Being Strong is the Path to Spiritual Development

Tom Venuto Know's Fat Loss and Stength TrainingTom is without question someone who gets this lifestyle of physical and mental health that we promote here at Mindful Muscle.

Interview: Tom Venuto – Fat Loss & Fitness Expert

Tell us a little bit about what you do and what your life’s work is about…

I’m a fitness professional specializing in fat loss. I’m also a lifetime natural bodybuilder, which means I don’t take steroids, hormones or any other performance or physique-enhancing drugs and never have.

I’ve competed in 28 bodybuilding competitions. I’m semi-retired from the competition side (“semi” meaning I haven’t competed in quite a few years), but bodybuilding is still my sport, hobby, career and lifestyle.

After a long stint as a personal trainer and health club manager in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, I shifted gears and became a full time author, publisher and coach – both online and through my books. My mission is to teach and inspire as many people as possible to live the natural bodybuilding and fitness lifestyle.

How/why/when did you first start working out and getting into fitness?

I started bodybuilding when I was 14 years old after I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie, Conan the Barbarian. I picked up a Muscle and Fitness magazine and bought Arnold’s first book – the Education of a Bodybuilder, and I was hooked. Part of my motivation was like a lot of teenagers.

I was not overweight, but I was definitely flabby and self-conscious about my physique (or lack of one). I wanted respect from the guys and attention from the girls and I wanted to get lean, look strong and be strong. But there was definitely something else there – in the gym, I felt like I had found my calling.


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What do you think about the phrase that I’m hearing a lot : “FIT is the new Skinny”?

Saying “fit is the new skinny” or “strong is the new skinny” is a good way to reframe our focus. I think best of all would be to focus on strength, fitness, health AND body composition all over and above being “skinny.”

The ideal goal is not to get skinny or lose weight per se, the ideal goal is to improve your body composition, which means more muscle and less fat. We do this with training, combined with good nutrition, not with “dieting.” Dieting also can’t make you stronger and it can’t make you fitter – only training can do that.

Most people focus too much on weight loss and not enough on body composition, so they’re chasing the wrong goal right from the start and they often end up with a smaller version of their old body. They weigh less on the scale, but they may have lost muscle and still have a lot of body fat (the “skinny fat person”). They might look thinner in clothes, but they still don’t like the way they look out of clothes.

What’s your personal definition of strength and why do you think it’s important to be strong?

I think there are different ways to define strength based on the context. It’s definitely far more than physical strength – there’s mental and emotional strength too – and strength of character.

One of the definitions of strength that has been important to me and helpful to people I’ve coached is that strength is having adversity, hardships or challenges – and overcoming them. If someone coasts their way to an easy win or is handed something on a silver platter, that may be a victory or a gain, but it’s not strength.

There’s no increase in strength and no real growth without challenge. The most growth comes when achieving something you’ve never done before, where the path is “blocked” by obstacles and you don’t even know HOW to achieve it (yet). It takes a lot of strength just to set that goal and start. Most people will talk themselves out of even attempting something like that.

In what ways has being fit and strong a spiritual journey for yourself?

To me, all personal development, including physically, is actually a path to spiritual development. Why? Because I believe that the nature of spirit is growth, creation and expansion, and while we have bodies here on Earth, we can create and grow physically. We can move things from the intangible thought form into the physical form through action and work. But also look at it from the other direction:

In the end, we’re not taking anything physical with us. What matters at that point is not what we have, but what we’ve become. It doesn’t matter that you produce a million dollars. What matters is the type of person you became to earn that million. If you ethically delivered a million dollars worth of service to other people, you became a person of service.

That’s spiritual growth. It doesn’t matter if you win the national championship. It matters the type of person you became in the process of winning. Having won fairly, you don’t just have the championship trophy, you’ve become a champion, and perhaps, inspired other people. That’s spiritual growth too.

