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012 – Interview with Steve Willis (Commando Steve)

Steve Willis gives us his expert advice on some of the biggest challenges he see’s with the health and fitness of middle age men, how he motivates others and what he does to get through the tough times.

To hear the full interview, simply press play button below (make sure your volume is turned up).

Or if you prefer to read the transcript of the full interview, see below –

Rod: Welcome everyone. Rod from Sports Adventure here. And today I will continue our fantastic interview series where I interview inspirational people from around the world to share their expert insights on good nutrition, mountain biking, and men’s health.

My guest today is one of Australia’s most respected personal trainers and he is a former team command of the Australian Special Forces. He is star on Network 10’s The Biggest Loser and runs training camps and help thousands of people to reach their physical and mental fitness goals. He writes a regular column in Body and Soul Magazine and he has written a book title “No Excuses”. And he also has a range of exercise equipment available at Rebel and Amart stores. I would like to welcome the named as Commando Steve, Steve Willis. Welcome Steve.

Steve: Welcome Rod. How are you? And our listeners hope you are all well.

Rod: Terrific. Mate thank you very much for your time. We just had a quick chat. You have kind of like pulled over on the side of the road to take my call and yeah mate you have got some great stuff to share so we will get straight into it.

Steve: Yeah, for sure.

Rod: Good on you. Mate, can you give us a bit of background of how you got started as a fitness coach after being a team command of the Special Forces?

Steve: Yeah, well it was something that I guess was always a part of who I was from a very early age. And I had started training in the gym when I was about 15 years of age. And I carried that through in my military career as well. So, in leaving the military I was like, “What do I enjoy doing?” I love training and I thought what better way to spend my days than training myself and helping other people to be in the better version of themselves.

Rod: Mate, that’s superb. I completely understand your direction there. What do you find so good about being a coach?

Steve: Everything. And I think the word “coach” really wraps it up rather than a “personal trainer” or trainer; because, that kind of segments or kind of creates in a person’s mind specificity whereas the coaching come is all encompassing, you know? Essentially it is life, you know? If someone needs some help in just to dressing their thoughts or someone might need help with mechanics of running or others that might be – in nutrition sense – there is that ability to tap in. And I am talking more of foundation level rather than specificity that’s what a coach can help with. And that’s why I enjoy doing what it is that I do.

Rod: Yeah. Certainly. Mate, 3 top things that you think someone should know in order for them to get the most out of their coaching?

Steve: Well, now first one is know your craft in and out. And that will take time so if you are new to the game. Emulate those that you look up to. Emulate their actions and what it is that they do and over time you will find your own way, your answers and how you would like to do it.Try not to attach to the things too strongly. Be very open-minded. And in that sense play the observer role like we do as coaches with other role, play the observer role for yourself.And I think those three things in itself will help a person go a long way in being the best coach they can be. But to be that best coach, you have got to really connect with yourself.

Rod: Yeah. Certainly. Mate, mindset is so important with anything we do particular anything worthwhile – how do you help your clients change and then maintain the right mindset going forward?

Steve: Well, change things to be the… I guess the first step and overcoming that road block, you can do that because people are generally quite motivated once they have made that decision. But it is 4-weeks down the road, it is 8-weeks, it is 12-weeks, you know? And as time rolls on, if you are not constantly there… you know helping them out and helping them to maintain their reason why and that purpose behind of being that better version each day, you can become a little overwhelming. And to get a person to that stage is all in the way in which we thing.

And I like in it to a compass and you could be walking a particularly bearing on a compass and all you have got to do is change that bearing by 1 degree and over a kilometer, over 5 kilometers, 10 kilometers you end up in a completely different position or place. And that’s very much the same with our thoughts. You just got to give a little shunt in a particular direction and it is amazing where that new kind of thought can lead you. A lot of us call it going down the rabbit hole and it is overcoming that fear and being scared of going down the rabbit hole and a lot of people that’s where the hang-up is.

But down the track, it might be other little things that trip them up – their nutrition, or their head, or their training isn’t where they would like it to be. So address your expectations and just know as a human that fundamentally we are designed to move. So, out of a baseline if you are thinking in the boxes, you are doing some exercise, you are eating well, and you are mindful of your own thoughts and that observer role, you are definitely taking steps in the right direction. Better from worse. Better from worse.

