The Fitness Professor with Michael Easter

Today we’re talking to health & fitness journalist Michael Easter, a contributing editor at Men’s Health magazine and journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Michael is one of the fitness space’s most prolific writers of in-depth profiles, covering the people, trends, and breakthroughs that keep this industry moving forward. He joins the show to talk about his unlikely road to teaching in a respected university while also balancing the challenges of his own research and writing. He’s got some of the coolest “in the trenches” stories in fitness journalism, and you definitely don’t want to miss out on what he has to say.

Fitness Journalist Michael Easter

On this episode of The BarBend Podcast, host David Thomas Tao talks to Michael Easter about:

  • How Michael — almost accidentally — became a professor of journalism (02:20)
  • The most interesting assignments Michael gives his fitness journalism students (05:00)
  • The very Las Vegas student feature Michael remembers to this day (07:30)
  • Visiting Dan John’s garage, “one of the most innovative gyms in the country” (11:30)
  • Profiling Dave Castro, Eric Roza, and Greg Glassman (16:00)
  • Fitness journalism myths and misconceptions — and why nutrition can be the toughest topic (21:00)
  • The athletes Michael MOST wants to profile (25:00)

Relevant links and further reading:


Michael EasterMichael Easter

There’s a guy named John Schaeffer too. He trained a handful of Olympians like Apolo Ohno. He trained some NFL guys. Similar scenario, he’s got this farmhouse in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania.


These guys are all worth millions and the best athletes in the world, go down to this guy’s basement where he’s just got this wacky setup, but it’s the most hardcore training I’ve ever seen. These guys are just unbelievably fit.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast” where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by


Today, I’m talking to health and fitness journalist, Michael Easter, a contributing editor at “Men’s Health” magazine, and journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


Michael is one of the fitness spaces most prolific writers of in-depth profiles, covering the people, trends, and breakthroughs that keep this industry moving forward.


He joins the show to talk about his unlikely road to teaching in a respected university while also balancing the challenges of his own research and writing. He’s got some of the coolest in the trenches stories in fitness journalism, and you definitely don’t want to miss out on what he has to say.


I do want to take a second to say that we’re incredibly thankful that you listen to this podcast. If you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend Podcast in your app of choice. Now, let’s get to it.


Michael, thanks so much for joining us today. I need to ask, should I be calling you Professor Easter, or Michael Easter? You wear a lot of different hats and one of those is in the classroom, so what do you prefer?

Michael EasterMichael Easter

I go with Michael, even with students when they come and address me formally, “Professor Easter.” I’m more a Michael person. I like keeping things a little bit informal. Not a huge fan of titles.

David TaoDavid Tao

See that’s power that I should never have because I would wield it so irresponsibly. I’d be professor to everyone. I’d be like, “No, no, no. It’s Professor David or Professor Tau,” at like restaurants or something like that.


I first came across your work in fitness journalism, which is what I really want to focus in today, but you are also a professor. You are actively in the classroom, even if that’s not what you go by casually.


Tell us a little bit about, if you don’t mind, your role as Professor Michael Easter.

Michael EasterMichael Easter

Yeah, it’s interesting. I was on staff at Men’s Health for six or seven years. I had just been looking for something a little bit different. Just had been in the building a little too long. I’d always had this dream that like, “Oh, being a professor, where I could teach on one hand and then write on the other hand,” sounded awesome.


Now I didn’t have a PhD, so that seemed like a long shot, but my resume happened to land on the desk of someone at UNLV, specifically when they were looking for a professor of health journalism.


It was just perfect timing. I flew to Vegas and I started in the job a month later. I’ve been here ever since. Part of the job, as I said is teaching. It’s in the classroom. I’m in the journalism department, so I do a lot of different classes, but I always teach a health journalism class.


The other flip side of it is continuing to write for different publications and books and stuff like that.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s a very specific professorship to hold or position to hold, Professor of Health Journalism. It’s awesome to hear that. Is it something where students are coming to you or coming into that program, and they’re like, “Hey, I want to be a health and wellness writer or a health and fitness writer?


Are they taking one of your classes or interacting with you on their steps to becoming maybe more of a mainstream journalist, or they’re still doing some experimenting?

