How Fitness Can Be Super Unhealthy with Ashley Borden


Jonathan: Hey everyone. Jonathan Bailor here with an extra special and what I anticipate to be a super fun bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast with just a wonderful woman who is not only a trainer for some of the world’s most amazing athletes and the world’s most beautiful celebrities, but she keeps it real. She keeps in touch with the streets and actually trains and serves and betters the lives of just about everyone and anyone.

She does not discriminate. She is here to improve lives. Her name is Ashley Borden. You can find out more about her at ashleyborden.com. She’s got all kinds of great resources there. She’s a wonderful woman. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show, Ashley.

Ashley: Thanks for having me. I’m happy to be here.

Jonathan: Ashley, for the folks that aren’t familiar with you, can we just go back in time a little bit. Let’s talk about Little Ashley and how you became the blossoming flower that you are today. Take them through your story.

Ashley: Well, let’s see. Little Ashley grew up in Chicago, and I grew up with very healthy, active parents. My mom owned a health food store for eleven years, and my dad owned sporting goods stores. My dad was one of the first people that brought the triathlon to Chicago and started that back in the eighties. My mom was a marathon runner. Now she’s in weightlifting and in incredible shape, so I grew up around fitness and health, so it really wasn’t something that I had to force myself to get into.

I was always around it, but I was actually a dancer growing up, so I thought I wanted to be — I used to dance with Gus Giordano Dance Company in Evanston, Illinois. I used to think that that’s what I wanted to do, and I was always weightlifting also, even though I think back then I had no idea what I’m doing. I was still going to the gym and doing that, but the main thread that was always through my life, even younger, was always helping people. I found even when I was in Chicago and training, even in high school, I was helping a lot of people with strength and weight training and dance. I actually really had no idea that it was something that I could go into as a profession.

It was just something that felt really natural to me, and when I moved to LA because I have a lot of extended family that was out here, I was like, “You know what, I want to move out of Chicago.” I had graduated high school; I did not go to college, so I was like, “I am moving to LA. I want to work. I know exactly what I want to do. I want to work with people.” I started, just like I say, prison style. I was training like you put a feed bag in my mouth. I put horse blinders on, and I worked for ten years straight, I swear until I felt like all of a sudden after ten years, I looked up and I was like, “Oh, my God! How long have I been training?”

I just worked and worked and worked, and I loved it, and it’s always been something that’s — When you’re an educator, you always should be learning and changing the way that you teach, because obviously as time goes on, things progress or through fitness, some things aren’t the same as what we were promoting maybe ten years ago. I’m always learning and growing with it, but really my turning point was when I moved to LA, and I saw how many people had such an unhealthy relationship with food and training — and just a quick side note, within that story there, which I didn’t mention, I also had a really, really horrible eating disorder for many years when I was younger and through high school. I went into treatment, a twelve-step treatment center for anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating, compulsive exercise, everything. I got into OA.org when I was eighteen, and then when I moved to LA, that’s when I really had this really profound realization of what I really wanted to do was I really wanted to help people and work with people and have them find that balance between being conscious and into fitness and health and not being a psycho.

Jonathan: Oh well, I think that is such a profound distinction there, Ashley, because you were so kind to share some really personal tidbits there, and I do appreciate that, and I know the listenership will as well. I had somewhat of a similar moment. When I was younger I was neurotically into fitness and wanted to potentially enter a bodybuilding-type arena, and the stress on males can be — you could keep training like this, or you could just take steroids, and you’ll be “all right.”

I was just about as close as one could ever come to taking steroids, and I had this realization similar to what you said, which is like, “Jonathan, when you got started doing this, it was because you liked health,” and it was about health. What you’re doing now is actually horribly unhealthy. It’s the opposite. So Ashley, how do we in our society do — because again, these exercises and eating, these are things we do for health — How do we avoid it flipping 180 degrees on us?

