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Like most chefs, Robert Irvine’s hands have been burned and sliced innumerable times. Unlike most chefs, Irvine’s hands bear another sign of wear and tear—thick calluses on the palms that have accrued, not from cooking, but from countless hours in the gym, pumping iron. Right now these overworked hands are thumbing through the notes for the very first episode of The Robert Irvine Show, his new daytime conflict-resolution talk show airing now on the CW. The show’s genesis was a natural extension of what made his show, Restaurant: Impossible, so popular for 13 seasons. In the process of renovating restaurants, fixing business plans, revamping menus, and fine-tuning staff, Irvine often had to mend broken relationships among disheartened family members. His skills as a straight-talking, no-BS mediator added an emotional component that made him one of Food Network’s highest-rated talents.

Call time is less than five minutes away. The veins of Irvine’s biceps twitch as he flips the pages and sips a steaming cup of English breakfast tea. Producers and executives have come and gone all morning to check in on their host and go over the final details. Then the chef is left alone in his dressing room, which used to belong to late-night legend Jay Leno. The set for Irvine’s new show is built right on top of the set of Leno’s Tonight Show at the Burbank Studios. Before that, the stage belonged to the iconic Johnny Carson.
“It is strange being in a place with so much history,” Irvine says. “When you think about everyone who’s walked through here.”

Even though he’s been hosting his own TV show for nearly a decade, it’s enough to give the Englishman goosebumps.

“I was nervous yesterday and a little the day before,” Irvine admits. “Getting to the gym helped.”

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In the seemingly endless expansion of the Robert Irvine brand, training has been the constant. When Irvine first landed on TV in 2007 on Food Network’s Dinner: Impossible, he was a physical anomaly. The British Royal Navy veteran didn’t just talk tough, he looked it— his muscles helped create a screen presence that is still unmatched by any other celebrity chef (or just celebrity for that matter). Since then, the effect has been magnified as Irvine has dropped body fat and added lean muscle. At 51, he appears even bigger on screen, with his biceps bulging out of his trademark tight blue tee.

Growing up in a modest home in Crumpsall, Manchester, England, Irvine was a scrawny kid with big dreams. He started reading Muscle & Fitness and followed the workouts rep for rep. He developed quickly, started playing rugby, and joined the Royal Navy at a young age, where
he was trained as a cook. Without weightlifting as the backbone of his life, there’s little chance that he’d be able to keep his current bustling schedule, which sees him travel more than 300 days a year. It’s a life similar to that of a pro wrestler, an ironic reality given the fact that he’s married to one, Gail Kim. When he’s not filming in Burbank, he’s usually performing for the USO or touring his own live show, where he cooks through a series of audience- generated challenges.

SEE ALSO: Get Big Like Your Heroes

His other businesses are growing as fast as his biceps. In addition to his Fit Crunch protein bars, Robert Irvine Foods have begun to pop up in select stores throughout the country with Fit Crust Pizzas, his patented “flat” chicken, healthy crab cakes, and “better for you” cheesecakes. He also launched a digital magazine (robertirvinemagazine.com) and has written three cookbooks, the most recent of which, Fit Fuel, combines his passions for healthy cooking, weight training, and helping people make positive changes. He’s even making a footprint in Las Vegas, opening a new restaurant inside the famed Tropicana Hotel, slated to debut in 2017. At press time, he was days away from opening a restaurant inside the Pentagon called Fresh Kitchen by Robert Irvine.

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In the gym, Robert Irvine moves with a purpose. His personal approach is an old-school body-part split, not unlike what he first read about in M&F, but he keeps the tempo high. Even on a simple arm day, he sweats profusely, darting from station to station and leaving with a monster pump and an outfit that’s completely soaked through. On weeks when his travel schedule is heavy, he’ll employ a two-day upper- and lower-body split and alternate days as time allows.

“There’s nothing complicated about the way I approach training,” Irvine says. “That’s because there’s nothing complicated about consistency. It’s not sexy, but I think as more and more people fail with an approach that promises quick results, they’re realizing the truth about training. Real change takes a long time. Trying to reverse years of bad habits in 30 or 60 days is a mistake. All the physiques that are truly admirable—those people have been at it for years, putting in an untold number of hours.”

SEE ALSO: M&F Olympia Seminars: Chef Robert Irvine

Irvine’s towering ambition is fueled by a single motivating factor: “The more you have, the more you can share,” he says. To wit, Irvine’s philanthropic efforts span USO tours throughout the world, including the most dangerous bases in the Middle East; he’s a fixture at Gary Sinise’s benefits for the troops and donates $20,000 out of his pocket every time he attends. His own charity, the Robert Irvine Foundation, raises money and then allocates grants to benefit active duty soldiers and veterans in need.