Michael EasterMichael Easter

Yeah, I think it’s more the latter. I feel like so many kids in college these days, it’s like you pick a major, and then you rarely end up in the job of your major.


I definitely get a lot of kids who come in, and they love health, they love wellness, they read Men’s Health or “Women’s Health” or BarBend, or whatever it is.


They have a ton of passion there, and they’re just psyched to be in the classroom, and then for other students, it’s like, “Well, this class was at a certain time and I needed the credits, so I took it.” Sometimes those kids get turned on to it.


Other times, they go, “Well, this isn’t what I want to write about, but thanks for helping me figure that out.”

David TaoDavid Tao

What are some assignments that you’re giving students who might be touching health journalism for the first time?

Michael EasterMichael Easter

The first assignment we do is reading a study and writing about it in 200 words or less. When I was at Men’s Health, one of the first gigs that we would get is we had to do these bulletin pages in the magazine.


You take new breaking study, you have to write it up for magazine space constraints. It has to be clever. You have to have interviewed the researcher. It has to have the main finding, the mechanism, and also some advice for the reader.


That is the first thing that we do because I had a boss at Men’s Health who said, “If you can write bulletins well, you can write this entire magazine well.”


That training of reading the study, getting everything nice and tight is the best thing we do in that class. From there, we do some stuff that would mimic writing for online versus print. We do a feature at the end of it, that kind of stuff.

David TaoDavid Tao

I have two follow-up questions to that. Not to stick on this point for too long, but because I find it interesting. 200 words. First off, it takes more than 200 words to describe that assignment than 200 words. I think a lot of people underestimate how difficult it is to write concise wellness journalism, especially on studies, because you can go on, and on, and on, and on.


What are some tips or what’re some advices you might give to your students about how to keep that sort of writing concise?

Michael EasterMichael Easter

I should start this answer by saying the first time I turned in to my editor at Men’s Health, my page bulletin would have been about 1,000 words because there are five studies on it. I got back 2,000 words of edits. It’s very, very difficult. A lot of it is just trying to think, “What can I shave out here? How can I say this quicker and simpler?”


A lot of times, people tend to use five words when they could have used just one to get the same point across. The other big part of it, too, is a lot of times students will read the study and they’ll take some jargony word because they don’t really understand it. They just toss it in there. It’s like, “Do you know what this means?”


They’re like, “No.” “Well, neither will the reader, so we’re going to have to figure out a way to distill that.” That comes with going back and forth with the researcher a lot of times. Sometimes the researcher gives pushback and says, “No. You can’t describe it like that because my colleagues will read it and they’ll think I don’t know what I’m talking about.”


“Well, this is going out to a lot more people than just your colleagues, so we have to have it make sense for the reader.”

David TaoDavid Tao

My second follow-up question to what you said about the general curriculum and types of assignments, it ends with a feature, so your students are basically working toward writing what would be a magazine feature or the equivalent for the class. What are some of the more interesting topics or features that have been submitted for the class?

Michael EasterMichael Easter

That’s a good question. I have a few different classes. I’m trying to think about who did what. We got a lot where people will embed themselves with some of the teams that we have at UNLV. That’s always fun because it gives them a chance to flex that muscle in terms of how do you write about a character? How do you use quotes?


By far, the most interesting one ever is this girl…I live in Las Vegas. The story will start to make more sense once you keep that in context. This girl had a colleague who [laughs] got these backroom silicone butt injections. This just went really weird. I’m sorry, but it is interesting.


She investigated this whole black market cosmetic surgery happening in Las Vegas that a lot of times people who were in the service industry were getting. Really high-end nightclub waitresses and things like that were getting. It’s completely dangerous, obviously. It was just one of those where it was like, “Oh, my God. This is a crazy story.”


The fact that she was able to get it and get in there and speak to the people who are actually doing this was just unbelievable. That’s what I’ll always remember also, for its weirdness. When she has to pitch it in class, too, you can imagine how awkward but also hilarious it was. It’s like, “So I have this friend who blah, blah, blah, blah.” You’re just like, “Oh, my God. This just keeps getting weirder and weirder.” [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s so fascinating. I can see the lineup of pitches like, “I’m going to do a profile on the basketball team captain.” “I’m going to profile the strength and conditioning coach.” “OK. Hear me out. Backroom butt injections.” Actually the thing is, that kind of journalism can really help people improve lives.