The physique isn’t going to last, the physical strength isn’t going to last, the trophy isn’t going to last, the money isn’t going to last. The physical stuff is all going to be dust eventually. But if our nature is spiritual, then what you’ve become – your character, your consciousness and all the intangibles – that goes on.

So if achieving something physical makes me become a better person, that’s spiritual growth. And if I take that with me, then in that sense, achieving those physical things is part of the spiritual journey isn’t it? If it is, then I want to achieve everything and become everything I can, in this lifetime, physically and otherwise.

Do you meditate or have any other mindfulness practice that you incorporate into your daily life, and how has it improved you life? What new practice would you like to adopt and why?

I’ve been doing something along those lines for years, and I’ve studied the subject from both angles – from the scientific perspective and as a more “Eastern” thing. But what I actually do every day (most of the time – I’ve had my lapses), is more along the lines of the “mental training” and “self-hypnosis” work that athletes have done in the sports world.

My first exposure to this was Charles Garfield’s book, Peak Performance and that’s when I started getting involved in deep relaxation and visualization practice. I also followed the work of Dr. Judd Biasiotto, the sports psychologist who wrote “Hypnotize me and make me great” and several other books on the mind-body connection (long out of print). Add in a few useful things I learned from hypnotherapists and NLP, and you end up with my own personal style.

I think there is a distinct difference between meditation and self-hypnosis or visualization. I found a way to merge the two together where I get relaxed before the mental rehearsal / visualization, and then afterward, I sit quietly, so I guess you could call it meditation as well.

Sometimes I just sit, quiet my mind and focus on my breath and I think that part of it has been huge for relaxation and stress release. In my life now, I feel like I’m constantly spinning plates to the point that it sometimes takes the joy out of my work – I too often let the overwhelm stress me out. But the relaxation / meditation practice brings a feeling of peace and calmness.

Bob Proctor once said, “You don’t have to slow down, you just have to calm down” and I think that’s what meditation does for me. I also think it helps tremendously with focus and concentration and in our internet-connected, ADD, distraction-filled world today, I think that is more important than ever- especially for an athlete or entrepreneur.

If I were to adopt a new practice, I’m not sure I would change anything, I would (and am) simply working on making this a daily ritual that’s always in my lifestyle rather than when I “need” it, or only when I’m focusing on competition or a big goal.


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Where would you like to see the future of fitness progress in the next 5-10 years?

I think the true future of fitness – aside from focusing more on the psychological aspects, of course – is to focus on customization and individualization of nutrition and training. It’s not easy to do because people like absolutes, not ambiguity.

The average consumer in the fitness market would rather be told about the “5 foods that you should NEVER eat” and the “3 exercises you should NEVER do” than how to determine for themselves whether they are more suited to follow low carb or high carb or to include wheat and grains or exclude them.

Or how to weigh the risk to benefit ratio of an exercise, or train in the bodybuilding style versus using a metabolic workout or take a class, and so on.

There’s a cliquish nature of the various diet and fitness tribes today. So instead of doing things that create more dogma and cause more polarization, I hope each segment of the industry gets better at helping people find their own best path. Most of us are together in striving to reach the same destination, but there’s more than one way to get there.


About Tom Venuto

  • Bodybuilding since 1983, competed 28 times since 1989, and he’s a lifetime natural (steroid-free).
  • Author of “Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle”, the best-selling fat loss/diet/nutrition eBook in Internet History
  • Freelance writer, authored 400+ articles on nutrition, training, fat loss and fitness motivation, and his articles can be found on thousands of websites worldwide including About.com, The Huffington Post, Bodybuilding.com, Men’s Fitness.com, Lee Labrada’s Lean Body Coaching Club, Christian Finn’s Facts About Fitness.com, Will Brink’s Bodybuilding Revealed.com.
  • Featured in numerous publications, including: Muscle & Fitness, IRONMAN (US, Italian and Australian editions), Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Exercise for Men, Men’s Exercise and Men’s Fitness, Oprah magazine, First for Women magazine, Experience Life magazine, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.