Ashley: At this point in my life I just turned 42, right. So I really feel now the relationship that I have to exercise, training, food and lifestyle is what I promote and explain to everybody else, because the way that — When you look at your body, anybody first of all, just to compare yourself with anybody, the only two people that I say it’s not a waste of time to compare your bodies is if you are an identical twin.

If you’re an identical twin, it’s very fascinating to see, if you have different lifestyles, how your bodies change and how they’re different, but other than people have the exact same DNA, it is a complete waste of time to compare yourself to anybody. Complete waste of time. I am all about people looking at their own bodies and assessing what’s going on with them, and I have a show that’s on LivestrongWoman, and it lives on YouTube. You can actually see all my videos. They’re on my website.

They’re on ashleyborden.com under the videos section, but it also lives on LivestrongWoman on YouTube. My series is called Perfect Form, and the whole concept is exactly what you’re talking about. It’s about your perfect form. It’s about you or your listeners going, “Alright. What’s going on with my body? My back is really tight, my legs are really tight.” A lot of times, people don’t equate tightness to aesthetics, or they don’t equate biomechanics, the way your body moves to aesthetics, but it all has to do with that. When you approach your body more about fixing what’s wrong, the side effect is that you end up looking awesome.

That’s why functional training and working with people who understand biomechanics, they understand movement assessments, those are the people that make significant structural changes to your body that are long-lasting. You feel better, you’re stronger, and you look better. That’s my way of approaching myself and with my clients and with anybody. That’s, I think, a healthier mindset as opposed to like, “I just need to lose weight.”

To me, even the steroid thing, I was married for five minutes a long time ago, and the guy that I was married to was a huge steroid abuser, but I didn’t know it. I grew up around fitness, but I really didn’t understand steroids or even the opposite like Winstrol or things that get you cut. Really encourage people that that’s why you can’t compare yourself, because you have no idea what the other person’s doing. If they’re on steroids, or they’re on fat burners, and let me tell you something: I’d say 90 percent of people are not telling you what’s really going on.

Jonathan: Oh, absolutely.

Ashley: I don’t understand why. I know because steroids are illegal, but I feel like I would rather people just be honest, so that gives other people hope. It’s really false hope to look at some of these guys or women that are in more like the hardcore magazines like Oxygen or stuff like that that. No, you’re not going to look like that, unless that’s your full-time, 100 percent job, and your life revolves around the way you look.

Jonathan: Well, and you don’t care about your health.

Ashley: Exactly.

Jonathan: If your goal is to be healthy, look, it’s not as if there was some radical structural change in our DNA, but if you look at the most conspicuous example would be male professional body builders. If you look at a male professional body builder picture from the forties — just do a search on the Internet. They looked like a big high school athlete today.

Ashley: Yes.

Jonathan: They’re not 320-pound monsters. Even fitness individuals in the seventies did not look like fitness individuals today. It’s not like those people weren’t dedicated. It’s because there may be some other things going on involving chemistry.

Ashley: Absolutely. You know what? I’ll tell you, the first time I ever met — I won’t name names and be a jerk like that, but there’s a really, really famous fitness competitor that I met a million years ago. Again, I knew nothing about the fitness competitor world. I grew up, like I said, I was a dancer. I was just lifting weights in the gym. I didn’t know women did any of this. I remember the first time I met her, I was like, “How are you so lean?” This girl was so muscular and lean that it was paper, paper thin, then I saw her off-season, and she was about 25 pounds heavier.

Finally, a year later, I found out that she does Winstrol or this or that. She’s a competitor, and she’s not natural, apparently. I didn’t know any of that, and I was exactly what you were saying. I used to look at that and just feel like a failure. I was like, “I guess I suck, because I naturally cannot get down to single-digit body fat,” which P.S., you don’t need to be a single-digit body fat. I just didn’t get it.