If people read those stories, they might think twice about getting a black-market plastic surgery or cosmetic surgery procedure. We giggle at some of this stuff, but it can be hugely impactful on people’s lives.

Michael EasterMichael Easter

Exactly. I think the woman who was doing it got shut down in part because the student had put some light on it. Journalism is impactful. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s not all glute workouts and six pack abs in fitness and wellness journalism. It could make a difference.


Let’s talk about your career, which is still very much ongoing. It’s not like you left fitness journalism to become a professor. You just embedded yourself more in it. You were at Men’s Health for a number of years. You’ve written for a ton of different outlets. I can’t even list them all off, so I won’t even try.


What are some of the more interesting assignments, people, and events that you’ve covered over the years that our listeners might really want to sink their teeth into? After they’re done, they’ll look in the show notes. They’ll be like, “I really want to go in depth on that, read that article or read that profile that Michael did.”

Michael EasterMichael Easter

I got some traction at Men’s Health because my shtick, if you will, is to find an interesting person in an interesting place doing something interesting. That’s all of journalism. I had a knack for finding characters that were often overlooked. For example, probably a lot of your readers might know who Dan John is.

David TaoDavid Tao

We’ve had him on the podcast. He’s a good friend of the brand.

Michael EasterMichael Easter

Perfect. Your readers are probably a little more in depth and into the fitness stuff than a Men’s Health reader is. We’re just a broader audience. Going into his garage where he invented the goblet squat, more or less, it’s just a hilarious little gym. One of the most innovative gyms in the country is in Dan John’s garage.


While I was there hanging out and training with them, you had MLB players dropping by. You also had like 60-year-old moms. So much happening in this garage.


There’s a guy named John Schaeffer too, who I came across. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, but he trained a handful of Olympians like Apolo Ohno. He trained some NFL guys.


Similar scenario, he’s got this farmhouse in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania. These guys who are all worth millions, and the best athletes in the world go down to this guy’s basement where he’s just got this wacky setup. It’s like the most hardcore training I’ve ever seen. These guys are just unbelievably fit.


He’s about as wide as a barn door like a former powerlifter type. Getting in those really surprising places with surprising people is always what I’ve been a fan of.


Trying to think of some others…I get a lot of emails about when I did about the concept of fitness age essentially. How does fitness impact the aging process, different stages, and what are the real effects of fitness on general health?


I get a lot of emails from crazy places about that one. People from Bulgaria will be like, “How do I use this in my life?”

David TaoDavid Tao

Bulgaria has a rich strength culture in history, something that our other listeners might be familiar with. I do want to talk about a recent…it’s relatively recent — we’re recording this a few months after — cover story regarding the new old faces of CrossFit.


It was a dual profile on both Eric Roza, now the CEO and owner of CrossFit, and Dave Castro who’s the head of training at CrossFit and was CEO for 14 minutes over the summer after Glassman stepped down and before Roza came on.


You coined a term in that profile. For reference, no one’s interacted with Dave Castro in person.


He can be a bit of a tough egg to crack. He’s got a little bit of a shell. He’s not going to be the most open with everyone at the beginning. You coined a term that I know Castro really likes because he’s been posting about it. I believe it was Fitness Picasso.

Michael EasterMichael Easter


David TaoDavid Tao

 Tell us about the process, if you don’t mind, of profiling these two figures in CrossFit right after a time that the brand had gone through its most tumultuous period by far? Were you embedded with them? How did you approach them with the pitch? How did that end up coming to fruition?

Michael EasterMichael Easter

This one came together very slowly. Interestingly enough, I had reached out to Dave last year maybe around this time, could have even been earlier, and just said, “Hey. We want to do a story on you and your process of creating these games workout.”


He’s so creative. He pulls ideas from all these different disciplines. He’s exceedingly bright. He’s exceedingly well-read, well-studied. All these learning he does in his everyday life gets pulled into these games workout. Very interesting.


