Shaun T's Keys To Workout Motivation Include Fun — And Selfishness After a rough childhood and later dealing with his own weight problem, Shaun T eventually found success as a workout video guru. He says it's important to have fun and focus on yourself for a change.

Fitness Superstar Shaun T: Keys To Workout Motivation Include Fun — And Selfishness

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This time of year it's pretty common to hear about people's New Year's resolutions to get in shape. And now it's easy to do that without leaving home. There are streaming videos of workouts and lots of apps. NPR's Chris Arnold has this profile of one of the pioneers of this type of workout - Shaun T.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: In the world of streaming workout videos, Shaun T is like Jay-Z or Mick Jagger. He is a superstar. Millions of people have done his workout programs. One's called "Insanity." Another is "T25," which aims to get you in shape in just 25 minutes a day.


SHAUN T: Listen; for the next 25 minutes your focus is completely on cardio. You're going to work the heart rate, and you're going to get extremely fit. Are we good, guys?


SHAUN T: All right, we're going to...

ARNOLD: Shaun T does live events, too, and thousands of fans will show up and jump around and work out together.


SHAUN T: Give it up for yourself.


ARNOLD: Shaun T is the picture of fitness with sculpted muscles and abs. He's funny and happy. But it wasn't always like this. In his new book, Shaun takes us back 40 years to when he was a toddler named Shaun Thompson.

SHAUN T: The first thing I remember as a kid was being washed in the sink of our West Philadelphia apartment. I was so small. But I soon began to realize that where we lived wasn't necessarily the best place in the world.

ARNOLD: He grew up poor and had a rough childhood in a violent neighborhood. The family was on food stamps. And they actually had so little food that he would sneak bread into his underwear and then eat it at night in bed. Being hungry stays with you, and after he got a scholarship to State College, that came along with a dining hall meal plan card, which meant free food.

SHAUN T: When you give someone who grew up on food stamps a meal card - I could just go and eat and eat. And so - and then when I found out that you can use this food card at Domino's, late-night cravings became a whole new thing. I was like, what?

ARNOLD: Shaun T gained 50 pounds his freshman year. He didn't like that. But he says he was too embarrassed to go to the gym even though he used to run track in high school.

SHAUN T: And I was extremely unhappy with the way that I looked and the way that I felt.

ARNOLD: But he finally got on the treadmill. He took some dance fitness classes, lost just a few pounds. And he loved how that made him feel. And he decided...

SHAUN T: I want to teach a class.

ARNOLD: He had no experience, but his fellow students liked him, and 90 of them showed up for his first class in the school rec center. Shaun T turned on a song called "Space Jam" on repeat and got everybody doing this halfway thought-out hip-hop aerobics routine.


QUAD CITY DJ'S: (Singing) Do your dance at the space jam.

ARNOLD: And the crazy thing was the students loved it.


QUAD CITY DJ'S: (Singing) Wave your hands in the air if you feel fine.

SHAUN T: I was like, are you kidding? This is the most amazing thing. I could teach and have fun. And all of these people are not only doing what I'm doing, but most of them were afraid to dance. And they're actually doing it. And they're stepping outside their comfort zone. And I'm looking at these people and I'm like, this is it. Like, I'm going to do this for the rest of my life.

ARNOLD: And that's what Shaun T's done - first classes, then the videos. Today, the company that distributes his workouts says Shaun T has sold more than a billion dollars' worth of fitness videos. He says to stay motivated, though, it can help to mix it up like a dance class or a basketball league. He does his own workouts...

SHAUN T: But I also play tennis. But I also get my friends - I'm like, yo, let's play volleyball today. It doesn't always have to be the same thing. Like, create it for yourself and it will be so much fun.

ARNOLD: And Shaun T says focus on that - the fun part, not how much you weigh.

SHAUN T: So my goal for people out there is just do things that make you feel good because the weight will come off, but the happiness is what's most important.

ARNOLD: Shaun T says what you eat is important, too. He says one of those giant frosted cinnamon buns has so many calories you'd have to work out like a maniac for two hours to burn it off. But there, too, he says enjoy yourself. Eat healthy 85 percent of the time and enjoy some pizza or a doughnut 15 percent of the time. But he says cut the doughnut in half. Chris Arnold, NPR News.


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