That was a big thing for me for years is dispelling the myth of what normal people — when I say normal people, people who aren’t in the fitness industry, who aren’t as obsessed with figuring this out as I was. I was like, “What is going on? Why don’t I look like that?” Because I used to be way more hardcore than I am now, but I think, Jonathan, what you’re saying is true. You need to decide how much time you want to invest in your body. I am really about efficiency and living a lean, livable lifestyle.

Jonathan: I love it. The three L’s. That’s profound.

Ashley: People say, “Well, can I get down? I want to be ten percent body fat.” Here’s my answer: You absolutely could. You absolutely could [Inaudible 0:12:35] or whatever, but let me tell you the amount of time and mental compartmentalizing that has to go into living that kind of lifestyle, you just have to decide how you want to fit it in. I think the most important thing is that people’s bodies feel good, they feel strong, and they feel healthy, like they have energy. All of those factors are super important to what feels like a healthy lifestyle.

Jonathan: One thing I wrote down prior to our interview, Ashley, I was thinking to myself — I always try to think of when I have guests on the show, what’s a quick phrase I could use that I think may be a good representation of this individual and their philosophy? What I wrote down for you, Ashley — tell me what you think about this — is empowering physical expression.

The reason I wrote that down is not only because I believe you demonstrate it, but even you touched on this earlier, about people often don’t think about some of these functional movements and just moving with your biomechanically correct ways as having anything to do with aesthetics, but if you actually look, if you geek out for a second and talk about what is perceived as youthful and what is perceived of as elderly — like flexibility and the ability to walk fluidly and posture actually has a dramatic… — You could wear all the cosmetics in the world, but if you’re stiff, and you can’t really move, that makes you look old, even if you’re thirteen. It makes you look old, and so I think…

Ashley: Absolutely.

Jonathan: You represent that so well.

Ashley: Oh, thank you, but that is — I always say how you carry yourself, that’s the first and foremost thing, because with my clients, I’ll be like, “Great, you see me three hours a week. That’s fantastic.” What the hell is going on every hour outside when they’re not seeing me on the seven days? How are you standing? How are you picking up your kids?” You’re talking about functional stuff. For instance, I will purposely not pick up weights for my clients, because I want to see how they pick them up.

There will be immediate, “Okay, stop. Stop. How did you just up those 20-pound dumbbells with the rounded back, not even thinking about it?” Those kind of things of your day-to-day life with your functional movements, carrying groceries, putting luggage in the overhead compartment, that I just see women struggle with every single time I’m on the plane, which I just want to give them some dumbbells to start working on overhead press.

Also, like you’re saying, those are what make you feel old. Standing slouchy with your shoulders forward and your neck forward — not only is that just freaking awful for your spine and your forward head carriage and the amount of stress on your traps in your back, but you look bad. When you stand up straight and lift — a good cue for people, because a lot of more women than men, when I say, “Stand up straight” to a woman, the first thing they do is they stand like a stripper.

They have their boobs out and their butt out. They think that’s standing up straight, and I’m like, “Well, okay. Yeah. We’re almost there.” The best cue for that is to stand with your feet about a hip width apart and have your eyes straight forward so they’re right on the horizon and then lift up your heart to the sky, and then you want to Kegel, or you want to engage your pelvic floor. My cue that I give is I think too graphic for your…

The cue that I like to give is stopping your pee flow, or for guys, stopping your happy ending. That’s an engaged pelvic floor, but when you engage your pelvic floor, and you stand up straight, that engages the lower half of your body, lengthens your waist, and it gives you a way more confident A. appearance, and B. your body just looks better. You lose five pounds just standing up straight.

Jonathan: Oh, absolutely. Truly, it really is, Ashley, and again, I’ll bring it back to when guys don’t do this correctly, I just think it’s so conspicuous. We’ve seen guys that are “muscular,” they walk around, they look like gorillas. I’m like, “Dude, no one looks like, you’re all hunched over.” You’re not looking good. If what you’re doing is trying to look good, forget about what you’re doing is healthy. It doesn’t look good. It doesn’t.

