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Dustin LindenSmith

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The 12-Week Fitness Challenge by Bill Phillips

The Body-For-Life (BFL) 12-Week Fitness Challenge is a comprehensive healthy eating and exercise plan developed by the American bodybuilder and entrepreneur Bill Phillips.

This article and interview by Outside magazine on Bill Phillips provides some interesting background about the man. Per the article, Phillips first cut his writing chops in the mid 80s while he was in his early 20s with a self-published monthly newsletter called The Anabolic Update. Phillips makes no bones about the steroid use he practiced during his professional bodybuilding career, and went on to publish a more technical manual for hardcore lifters in 1991 called Anabolic Reference Guide. In 1992 he transformed his monthly newsletter into a full-colour glossy called Muscle Media 2000. It was this publication which served as the springboard for Phillips' first Body-for-Life 12-Week Fitness Challenge in 1997 (here is the winners list for that inaugural 1997 BFL Challenge; list of other years can be found here -- lots of incredible before-and-after shots on those pages).

Phillips has produced a full-length documentary film about this first country-wide call for transformative amateur bodybuilders. Called Body of Work, it's available for no cost through his website provided that you make a donation to the Children's Wish Foundation. It also features a series of Survivor-style cinematography and interviewing styles, and in point of fact, Survivor 9 (Vanuatu) star Ami Cusack was an employee of Phillips' company at that time. Cusack, who's a gorgeous pearl of a woman in the Phillips documentary, was featured in several interview spots throughout the video and also happened to be dating Bill Phillips around the same time of shooting. I wonder if Phillips followed Survivor 9 avidly. I would have, were I him. (This Google search on Ami Cusack also yields some interesting results.)

Eating plan. This aspect of Body-for-Life is based on a back-to-basics diet commonly used by bodybuilders while preparing for a competition or photo shoot. It's comprised of six small, nutritious, evenly-spaced meals each day, where each meal is comprised of a single serving of protein and a single serving of carbs, and at least two meals have a serving of fruits and/or vegetables. There is an approved eating list that essentially rules out foods high in sugar, fat and calories, leaving behind nutritious foods like white chicken and turkey meat, lean beef and pork, legumes, fruits, vegetables, potatoes, and whole-grain breads, pasta and rice. Particular attention is paid to portion sizes, wherein a portion of any food except vegetables cannot be larger than the palm of your own hand or the volume of your own clenched fist. This usually results in meat serving sizes of 3-6 ounces and carb serving sizes of 2/3 to 3/4 of a cup.

Exercise plan. It's pretty simple: you work out six days a week, alternating between cardio, upper body, cardio, and lower body. The end result is that you get 2-3 cardio workouts each week (20 min each) and 2-3 weightlifting workouts each week (40-50 min each). All the workouts are based on an interval training model, wherein you perform repeated sets (usually 5-6) of cardio or weightlifting exercises with increasing intensity for each set. Exercise goals are to go to failure on the final set, with the intent of working to total exhaustion for each muscle group in every workout. This results in a sliding scale depending on the fitness level of each person, and as one progresses through the 12-week challenge, one cannot fail to notice improvements to one's own capacity and performance (some examples include: regular increases to the amount of weight one can lift each week; improvement to one's cardiovascular strength and endurance; and/or a decrease in bodyfat percentage and overall body weight).

Mental preparation. An essential pre-requisite to the plan involves mental preparation exercises -- what Phillips calls mindset exercises. He recommends that you keep a written journal of your progress and that you plan each of your meals and workouts ahead of time. Before starting the challenge, you're also asked to think about what your wildest dreams are regarding your ideal body (i.e. your Body For Life); you're asked to identify the reasons why you want to do this challenge, and you're asked to set five specific, measureable goals that you will attain by the end of the 12-week challenge. By reviewing your goals, dreams and reasons for undertaking the challenge each day, you reinforce your resolve to stay on track with the program.

Absolutely anybody, regardless of age or physical condition or starting weight can complete this program and achieve positive results. The most inspiring stories for me are those with people who have completed 3-4 consecutive challenges and dropped over 100 pounds of fat in the process. Ultimate success in the program comes from mastery of the physical exercises AND the eating plan in full concert with one another. For many obese people, following the BFL eating plan will be the most difficult part. But for anyone trying to start or follow the program, there is a wealth of online resources for additional BFL information and support. In fact, I don't find BFL, and the community of hardcore practitioners of the BFL lifestyle, to be dissimilar to a 12-Step Program. It's just one that provides for people who are addicted to eating and slow behaviour patterns.

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vyus January 22nd, 2006
Phillips is one of the first sources I used (1998 timeframe) when I wanted to get serious about working out. There's so much crap and contradictory information that I started to tear through all information I can and began to throw out the garbage (anything published by Weider publications, for example).

Phillips is still selling his EAS supplements with Muscle Media and the Body for Life program, but the workout & dietary program is sound.

iamom January 22nd, 2006
Yeah, in my early 20s I remember reading a lot of Weider's publications, and it seems to me that the Weider brothers got a lot of heavy endorsement from the likes of Arnold and Lee Haney and the like. That gave them some cred in my eyes at the time, but I also remember that the Weider programs didn't really resonate with me at the time.

I think Bill's approach is sound, too. God knows there are enough success stories to back it up.

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