Celebrity trainer Steve Willis reveals to Sarah McInerney his secrets for helping The Biggest Loser contestants get fit and lose weight.
When Phil Green reflects on his first day of training with "the Commando" Steve Willis, his dread at what the next few weeks will entail is palpable.
“There's nowhere to run, there's nowhere to hide; it's his way or the highway,” he remarks on the show.
LIVE BLOG: Steve Willis spent a few hours in the Fairfax office answering readers questions. Read what he had to say.
Pushing The Biggest Loser contestants to their limits and a no-excuses approach to training is what audiences have come to expect from Willis. And, understandably, this perception has flowed into his personal life.
People are often nervous about approaching him on the street and one fan who booked a training session with him based on his on-screen persona couldn't sleep for the week before.
“People can be a bit standoffish, they posture themselves to get the confidence to come over, [but] I'm a human being. Just come over and ask me,” he said.
The Steve Willis sitting across the table from me is certainly very composed and controlled, but he is also friendly and, dare I say it, nice. So how much of the Commando character is the real Steve Willis?
He says 80 per cent - the mindset and the attitude towards life and training.
“I think of the Commando as like Superman going into the phone box and putting his outfit on,” he said. “There's Steve and there's the Commando or Commando Steve.”
“The [remaining] 20 per cent is that approach that's The Biggest Loser. It's on the show, it's the in-your-face character, which I'm not every day. Otherwise people would find me a very intense person.”
Willis has been a trainer on The Biggest Loser since 2007. In the current series he is training Green and Joe Medway in the Northern Territory.
The contestant who embraces his methods - running along creek beds carrying logs and ropes, and body weight work in the sand - and has the greatest percentage weight loss, will go straight into the final.
Willis's methods have contributed to some significant successes in previous seasons of the show.
Last year's winner Bob Herdsman was trained off-site by Willis for part of the show. Season two winner Chris Garling was trained by him before entering the competition as an intruder. He went from 149 to 79 kilograms during filming.
In Willis's book No Excuses!, Garling describes him as “the best trainer” he'd ever had.
Willis's approach to training follows the Cross Fit philosophy. This uses nine key "functional movements" ranging from squats, push-ups and pull-ups to weightlifting techniques such as the clean and jerk in short, intense sessions.
The intensity can be varied through changes in the number of repetitions, the level of weight used or the time frame given for the task. Willis says this makes it scalable for all levels of fitness.
In fact his two-year-old daughter, Ella, has learnt how to do squats and burpees (a push-up followed by a jumping movement) just from hanging around his Cross Fit gym in Sydney. She is now putting these skills to good use in gymnastics classes.
“You get a fantastic cardiovascular response just from getting an obese person to do squats,” he said.
“It is just layering, everyone is different, you just have to keep layering it on. You might do five and in a months' time [you're] doing 30.”
Willis is on the extreme scale of this, as he is in many aspects of his life. He spent a decade in the army starting off in infantry (because he'd heard it was the hardest), then moving on to the special forces and finally the counter-terrorism unit.
He left the army in 2004 and studied personal training while working as a labourer. He now competes in Cross Fit Games as well as training people in the discipline.
In last year's competition, he spent two gruelling days running with sandbags and swinging 32-kilogram kettlebells. Out of the 75 male competitors, he came fourth.
“A lot of people think I'm crazy or I do crazy things but that's because I'm me and not you,” he said.
"That's just the way I see it. I like the competition. I like that, if you do 50, I want to be able to do 100.
“I competed in the Cross Fit Games last year ... I came out in fourth; it would have been fantastic to be first. I think now, as it progresses down the track, and I'm still happy with the position I finished in, it kind of eats you. I want that first place.”
Willis isn't sure what the future holds - except for aiming for that first place in July, that is. But one thing is for sure: it will involve exercise. As he writes in his book “training is for life”.
No Excuses! by Steve Willis is published by Ebury Press, $34.95.