Ashley: Exactly, and people ask me, so here’s a good way to know if your body is a little bit out of alignment. If you just stand with your feet underneath your hip bones, and you just stand up, and you look in the mirror, and you’re looking in the mirror, look at where your hands are. If your palms of your hands are facing directly into your side, and your thumbs are straight forward down at your side, your shoulders are in a pretty good position.

If you look in the mirror, and your backs of your hands are facing the mirror as you’re standing forward, you have what’s called an internally rotated shoulder. Your shoulders are internally rotated, which means your chest is tight. It means that your lats are tight. It means that you’re going to have a very hard time with anything overhead. You’re saying these guys that look like huge gorillas. It’s great that you look like an enormous gorilla, but can you even do anything? Can you turn around? Can you rotate?

You have no flexibility, and these body builders from the eighties that I even see now — there’s a guy that I trained with that’s a big trainer. He used to be huge body builder way back when, and he’s a pretty well-known trainer. This guy, Jonathan, can barely walk right. We’re talking hip replacement surgery. He needs to have his shoulder replaced. He has the most F-upped movement patterns I’ve ever seen, and it’s interesting, because he even trains his clients almost as bad as he moves himself, because that’s what he’s used to doing. If you don’t practice what you preach, how you are going to teach anybody this?

Everything that I teach, truthfully, comes from my own wanting to heal myself and wanting to figure out what’s wrong with my own biomechanics for my own body and through my own discovery of “Oh my gosh, as a dancer” — and P.S., you think it’s bad being a body builder? Try being a freaking dancer! That is the worst biomechanics ever, because when are you a turned-out first position in any functional movement pattern? Never! As a dancer, being very turned-out with your feet and your hips does not set you up for strong athletic movement patterns, because I was not.

I had a lot of body problems after I stopped dancing, so a lot of the stuff that I do now, especially the myofascial work with the rollers — All of your listeners can get my rolling out PDF that’s free that’s super awesome and full comprehensive guide on how to use the foam roller for your entire body. It’s like having a masseuse living at your house for free.

Jonathan: I love it! It absolutely is, Ashley. I think the thing that I love about that is not only the foam roller, but just the biomechanics work that you do. I ’ve noticed in our culture that we tend — and it happens in phases. Right now, there is this emphasis on what I call extreme exercise, which again, if what we’re doing is meant to enable long term health and long term wellness, some of the work that you’re doing or even more stretching, I like to call it almost more cultivated or more sculpture-like fitness.

Fitness should be very intentional and very deliberate and very calculated. That doesn’t mean athletics aren’t fun, and it might not be fun to slam a tire through a window with a sledge hammer. That’s fun, but if we could just take some of that energy, at least some of it, and direct it towards these more sustainable and more restorative, more empowering forms of exercise. They’re not these stress-inducing, injury-provoking exercises.

Ashley: I totally understand your point, and I think it goes back to this. It goes back to this is why it’s always been super hard for me to give very quick answers for magazines about a workout, because I have to know who am I talking to, what are their body issues, what is this for? Are they an athlete? I’ll give you a really good example. I, last season, worked with Nick Swisher pre-season before he went back to the Yankees for his final year. Nick came in very internally rotated with his shoulders — very. Very tight back, kind of shut off chest.

He had biomechanic issues, and he just had some issues that we needed to work on. We had to work on the foundation of his movement patterns, and I asked him what he did the off-season before, and he said, “I was boxing.” I said, “For your whole off-season?,” and he said, “Yeah.” I said, “Okay. Why?” I was just curious. He just said well, he thought it would be good. It was hard exercise for him, and Nick is an incredible athlete and likes to be pushed. The point is that I said, “This is my humble opinion. A. I feel it’s the last thing you need to be doing is boxing. It has nothing to do with you hitting a ball with a stick.

