Fitness: The Peak Condition Project
The website of the Peak Condition Project (PCP), a 90-day online health and fitness programme, stands out from the swarm of others of its type. There are no white smiles flaunting sculpted abs, money back guarantees or flashing buttons urging you to "sign up here".
Instead, there are only links to the blogs of ordinary people detailing the transformation of their bodies - and minds.
The differences don't end there. PCP's founder, Patrick Reynolds, 33, is not a fitness guru; he's a yoga teacher, Zen practitioner and accidental wellness revolutionary. "I never intended for this to be a business," he says of his blossoming wellness empire. "I just did this project for myself."
It started four years ago as Reynolds faced his 30s with trepidation. "I always had that layer of fat around my gut that I couldn't get rid of," and he felt it was only getting worse. An American expat in Japan, he searched for a way to combat the effects of a slowing metabolism, demanding work schedule and overindulgence.
His solution was to enlist the help of his martial arts trainer and fulfil a childhood dream of looking like Bruce Lee: lean, flexible and strong. He radically overhauled his eating habits, completed a basic training regimen daily and detailed his journey on a blog.
Over 90 days, Reynolds lost 8 per cent of his body weight, changed his views on food and finally found that elusive Bruce Lee washboard stomach. (He also had the hairstyle to match.) His breakthrough earned him thousands of dedicated blog readers eager to emulate his success.
Four years later, more than 600 people around the world (including Hong Kong's Sean Macfarlane and Cecilia Aiello featured on the facing page) have followed in Reynolds' footsteps.
Reynolds is not the only one riding the wave of the booming global US$600 billion health and fitness market as it takes to the internet. There are a number of similar websites on offer, such as DailyBurn.com iBodyFit.com and 12wbt.com Local Hong Kong business, Circuit25, has started offering online fitness programmes, and the personal training studio, Fitness Compass, also offers "how to" YouTube videos on its website.
Interactive, personalised websites can help people not only lose weight but keep weight off, according to a 2010 study funded by the US National Institutes of Health and published in the
Journal of Medical Internet Research. Among the 348 obese or overweight participants, consistent website users who logged on and recorded their weight at least once a month for 2½ years maintained the most weight loss.
"Consistency and accountability are essential in any weight maintenance programme. The unique part of [the 2010 study] was that it was available on the internet, whenever and wherever people wanted to use it," says the study's lead author Kristine L. Funk, a researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Centre for Health Research in Portland, Oregon.
For Reynolds, PCP is more than a health and fitness programme. "It's about recrafting yourself and making a lifestyle change." The programme aims to equip participants with the knowledge and skills required to continue to lead a healthy life. "Our goal is that on day 90 you fire us, because we've taught you how to take care of yourself," explains Reynolds on his website.
It may seem like an uncharacteristically noble goal for the fitness industry, but it is a genuine one. The programme reflects Reynolds' life passions: writing and helping people. After getting a degree in creative writing, he joined the Peace Corps and travelled to Turkmenistan and Morocco as a volunteer nurse. He then moved to Japan to teach English and later opened a yoga studio. "PCP is my way to help people in the coolest way I've found."
The programme has a 90 per cent completion rate and participants lose between 5 and 15 per cent of their body weight on average. Its philosophy is brutally simple: "Weight loss occurs when you expend more energy in the day than you consumed," says Reynolds. "The body, when its dietary needs aren't met externally, will turn to its stored fat reserves."
This doesn't require cutting out carbohydrates, juice detoxes or drinking only protein shakes. "We just eat natural food in the correct portions." In practice, this results in eating about 200 fewer calories than their daily output.
The training regimen is also simple: for six days a week, 1,000 jump rope exercises each day for cardio and a strength training combination of sit-ups, resistance band work on his legs and arms. No two days are the same. The programme is designed to be completed anywhere with minimal equipment, so travel or not getting to the gym are not valid excuses.
Every 25 days, participants are allowed to enjoy any food or beverage of their choice, provided they celebrate it and learn how it makes them feel physically.
"The word 'treat' actually means this unexpected, happy thing, but these days they've become habits," says Reynolds.
The key ingredient of the programme's success is daily - and public - accountability. Participants receive daily messages tailored to each stage of the programme, explaining the intentions and educating them on their body. They are required to blog daily and upload pictures of themselves weekly. "And if you don't write on your blog for 10 days, you get kicked off the programme," says Reynolds.
The programme costs US$599, but the greater investment is time: at least two hours a day to the regimen, and eight hours sleep each night. "The result is participants walk away with more than having just lost a few kilograms; for some, it has changed their life," he says.
Ultimately, Reynolds dreams of a world one day where there is no need for a programme like PCP as healthiness becomes the norm rather than exception. He admits that "peak condition" is not achieved through expensive equipment or by following fads; it's a decision to invest in one's health. And that can be done at anytime, anywhere.