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Every Day Fitness
South Jersey’s Shaun T on why it’s ok to eat a donut
By Terri Akman

The first fitness classes Shaun T ever taught were right here in South Jersey.

The fitness home-video guru, whose real name is Shaun Thompson, led a hip-hop workout for his fellow Rowan University students. They loved it so much, the sports science major landed a regular gig at the college gym.

In the years after graduation, he danced back-up with Mariah Carey, made TV appearances and whipped celebrities into shape, all while fine-tuning his ideas for INSANITY, Hip-Hop Abs, Rockin’ Body and other best-selling workouts.

The buff 40-year-old fitness guru has made regular appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Today” and “The Wendy Williams Show,” but he’s never forgotten his roots. He’s worked out with the Eagles cheerleaders and returned to Rowan earlier this year to speak at graduation. In his memoir “T is for Transformation,” released last year, Shaun T writes of a rough, impoverished childhood and a life-changing move at 14 to Deptford, where he lived with his grandparents.

The self-described motivator, speaker, businessman, television personality and choreographer says everyone can and should exercise. But he knows they won’t stick with it if it’s not fun. That’s where he comes in.

 

Q: How can the average person stay fit?
People must work toward the results they want, have fun while they’re doing it and understand they don’t have to do what everyone else is doing in terms of a particular diet or exercise regime. You have to do what works for you. The average person’s job is not to be a fitness model. Ninety-nine percent of the people on magazine covers who are super-ripped do that for a job. Overall health is about trying to figure out how you can be healthy on the inside. How you feel on the inside is going to determine how you look on the outside.

 

Q: What’s the biggest mistake people make when it comes to staying in shape?
Starving themselves. They go out really hard and do an excessive amount of working out and a minimum amount of eating. Not only does that make you feel absolutely exhausted but it also gives you false hope. You can’t sustain that. They lose a lot of weight because they haven’t eaten in days, but then they’re hungry, and they go out and binge. It’s not about going out fast, it’s about how long you can sustain that healthy lifestyle.

 

Q: How can you motivate someone who doesn’t like to work out?
I simply ask them what they like to do that gets them excited in terms of movement. When some people think about push-ups and squats and lifting weights, they think it’s terrible. But they do like talking on the phone with friends, so I suggest they go on a walk when they are talking on the phone. You have to be creative when it comes to your health and fitness, and then exercise won’t seem so daunting.

 

Q: Your big break began after a failed relationship. How did that motivate you?
I had been in an abusive relationship, like a lot of other people. A physically and/or mentally abusive relationship beats you down – your confidence, your energy to wake up every day and be the best you can be. If you can find a way to get out, when you free yourself, you enter a space of positivity in your life. It’s ok to move on in your life and not be controlled by someone. When I was able to leave this abusive relationship, leave the controlling, it made me realize my potential and what I could offer the world. It opened up opportunities for me to go after what I was passionate about, which was fitness and dance.

 

Q: How did you start making fitness videos?
I was teaching at a gym in West Hollywood. I was enjoying life, going on dance auditions, working out and teaching at the gym, and producers named Lara Ross and Heather Church said they thought I’d be a great partner for their company, Beachbody. I went in for an audition, and that was literally all she wrote. It was the culmination of all the years I had tried to perfect my craft to be a good motivator and to educate myself in health and fitness. I got my first contract for my workout video, Hip Hop Abs, in 2007.

 

Q: You talk a lot about a healthy mentality. Why is that so important?
Everyone thinks you’ve got to be a certain weight. I think the BMI [body mass index] is bogus because there are a lot of people who are stronger, fitter and heart healthy who can run circles around someone who might be 20 pounds lighter but fit into the perfect BMI. A healthy mentality doesn’t have a size, it has a feeling. If you chase the feeling and not the number, you are going to be on the right path.

 

Q: You say it’s ok to eat French fries or have a glass of wine. Really?
It’s ok to have cake when you go to a birthday party. I celebrate Donut Fridays every Friday. It’s okay to have a cheese-steak when you go to a good hoagie shop. People call them cheat days – I call them treat days. It’s social. You don’t want to go to a party and say, “I can’t eat the cake because I’m on a nutrition plan.” A true nutrition plan is not just about balance, but control. Don’t let the food have control over you. You should have control over the food. If you get in bed but then go downstairs and start raiding the refrigerator or cabinet for junk food, that’s where the weight gain happens, not the one time at the birthday party.

 

Q: You and your husband have toddler twins, Sander Vaughn and Silas Rhys. Has having kids changed your outlook on health and fitness?
From my mother having a daycare center out of our home, I knew how much energy it took to raise kids. However, being the Numero Uno caregiver brings a whole different perspective on how your health has to be at the top of your focus. I was doing pretty much the same things I had been doing before having kids, as far as diet and exercise, but I still gained seven pounds. I realized it was from not sleeping and the stress of this new life. Parents need to try to get quality sleep and take time for yourself, and time for you and your spouse to stay connected.

 

Q: How did growing up in South Jersey help shape you?
For me it was a place where I could speak my mind and become strong, and a place that encouraged me to know what I wanted. I had wonderful coaches who taught me more than just about the sport, but about life off the track. It shaped how strong I am and how I could go out and get what I want and be fearless when I do it.

 

November 2019
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