Rod: Yeah, mate spot on. Mate, obviously you are training a number of people with your camps and things – what are some of the biggest challenges you see with the health and fitness of middle age men?

Steve: Their heads. Their heads. It is getting started. And a lot of it. I will use the bit of an analogy from the army. Especially for the guys, we have got the body armor on, you know? We are very unwilling to remove that body armor because removing the body armor leaves you feeling quite vulnerable. And being vulnerable to yourself and connecting with yourself is probably the first place that I would try to steer anyone but that in itself is daunting because if you cannot be vulnerable and connect with yourself how you can truly be connecting with anybody else?

And that means having a hard conversations with yourself and firstly asking the hard questions: who am I? What do I stand for? What do I represent? If you are thinking legacy, what do I want to leave behind? What type of role model am I? These are all powerful questions and especially for men because if we are talking middle age, a lot of us we have got kids and just being the best we can be is enough in that sense as a role model to the younger generations come and through.

Rod: Mate, you are spot on. And that legacy point, that you have mentioned, mate to be able to leave something… yeah beyond our years to our kids and beyond that is absolutely gold. I couldn’t agree more with you.

Steve: Yeah totally.

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Rod: Mate, I was really fortunate to hear speak of the Fitness Show in Sydney recently and you spoke about what do you to prepare yourself for range of different tasks and things and use a bit of meditation. Can you walk us through how you do these? Because, obviously it is something that’s probably a little far into a lot of people.

Steve: Yeah. I have been doing meditation for probably decade, you know? Since I got into Kung Fu, when I was in my early 20’s, it is definitely coming peaks and troughs and at times it is going to paid it off but I have really established the practice of just trying to create space, not just in my world, but in here. And in my head and move beyond my thoughts and connect again as a human to nature, to the world, to other people and that connection is through feeling and we do that. And I use the meditation to do that to connect with your breath. That’s the most simplistic thing that we can do is breathe.

But people find meditation hard because like many things in life, we push away, we resist. Mediation isn’t about resisting. It is allowing things to kind of past through you.

So you sit quietly, sit as up right as you can, focus on your breath, trying to breathe in and out through your nose, and count your breath one in, and breath out, 2 out, 3 in, up to 10, then reset back to 1, up to 10, reset back to 1 just keep continuing that process. And you will find your mind will wonder, it will attach to certain thoughts. But when you identify that you have attached to thoughts just bring yourself back to breath and that’s just centering and you get better and better at it over time. And you may have be only able to endure 5 minutes to start and then overtime it will be 7 minutes, 9 minutes, 10 minutes.

And I am working on a bit of a principle at the moment: for every hour that I am awake throughout the day, I try to get at least one minute of meditation for that hour. So I will do cumulatively in the sense of… so if I am awake for 16 hours, there is 16 minutes of meditation. And then if I can double that 1 minute for every hour for every 30 minutes so 1 minute for every 30 minutes so that’s 32 minutes of meditation. And for 32 minutes you open your eyes and it is like after heavy rain everything seems renewed, that’s what it is like.

Rod: Awesome. Mate, the way you have explained it there is such a simple easy technique that any of us could do. As you said your break in morning tea or lunch or whatever it is just find a quite corner and sit down with yourself and get that breathing routine going. And as I said, I heard you speak in Sydney and the benefits that you have been able to bring to yourself through meditation, calming yourself – as you said – simpering yourself puts you in a good frame of mind to be able to take on all sorts of challenges which you have been through.

Steve: And I am doing it right now. I am on the road with my car. The logical smart thing to do when you are driving a car, if there is other cars in front you, is don’t sit too close and that is creating space so you can react. And meditation just helps you create space so when things occur in your life that space enables you to apply some logic as much as you might have this rise in certain emotions. If you are constantly up with tail ended in other car, you haven’t to react, and reacting to everything doesn’t leave us time and space and we find ourselves overwhelmed. Ask any racing car driving, you know what I mean? They get on the track, they weight themselves out.

Rod: Yeah, you are sport on. That’s exactly right, mate.

