Setting Exercise Goals and Sticking to Them: Q&A With Iron Chef Michael Symon

We caught up with Iron Chef Michael Symon to learn how he stays fit.
Michael Symon
Bobby Flay Fit

Bobby Flay manages to stay fit and healthy even with a busy lifestyle as a chef, and he's eager to share his healthy eating and fitness plan with fans in a seven-part Web series, Bobby Flay Fit.

In Episode 3 of Bobby Flay Fit, Bobby's friend, Iron Chef Michael Symon, joins Bobby in the gym for a workout. Bobby's a runner and Michael prefers lifting weights, so Michael shows Bobby a few new weight-lifting routines and Bobby challenges Michael to a race.

Healthy Eats caught up with Michael to talk more about exercising, setting goals, challenging yourself and getting kids involved early on in physical activity.

What is your biggest challenge in terms of working out?

Michael Symon: Staying on a consistent schedule — that's the hardest thing for me. My schedule isn't regular so it's hard for me to get into a routine. And I'm a routine-based person. When I fall out of it, it's hard for me to get back on track. What I do, instead of telling myself I'm going to work out at this time every day, I tell myself, I'm going to work out after a certain event each day. So every day, when I'm done taping The Chew, I go right to the gym. It doesn't matter whether I get done at 1 pm, 3 pm or 6 pm. When I based it off of a certain time and missed it, I felt guilty.

Do you prefer working out with a partner or by yourself?

MS: I prefer working out with a partner. They help you push yourself. If you're having an off day, they're there to pick you up. If you feel like skipping a day, they'll motivate you to go to the gym anyway. It absolutely helps me.

What are some things that you always eat? Or never eat?

MS: One thing I always eat is Greek yogurt and I eat lots of it. I eat that pretty much every day regardless. There's really nothing that I won’t eat, besides raspberries (I really don't like them); my diet's pretty diverse otherwise.

How do you mix up your workout?

MS: I try and work out five days a week. So I do three days of lifting and two days of cardio. I don't mix up my cardio as much as I mix up my lifting. Essentially, when I lift, I focus on two muscle groups per workout. I'll do that exercise for that muscle group for two weeks and then I'll change to a different exercise to hit the same muscle groups.

Bobby says he can beat you in cardio, but you would probably have him in lifting weights. Did pairing up with Bobby as a workout partner motivate you?

MS: I think for someone like me, Bobby is a great workout partner because our strengths lie in different areas — we learn from each other. It will always help you to work out with someone who's stronger in your weakest point. I think that both of us are super competitive. I look at it this way: If I stick with cardio for a month or two, I could beat him at his own game. Then he could learn from me with lifting — but he'll never catch me. In fact, in a couple weeks, I could be better than him at both activities!

How would you get kids involved with sports or other physical activities for lifelong fitness goals?

MS: I think parents should get kids involved in a sport early in their lives. It teaches them physical fitness; it teaches them discipline. When kids find an activity that they really enjoy, then it will stick. The biggest thing we should do with kids is get them out. It's been said before, but it doesn't happen enough. No video games. Get them moving so fitness just happens naturally. When I was a kid, I wasn't in my house except for homework and dinner. That's it. Any other time, I was out running around with my friends. I think as parents we need to be more disciplined and say, "No, you're not going to sit there and play that video game for four hours. You're going to go outside, run around and have a good time." Get them moving.

Since you're a chef with a busy schedule, do you stick to any rules in terms of eating?

MS: I don't. My motto is: I work out to eat. I eat what I want. I know that when I exercise, I'm in good shape. When I don't, that's when I gain weight. Plain and simple, the reason I exercise is so I can eat what I want.

Do you have any other words of wisdom to share?

MS: The biggest thing I could share with people is not to get frustrated. You're going to miss going to the gym sometimes. You're going to get into a rut when you're not doing it. It's going to happen. Just stick with it and keep going back to it. Don't beat yourself up if everything's not perfect. That's what happens. People set unrealistic goals for themselves and then they miss a couple of days, maybe even a week. Just do what you can do and you'll be fine.

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