Michelle Bridges: Fitness instructor and author

image-michellebridges200Michelle Bridges is a personal trainer and fitness instructor, most notably as the Red Team trainer on Channel 10’s The Biggest Loser, and is the author of eight best-selling books.

Her latest from Penguin Books is Crunch Time: Lose Weight Fast and Keep It Off followed by Crunch Time Cookbook: 100 Knockout Recipes For Rapid Weight Loss. In a bid to help Australia overcome its status as one of world’s fattest nations, Michelle has written this book, which includes recipes and an exercise program and also tackles common diet myths and how to keep motivated.

She has been writing regular columns on health, nutrition and fitness for a number of national newspapers and magazines since 2001. She has been a trainer on The Biggest Loser since 2006. As an international Master Trainer, Michelle has many years experience training other fitness instructors all over the world. She has competed in figure shaping competitions and in 2004 was named the Fitness Leader of the Year.

Michelle strongly believes that we can all overcome our weight and health problems with exercise and nutrition. She travels the country visiting corporations and schools in a bid to educate more people about the value of a healthy lifestyle.

Click play to listen. Running time: 28.18

Crunch Time

Transcript

* Please note these transcripts have been edited for readability

Valerie:
Thanks for joining us today, Michelle.

Michelle:
Thanks for having me.

Valerie:
Tell us how you got into the fitness industry in the first place. What was it that appealed to you?

Michelle:
I’ve been in the fitness industry all my life just about and I think that it really stemmed from a very young age where I was involved in sport, and that really started probably six or seven years of age. When I’m speaking to people out on the road and I go out and do a lot of guest speaking, I always say if you’re a parent getting your children into some form of sports, some form of activity can really set up a very good road to success in the long term.

Valerie:
You’ve written the book, Crunch Time. When did that idea come into your head that you wanted to write a book and how long did it take you?

Michelle:
It’s funny you know because I had been toying with the idea of doing a book. I always said to myself, ‘Do we really need another fitness book when there is so many out there?’ Then I thought, ‘Well, there’s always a lot of cookbooks coming out.’ There’s stacks of them, so obviously there is interest and people are interested in new styles of cooking, so why wouldn’t they be interested in maybe new styles of training, in particularly the style that I use.

That had always been in the back of my mind, but I realised that I probably had to have something that was unique, and a different angle, and my own personal style stamped on it as well. To be very honest with you, it was one night in a little restaurant called Caffe e Cucina in Melbourne; I was having dinner with my husband and I said to him, ‘I really want to do this book now. I’ve been throwing the idea around for so long.’

That’s when I decided that I would come up with the idea of get the weight off as fast as you can and get on with your life, because that’s really what I believe in. No one in my industry has ever said that. Everyone in my industry, including myself, has always said, ‘Do it slowly, little by little. Don’t worry if you put it back on. Just gradually take your time.’

A lot of people would say, ‘Oh, if they lose the weight too quickly, they will put it back on quickly.’ And I thought, for every one person that’s lost weight fast and put it back on fast, there is five people that have lost it slowly and put it back on fast. The speed in which you lose it, I believe, has got nothing to do with it.

It’s like, get the weight off and be motivated by that. And be motivated by the fact that people are coming up to you and saying, ‘Wow, you look fantastic. What have you been doing?’ That spurs people on, that motivates people. So I thought this is the angle that I’m going to take. I’m going to take the angle of: ‘Get the bloody weight off as quickly as you can and get on with your life.’

Valerie:
Obviously, that’s been really appealing to people because the book was released in February 2009 and has done extremely well so far. How long a gestation period was it, like when was that dinner at Caffe e Cucina and how long did it take for you to then produce the book?

Michelle:
It was about 18 months in total, which is really quick. But of course, once I got going, it was everything that I have always talked about in my general conversation with my friends and my husband. We are constantly talking about training, food, weight loss, obesity; constantly having debates with my friends and colleagues and particularly, my husband.

We would sit and discuss things and I guess all of that had always been in my mind, so when I started writing it just poured out of me. Once I got on my soapbox, I was off. You know what I mean. Initially, it was a bit daunting to think, ‘Okay, what angle am I going take?’ But once I got that formulated I had so much material from years and years and years of working in the industry.

I guess the angle is important. You need to get your idea. You need to get your unique standpoint and then, once you’ve got that, then you can really tap into everything that you know. It really doesn’t matter what it is. You could be a carpenter. You could be a hairdresser. You could be a makeup artist. But once you’ve got your unique standpoint then you can formulate all of your ideas from that.

