A View From the Other Side


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As someone who is heavily immersed in the fitness community on Instagram, I have made many connections. Throughout a week there are a good amount of women and moms I check in with. Throughout the week I also receive unwanted dick pics [insert barf face emoji here]. And then there are a couple men I keep up with — one of them being a man I respect for many reasons, his incredible transformation being one of them; Sam Lee. 

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Now, I know you’re all used to my interviews with women, blog posts on women empowerment, etc. I have had some great conversations with Sam and I wanted to share his thoughts and views on a few things because I think it’s important to gain perspective. The only thing that is comparable to women supporting women is men supporting women. 

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Sam was very humble in answering my questions, further giving me faith that our world is still filled with men who believe in chivalry, respect, and equality. Beyond the progressive-forward movement that Sam so eloquently speaks of, his fitness ethic is admirable. Take a look at his transformation, read the interview, and tell me this doesn’t bring a smile to your face knowing that there are great men out there who want to stand back and allow us to be strong.

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Here’s to you, Sam, and the other men out there who empower women every day.

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What is The Maven Center? Tell me about what you do there.

The Maven Center is a physical therapy/fitness center located in Paramus, NJ. It was founded and is owned by my very good friend Taylor Lee, a Doctor of Physical Therapy and certified trainer. (I went to college with Taylor’s wife, so I’ve known him for at least 20 years. He is one of the “realest”, most genuine, thoughtful and knowledgeable people I’ve ever met.) The vision of The Maven Center is to help people realize, pursue and reach their true fitness/health potential, which we believe can only be achieved by exercising grit, consistency and discipline. In other words, there are no short-cuts. What sets Maven Center apart from other PT clinics is that while the doctors know physical therapy, they also know and practice fitness. As such, their goal is not merely to rehabilitate a client to his/her pre-injured state; rather, once the client has been healed, he/she is introduced to the fitness/lifestyle side of the center. We don’t focus on any one particular fitness discipline. Rather, the workouts target different disciplines on any given day (e.g., core, muscular endurance, strength, cardio). The end goal is total-body functional fitness. You can find more information at Maven Center or @mavencenter on IG.

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Currently, I work as a Maven Project coach. (My full-time day job is tax attorney. Yes, I love reading the tax code. I know. I’m weird.) What is the Maven Project? Basically, it is a 30-day program that runs every other month where participants undergo a “reset” in terms of diet, lifestyle, fitness, addictions, etc. The end goal of the program is to provide each participant the tools/foundation upon which they can develop that momentum they need to take full ownership of their health. As a coach, I try to interact with them on a daily basis – reviewing their diet logs, workouts, answering questions, etc. In short, I ensure they do what they are supposed to do. I’ve completed the program myself and I can only describe it as a cathartic experience.        

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How did you begin your own fitness journey?

I was always chubby growing up. I had kid-boobs. My parents didn’t know anything about fitness or healthy eating so I basically ate what I wanted, when I wanted – Twinkies, donuts, Big Macs, KFC. I didn’t know much about fitness other than a few sets of bicep curls to get that pump to try to impress the ladies. I didn’t have much success. During the summer between my freshman and sophomore year in college I gained that freshman 15 or 20? I forget. I just know I gained a lot of weight because my good buddy asked me how I became such a “fat ass” (his words not mine) when we all met up after that summer. As a freshman I weighed around 160 lbs and by the beginning of my sophomore I was probably around 185. At 5’8”, I didn’t have much muscle, so that was a lot of unnecessary weight. From that point in time, I continued increasing in size until I hit 212 at the age of 25. (I was living in San Francisco at the time with my then ex-girlfriend.) I remember my diet consisted primarily of orange juice, Chinese pastries (so cheap and so good), Sicilian pizza, almond croissants, Frappucinos, cheesburgers, fries and pasta. Healthy eating at its finest. One day my stomach started hurting. I realized it was because my gut was too big and my pants were too tight. I was wearing a 36 waist at the time. So sad. That’s when I realized I had to do something because I wasn’t earning enough money to buy a new wardrobe.

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I started reading up on workout routines, nutrition, supplements. I simply started learning and teaching myself. It was trial and error. During the summer between my 1st and 2nd year of law school in 2006, I think I lost the most weight – approximately 30 pounds. During that time, I was lifting weights 4 days per week and running 3 miles per day 6 days per week. I was on mostly low-carb, clean diet, only drank water and rarely had a cheat day. I was at my leanest and strongest at 165 pounds and about 7% body fat. Now, at 40, I hover around 175-180 pounds and 9-10% body fat. 

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What is the most rewarding part of coaching/training?

