Health consultant, founder of Thai Top Fitness, TV and online star, and all-around good guy Mark Abbott keeps a busy schedule. He spared a few moments from his various projects to talk with Bangkok 101 about fitness, myths, and how he stays motivated in this fast-paced city.
What got you into bodybuilding and a lifestyle based around nutrition and fitness?
I’ve been interested in sports and performance all my life. When I was at school I competed in the 100m (running), rugby, and martial arts. On leaving school, I joined the Royal Marine Commandos to test my body and mind. I really enjoy exercising. I guess I’m strange like that. I get pleasure from the “burn.” That being said, as I get older and lean muscle mass is becoming harder and harder to hold on to, I’m thinking about crossing over to endurance sports. I have so much respect for endurance athletes—their patience and strength of mind is something else! I mean, long distance runners have a very long time to come up with a great reason to quit!
Why have you and Thai Top Fitness have become so popular here?
I think when I initially started it was a novelty for some people to see a westerner do videos in Thai, but that won’t keep people coming back. The key was giving away information for free. Previously, people charged for the information I gave away. This caused a lot of people in the industry to dislike me, but that didn’t put me off. I’m passionate about science and I really enjoy seeing other people get fitter and enjoy life, so setting up Thai Top Fitness was a great way for me to help people get in shape and know all they needed to know to get started today.
What does a normal day look like for you?
I usually wake up around 5am so that I can get training out the way and prepare for a day at work. I work for the Chairman of the True Group in business development, so that keeps me busy throughout the day. After work, I like to go for a jog and then spend time with my wife and dogs. I usually go to bed around 10 or 11pm. To be honest, I would like to get a bit more sleep but it’s hard.
Are you involved in any other projects at the moment?
Currently, I’m building a subscription-based website which I’m hoping to launch mid-2016. In the meanwhile, I’m looking at getting involved in a lot more charity work as well as giving financial advice, which I might do on social media. So many people get in financial trouble because we’re not taught how money works when we’re at school. These problems, like so many others, are easily avoided with a little guidance.
In terms of fitness and nutrition, what trends are shaping the city now?
I think the biggest is the “detoxing” trend. People go on these juicing detox diets and take all sorts of detoxing potions. Unfortunately, they don’t work. In fact, they do more damage than good. Your body doesn’t store toxins like these companies will have you believe. It’s like trying to wash a dent out of your car—it’s ridiculous. It doesn’t matter how often I tell people this, or how many scientific papers I pull up on the dangers of these juicing diets, people will still follow them. As Mark Twain once said, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they’ve been fooled.”
What are some simple lifestyle changes people here can make to improve their well-being?
People over-complicate things. The best thing to do is keep it simple. Eat meals, stop eating snacks. Drink more water and less of everything else. Jog. Lift weights (not too heavy, just make sure your muscles are working). Do yoga. Meditate. Enjoy life.
As a health consultant, you must get lots of questions. What kind of advice do most people ask you for?
“What’s the fastest way to…?” It’s almost as though I was about to tell them the slowest way to get in shape! People are not patient. Anyone who wants to rush it is doomed to failure. You can only become great at something if you enjoy the process.
What’s the most ridiculous question you’ve ever been asked?
I’ve had many, but a few come to mind: “Does weight training shrink your penis?” “Does playing basketball make you taller?” “Does bodybuilding make you gay?”
What can someone with limited time and resources do to get maximum results?
Body weight work is always the best for limited time and resources. When I was young and training to join the Royal Marine Commandos, I had very little resources available. I used to do 10 sets of 10 push-ups because I wanted to do 100 push-ups. I did the same with pull-ups and sit-ups. After doing that, I’d run. I ran 5k at a fast speed, or I’d run 10k+ at a slower speed. I also swam three times a week. Eventually I was doing five sets of 200+ push-ups, 10 sets of 30 pull-ups, and sit-ups until I couldn’t move. That was probably the fittest I’ve ever been in my life. This is so simple, but it takes passion, not discipline. Discipline won’t cut it. Discipline wears off. Passion keeps you going.
Measuring goals is important, too. See how many push-ups you can do; every two or three weeks try to beat it. You’ll surprise yourself at how quickly your body can adapt. The main thing is to have fun. If it’s fun, you’ll do it again. If you can’t handle this type of training, don’t worry about it! Try a group sport—play football, join a paintball team, play water polo, go cycling with friends. It’s all good!
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I go skydiving whenever I get the chance. I’ve also recently bought myself a wingsuit, which I’ll be flying as soon as my ankle is better (which I actually injured while skydiving two weeks ago!). I also love riding motorcycles. I have a Ducati Hypermotard 821, which is so much fun it’s hard to describe. Other than that, I’m always game for sports—surfing, skiing, go karting, shooting, etc. In my spare time at home, I like to read. Science and philosophy are my subjects of choice.
I’m reading a few good books right now: “But How Do It Know?” by J. Clark Scott. “E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth” by E.O. Wilson. “Ethics” by Aristotle. “The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future,” edited by Max More and Natasha Vita-More.
On “cheat days,” where do you like to go for a meal or a drink?
I have “cheat meals” as opposed to devoting a whole day to junk food! I have a real problem with cheese. I actually have to avoid the cheese section at the supermarket. So, my cheat meal would normally be a four-cheese pizza. Washing it down with a good cider is always a winning combination!