You make an impact with your hand onto a heavy bag that does not move; your joints are so valuable for your profession.” It didn’t make any sense to me. His thing that we needed to work on were movements that mimicked a lot of the movements in baseball but also tried to keep him upright and anatomically correct, so everything wasn’t all forward. It wasn’t just holding a bat and lean forward with his shoulders. You have to do everything on your posterior chain, working his mini-bands and stuff with his hips and all that.

Him, and I work with his other trainer, Ryan, completely changed. Completely changed. His body aesthetically, but because we approached it biomechanically, but Nick or anybody else is the same thing. If you wanted do, for instance, CrossFit. I personally feel CrossFit is very specific to the instructor and the person. Is CrossFit for everybody? No, it’s not. I know some people say it is. I personally as somebody who has over 3500 hours of training with clients would say absolutely not. It is not for everybody.

Is it a certain personality type that excels in it? Absolutely. Is it somebody who has a very, very good understanding of all the basic moves before they start class? Yes! Some places will do that. Other CrossFit boxes won’t. It’s like anything else. It’s like when Billy Blanks was around. Is kickboxing safe for everybody? No. If you get good instruction, if you are, and you understand what you’re doing, it’s going to be better. If it’s ballistic like Shaun T’s Insanity, is that for everybody? No, but some people who may have great biomechanics who can do some crazy ballistic stuff and not injure themselves, I guess.

Jonathan: Yeah. Sometimes, when I’m having a bad day, I use this analogy: I say, you know, you could cut your hair with a chainsaw if you wanted to. It will cut your hair. You can do that! I don’t know why you would want to cut your hair with a chainsaw. Similarly, you could mow your grass with little scissors. There’s all kinds of ways to do things. The question is is it the most effective way to achieve the goal you want? If your client wanted to become a boxer, then boxing is a great choice if their goal was to become a boxer, but that wasn’t his goal, right?

Ashley: That’s what I mean. This is why I say to everybody, whether you’re an athlete or not, you need a breakdown. First of all you need to ask yourself, what do you enjoy doing? That has a lot to do with your success in whatever you’re doing. If you hate, with a passion, riding bikes, then don’t ride a freaking bike. I don’t care if all your friends are doing it, and your best girlfriend just lost 15 pounds doing the whatever cycling race. Who cares!

You need to first start with what do you like to do? If you like dancing, then great. Zumba could be a great thing for you, but you also have to do strength training, because that is what’s going to keep you upright and keep your bone density strong and keep your joints and ligaments healthy and happy. Your main thing of what you do, I feel like, should be something that you love. If you absolutely despise yoga, this is what would I ask: Why do you despise it? Sometimes people hate certain things because their bodies don’t actually allow them to do it.

Let’s say you’re super tight. You may really not enjoy yoga at first, because it’s actually kind of uncomfortable and painful. I would say then what do you need to do? You need to back up, you need to roll out, you need to start with an easier class, and you need to actually pick things that you feel that you want to learn also. All these things are learning, unless you happen to be a gifted athlete, and you can jump into anything. You need to want to learn how to do them. If you want to do P90X. Let’s say you really like to train at home. You need to really ask yourself, do you enjoy doing this?

Do you want to learn how to do these movements and take the time to do it? If you don’t, then don’t it! F ind something else that you enjoy, because you’re just wasting your time. I find that exercise especially has to do with feeling a sense of accomplishment and also investing your time to understanding what you’re doing. For instance, I started doing Jujitsu two and a half years ago, and I wanted to learn Jujitsu. I love it. I’ve always loved it, but I wanted to learn it. Now, it totally did change my body like I’ve never seen in my life.