The whole Glassman thing happens. All of a sudden, he’s the CEO, there’s new leadership. I just think to myself, “He’s never going to talk to me at this point.” The story had been rolling slowly. Go ahead though.

David TaoDavid Tao

I was just saying CrossFit has long been known as kind of a walled garden. If you’re on the outside from a media perspective, they weren’t always the most receptive to pitches or sometimes you would get like a terse email if you wrote something about them that they didn’t like. Access is not something that was always open. We should contextualize that for people who aren’t in fitness journalism.

Michael EasterMichael Easter

For sure. Totally fair statement. To add a little bit more context, I think potentially why Dave said yes to this story even after the Glassman thing is that I had profiled Glassman maybe three years ago. It was for an issue that was about people who had most changed fitness over the last three decades.


We included Glassman. It was about his impact on fitness.


Now, because CrossFit has generally, as you just said, they’re a little headbutty with media, they’ve gotten a bad rap in mainstream media.


When I came in, I spent a lot of time with Greg. I went to one of their CrossFit health seminars. It was just generally fair, but the piece didn’t have a ton of criticisms. It, at least, contextualized most the criticisms that the average person would have known.


Greg was like, “Oh, this is refreshing.” Fast forward, I think that’s why Dave thought, “OK. This person isn’t just trying to do a hit job on CrossFit.” I think CrossFit, whether validly or not, thought some pieces about them before had been…Anyways, drive up to the ranch middle of a pandemic. It was very apocalyptic because this is when all the wildfires were happening in California.

David TaoDavid Tao

Double whammy.

Michael EasterMichael Easter

I drive up there. It’s all smoky. It’s like the world is ending. Hung out with Dave on the ranch for a couple days.


It was when he was designing the workouts for the games that occurred there with the five athletes. We rocked the course that was the trail run course with his dog. We just hung out and did Castro things. We shot some guns, went [laughs] and had lunch, all that kind of stuff.


It’s interesting because, to your point, he comes off a little bit cold, but when I got there, that was not the guy that I found. He was very welcoming. He was very open. We had long conversations, and he would be pretty open.


Sometimes he would say things that he was like, “Actually, don’t quote me on that.” I’m fine with that. I thought he was more open than I expected. He’s a good guy.

David TaoDavid Tao

For context, I led Michael along a little there. I will say that maybe CrossFit’s prior relationship, because I think a lot has changed with the media, especially mainstream media, maybe some of that was warranted.


Frankly, there were some hit pieces put out on CrossFit that didn’t have a lot of weight or evidence behind them and is also worth just disclosing. I was a paid media consultant and writer for CrossFit for a period of time.


Had I been in their shoes and I had a little bit of insight into that, just still an outsider’s perspective, yeah, I’d be wary as well.


As anyone should be if a journalist ever calls you up and says, “Hey, I want to profile you,” you should think about it before just automatically saying yes. The other thing I’ll say is that I do think Castro’s reputation is one of being maybe a bit eccentric and potentially being a little bit cold.


He shows his work. He is someone who will do things, like he’ll give games, workout clues, and people always like to joke, “Oh, it has nothing to do with the actual workout.” It is actually cool insight into his inspiration.


I don’t know a lot of other event organizers in strength, sports, or fitness who will give books as a gift to the athletes, because he thinks it will enrich the experience not only that they’re going through as competitors, but also getting something to work on mentally, in addition to the crazy arduous physical tasks that he’ll give folks.

Michael EasterMichael Easter

Yeah, I agree. I see him more as…I think sometimes CrossFit can become someone’s life as can any hobby, and I think Dave approaches it more as this is something that’s part of my life but isn’t my life. He’s a lot broader and deeper than people might expect.


He’s got a crazy background. Like I said, wicked smart and just pretty insightful guy. I also understand why some people buttheads with him, but that’s cool too. That’s part of his personality.

David TaoDavid Tao

People who get a lot done and have a big impact, especially in the fitness space specifically, they’re going to buttheads against…No one who has done big things at fitness is completely non-controvert. That is, that is my opinion.


What are some myths and misconceptions you think people have about fitness content, and specifically maybe about the kind of fitness journalism that you do?