I’m not a certified trainer (although I am currently studying for the CSCS certification). As a Maven Project coach, however, I enjoy simply sharing my experiences and encouragement with those who are eager to effect change in their lives. I enjoy that moment when they finally understand why fitness is so important, that Eureka moment. I’m always trying to encourage my friends, but most don’t understand/fully grasp that fitness mentality because I think all they see is the giant hurdle in their lives and they are too scared or lazy to make a move. So, when someone I’m talking to and encouraging has that “aha” moment, it’s very rewarding because they now see the light over that hurdle.

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As far as training, I like pushing myself. I’m 40 this year and I don’t think I’ve truly pushed the limits of my body. Pushing myself and understanding my body as I push my limits. I enjoy that because it’s fun.

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What drives you?

Excellence. Always pursue excellence. Strive to be the best version of myself. What does that look like? I’m not sure. Whatever task is at hand, though, I try to do my best at being excellent at it – work, fitness, friends, family. The catch is, of course, that I don’t think we will ever achieve excellence because there’s always room to improve. The perfectionist mentality. A blessing and a curse.

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How do you stay motivated?

With life, my family – wife, kids, parents – and friends motivate me for obvious reasons. With fitness, I think it has just become second nature, a habit. We know we should eat at least 3 meals every day. It’s similar with fitness. If I miss a workout, I feel off. It’s always in the back of my mind.  

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Unrelated but not completely irrelevant, our world is a little “upside-down” in many ways right now. What does equality mean to you? How do you practice this in your day-to-day?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Golden Rule. Such a simple truth, but so hard to do. I’m convinced many of our problems wouldn’t exist if we all did a better job practicing that simple truth. I try to practice this by simply practicing empathy. I place myself in the other person’s shoes.

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How old are your kids? Do they enjoy fitness?

My daughter is 7 and my son is 6. I can’t say they enjoy the discipline of fitness because they are too young. But they enjoy being active. Running around and causing my wife and me stress. My daughter is more of an adventure seeker, in that American Ninja Warrior type of way, which is probably why she likes gymnastics. My son is more of a run-around-in-circles-until-you-become-dizzy-and-cause-trouble type of child – a typical Tasmanian devil. It drives us bonkers sometimes, but I suppose it’s better that they are active as opposed to sedentary.

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We have all had ups and downs in our lives. What is a piece of advice you can give someone going through a hard time right now/what would you have told yourself when you were younger?

Find accountability somewhere with someone you trust and someone who will speak truth. Seek that person’s/persons’ counsel. 

Get in the habit of exercising mental fortitude. This will require work. If you think you have it hard, there are probably many others who have it harder. A good place to practice this is in the fitness arena.

Always seek to learn and grow. The unexamined life is not worth living. The famous quote by Socrates, one of my favorite philosophers. (I was a philosophy major in college.)

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I understand this is easier said than done and there are thousands of circumstances under which I wouldn’t be so blunt. But, these are two truths that make sense to me based on my life experiences.

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What do you think is the most powerful thing about a woman?

What a deep question. Immediately, I think of James Brown’s song, It’s a Man’s World. He says it would be nothing without a woman or a girl. Literally, men would not exist without women. I think that says everything about how much power a woman has.

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What do you bench? What do you squat? (Sorry, gotta share because it’s pretty impressive!) How did you get to this point? What increments in what amount of time did you use?

My current one-rep max (1RM) for the holy trinity for strength is as follows: bench (315), squat (350) and deadlift (455). I use these numbers as a base for my strength training. I’ve been using Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 training program for this portion. I keep track of my workouts, reps, weights on an Excel spreadsheet. In addition to this, I also try to incorporate metabolic conditioning workouts – HIIT, circuit training – which are Maven Center-style workouts. I rely on these for total-body functional fitness.
I’ve been consistently training for at least 15 years now. I reached this point simply by habit, through which I became better attuned to my body – how it responds to certain workouts, how it recovers, what I need to eat, etc. There are no quick fixes. Truly understanding and grasping the fitness game will take time and I’m still learning. 

 

With a wife and 2 kids, I try not to spend more than 1 hour in the gym. For purely strength workouts, I allow more rest period between sets. For metabolic conditioning workouts, which can last between 20-40 minutes, the name of the game is to keep moving. So, I try not to rest at all until time is up.

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What’s your favorite exercise/exercises?

My favorite exercises are the deadlift, squat and pullups because they are total-body, compound exercises. I’m not a fan of isolation exercises. I will do those as accessory work. Again, I’m not training for a bodybuilding competition and I’m not trying to impress anyone. I just want to make sure I don’t strain my back while bending down to tie my shoe or tear my Achilles while simply walking. (Both have happened to friends of mine who are my age and have neglected their health.) Bicep curls won’t help me with that. I try to focus on overall health, strength and fitness.

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What do you want to accomplish in the future?

I’ve never been able to answer that question. What I can say is that when I am old, gray and wearing adult diapers, I want to be able to look at my life and say that I did my best as a father, husband, friend and human being.
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Told you. Humble. 

Faith restored. Thanks for reading, friends.

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