Get Your Beach Body Back

South Jersey native and Insanity fitness star Shaun T. shares how to get slim and strong for summer

Shaun T.

The countdown to Memorial Day is on! To help all of us arrive at the Shore looking strong and lean, we gave South Jersey native—and incredibly hard-bodied—international fitness guru and personal trainer Shaun Thompson, aka Shaun T., a call. Thirty-three-year-old Thompson is the brains and brawn behind the popular 60-day, 10-DVD training program Insanity, which promises to whip even the doughiest of couch potatoes into shape with plyometric drills and nonstop strength intervals in as little as two months. The program is so successful that Thompson has schooled everyone from Dr. Oz to Tyra. From the look of his perfectly chiseled six-pack, we were sure he’d be anti-carb and super into red meat. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Read on to see why Thompson says less is more, slower is better—and why M&M’s can fit into any fitness routine. — Stacy Matusik

Be Well Philly: So, Shaun, to start off: Why can your Insanity program get all of us into bathing-suit shape in only two months? What makes it better or different from other workouts?

Shaun Thompson: It’s different from other workouts because a lot of workouts are designed so that it’s “the easy way.” The thing that’s great about Insanity is that you work. You go for it. You sweat. And not only do you get the body you want, along with the nutrition guide, but you also feel really good. You feel like you’re in peak physical condition. And there’s nothing better because if people just do something easy and quick, it’s like “Oh, I feel like I lost the weight, but I also feel kind of drained because I’m not really eating the way I should because I took the quick way out.” Could you imagine losing ten pounds but still keeping the muscle and still feeling really, really good? So most people I know that have done the program walk around with a brand-new confidence because they know that they worked for it.

BWP: The Insanity program is based around the concept of max-interval training. Why is this form of training successful?

ST: I came up with max-interval training because, you know, I was a track athlete. And as I was going through my fitness career and wanting to create a new program, I remembered that I was in the best shape of my life when I was doing track-and-field intervals. The coach would be like, “Okay, today you’ve got eight 400s, and you get a 30-second rest in between each one.” And you’re like, “Are you kidding me right now?” And you had, like, two and a half weeks until your first scrimmage, and, you know, you had to win, so you just kind of went for it. So that’s basically how I came up with it. I designed exercises that correlate with that feeling that you get at the end of [track-and-field] intervals, and trying to make your recovery time quicker. So that’s where max-interval training came from.

BWP: If someone only has five minutes a day to work out, what is the best move they can do and why?

ST: Hm. I would say suicide jumps [also known as burpees]. Do that for five minutes, trust me you’ll feel like you worked out.

BWP: What are common mistakes people make when trying to get fit?

ST: The biggest mistake that people make is that they don’t eat enough food. People go on this diet thing, and they think that by not eating at all, that’s going to help them lose the most weight. And basically what happens is they don’t eat, they don’t eat, they don’t eat all day and then all of a sudden, you know, seven o’clock comes around, they’re home, and they’re hungry, loved up on their couch with whomever, and they just want to eat like 5,000 calories in a sitting because they didn’t eat. So, they just need to eat more often, more frequently throughout the day and know that eating is actually fueling your body.

BWP: In your opinion, what’s better: three meals a day or five smaller meals a day?

ST: Honestly, five small meals is much better. It’s even hard for me to do that myself every day, just because I’m busy or I forget, but five meals a day is so much better. When I get off the phone with you I’m going to eat lunch, and I’m going to eat a little bit more than I would have if I had had my snack between the two. I like to eat so I don’t feel full when I’m finished eating, and if you eat five or six times a day, you don’t have to eat till you’re full. Just eat enough.

BWP: What are some of the best foods to reach for as summer approaches?

ST: From my personal stand point, I love fruits like watermelon, especially in the summertime. Cantaloupe I eat all year long, and honeydew. Those three fruits are really, really good for you. As far as food goes, I’m all about egg whites and avocado. Avocado is my cheese, so I don’t eat cheese. I eat avocado to replace the cheese because it has the good fat, and it’s not all those extra bad calories. And what else would I say? Definitely get your good source of carbohydrates. I like to eat most of my carbs in the morning. I have, believe it or not, pancakes a couple of times a week in the morning, but most of the time I’m eating my carbs in the morning so at night I don’t have that stuffed-full feeling. And…zucchini is really good, too. Some grilled zucchini with some mustard, please. It’s good, yo.

BWP: [Laughs] Are there any foods that help people slim down?

ST: No, getting thin is about finding your own calculation. I could sit here and tell you everything to eat. I could call you every day and say, “Eat this. I’m eating the same thing,” and we’re going to get two totally different results, you know?