Michael EasterMichael Easter

That’s a good question. We had this rule at Men’s Health that…It was called the 80 percent rule. That is that whatever we write should apply to 80 percent of our readers. Now, [laughs] readers are all different kinds of people. [laughs]


I tend to think there being different camps of people in fitness and there’s the average person who picks up Men’s Health for a flight, and they just want to get a little bit more fit. They don’t really know what they’re doing.


You have people who would comment on fitness boards on Reddit, who are super into fitness. Trying to give content that works for both of those people, and there’s also a lot of people in between too, can be tricky.


Sometimes, from the more hardcore fitness, they’ll be like, “This stuff isn’t good enough, it doesn’t work.” On the other hand, you have people who were like, “This stuff is too hard.” Trying to please every reader is impossible. It’s a balancing act of how do we do the most good for the most people we can.


In terms of another myth, I think that it’s tricky covering studies, especially in nutrition, the most. That’s part of my job. I’ve written a lot about nutrition because it’s mostly epidemiological research where they’re just pulling big groups of people.


If you look at a lot of that research, it’s not replicable. They don’t make the same findings time and time again. There are a lot of valid criticisms to it, so the myth would be…Trying to think of what the myth is there. I’m not sure if I’m answering your question.


I’m just saying that sometimes there can be some problems with the horse race of covering study after study when it comes to nutrition. For my work, I’m at the point now where I can zone out or zoom out and try and give a bigger overall picture in a greater context.


Sometimes readers get angry because they’re like, “Well, this one study said,” and this is in health journalism in general like, “Last month he told me coffee’s going to kill me, and this month you’d given me the study that says coffee is good for me. What’s going on?”


That’s the problem with the research.

David TaoDavid Tao

Coffee is the one…You’re not the first person to bring that up on this podcast about the conflicting research in coffee and about how journalists, writers, researchers will get all sorts of letters and emails. I think coffee is an example people give because people are very protective of their coffee.

Michael EasterMichael Easter

Oh, yeah.

David TaoDavid Tao

If you tell me something bad about coffee, I’m going to lose my personal objectivity for it. I’m going to lose my objectivity for a second. I’m going to come at you personally and be like, “Look. Look, man. Look, lady. Here’s what I think.” It’s a pretty good example and I’m glad you brought that one up.


Let’s talk about your bucket list in journalism profiles. You’ve done some of the more interesting profiles. Honestly, I’m losing some journalistic credibility here when I say to the person I’m interviewing I really personally enjoy your writing. I should give that disclaimer as well.


What are some bucket list items or profiles that you have that you’d really like to do in the fitness and health journalism space but maybe haven’t got the chance yet? Pandemic notwithstanding.

Michael EasterMichael Easter

Pandemic notwithstanding. That’s interesting. I have a few on my sleeve. They’re part of a book proposal I’m putting together though. I’m not going to reveal those. Maybe later.

David TaoDavid Tao

Fair enough. [inaudible 24:28] have you back on.

Michael EasterMichael Easter

In terms of stories for Men’s Health, another magazine, I’m just a huge fan of quirky, interesting characters. Characters that are maybe a little rough around the edges.


I don’t want to profile the clean-cut guy who’s going to give me the company line. I’ve had to write about a few NFL guys that are really media-polished. It’s just the most boring thing that could ever happen. It’s not really serving the reader either.


I like the people who are a little rough around the edges. That said, one profile…


…that I’ve really wanted to do is, if your listeners are at all into the UFC…I’m mildly into the UFC. It’s pretty cool.

David TaoDavid Tao

You can’t do fitness journalism without at least getting a little bit interested in that part of things.

Michael EasterMichael Easter

Yeah. Diaz brothers. Those two…I love them because they’re super rough around the edges. These are kids that grew up fist-fighting. Also, their training is really interesting because it’s so different than what so many UFC fighters do.


They’re super into triathlons. This is why they have such an engine. They can go so long in a fight and they just square people down.


When they’re talking shit, they actually mean it. It’s not an act. They’re vegan. They’re also huge advocates for marijuana, which I think is funny.


Their whole shtick is they get super baked and just go on these forever long mountain bike rides, which is against what any strength coach in the UFC would tell you to do, but here they are. They’ve been ranked number one.


