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Celebrity trainer Jim Karas on Hugh Jackman, banning marathons

by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

Jim Karas has come a long way since his student days at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.

The celebrity trainer and best-selling author will open the Jim Karas Cardio-Free Studio in Hinsdale in July, and will double the size of his original Lincoln Park workout facility this month.

In a candid interview, Karas talked with Windy City Times about celebrities Hugh Jackman and Oprah Winfrey; the importance of metabolic detox; and why he would ban marathons if he could.

Windy City Times: You went to Wharton and studied economics. How did you go from that to being a trainer?

Jim Karas: I was an overweight child and overweight teen who was always struggling to get lean. I used to take aerobics classes—which are a waste of time, FYI. In 1986, I was taking a class and the teacher never showed for an 8 a.m. class. I don't know what possessed me but I shot my hand up at 8:15 and said, "If someone's got a music tape, I'll teach. I've memorized the routine." (By the way, you never want to do that.) So I ended up teaching that class and the 9 o'clock one as well.

At the end, the manger of the club offered me a job. So I was a private-portfolio manager by day [in Chicago] and an aerobics instructor at night. A woman told me about another club at Fairbanks and Ohio that [paid more]. Then, another woman asked me to be her personal fitness trainer. I said, "I don't know what you're talking about." She said, "I want you to work out with me one on one." Before you know it, I started applying my business-school education and raising my prices. The more expensive I got, the more in-demand I got.

WCT: So why did you leave aerobics?

JK: I'm just a voracious reader. I got my certification and did a tremendous amount of reading. I used my body as my own test module. I also looked at the people in aerobics; [some] were overweight. Then I looked at people who were strength-training—and they looked so much better. I wondered what they were doing.

I went from 100 percent cardio to 90 percent cardio and 10 percent strength-training; I saw a little benefit. Every time I would shift my emphasis from cardio to strength-training, my body would look better and better.

At 51, I see it with myself and clients, including Hugh Jackman. He doesn't do an ounce of cardio. He's a great role about how you can age gracefully. His genetics, by the way, are like Gumby; he has to work for every bit of muscle you see. He was once out for two days [because he was sick]. When I saw him again, he looked like a supermodel; he was that thin.

WCT: You include a nutrition plan in your program called Metabolic Detox. What is that?

JK: It's our shake program. We are deeply opposed to all of these cleanse programs, like master cleanse. When you go on those, you can lose a lot of muscle. Muscle is the engine of metabolism; so with those cleanses you'll lose weight—but you'll boomerang right back, and you may even gain more weight.

We started formulating these shakes. It's a 21-day program, but you must strength-train during it because we want to make sure you lose fat, not muscle. We want to recalibrate your calories, your cravings, your blood sugar. We've had huge success with it.

Week one is just shakes—breakfast, lunch and dinner. Week two, you get to eat breakfast, and we teach you how to eat it. Week three, you can eat breakfast and lunch. We wean you off the shakes while teaching you to deal with cravings and hunger.

WCT: How often do you recommend the detox?

JK: A lot of our clients do it about four times a year. However, keep in mind that (if you're a weight-loss client) weight loss is 75 percent diet and 25 percent exercise. You cannot out-train that diet. You can't eat crap, especially in your 30s and 40s.

WCT: I hear about ultramarathoners who run 50 or 100 miles, and have to eat 5,000 calories a day.

JK: It's insanity. The person who just started the 50-mile marathon just died—in his 50s. Marathons are killer; if you want to die, run a marathon. Have you read about the excessive heart damage that can result from running? It's extreme-stress exercise. Exercise is stress, so why would you want to do that to your body—excessively?

WCT: There is good stress and there's bad stress, too.

JK: Absolutely—and exercise can relieve a certain amount of stress. At a certain point, the pendulum starts to [swing] toward the dark side. I think marathons should be abolished. Marathons can damage your body; they beat your joints, impair your immunity, age you and cause you to eat more. I know [many] people who've gained weight after running marathons.

There's an article in Time magazine [entitled], "Does exercise make you fat?" It was in August 2009. I never did more TV in my life than during that time: ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN. Did you know there's a 97-percent failure rate after five years for those who go on diets? And of those 3 percent, I think some of those are sick.

WCT: You see celebrities like Oprah…

JK: She doesn't want to do it. I don't know her, [although] I speak at her conferences and I know [Oprah's best friend] Gayle King very well. I'm not getting this from Gayle, but [I feel] that Oprah has no interest. She's an intelligent, fiercely driven woman—but for some reason she doesn't want to turn that success onto herself. She doesn't want to take the fat suit off, because if you take it off, what's inside?

She has never strongly embraced strength-training. I have trained a ton of her producers [though].

WCT: I don't mean this question as a put-down of that area, but why Hinsdale?

JK: We have an overwhelming demand from the western suburbs. There are two reasons for that. One, we've been doing in-home business there for years, so we're opening a studio.

Two, just two years ago I was blessed with an amazing man, Justin, who I want to tackle this [area]. I told him that if he built up "X" amount of clients, we'd build a studio. He said, "Deal"—and he did it. People are ready to sign, and we don't open out there until July 1. We found that there's not a lot of quality competition out there.

WCT: What do you think is the number-one mistake people make regarding exercise?

JK: [Pauses] I would say the top mistake is repeating an exercise program that failed in the past. Someone will say, "I love spinning," and I'll say, "Really? How's that working for you?" That's also what 98 percent of people say when it comes to dieting. ("I love the South Beach Diet.")

However—to give you a second answer to that question—it's excessive exercise. Some of these guys work out way too much. I work out three hours a week—and it could be six 30-minute sessions or four 45-minute sessions.

There is a smarter option [for people]. If you're ready to take the challenge, I promise that we can get you in much, much better shape.

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