You have been through so many challenges more than most of us could ever comprehended in our lives through special forces as a coach and everyday life with your family – what did you do to work through the tough time? You touched to meditation but what other things you do to work through tough times?

Steve: Responsibility. Responsibility, I believe is coupled with a word “resilience” and that I have identified that people who get most resilient in life take responsibility no matter how small.

And for me, as a father, that can be doing everything from changing my 16 month old son’s nappies to bathing him to feeding him to looking after my other children running them around plus my business or professional obligations in that sense. But also being saying by my children and not just talking to talk but walking to walk and that’s in the action, you know? Get some push ups, some squats, and going for run and doing some workouts, as much as I might not want to where I can just plunk my backside on the lounge and flick on the television. I understand their sponges and they are observing every little action. And that responsibility it is like having my kids with me 24/7 even though they are not here now. You trying to be as mindful as you can in each and every moment and that requires you to be, as I said earlier, in that role an observer rather than trying to grasp in the sense of attach or identify too strongly with certain things; because, when we do it is like a horse with a blinkers on. We shot down our peripheral vision and what’s going on around us.

And discipline, you know. I think resilience, responsibility and discipline they are really the nucleus of what makes us tick.

And discipline is I would like to say to people is nurturing and people go “WOW! You say it is nurturing, really?” Well, it does. It helps to cultivate all of those emotions that help to promote and manifest an environment that’s conducive with a quality of living and not just for an individual or just a family but for a society for a culture. And I see discipline where your discipline in the moment rather than allowing yourself to sleep and then you look back and go “Why that I let myself down?” We then get aggressive with ourselves. There is anger whereas if we discipline there is compassion, you know? There can be empathy and we give ourselves a pat on the back and that helps robust to our self confidence and our worth and our believe.

Sorry, I could talk all day and sometimes I feel like I go on tangent. I know what my head is doing but others something are like, “Well, Steve come on. Just hold a back a little bit. Give sometime to catch up.”

Rod: No, don’t hold back just keep on going. I could talk to you all day. Thank you mate. So you are on fire.

Mate, you have trained so many men and women throughout your life from incredible tough motivated people to some not so willing to get going – what are some of the things that you do to get people moving and stay on course?

Steve: I guess it depends on the person. If they are very stuck in their head, I would like to get the moving the action; because, it helps them to understand that they can do it and it gets them outside of their head and it gets them feeling so to beyond their thoughts.

Then when you have got other people who maybe a little… how do I explain this? You know a little different in that sense you need to get them… well being more mindful… they are very probably very blaze about how they do things. Then you have got to over analyse and you got – well I don’t want to say the word – you have got the ignorant. And it is understanding the difference between that and it is helping the person who may apply little more ignorance to things by taking responsibility and being conscious and mindful of all those little things that are going to help them to better themselves.

And it is holding their hand at the start. You have got to hold their hand and as much as I might express through the use of language and I will say symbols, leading through action as well. You know for myself like potentially doing some workouts with them to show that I am not just all talk. You are willing to back up what you say and that really helps to inspire people as well.

Rod: Yeah. Certainly. Mate, you are spot on. Some great stuff there.

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Mate, if you had a secret about coaching what would it be?

Steve: Compassion and empathy. I guess I have learnt from the military that fear only get you so far. If you instill fear through your coaching and the way in which you train people when you are not there they are really doing it, you have got them wanting to do for themselves. And compassion and empathy and being a listening board and relating and understanding and applying empathy not sympathy; because, empathy is understanding but using logic to workout a solution, will get people doing things for themselves.

And I used to say the contestants on The Biggest Loser – What are you willing to do when the doors are closed, the lights are off, and there is no one else surround? That’s what’s going to show when you step up on one of those scales at the end of the week. And a lot of the training that they have to do, they have to do their own. And those are few sessions we’d film and they’d go on television with trainer but a lot of the effort was at night time, early mornings, where they just have to grind it out and that’s when we went there. And so yeah I want to get into their heads and kind of help them understand it. They are got to be willing to hold themselves.

Rod: Yeah. Certainly mate. Spot on.

Mate, what are some of the common problems you see people experience when they start coaching first round?

Steve: When they start coaching or being coach?

Rod: Being coach.