BWP: Right.

ST: I just tell people, “Everybody out there knows what they’re supposed to eat.” There’s not one person out there, there might be some people in certain neighborhoods that don’t really know certain foods, but the majority of people know what foods they should and shouldn’t eat, so when people ask me, “What should I eat?” I say, “You know.” You just have to find it within yourself to find your own calculation. That’s why I don’t like diets. One person gets results, and the other person’s like, “Oh, it didn’t work for me.” And that’s why with the Insanity guide, what I do is find your own calculation. In the nutrition plan, they have you calculate your own caloric intake so that it tailors to your body, and you can still adjust it from there.

BWP: So, are you more about low-carb or low-fat?

ST: I definitely eat more protein than anything. I don’t really pay attention to fat because, for number one, I don’t eat steak, and I don’t eat cheese. I mean, not that I never eat steak, but I don’t eat cheese, and I only drink my calories in the morning, which is my cream in my coffee. I like my vanilla creamer, you know what I’m saying? Other than that, I kind of have a balanced diet. I eat bread, I eat my carbs. I like sweet potatoes. I have my fats like with avocado. If I go to a restaurant and I’m getting grilled chicken, I’m not like, “Well, how much fat is on that?” or “Is it lean?”

BWP: Right. Okay, so that actually leads up to the next question. I was going to ask if you were a meat-lover or a vegetarian…

ST: Yeah, no, I eat chicken, I eat fish, I eat lamb. I eat meat; I just typically don’t eat red meat because it doesn’t really feel good to digest in my body. Even [from the the time we filmed the Insanity videos] to now, I’m ten pounds lighter, and it’s because I stopped eating red meat since then to be honest with you. It just makes my body feel better, but I’m definitely not a vegetarian because, you know, if I’m somewhere that I’ve never been, and they say, “This is the best steak in the house,” I’ll suck it up for a night and feel bad for a night, you know what I’m saying?

BWP: [Laughs] Right. What is your favorite way to refuel after a hard workout?

ST: My favorite way to refuel after a hard workout? Hmm…I love a handful of M&M’S, and…

BWP: [Laughs]

ST: That’s actually the truth, but as far as being serious, I get hungry about 30 minutes after I workout, and the first thing that I like to have is a big, cold glass of water just to replenish the fluids in my body. And I like fruit, anything that’s [got a high water content.] But, you know, like I said, I love avocado. I would love to have a healthy turkey burger with avocado and onions and that kind of stuff—but with no bread ’cause when I get done working out, I don’t want bread. I feel too good and too lean and too right. You know?

BWP: Yeah.

ST: Oh you know what else is good as far as food? Really healthy turkey meatballs, ’cause they’re fun. They’re really fun. With a little bit of barbecue sauce. Just don’t eat 20.

BWP: What is the part of your body that you’re most proud of?

ST: The part of my body that I’m most proud of? My biceps, I think. I like them. [Laughs] No. I’m most proud of, I don’t know, I like those and right now my abs because when I have the full six pack I know that I’m completely dedicated, you know? So yeah, it’s kind of those two.

BWP: What is the part of your body that you have to work the hardest at keeping fit?

ST: The part I need to work the hardest at? Probably my abs. It’s my abs, too. It’s like “hit or miss.” It’s like, “Did you eat ice cream three days in row?” The six pack is g to the o-n-e, okay?

BWP: [Laughs] So what moves do you do to keep them looking good?

ST: I love ski abs and in-and-out abs. I love it. I could do it all day long. Well, I can’t really, but…

BWP: Yeah, in-and-out abs are brutal. If you had to give our readers only one fitness tip, what would it be?

ST: Okay, my one fitness tip is…when starting a new exercise program, don’t go crazy and do something like, “I’m cutting all the bad foods that I like.” The reason why I eat M&M’s is because I need to have that, you know what I mean? Or else, one day, I’m gonna eat a whole bag of something, and then I’m going to have ice cream, and then…Seriously, people don’t believe it, but if you have a handful, or a small slice of pie, or if you have something that you like and you only do that three or four times a week …. That little 200 calories or 300 calories is not going to affect you if you’re eating healthy all week long. So my thing is: Don’t just cut out the things that you like and deprive yourself of the things that you like because that’s when you’ll get frustrated with your nutrition plan. So keep the things that you like filtered into your nutrition plan so that way you can continue to eat healthy, and you don’t have to deprive yourself.

BWP: What do you eat if you have no other choice but to eat something from a drive-thru?

