Q: How long have you been involved in the bodybuilding, health, and fitness industry? How did you start in the industry and get so well known?
WB: I have been involved in the “biz” for almost 20 years at this point. Back in the day, when I had a private training business, people kept telling me I should write articles for the magazines. I had a good reputation in the local area for getting bodybuilders into shape, pre-contest. At the time, I was also doing some local seminars and people kept telling me I should send in some articles to the bodybuilding magazines. That’s more or less where it started for me.
Q: So what was the first magazine you published an article in?
WB: I had published articles in a bunch of local and regional publications before that, but the first large, well known bodybuilding magazine I published in was MuscleMag International. How it happened is sort of a funny story, actually. I sent the article in and heard nothing back from them. Months went by and nothing—no rejection or acceptance letters, just nada. I figured they weren’t interested and writing articles for the ‘big time’ magazines was not in my future.
One day I was in the book store with my girlfriend at the time, and we were looking through the various magazines. I recall the day vividly, in fact. I was looking at a Flex Magazine and she was looking through a copy of MuscleMag. She asked me, “Didn’t you submit an article to this magazine?” I said, “Yes, but they never responded, so I guess they weren’t interested in what I had to say.” She spun the magazine around and there was a big, two page spread with an article called “How to Make Constant Gains and Avoid Burnout by Will Brink.”
I have to say, my brain was still not really processing what I was seeing. I think it took a full minute or so for the info to actually hit the part of my brain that fully appreciated that I did, in fact, have my first article published in a magazine read all over the world.
I yelled, “Hey, that’s my article!” Everyone in the quiet book store looked over at us. I said, “Hey, this is my article in this magazine!” to the staring people. They looked back at me with a “Great, so shut up already,” look. I grabbed all the MuscleMags they had, about ten or twelve I recall, and purchased them. Still have them in a box in the basement! I contacted MuscleMag and they had lost my contact info and figured I would pop up after seeing the article in print…what if I had never seen it?!
Q: So who else did you write for after that?
WB: Oh geez, a bunch of publications, not all just bodybuilding-oriented. Back in the day, the magazine you had to be in was Muscle Media 2000, which was owned by Bill Phillips. So, I made a point to be in that magazine on a regular basis. Beyond that, I continued to write quite a bit for MuscleMag International, and had a monthly column with them for over 10 years. Others off the top of my head were Let’s Live, Muscle & Fitness, Life Extension magazine, Muscular Development, Townsend Letter for Doctors, IronMan, Inside Karate, Exercise for Men Only, Physical, Power, Body International, Oxygen, Penthouse, Fitness RX, Big, as well as others over the years that I can’t remember right now.
Q: That’s quite a list Will! You may be the most published bodybuilding and fitness writer out there. Errr, Penthouse? Writing dirty stories too?
(Laughing). No porn! At the time, Penthouse had a men’s health section. I don’t know if they still do or not, but the editor at the time contacted me about writing some short pieces on nutrition and such for that section, so no, I was not submitting dirty stories to Penthouse! I did attend one of their Christmas parties in NY, however, and that was… interesting to say the least! But that’s all I’m willing to say on the matter.
Q: I know you have also written chapters in various books and or written entire books, including e-books. Can you tell us about some of that?
WB: How much time and space do we have here? (laughing). My first actual print book was called “Priming the Anabolic Environment” which was geared, as the name implies, toward bodybuilders. It covered all the essential basics of gaining muscle mass. It can still be found on the shelves in some book stores as well as from Amazon and other online retailers.
I’ve written chapters here and there for various sports nutrition text books, as well as some peer-reviewed research found in the science and medical journals—although I am not a ‘scientist’ in the classic sense as I don’t work at a lab or university. Most people have probably heard of “Body for Life” by Bill Phillips, which was a national best seller. Before that book, he had a book called The Sports Supplement Review. I wrote chapter eleven of that book, for example.
Q: What got you into the fitness and bodybuilding industry? What was your background for all the writing and consulting work?