Valerie:
Writing is a very time consuming and laborious process so you had to fit it in with all of this other stuff that you do in terms of fitness and on television and all the rest of it. What did you do in terms of making it a bit of a discipline so that you actually got it out?

Michelle:
Oh, my gosh, it was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done. It really was. Once I had sort of started putting it together, putting the framework of it together, we were talking to various publishers. Once we spoke with Penguin and they said that ‘We want it’, then it was like, okay let’s go.

I had sort of slowly, little by little, put the framework together and then of course when we got the green light, it was ‘Oh, I’ve actually got to finish this now’. That was really daunting and demanding. I was in what I call the ‘off season of the show’ because the show we film for basically six months. So there is roughly five months that I had in off season.

I literally had to stop everything. From family and friends to – I wasn’t teaching any classes because I do a little bit of personal training as well. This is all in the off season. That all had to stop. I was just lucky to be able to get my own training in. Virtually, it would be all day in my office in front of the computer. But my one saving grace: I would have never been able to get this book done if it wasn’t for is my husband.

Valerie:
How did he support you?

Michelle:
We work as a team, so he wasn’t working at the time and we decided that he was going to finish his job and we were going to narrow down and do this together. It was the only way that I could get it done. We joke about the fact that I would write and he would come in and take out all the swear words and fix up all the spelling mistakes. We joke about that, but in one way that is true. But in another way, he is very good at grammar. He’s really smart when it comes to constructing sentences so I was like, just banging out everything that I had to say. Then he would come in and go, ‘You know what about trying it this way’ or ‘Have you thought about using that?’

Of course, he was also really, really instrumental in helping with the cooking aspect because the stage we were getting close to – the end of the book, which is all about cooking – I was back on season three of Biggest Loser, back at work.

So he was actually cooking the meals. And then I would come home at night and we would eat them for dinner. We really worked as a team and it would never have been as quick as it was. The turnaround was very quick because Penguin wanted it to come with the launch of the next series. Without him, it would never have happened. I was very, very fortunate there.

Valerie:
Great team. So in terms of writing the book we see you on The Biggest Loser and we can actually see how you motivate people and inspire people – you’re there, you are physically there talking to them. How hard was that to convey into the written word because, I assume that you want to motivate and inspire people with the book as well.

Michelle:
Definitely and I think that one of the best pieces of feedback that I have had from people who have read the book is that, they say you speak in the book exactly the way that you would talk to me right now. I really kept it that way.

Penguin was very positive about that as well because that’s who I am. I’m not an author. In fact, I laugh about the fact that I was down in Penguin’s offices one day and someone there said something about the author and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s me’. I was looking behind me thinking, ‘Oh who’s that? Oh that’s right. They are talking about me.’ Because I wouldn’t call myself an author. I was just someone who wanted to put together the information that she had in her head and put it on paper.

So when I started writing it I was writing it exactly how I would talk and I think that basically has been instrumental in allowing people to sort of almost feel as though they’ve got me there as their own personal trainer. I talk to them like, ‘Come on girlfriend, get off the couch and let’s get going.’ Exactly what I would say in real life, so I guess that you would call it colloquial or just keeping it real.

Valerie:
It’s now in its second reprint after only a couple of months on the shelves.

Michelle:
How hilarious is that? It went into its first reprint after 10 days and then into the second after a month. We’re very, very happy with that.

Valerie:
Did that surprise you? Was that a shock or did you expect it?

Michelle:
I wasn’t expecting that. I was hoping that it would do well but I was not prepared for that at all. It took us by surprise and I think it took Penguin a bit by surprise as well. Which is great, you know, it’s great. What blows me away is, I was at a book signing on the weekend in Newcastle and people are using my language; like there’s parts in my book that I speak about regarding positive language and the power of language. They are actually using my words in their sentences. And I’m thinking, ‘Wow, that’s really awesome.’

Valerie:
Does this mean that you are planning other books?

Michelle:
It does actually, in fact I’m in the middle of starting my second book now. Actually, just before you rang, I’m putting together some recipes for it. So yes, we’re in the second one now. Can you believe it? I’m doing it again.

Valerie:
What’s that going to be about? What’s the theme for that?

Michelle:
This is more about nutrition, diet and then I’m complementing that with some exercise. And threading through the whole book will be my get-real philosophy. It’s kind of got a taste of Crunch Time to it but I guess you could say that it’s almost Crunch Time back to front. This time I talk about getting your head right and I talk about the exercise programs and I go into nutrition. Because a lot of people really want to know more about the food because, ultimately, it’s the food that makes the most difference when it comes to weight loss or weight maintenance. I guess the best way to describe it is Crunch Time back to front.