ST: Um…If I had no other choice, what do I eat? Like if I have to, have to, have to, have to eat at McDonald’s?  It’s like I’m starving and it’s the only thing for miles and miles? I will probably get a chicken breast and a double quarter pounder, but I’ll completely remove the bread, and I won’t have cheese, and I’ll have them wrapped in lettuce. The other day, I went to In-N-Out, and I got an In-N-Out burger, but I wrapped it in lettuce.

BWP: What are your top guilty indulgences? And how often do you have them? I know you were saying about M&M’S, you’ll have a handful, but…

ST: No, but that’s not guilty. I don’t feel guilty when I eat those. My guilty indulgence is eating a whole pizza at, like, two o’clock in the morning, ‘cause that is amazing to me. Or ice cream. Eating a whole pint of ice cream like Dulce De Lece or Crème Brulee or something like that. Oh my God, so good: Dairy Queen Blizzard?! Are you kidding me right now? I love them all.

BWP: So, how often will you indulge in something like that?

ST: Um, I would say, like, twice a month.

BWP: And in terms of your own workout routine, what do you do to keep your workouts fresh? What do you do to stay motivated and interested?

ST: I hire personal trainers ’cause I am a trainer, and if I have to make up my own workouts it can get boring. If I go to the gym by myself, I’ll make up different routines every time I go. Like I’ll mix-and-match things that I know or make up something new just to keep it fresh and not stay bored. Because, I mean, I see people go to the gym for a year, and they gain weight. And I’m like, “You were here the same amount of times as me. What are you doing?” They just do the same thing; they don’t go up in weight or they don’t go up in intensity on the treadmill or whatever they’re doing, or they don’t take a new class, so I just mix it up. I like the whole cross-training thing; do something different.

BWP: Are there any common mistakes people make while working out?

ST: Basically, what I really want to tell people, and for the people out there that are doing Insanity or Asylum or are doing these very intense programs, is to just remember that range of motion is way better than speed. Most of the time when I see people doing power jacks, they bend their legs, like, three inches rather than really going into the squat. Or when they do power jumps, they do these hops instead of really using their arms to propel them upwards to really get the full benefit of the exercise or going deep into the push-up and extending their arms all the way up. Just get the range of motion and really focus on form, and your results will double. I promise you. Go slow. Put form over speed in anything that you do, even if you’re lifting weights, and you will double your results.

BWP: What do you have going on career-wise that you’re excited about? What’s coming up for you?

ST: Career-wise? Well, my Asylum program just released a couple of weeks ago. I’m really excited about that. I have a test group of people I’m going to train with Hip Hop Abs, which I’m really excited about. With Asylum, I’m truly just excited that every weekend for the rest of the year I’m in a different place teaching and motivating people, so that’s going to be really fun. It’s just a lot of fun.

BWP: Can you tell me a little bit about Asylum? It’s for graduates of your Insanity program, right?

ST: It’s not really for graduates of Insanity. It’s just that a person who graduated from Insanity will grasp the intensity better. But Asylum is really for a person who wants to feel like an athlete, or athletes that want to enhance their skills, like jump higher, run faster, become stronger, become more flexible. It’s for that person. And Asylum is just complete sports performance. I tried to cover almost every sport in “Game Day”—it’s like the craziest workout ever, but I go from track and field to soccer to tennis to rock climbing to speed skating. I mean, I mimic all these different sports and skills you’re going to use in all these different sports. People can feel like an athlete even if they’ve never played sports before. And it’s really hard.

BWP: I believe you.

ST: [Laughs]

BWP: So, what what about beginners? If someone who’s never worked out consistently is looking at the calendar now and saying, “Hey, I have to get ready for Memorial Day,” or “Summer’s coming up,” how would you suggest they get started?

ST: I would just tell them to find an exercise program that they think is fun because that’s the only way they’ll stay motivated. I wouldn’t put them on Insanity because that’s not fun. I mean, it’s fun for me, or somebody who knows that feeling. Or, if somebody’s really competitive, and they say, “I don’t care how hard it is; I want to do it,” I would tell them to do Insanity. But otherwise, just tell them to find something that’s fun for them.

BWP: So how often do you visit Philly?

ST: I used to live in Philly, and I grew up in South Jersey. But now that I’m traveling, I’m not there as much. But you know, I would say four times a year I’m in Philly.

BWP: Is there anything in particular that you like to do, or places you like to eat at, when you’re here?

ST: Does it have to be healthy?

BWP: [Laughs] No.

ST: I love Dave & Buster’s on a Saturday night. You know what I’m saying? I love going to Geno’s and Pat’s ….like, oh my God are you kidding me right now? I love that! But, as far as eating healthy, I mean, I don’t. You know? I love Fogo de Chao. I love going there. I love Philly. Philly’s cool.