They’re just fascinating cats. I’d like to spend some time with them and profile them at some point.

David TaoDavid Tao

I am not condoning the use of any substances besides maybe creatine, protein powder, and vitamin D on this podcast, but what I’ll say is, you’re not going to meet a person everyday whose idea of a good time is getting baked and then going and doing something very difficult.

Michael EasterMichael Easter

I’m with you. I don’t touch any substances at all, but I do think that there’s something really fascinating about that. That whole ability to just zone out and not feel pain for an extended period of time. To put themselves in that sort of pain cave and just marinate there.


As interesting and fascinating as the CrossFit athletes and the strength athletes can be, something about a person who does something like an ultra marathon…


They’re on a different plane psychologically. The ability to just sit there with your thoughts for hours and hours traveling across terrain. That is a human whose brain is wired differently. It’s good to talk to all sorts of athletes, is the message there for journalists.


David TaoDavid Tao

Have there been any people you profiled who have really surprised you like what you got was so much different than the notion you had going into it? You always try and keep an open mind in journalism. Your profiles and writing reflects that, but you still have some preconceived notions no matter what.

Michael EasterMichael Easter

Yeah, because I know your readers are into CrossFit, I had to go down after Ben Smith won the CrossFit Games. That was maybe ’15 or something.

David TaoDavid Tao


Michael EasterMichael Easter

Me and this video guy from Men’s Health, we get in this rental car and we drive all the way down to Delaware to their gym. He’s fittest man on earth, or whatever the correct terminology is, so I go in there expecting to see.


However, I pictured him, I had fittest man on earth. Ben Smith looks like a fifth-grade teacher or the guy who would stock shelves at the grocery store. He doesn’t look like this crazy, crazy fit dude. You wouldn’t expect him.


He’s very nice, very humble, very quiet. He gets in the gym and it’s like, “Oh my god.” This guy’s insane. It’s not what you would expect. I feel like you see a Frasier, and you’re like, “That guy is a killer.”


You don’t get that with Ben Smith, but he is. It’s very subtle.

David TaoDavid Tao

I got to spend a little time with Ben Smith in the years before he won the CrossFit games. Training at his gym, I believe. It’s in Virginia Beach. CrossFit Krypton in Virginia Beach.


His whole family’s into CrossFit. His dad, one time when I was there, maybe it was right after, deadlifted 600 pounds. His 50-something-year-old dad. Very talented family. His brother Alex Smith, also a games athlete.


I’ve heard people describe Ben Smith as CrossFit’s Batman because it’s like there’s a little bit of mystery there, and not in a nefarious way. Not in a sneaky way.


He’s never going to come out and tell you like, “This is what I’m going to do,” or, “I’m the fittest man in the world. I’m one of the fittest people in history.” You’re not going to hear that. If you meet this guy and you don’t know anything about him, he’s not going to bring that up in a conversation.

Michael EasterMichael Easter

Amen. You nailed it. Some of these surprises happened too when profiling athletes. I forget the guy’s name but he was an NFL guy, a wide receiver, who was pretty famous. He was on the Broncos for a while. Apologies for not being able to remember his name.


Anyways, he had this crazy long arrest record. He was known as a pain and so I’m thinking, “Oh, this is not going to go well.” My cellphone rings, he calls me up. He’s like, “Yo, it’s me.” We end up talking, shooting the shit for an hour. The nicest guy ever.


I feel a lot of times, when you read a lot of stuff about people, that clouds your vision and what to expect. You talk to them. Oftentimes, you’re surprised.

David TaoDavid Tao

Speaking of nice guys to talk to, Michael Easter, you’re definitely that. If people want to follow along with the work you’re doing, maybe this book proposal that you’re alluding to the final results of that. Whenever that’s publicly available, where’s the best place for people to follow along with you and your work?

Michael EasterMichael Easter

Yeah, I actually have a book coming out in May. Maybe we could talk about that down the road, but in the meantime, you can find me at I’m on Instagram, @michael_easter.


Shoot me an email. I always write back, and I’m happy to chat with anyone.

David TaoDavid Tao

Awesome. Thanks so much for joining us today. I appreciate it.

Michael EasterMichael Easter

Thank you.