It’s incredible. It’s very hard. A lot of my clients were like, “I want to do it,” and my answer to them is, “Let me just explain to you what is going on in Jujitsu and then how uncomfortable the learning curve is.” It’s very uncomfortable, and then some people will be like okay, what I really just want are the results. I really don’t want to learn, which is fine! I started Olympic lifting a year ago. I love it. I love it, I love it, I love it, but I also wanted to learn it. I hired a coach, I practiced, I wanted to learn it. It’s like with anybody, I would say, if you want to learn something new, also seek with others. See if you can find a friend and maybe you can hire a coach, and you guys could split the cost to learn something new and then go do it on your own. Those little investments that you do to learning things and then being able to branch off and do it on your own is sometimes the best money you’ll ever spend.

Jonathan: Absolutely, Ashley. That’s being very conscious about what you’re doing, being very clear on your goals, and also being true to yourself and making sure that it’s something that’s going to work for you. I think it’s pretty hard to argue with any of those points. It is spot on, Ashley. What’s next for you? You’ve always got some cool stuff going on. I’ve heard rumors that you’ve got some retreats coming back up, and you’ve got even maybe a 21-day training system on the horizon?

Ashley: Yes! So funny you should mention that. I did retreats for many years on and off, and the last place I was doing it was at Pelican Hill in Newport Coast. I’m no longer doing them over there anymore, because it just was not enough fitness for me. It was a little too wellness-y, and I wanted something that was a lot more you learn, you have great takeaway, that I could work with more people and bringing the price point down a little bit. I am to be going to be doing retreats that are — the price point will be lower, so I can have more people come.

It is going to be in Southern California. We are just securing the location, so I’m going to have all that information will be going out on my newsletter, which everybody can sign up for on ashleyborden.com. It’s at the bottom of every page. I do send them out and give everybody an update. I’m also in the middle of putting together a 21-day program using the roller and body weight stuff and dumbbells for every body type and everybody. That is also going to coming up as well, but I’m still working.

I still do a lot of seminars, so I work with other gyms or companies, and I’ll go to offices and work with them on their break room and their food and how can you make much more effective break time for your employees so you get more production. All of this stuff is all the same information, but you need to put it into place where people needed it the most. I find that if I can go in and work with people within their environment that you can make a much quicker, better change that has to do with their lifestyle. The retreats, you learn a lot of stuff. Obviously with DVDs. I have all the free videos that I shot that are all living on my website that are from Livestrong that are — and I’m not saying it because I’m being obnoxious — but they’re excellent, if I don’t mind saying so myself. They are, because it’s like I’m training you. That’s the most important thing is that you’re learning from it.

I’m also going to be shooting two more of them, but I’ve done, just recently, two shows on The Doctors, the talk show that’s on ABC. I don’t know if those are going to be coming up soon. I’m shooting two more next week, and then Access Hollywood, so I have a lot of TV stuff that I also shoot. Even then, every single thing that I do is all the same message. It’s just packaged differently. I don’t understand the trainers where they’ll work with celebrities, and they’ll get a different program, and then when they’re training real people, they just get a half-ass program.

That is not how it works with me. Everyone’s treated the same. I try to explain and teach everything to everybody so everyone can learn, because that is the most important thing is that you have the tools to heal yourself, you have the knowledge to strengthen, and then you also have the knowledge to put all of that together and help you, help your kids, help your family. When you put it all together, your success is a 100 percent more achievable than when you’re just trying to struggle and do something on your own.

Jonathan: Ashley, I couldn’t have said it any better, and I really can’t think of a better way to close the show, so folks, if you haven’t checked out ashleyborden.com, please do. Obviously, if you didn’t know already, now you know quite a wonderful woman, definitely an awesome resource to check out, and do check out those videos. I’ll have to admit it, they are pretty awesome.

Ashley: Thanks, Jonathan.

Jonathan: Ashley, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.

This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Ashley Borden. Ashley is one of the nation’s foremost personal trainers for celebrities and professional athletes (Christina Aguilera, Natasha Bedingfield, Mandy Moore, Ryan Gosling, New York Yankee Nick Swisher, UFC Champion Matt Hughes. etc.) and is here to talk about how important it is (or not) to ensure that our approach to fitness is also healthy.

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