WB: My grandmother bought me a gym membership for my fourteenth birthday. As a kid growing up in Brooklyn NY, trouble had a habit of finding me. She thought a membership to a gym might be a good place for me to stay out of trouble, and she was right. That’s what got me into bodybuilding and fitness on a personal level.
What actually got me started in the biz is a topic I’ve never discussed in public before. When I was a college student, I worked out, read the muscle magazines, and was more or less your average guy in the gym who ate pretty well and took a multivitamin. I was majoring in Psychology and journalism at the time and ever thought anything about the health and fitness industry. At 20 years old, however, I experienced a life-threatening illness that changed the entire direction of my life. What I learned was that working out, a “healthy” diet, and a multivitamin was clearly not enough to prevent disease, and more research was needed on my part.
Q: What illness did you have if I may ask?
WB: I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which is a form of cancer of the lymph nodes. I was treated for that, and have been disease-free ever since, although I have suffered some side effects from the treatments over the years. That experience totally changed my view of the world, and sent me in a direction I had never anticipated, which was many years of research in nutrition and the medical sciences in general.
I became something of a perpetual student, took courses in so many topics I can’t even tell you. Nutrition, chemistry, physiology, psychology, all manner of writing courses, as well as other topics both science and non-science related. From 1983 to around 1997, I took courses at 5 different colleges I recall. I probably have enough credits for several masters’ degrees at this point! Finally I realized I had better get some sort of actual degree. I graduated from Harvard University with a concentration in the Natural Sciences. It was mostly a pre-med course load I took, with some sidetracks into areas I was interested in.
So, my lifelong research into health, fitness, nutrition, bodybuilding, anti-aging, disease prevention, weight loss, and other topics began with an illness that totally threw a monkey wrench into my life. It all started there really, though I didn’t know that at the time…
Q: Long term side effects from the treatments? I met you at the Arnold Classic and you look like a very healthy man!
WB: The treatments are known to cause damage to the thyroid and the heart in particular. I have had some issues with both, but yes, in fact I am quite healthy compared to most people. I do have to take thyroid medication, and get regular check ups for the heart, but cardiovascular tests always show me to be above average in cardio function. All things considered, I am in good health, although I remain at greater risk for cardiovascular issues such as scar tissue, and other problems.
Q: With those roadblocks thrown in your way at such an early age, you seemed to have accomplished quite a bit.
WB: I have never let any of it stop me from achieving what I needed to achieve. Slow me down, yes. Force me to work around it, yes. Force me to alter my path in life, yes. Stop me, no!
Q: What have you learned from the experience that you can share with others?
WB: Mostly that people are far tougher than they think, that life will always find a way to let you know you are not the boss, and you better appreciate what you have. It’s allowed me to have empathy with people from all walks of life I think. At the same time, I don’t have much sympathy for those who are not willing to take account of themselves and their behavior, and take responsibility for where ever it is they find themselves in this life.
Q: You mentioned psychology. For some reason, I don’t see you as a psychology buff. You always strike me as one focused on the “hard” sciences like chemistry or biology.
WB: Yes, well, people know me as a “hard” science type as you said, but I have always been fascinated by the inner workings of the human psyche. I was a psych major before my big change in direction, and through the years have done course work in general psychology, child psychology, abnormal psychology, developmental psychology, and personality psychology. I still read about the topic to this day and believe the human mind plays a far greater role in our physical health than most appreciate, or science and modern medicine is willing to admit.
Q: Interesting. Do you think you would have gone on to get a Ph.D. in that area if you had not changed directions as you said?
WB: Very possibly yes, but I probably would have gone into research vs. being a therapist. Having been through plenty of hard times myself and knowing people who have been through some very tough experiences, I have a very limited capacity to listen to people complain about mundane things.
Q: Understandable, I suppose. Getting back to the fitness and bodybuilding industry, you are also known as the “insider’s insider” when it comes to the supplement industry, and the questionable practices some companies rely on to sell products. I bet you could tell us some amazing stories there. How bad is it out there? Can you share one that won’t get you sued or in too much trouble?
