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Steve Cook Interview: King Of Covers

mens fitness
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Photograph: Oskar Bakke

When ranking the world’s most popular fitness models, no-one comes close to Steve Cook. The 33-year-old fitness model, presenter and influencer from Idaho has been on the cover of more magazines than he can remember, and his YouTube channel boasts 1.1 million subscribers while he has more than two million followers on Instagram. If you’ve ever been serious about building a better body, at some point you will have stumbled across Cook’s content. When he was last on the cover of Men’s Fitness two years ago, he told us it was his mission to make the world a fitter and healthier place – and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

It’s been two years since your last Men’s Fitness cover. What have you been up to?

I opened a gym in St George, Utah. It’s a small town where I played college football. We’re using it to film my YouTube videos and it’s going great! I took a break from posting videos for a while – I’ve been doing it for so long, and I only ever want to do something if I am really passionate about it. I’ve never seen the point of doing something for its own sake. So I took some time out, worked out some personal stuff, travelled around the world with Gymshark [the athleisure brand for which Cook is a global ambassador]. Now I am back home and back posting more videos on social media to help educate as many people as possible.

Do you feel pressure to be genuine and influence people in the right way?

People pick up if you’re posting something you’re not passionate about. It’s so obvious you’re just going through the motions. And if I am passionate then that’s going to help spark someone else’s passion too. I think all influencers want to create something that can outlast them – we all have a shelf life and want to be useful and relevant to people for as long as possible.

Are you still as passionate as ever about training?

There’s part of me that always wants to maintain a certain look, which means a certain level of muscle and body fat level, but I also want to be able to perform, whether that’s powerlifting, or CrossFit, or Tough Mudders, or Spartan Races. My approach to training is very much a hybrid one. I don’t want to specialise, because I want to be big and lean and able to lift or run. It’s more important to me to be able to do all those things when I need or want to than just to look a certain way. Fitness is a huge field, and there’s many different activities that fall under that umbrella.

You’ve competed in numerous bodybuilding contests over your career, but that’s taken a back seat recently – do you think you’ll ever step on stage again in a bodybuilding show?

Sometimes I get that itch to step on the stage again – it usually happens around Mr Olympia in Vegas, because it’s so hard to not get caught up in the atmosphere – but right now it’s not a priority. I’ll never say never, but I also will never force myself to do something if the passion and excitement isn’t there.

What do you do differently now in the gym compared with when you were younger?

Like a lot of young men, I wanted to get as big as possible and smash personal bests every time I stepped into the gym. Now the focus is less on getting massive or squatting 500lb. Instead I focus more on recovery, so I do more yoga or Pilates sessions. Why? Because I want to have longevity. That’s more important than sheer muscular size. Also, trying to get as big or strong as possible will mean you’re amped up most of the time – but I want my training to help calm me down, not always amp me up. This is especially true in your 30s when training can be way to get a mental escape rather than just a physical health thing.

So have your goals changed?

You have to get smarter as you get older, but you still have to chase progress. It’s just that what progress looks like changes. It’s not about squat or bench one-rep maxes, but how mobile am I? Is my flexibility improving? Can I fit in a yoga class this week? That’s the kind of progress I’m chasing these days.

What advice would you go back and give yourself when you first starting out in fitness?

Not to be afraid to try things that might fail. I was told very early on that no-one makes any money out of fitness modelling, but I saw the potential of YouTube and Facebook and Instagram from the start. I took some chances, but I wish I’d taken more risks and backed myself to make them work. You don’t want to look back and regret not chasing your goal. After all, you learn so much from your failures and setbacks, and that knowledge will always be of benefit down the road. Follow your heart, even when the stakes are high and it’s scary, and jump in head first.

Where do most men go wrong when trying to make big improvements to their physiques or performance?

The first is that a lot of people never set a clear goal. You have to have a goal and it has to be realistic – without that, you’re setting yourself up to fail. The second is that even when people do set a goal and start out strong, they don’t plan for the speed bumps that inevitably crop up. After two or three weeks it can get tough to keep doing everything right, so a night out can be tempting. And when you beat yourself up or throw in the towel after one minor setback, that’s when it can all unravel quickly. But it doesn’t have to! Get back on it straight away. Even if you’ve got a hangover, do a quick or easy workout – because doing something is always better than doing nothing. Results don’t come fast and you’ll always get to where you want to be – so long as you don’t give up.

NEXT: Steve Cook 2016 Interview: Getting It Off His Chest