Valerie:
Now you’re not new to writing in that you have written for magazines and some newspapers, and you certainly did that before you started on The Biggest Loser. Your website describes you as badgering newspapers and magazines to publish your articles. What’s that about? Why were you badgering them?

Michelle:
Because you’ve got to. Like if you want to get it out there, you’ve got to basically not only offer it for free, but almost offer them money to put it in there. You know what I mean? I had to really push to get those articles out.

Valerie:
But why did you want to get those articles out?

Michelle:
Because I really believe that I had something to say. I’d been doing what I do for so long and had good success at it as well. I just felt that it was important to get that message out. I also felt that it was part of having good credibility to get some articles printed – that gives you some street cred. And if they’re successful, then that can only build onto another one onto another one onto another one. So I was really trying to lay down some foundations of credibility, but also had felt that I had a very important message to put out there. I seemed to write okay. I liked the style that is very like the person is talking to you. And that’s how I like to write. It appeals to me, so I thought, ‘Well maybe it might appeal to some other people as well’.

Valerie:
Was the grand master plan always to build that foundation, to have an national profile as an expert in the fitness industry? What was the grand master plan?

Michelle:
It absolutely was and I will tell you why: Because in my industry, I was looking around and thinking, ‘Well, where is there to go?’ I don’t want to just be a personal trainer forever and I’m not saying that this a bad thing to do, because I absolutely love it. But I want to do more things. I could own my own health club, but these days that’s pretty tough. My husband and I have done it in the past and it’s not something that you take on lightly and where else is there to go?

So I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to start trailblazing. I’m going to start doing some things that no one has really done before and try open up some doors and open up some new opportunities.’ Certainly there have been other fitness professionals that have gone before me, but I don’t think that the timing was right and I think that I’ve been lucky.

My success has been based on knowing what I’m talking about and being really good at what I do, but also it’s been timing. And they say that timing is everything. I think that right now, people are so interested in it because we have such a problem with obesity and health issues. I think that the timing has certainly been on my side.

Valerie:
What motivates you to be so passionate about helping people in terms of their fitness?

Michelle:
Because I see what happens on the other side of it. I see people who are unhappy, low self-esteem, low confidence and that’s the emotional side of things, not even talking about their health implications as well – high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, all those sorts of things. I see what happens on the other side of it. It’s just incredible. You watch people completely transform themselves and transform their lives and that confidence and self-belief spills over into every facet of their life. So not only do they feel amazing about themselves, but that starts to translate into other aspects of their life.

It’s really quite powerful to watch someone completely turn their life around in every aspect. Because it all starts from within so mind, body and spirit – it all comes together when they start feeling good about themselves. Physically, they start feeling good about themselves, mentally, it truly translates into every aspect of their life. When I see that sort of stuff I think, “Wow, that’s pretty cool.” The more that I can get that out to other people the better I think.

Valerie:
It must be very rewarding to see that transformation in other people and incorporate that into your career as well.

Michelle:
Yes, I couldn’t work for another job. It’s pretty cool; to watch people really become positive, they do a complete 180 degrees. They are negative, they don’t like themselves, in fact they hate themselves, they are self-loathing and that, of course, as I was saying before, that stuff translates into other aspects of their lives as well so you can’t tell me that their family and friends aren’t feeling that also.

To watch that completely turn around just because they are shifting the ways that they think about themselves and, of course, they are shifting their fitness level, too. It’s incredible to watch the journey of some people when that really goes down. I’ve seen it in my personal training clients. And, of course, you see it on a massive level with the show.

The other thing, I guess; when I started writing my book, it was in the early days of when we were doing the show. There were some detractors, there were some people saying, ‘Oh, it can’t be good for them, losing this much weight this quickly’, yada yada.

I was constantly going into battle for it, not only because I could see the differences in the numbers in so far as blood pressure, cholesterol, etc., but I could also see the differences in the people. I thought, ‘I don’t want other people trivialising what these people are doing’.

They are absolutely amazing at what they do. They get in there every day. They do hard training sessions. They turn their diet completely around. There’s a lot of sacrifice that goes into it. I didn’t want to see that being trivialised.

But the other thing that you can’t ignore is the numbers. We had people’s blood pressure completely dropping. In one instance, we had a guy who’s been on blood pressure tablets for 15 years and now no longer needs to take that medication. That is huge! That’s extending his life by 10 to 15 years.

We had severe type 2 diabetes that, they now no longer are on medication and now are no longer a diabetic. These are the sorts of numbers that you just can’t ignore. You can’t turn your back on those sorts of numbers because that truly is extending a person’s life.

Valerie:
To you, who has been one of the most inspirational Biggest Loser contestants that you’ve seen so far?