WB: Sure I can, without naming names… After all the writing I was doing, I started to get requests for doing consulting work for all manner of supplement companies. I have consulted on different levels for a wide variety of companies, on R&D, marketing, helping with research, and other stuff.
So how bad is it out there, you ask? In the late 90s, I had a monthly retainer contract consulting for one of the most successful supplement companies on the planet. At the time, it made close to 100 million dollars per year, and was very well known. I was doing my usual work for these guys, some R&D for formulas, and so on.
I get called into a meeting with the owner of the company and he shows me what they are working on. He asks what I think about it, so I tell him the truth, which is, the research does not support the claims they plan on making about this product and it’s generally worthless. The owner gets a “gee, this guy is really naive” look on his face and says to me:
“Will, what we do is throw sh&% against the wall and see what sticks. We can worry about the rest later.”
That is an absolutely true story and one of many experiences I have had in the industry. What the owner of this company was letting me know, in no uncertain terms, was he didn’t care there was no research to support what he planned on selling, nor did he care if the product actually worked. He knew the power of marketing would make it sell, and as long as it sold, he didn’t give a rat’s behind about the science.
I let him know that I don’t get involved in projects where the company had no interest in supporting their claims with real science, and we parted ways. That conversation cost me about 75k right there, and that sucked! However, I have this conscience about such things that just won’t quit, so that was that. As I have said many times in many places, if you can drop your conscience, you can make a lot of money in the supplement industry, be it bodybuilding or weight loss.
Q: So you told the owner of this mega-popular supplement company that the product had no real science to support it, and that’s what he said?
WB: Yup! Me and my big mouth; telling the truth! As a consultant, and an independent one at that, it’s always been my policy to tell them the truth. Owners of such companies are usually surrounded by your classic “yes men” types who tell the owner what he or she wants to hear. As far as I am concerned, I’m not paid to tell them what they want to hear, I’m paid to tell them what they need to hear. To be perfectly honest with you, most of them really don’t want to hear the truth, and prefer the yes men.
These days I limit my consulting work to those companies that have some integrity and an interest in good science; research to support their claims; and hopefully, an owner who does not prefer “yes men.” Will Brink is no yes man…
If there is one thing I am well known for, both publicly via the mags and the ‘net, as well as privately, it’s that I tell the facts and the truth when it comes to matters of supplements, or weight loss, or gaining muscle, etc. Some people really appreciate that, and some don’t. I have made my fair share of enemies by taking the honest approach.
Q: Enemies really? Do I sense another good story?
WB: Sure, telling the truth often costs other people money. After I wrote an article that exposed the fact that not all creatines were created equal, and that some creatines on the market contained unacceptably high levels of contaminants, I had the owner of one company almost take a swing at me at a conference. I cost him a fortune as he was making most of his money selling crappy creatine to people at outrageous profits. He went out of business shortly after that. No loss to the world as far as I was concerned, the guy was a real jerk to boot…I wrote about that experience in the follow up article on the impurities found in some creatines, which single-handedly altered the entire creatine market at the time.
Q: I get the impression that you are saying that most supplement companies and diet companies and such don’t employ scientists or others who may actually know—or care—if their products actually work. Is that right?
WB: Essentially correct, yes. The ads give people the impression there are scientists in white lab coats at these companies designing supplements or diets based on real science. In a few companies that’s true, but in the vast majority of companies, it’s just a couple of out-of-shape marketing guys, or guru wannabe types, throwing you-know-what against the wall to ‘see what sticks.’ For example, the owner of the aforementioned company who made that statement was a short fat guy who previously had two heart attacks! His company employed essentially no one with any science background, but they had one hell of a marketing budget and sales force!
Q: This is some real eye-opening information you are giving us today. Black helicopters going to show up at your house?!
WB: I hope not!
Q: But seriously, from what you are saying, it sounds like all the weight loss or bodybuilding supplements and products are a total scam. Is that right?