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“When you strip it all away, this is what gets me out of bed in the morning—the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives,” Irvine says. “And to positively affect the lives of those who defend our freedom is the cause that is closest to my heart. All the success I have I owe to the fact that I live in a free society in the greatest nation on Earth. That freedom is made possible by the selfless sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. No amount of money I donate or benefits that I attend can ever scratch the surface of the debt we owe to these men and women and their families, but it is imperative that we try. It all starts to fall apart if we fail to show our gratitude.”

Call time hits and Irvine springs to his feet to meet a pair of producers outside of his dressing room. There’s minimum banter as they make their way down to the set, a nervous energy hanging over the elevator. The trio walks backstage where you can hear the soft rumble of the live audience speaking in hushed tones. Irvine thumbs through his notes one last time, takes a deep breath, and then bounds onto the stage when he’s announced. He’s met with thunderous applause.

Over the course of the next eight hours, Irvine films the first two episodes of his new show, but astoundingly, it looks like his fifth year on the set, not his first day. The problems his guests present to him are unfathomable to the average Joe: rampant cheating, estranged mothers and daughters, and wounds that seem like they might never heal. Failing to conform to daytime convention, Irvine doesn’t treat his guests as a spectacle but affords them dignity and respect. He offers his tough love in the form of common-sense solutions. When a situation calls for it, he sets his guests up with professional help. All the while, he preaches what he first learned in the gym: Real, lasting change takes time. You can’t fix your life in minutes on a TV show, but you can make a commitment to do so.

The Robert Irvine Show airs Monday through Friday on the CW. Check your local listings.

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Stay Fit on the Go

Chef Robert Irvine travels more than 300 days a year and is able to maintain a lean, muscular physique year-round. Here are his five tips for staying fit when traveling or otherwise pressed for time.

1. WEAR A WEIGHT VEST

“This adds intensity to any activity. Instantly increase the difficulty of a 10-minute walk, a set of pushups, or even house-hold chores. You’ll be dripping with sweat and get a great core workout.”

2. SHORTEN YOUR WORKOUTS

“When you’re pressed for time, the easiest thing to do is cut your workout in half. If you typically like to do four sets of everything,just do two and move quickly. This one is so obvious, but most guys resist it. I know so many guys who will skip the gym entirely if they have only a half-hour. Well, two sets are a lot more effective than zero!”

3. DON’T WASTE TIME LOOKING FOR A “HEALTHY” RESTAURANT

“Most sit-down restaurants can be healthy if you just ask. No matter the house specialty, they can make you grilled chicken and steamed vegetables. I make this request all the time and usually get it. They don’t accommodate me because I’m a fellow chef. They accommodate me because they want the business.”

4. BRING THE HEAT

“Travel with hot sauce. This is the perfect antidote to the oversize portions that are the norm in American restaurants.Pick your poison: Frank’s, sriracha, Tabasco, etc. Adding heat and spice to your food makes it more satisfying, so you’ll need to eat less of it to feel full. There are also a number of studies that have strongly established the active component of hot peppers and hot sauce—capsaicin—in fat loss.

5. DON’T SKIP CARDIO

“I hate skipping any workout, but when push absolutely comes to shove, I make sure I get my cardio in. Everyone enjoys lifting more than cardio, and I’m the same way, but cardio is what ultimately helps you stay lean—and keeps your heart healthy—and staying lean makes your muscles look bigger. It seems counterintuitive, but it really works.”

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Day 1: Upper Body

Incline Bench Press SUPERSET with Barbell Row
Sets: 4, Reps: 12

Plate-loaded Machine Row
Sets: 4, Reps: 12

StepMill (holding dumbbells)
Sets: 1, Reps: 5 minutes

Diamond Pushup SUPERSET with Dumbbell Curl
Pushup- Sets: 3, Reps: 20
Dumbbell Curl- Sets: 3, Reps: 15

Treadmill Push*
Sets: 1, Reps: 5 minutes

Arnold Press SUPERSET with Bentover Dumbbell Raise
Sets: 3, Reps: 12

Plank
Sets: 2, Reps: Failure

*Stand on a treadmill with the power turned off. Hold the handles, lean forward, and push the belt with your feet.

Day 2: Lower Body

Barbell Squat
Sets: 4, Reps: 10

Walking Lunge
Sets: 3, Reps: 20 (10 each leg)

Rowing Machine Intervals**
Sets: 10, Reps: 20/40

Dumbbell Step-up-to-Calf Raise
Sets: 3, Reps: 20 (10 steps each leg)

Medicine Ball Russian Twist
Sets: 4, Reps: 30 (15 each side)

**20-second sprint, 40-second steady pace (10 minutes total)