Michelle:
They all are. They’ve all got their own amazing stories, but when you come to truly seeing someone expanding the length of their life – last year we had a gentleman by the name of John who had a severe heart condition. He was basically told that he was a walking time bomb. This man was still able to lose weight. He was only allowed to walk. But just changing his diet and implementing a little bit of light activity we still had him losing 10, 20, 30 kilos by the end of the show. We had another gentleman last year, Sean, who was a chronic diabetic, type 2, completely turned his life around, lost the weight and now no longer is a diabetic.

But those things amaze me. Of course watching mums, seeing mums who have given their life to everyone except themselves – and they are a bit resentful about it, too – suddenly taking back control, taking back their life. They’re feeling sexy again, feeling worthy again. Their family can only thrive by having a mother who’s energised and confident. It really translates into everybody’s life.

Valerie:
With your book and the show and the second book and all of that, I can definitely see the foundations of the Michelle Bridges empire building. Have you always had a business brain? Have you had an entrepreneurial bent like this in the past?

Michelle:
I really would never see it like that because I’m living it from this side of the driver’s seat, if you like. My mum seems to think that I have one. My mum always said that I was very out there and into it, and I had a job from the age of 12 or 13. At one stage she said that I was working for a chemist and out on the front lawn selling barbecues for this chemist and doing all sorts of crazy things, like at the age of 13 and 14. So I guess that I’ve always had that drive in there, but I don’t think that it really sparked until I discovered that I was able to have a full-time job in an industry that I loved. When that really clicked, when I realised that I could work in the fitness industry full-time, I think that’s when it really started to come to the fore.

Valerie:
So you are on this next book which is about fitness and nutrition, as you said, but is there anything else that you are yearning to write about, something not about health and fitness at all?

Michelle:
Well, I’d like to put together a book for teenage girls. That’s been in the back of my mind. And the main reason for that is, I completely remember my teenage years. Having been someone who moved from school to school, I was an easy target for bullying because I was always the new kid on the block. I’ve got some pretty strong opinions about it. That’s something that is in the back of my mind and I have talked about it with my husband and I’ve even talked about it with my publisher. So you never know, that could happen, but that will be a pretty big hard task, I think. I might have to leave that for a little while.

Valerie:
Apart from books, what is in the future for the next couple of years for you? What are your plans or what would you like to do?

Michelle:
Renovate my house, that’s my number one goal outside of fitness, is get my house finished. I may even write a book on that.

Valerie:
It will probably sell really well.

Michelle:
I joke with my husband and say, ‘You know, the only reason I’m writing this book is, hopefully, if I make enough money, I’ll actually be able to finish my bathroom.’ It’s the only thing that I want, is a new bathroom. Anyone that’s living in an old bathroom will be nodding their head and agreeing with me. It’s terrible.

Valerie:
When you do write non-fiction, as you do, it’s obviously crucial that you know your subject. So what would your advice be for other experts who see your book and think, ‘You know I’d like to do something similar, but obviously in my industry.’

Michelle:
You need to have an unique angle. I think that is probably the most important thing is that there are lots of books out there, but you need to have your own unique viewpoint and stand on the topic. I think that it doesn’t hurt to be a little bit controversial, only though, if it fits with your message – which mine was, a little bit controversial. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I think that it’s good to have people debating. It’s good to have people talking. Whether it be good or bad, at least people are talking about it. At least people are discussing it and putting the issue on the table. I think that number one, you definitely have to have a unique viewpoint with your name stamped on that and a little bit of controversy doesn’t hurt either.

Valerie:
For those people who don’t have a husband who has great grammar and to work with them as a team, what would your advice be to them? Like what would you have done if he wasn’t there as a resource and support.

Michelle:
I would have done it, though it probably wouldn’t have been as fast-tracked as it was. We needed to have the book out on the shelves by a certain date. I think that also helps because, if you didn’t have that hanging over your head, you could get a bit lax. But in saying that, I think that you need to really set down some very basic ground rules on ‘I will be in my office, behind my computer from 9 to 5, and I will give myself an hour off to go and do a run and have a bite to eat and get back to it’.

You definitely need to get away, but at the same time you have got to set down some ground rules and try to get that work completed. Because I think it’s very easy to just keep blowing it off and keep blowing it off. I was in a fortunate enough position where I was in my off season and was able to dedicate almost a full working day to writing. But if you are not in that position, then you need to at least find that time in your schedule where you can dedicate at least an hour or two a day.

Valerie:
Perfect, great advice and on that note, thank you very much for your time, Michelle.

Michelle:
You are more than welcome. Good luck everyone out there writing, get into it.


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