WB: Not at all. If I felt that way, I would not use so many supplements myself! However, it is the industry that is the poster child for the term “buyer beware.” People need to be educated consumers, whether they’re looking to lose weight or gain muscle, as there are countless scam diets and worthless supplements out there. If you are not willing to do some research on your own or pay someone else who has, then you will be throwing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars down the toilet.
It’s about making smart choices as an educated consumer, not jumping on the bandwagon for every new supplement or miracle diet plan you believe will change your life overnight by helping you “lose 30 lbs in ten days” or “gain muscle like you were on megadoses of steroids.”
Q: I notice you don’t put your name to any supplement brand as such, or have your own brand. There’s big money in that, no?
WB: There can be, yes. Over the years, I’ve played with the idea of starting my own brand or teaming up with some existing company, but so far, it hasn’t happened, at least not on an official level. I prefer to sell information people can use to gain muscle, or lose fat, improve their health, or what ever effect they want vs. selling supplements. I prefer to be behind the scenes for the most part, helping companies improve a product or design a new one. I’m not really comfortable with the idea of putting my name on a label or being directly associated with a product. It presents something of a conflict of interest for me, as my goal has always been to supply objective science-based information people can apply to their lives in the “real world.”
It’s funny, however—I do get a lot of e-mails and comments from people telling me how I should sell my own line of supplements as I am the only person they trust out there! It’s hard to know what the right answer is, as there are upsides and downsides no matter what I do. Perhaps something will happen in the future with all that, I can’t say.
Q: You are also well-known for having worked with various pro bodybuilders, other athletes and fitness models, which—although impressive—is pretty standard fare for a high level trainer and “guru” type such as yourself. However, what jumped out at me was your work with law enforcement and the military. I read a letter from a sergeant from a SWAT team on the Brinkzone web site* about a seminar you did for his group. That seems like a pretty specialized area. Can you tell us more about that?
WB: Sure. I have many friends that are in either law enforcement or special operations military, and I give advice to individuals in those areas. I am also an avid shooter and compete regularly. I realized that these “high speed, low drag” types from special operations and tactical law enforcement take a lot of supplements, and are really nothing but triathletes who carry weapons and gear. They tend to eat and train like athletes. After doing some digging into the research, I found studies existed that confirmed my own impressions, which was these guys used as many, if not more, supplements than your average person in the gym.
I also knew they were getting most of their information from the musclemags and their buddies, more or less like everyone else out there. So, I thought doing some seminars for such groups could be helpful to them to perform better. In their line of work, second place means coming back in a bodybag, vs. winning a second place trophy.
I probably have a much better handle on their needs and requirements than most, due to my personal interest, research and close contacts in the law enforcement community.
Q: OK, so you have written for many publications, consulted for many of the better known supplement companies, been involved in research found in peer-reviewed journals, worked with high level athletes, as well as a long list of other accomplishments we can read about on your web site. You have written an impressive body of work that has attempted to help people navigate the minefields in the health, fitness, weight loss, and bodybuilding industries. So why are you writing e-books now vs. magazines or printed books?
WB. An excellent question. For one, e-books give me total editorial control. I can say whatever I want to say, and be as honest as I wish to be. That’s simply not possible with the print magazines, much more so today than it used to be. Another problem is that print books are often literally out of date by the time they hit the store shelves. It can take a year, or even two, to get from selling a book to a publisher to getting it printed.
New research and information on supplements, nutrition, exercise, weight loss, etc. comes out almost daily. E-books allow me to update their content in real time. For example, we are on version four on one e-book, which was done within the time it would take to get a single book into print.
Perhaps the most important feature, however, is the interactivity. E-books are not just electronic versions of “real” books, but a portal to a larger interactive community with interlinked resources such as nutrition and diet software, daily meal planners, massive food lists, exercise vids, and other tools.
Q: What do you mean by community?
