid whose body absolutely refused to perform any competent act of athleticism. By the end of high school I had felt the pain of being the worst on my team in baseball, soccer, basketball, and football. And those were just the organized sports. On my own I also sucked at tennis, ice skating, karate, jarts, and probably a few other things I’ve forgotten.
Because Saints Alive is fiction, and in fiction I can create any reality I want, Sebastian gets really good, really fast. I have no idea how that feels, but it sure was fun to imagine.
Me, I never got good at sports. But in the process of trying, I developed a lifelong interest in health, exercise, and nutrition that eventually led to my current career as a fitness writer.
My life in media began at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, from which I graduated in 1979. The country was entering a deep recession, and the publishing business was in free fall. Evening newspapers were folding, advertising revenue was hard to come by, and one of our professors told us that there currently were as many journalism students as there were jobs. That’s total jobs, in the entire profession.
In the nine months it took me to land my first full-time gig, I paid the bills with a combination of substitute teaching during the school year and lifeguarding during the summer. I also dabbled in stand-up comedy until I realized that, as a morning person, I had no business trying to make people laugh in nightclubs. If you had heard me joking around with my coworkers at 10:30 a.m., you might have thought I was funny. If you saw me working a microphone at 10:30 p.m., you’d have run for the nearest exit.
I started out as a feature writer at a struggling weekly newspaper in St. Louis called The Riverfront Times. A couple years later I tried my hand at sportswriting, where I learned a valuable lesson: You need more than a love of sports to be good at writing about them. It was clear I was working the wrong beat.
In 1984 I moved to L.A. to write screenplays. That really was the extent of my plan: move across the country to a place I’d never even visited, write in a genre I barely understood and had never attempted, and hope for the best. For the next five years I wrote screenplays and novels by day and waited tables at night. I filled file cabinets with my work and burned through one typewriter after another until I finally saved up enough for my first word processor. Then I wore that out as well.
I put my Hollywood dreams on hold in 1989 when I got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to return to my journalism career. A junk-bond-financed publisher was about to launch a new daily newspaper, the St. Louis Sun, and former colleagues recommended me for a spot as a feature writer.
So I moved back to my hometown and rediscovered the joy of seeing my work in print after five long years of writing unpublished novels and unproduced screenplays. A lot had changed in those five years. For one thing, the economy was booming, for the first time in my adult life. For another, people were increasingly interested in health and fitness. As the one guy on staff who worked out, I got the call whenever we needed an article about weight loss or exercise.
At the time I didn’t think my fitness articles were any more important than the others I cranked out, but I would soon learn otherwise.
The newspaper went under just seven months after it launched, proving that a business plan based on infinite refinancing of junk bonds works a lot better in theory than in practice.
A decade after graduation, I was right back where I’d started as a journalist: unemployed in the middle of a recession.
My life in turnaround
I returned to L.A., this time as a graduate student in the Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California. I never got my master’s degree, but I got two remarkable breaks.
In my first semester, I answered a blind ad in the L.A. Times for an editor at a health and fitness magazine. It didn’t say which magazine, but it didn’t really matter; I’d never heard of Men’s Fitness before I applied for a job there. I didn’t get that job, but my clips from the Sun were promising enough to get me some freelance assignments and part-time work editing copy at another Weider magazine, Muscle & Fitness. A few months later, in early 1992, another full-time job opened up at Men’s Fitness, and I’ve been writing about exercise and nutrition ever since.
During my six years at MF, the last three as fitness editor, it grew from a quirky little niche publication to a mainstream newsstand magazine. My MF colleagues and I won a few Maggie Awards, which are given by the Western Publications Association, including one for personal columns and essays. (I wrote two of the three we submitted the year we won, so I can claim a majority of the award.)
The second break in grad school was meeting Kimberly Heinrichs, my wife. We married six months after graduation. I can use the “g” word because she actually graduated; me, I just quit writing checks to USC, and it worked out fine all around.
By late 1997, it was time to make a move. Two moves, actually. Kimberly was pregnant with our second child, and we wanted to get out of L.A. And after six years at Weider, I needed to move up or out.
“Out” won. I got a job as fitness editor at Men’s Health, a magazine with five times the circulation of MF, and in 1998 we moved across the country to Pennsylvania.
I stayed at MH for six years, the last three as fitness director. The high point came at the very end, when my colleagues and I won the National Magazine Award in 2004 in the Personal Service Category. My contribution was a feature called “Death by Exercise.”
I wrote for a long list of magazines, including Men’s Journal, Fit Pregnancy, and Better Homes & Gardens. I also put in my time as a blogger, although over time and through the many iterations of this site I went from posting every day to a few times a year to my current rate of never.
These days I’m as busy as I’ve ever been with both work (you’ll find my latest on the Articles page) and family. Kimberly and I still live in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, where our three teenagers and assorted pets keep us guessing.