Steve: Being coach. There is not being a beginner; because, we have our professional lives and we might be quite good at certain things. We think we can just take that and apply just about everything else. I want to do this so you just think you can throw yourself in a way and you are going to be a rockstar in 4 weeks and it ain’t going to happen. And you need to listen to the advice of the coaches that’s why they are in those positions.

And approach things with a beginner’s mind. And when you do that, again you have kind of remove the blinkers, you open that peripheral vision and be a sponge like you would when you are kid.

If you rewind your mind back to when you were young, you are just sitting, listen, and you have to observe and then you take that new found information and you give it a crack.

And if it work for you, you applaud it. If it didn’t, disregard and move onto next thing.

Rod: Mate, great advice. Good on on. Mate, wondering if you have got anything else coming up in future. You have been involved in so many thing through out the fitness industry – anything coming up we can look out for?

Steve: Yeah, I have got some camps coming out towards the end of the year so October and November in Binna Burra in Queensland. So you can jump on the Binna Burra website and check those out or the Commando Steve website.

I am doing some kids camps with Garmin so for people around Australia, we are going to do one in Perth. I think maybe one in Adelaide and another one on the Gold Coast.

And there is all those little training sessions from things that you have kind of come up at last minute. So if anyone kind of interested just follow my Instagram or my so that’s @commandosteve Instagram page or Commando Steve Facebook page. And all to have an online program, and that is essentially 12 weeks program. There is a foundation and structure, it is follow the bouncing ball, it is all things nutrition and training and the motivation that mindset the psychology side of things. And there is one starting every month so there is 12 a year. And again they will go for 12 weeks or 3 months and that is keep rolling over, rolling over.

And I just trying to think what else. There is a lot of other stuff I am doing in the corporate world with like Sydney Trains helping them and their 10,000 employees. And they are looking at just shaking up the culture and how they do things and very much on a personal level; because, you can get someone to change on a personal level, they are going to be just better humans. Full stop. But then their work is going through… and their performance is going to potentially rise and they have got on the board in the nutrition sense and obviously you have got to address the psyche and how you… why should I eat better? And we could go all day about that.

And then the WorkCover which had a name change to iCare. They insure up to 2600 employers and 3.3 million people so working with them and growing the social hot. And that is just connection where business is being very mechanical for a long time and now we need to bring some of those values and those virtues back into things and doing things not just for the sake of money and connecting with human. So there is a lot going on and it is exciting time and it is fun but at the same time not loosing sight of my 4 kids and giving them time and enjoying their lives as they grow up into young adult himself.

Rod: Mate, you touched on some great points there. And you are doing some amazing stuff and spreading the word. And obviously the final point that you hit home was enjoying your family and yeah once they grow up they moved on to other things and it is a big change in their lives.

Steve: Yeah, it is.

Rod: Mate, I really appreciate your time today. As you said, you have pulled out in the side of the road to have chat, you have shared some great stuff. It was a great to catch up with you in Sydney the other day and thanks so much for time Steve.

Steve: No. Thanks Rod. And thanks everybody for tuning in and listening. Tune up, keep going, and your darkest moments are when you are doing things on your own. Just remember there is out there doing exactly the same thing and draw strength from that. But your hard work doesn’t go on unrecognized. And each day is a day to prepare for the next; because, at the end of the day there is only this present moment in time so what you chose to do with it.

Rod: Mate, you are spot on. Great words. Well done. Thank you very much. I will let you go and drive and great to talk to you Steve. Good on you.

Steve: Same.

Rod: Thank you mate.

Steve: Take care.

Rod: Cheers. All right. Thank you.

To hear more great interviews from experts around the world on good nutrition, exercise and men’s health head over to or jump on to iTunes or Stitcher subscribe to podcast and leave a review. Thanks for tuning into the show.

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So keep in touch and see you out on the trails.

About The Author

Rod Bucton, mountain bike fanatic from Mid North Coast, New South Wales Australia… helping middle aged men improve their lives with exercise, good nutrition and good health and while you’re at it follow Rod on Facebook or Instagram.

Like any sport, bicycling involves risk of injury and damage. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you assume the responsibility for that risk, so you need to know — and to practice — the rules of safe and responsible riding and of proper use and maintenance. Proper use and maintenance of your bicycle reduces risk of injury.

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