WB: By community, I mean the e-books come with large private forums that are all interlinked to the above tools, and are moderated by myself and a group of hand-picked moderators, who have their own specific areas of expertise, such as rehabilitative medicine, nutrition, supplementation and training. Members talk to each other, get their questions answered, and find support and help for reaching their goals, be it gaining strength and muscle mass, losing fat, or just getting into better shape than they were last year.
You can’t compare such a total system to a print book or magazine article. It makes a print book look like a waste of time and money!
Q: So you have two e-books that are part of larger programs and communities: one that focuses on weight loss, and the other on gaining muscle mass and strength, is that right?
WB: Yes. Of course there is some overlap in information, but the nutrition, exercise sections, and supplements reviewed and or recommended are quite different between the two e-books and forums. Many of our members actually go back and forth, using the fat loss e-book when dieting and the more strength and bodybuilding-oriented e-book when trying to gain muscle mass.
Q: Are these e-books helpful for the average person just looking to lose some weight or get stronger, or are they geared toward bodybuilders and other athletes?
WB. If anyone looks on the sites that sell the e-books, they can see people from all walks of life use them. I think people get way too wrapped up in thinking there is a specific niche like “toning and firming” or “bodybuilding.” These are just terms used to make people feel there are some major differences between them. It’s mostly marketing hype really. A person might say “I just want to lose some fat and gain some muscle, but I don’t want to be a bodybuilder.” And yet, those are the exact same goals of the bodybuilders! What the person means is, they are not attempting to add as much muscle and lose as much fat as it would require to end up looking like a competitive bodybuilder, which FYI, only a small % of people have the genetics for anyway, but that’s another issue. Now where was I? Lost my train of thought!
Q: You were saying people often state they want to lose some fat or gain some muscle, or get stronger, but may not want to be bodybuilders, when those are, in fact, the same goals bodybuilders have.
WB: Exactly! It’s simply a matter of degree, but the goals are the same. One of the biggest problems I see with people achieving their goals is, they don’t have concrete goals. Without a concrete, well-defined, and measurable goal, you can’t reach it, as it does not exist. “I want to be in better shape,” or “I want to tone and firm,” or even, “I want to lose weight” are either not goals you can define or measure objectively, or they are goals you don’t actually want. For example, your body has no idea or specific mechanism for “toning and firming.” You can gain or lose fat and you can gain or lose muscle. That’s it. Those are essentially your choices based on biological reality. Now, if you lose some fat and gain some muscle, you will be more “toned” in appearance and “firm” to the touch, but the body does not know from toning and firming, and that’s a fact. Your goals should be to lose fat and gain—or maintain—muscle.
In other words, these goals are the same ones that bodybuilders have—it’s simply a matter of degree. Bodybuilders want to put on the maximum amount of muscle and lose the maximum amount of fat, but that’s the only real difference. What I do is cut through all the BS, and give advice based on the common denominators between seemingly complex topics. This helps people avoid the pitfalls of conflicting advice out there, most of which is either just plain wrong or based on marketing vs. reality and objective fact.
Q: What about the goal of losing weight? That seems like an objective measurable goal, no?
WB: It is, and that’s a good point to make. You will note that I said people often choose goals that are either not measurable goals you can define objectively, or they are goals you don’t actually want. Losing weight is in the latter category, and something I have been trying to teach people for a few decades. Losing weight is an objective and easy to track measure, it’s just the wrong measure! What people need to focus on is losing fat, not weight! When you lose weight, it can be muscle, water, bone, and fat. Most people focus exclusively on weight loss, and go about dieting and exercising—assuming they exercise at all—to lose weight. In that process, they often end up simply a thinner version of their former flabby selves. Sometimes, they even end up with a higher bodyfat percentage after they lose weight, as most of what they lost was muscle! Using weight loss as the only measure of success is a huge mistake! Unfortunately, it’s one I see people make all the time.
Q: Wow, that makes almost too much sense Will! Real food for thought there. This has been a fascinating conversation. I hope readers will enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. Thank you for your time!
WB: Much appreciated, one of the best interviews I have been part of, so thank you!