Story At A Glance
- Samuel says lifting weights is about fundamental strength that can help anyone improve their health.
- He says weight is not the important thing.
- He adds that employers could be doing more to help their employees stay healthy by giving them “movement time.”
When you look at Ebenezer Samuel, it's not surprising to hear that he's a big fan of superhero movies. Ebenezer looks like he could be the stunt double for any number of spandex-clad crime fighters. Instead, he's the fitness director of Men's Health, where he directs the fitness content in the magazine, on their website, and on Instagram.
One of the things that is important to Samuel is movement, which he defines as how we do anything and how we get anywhere. It’s your ability to get your body in motion — and in certain specific motions: how you walk, how you reach for shelves, how you run and jump. There are efficient ways the body is supposed to move, but these often gets compromised with modern sedentary lifestyles. Samuel tells us what he’s got planned for his Instagram and why employers should give their employees more time and opportunity to move.
What is the most important thing you have done for your community in 2019?
Hopefully, I’ve been able to show a few people that lifting weights isn’t all just about grunting, looking like a bodybuilder, and being the strongest guy in every gym. Weight-lifting is about movement and building good, fundamental strength in ways that everyone can use — regardless of age or field, and regardless of your long-term goals. Weight-lifting improves more than just overall strength and muscle too; it can make you more athletic, invigorate you with energy and help alleviate many of the injuries you may think you have too.
Now more than ever, we need people dedicating time to strength training, because the muscle they build is undoing so many of the bad positions and chronic issues that office jobs, driving and staring at our phones put us in throughout every day. Our bodies aren’t meant to always be hunched, always be sitting and always be reaching for keyboards, and in a society that demands decreasing amounts of regular movement, we simply don’t get enough physical activity. We all need to be better about that.
What do you hope to do in 2020?
In 2020 I hope to continue to energize and educate people of all ages and walks of life about fitness. What I’ve worked to do at Men’s Health and on my own personal Instagram (@ebenezersamuel23) is to deliver ideas that continue to push people to explore their bodies and their strength. The interesting thing about strength training is that you really only need a handful of motions (rowing, pressing, squatting, deadlifting) to build key strength, but I understand that can get super-boring counting reps. We want a little excitement and fun in our workouts, and we want new and different challenges (that are still body-smart). I want to continue delivering that next year.
I’m also aiming to push two ideas next year. First off, Everyone Should Be Strong. The weight room and practice of strength training are more popular than ever now, but I still have a lot of women asking me if they can do my workouts, because many females still believe that just picking up a weight will transform their bodies in ways they won’t like. That’s simply not true, and I want women to understand that any move I can do in the gym, they can. The more they challenge themselves, the more they’ll develop key strength they can use in everyday life, but it won’t instantly give them a bodybuilder body type. That’s a key reason Women’s Health (WH) EIC [Editor-in-Chief] Liz Plosser and I started working out together on Instagram, and a key reason WH Health Director Jacqueline Andriakos and I work together on her pull-up game. Regardless of age, gender or body type, you can (and should) do workouts like I do. You may need lighter weights, but that’s just fine.
The other key idea is a bit more inside baseball for fitness: All fitness paths lead to the same place. Fitness has historically been very siloed: There are CrossFitters, and they lift one style; bodybuilders have their own techniques; gymnasts have their own techniques, and the like. But all these disciplines can learn so much from each other. Bodybuilders can teach CrossFitters how to move with greater focus. CrossFitters have taught us all what true “intensity” in a workout really is.
Can you give us a peek into the future for Men's Health and Eb's Instagram in 2020?
You’ll see those two tenets reflected very heavily on my Instagram next year, especially on Instagram (IG) stories. People come to me for “workouts,” but they need to see and increasingly understand what I’m learning from other disciplines, and how the strength I’ve built can aid me (or be further developed) in other disciplines. They’ll see parkour, rock climbing and other pursuits on there. They’ll also see me training with Liz and other people to continue to show that everyone can be strong, and that plenty of people who don’t look like me are just as strong as me. I’m also very hyped to discuss some deeper topics in fitness; I can give you all the workouts in the world, but I want to show you the theories behind those things as well.
With Men’s Health, expect to see greater diversity of body types and examples of strength next year. I’m all about the superhero look (and there are, in fact, distinct things that having “the look” does convey about how you’ve taken care of yourself, despite what the internet may say). But we need to continue to break the myth that you’re only “in shape” if you look the part. You’ll see that in the magazine more and more, but in smart ways that continue to be responsible. You’ll also see more diverse workouts in the magazine, because we’re going to fight to show the same agenda. You don’t just need to do a bunch of curls in your workout. A yoga move and a splash of gymnastics or barre can do anyone and everyone some good.
Both at Men’s Health and on my IG, you’ll also continue to see a balance between sweating-like-crazy workouts and workouts that are hard, but not murderous. We all need strength. That strength doesn’t come because there’s a puddle of sweat all over the floor. It comes with more precise movements.
What is the most important cause or message in health and wellness that we should be talking about?
We still remain way too married to the scale. I don’t care what you weigh, whether you’re overweight or on track with what you “should” weigh. I want to see you move and I’ll evaluate your fitness based on how you move. If you’re 150 pounds and can’t do a pushup or run 800 meters, isn’t that a worse level of “fitness” than a 300-pounder who can crush a mile?
The crux of the fitness conversation needs to use the idea of “weight” and “weight loss” less and focus on better goals. Let’s have that conversation in different ways and define “in shape” in other fashions.
What movie, book or song inspired you this year, and why?
“Avengers: Endgame,” but that’s mostly because I love superheroes. Part of why I fell in love with fitness as a kid was because I wanted to look like a superhero, so seeing all that super-heroism on screen...made me want to go to the gym and educate others on how they can improve their physical and mental fitness.
If you could wave your magic wand, what one thing would you change for 2020?
Create more time for people to get in the gym. Right now, we’re all so busy that we’re squeezing it in. Even I have to squeeze it in, after 8-9 hours of office time some days. I don’t blame some people for not having the energy to get a workout in, given the amount of work we have to do before we get to that workout. I’d love to see companies understand that they can have better, more productive employees if they give those employees time to take care of their bodies. We don’t have that right now in this country and we need it badly. If every company could create, say, 30-45 minutes of “movement time” for employees, time that had to be spent on fitness, maybe around lunch...the afternoon office crash? It just might be a thing of the past.
You can find Ebenezer Samuel on Instagram.
This interview was conducted over email and was edited for clarity.