A GAUZY APRIL MORNING in Golden, Colorado. Inside a lavish single-story office suite decked out with a big-screen TV, low-slung leather furniture, and a sprawling maple conference table, a solitary figure stands in front of a wall-size window. His hands are hooked behind his back as he gazes at a majestic view of wispy cirrus clouds arcing over the Front Range, where tan, muscular foothills back up to high, dark peaks. It's the kind of trophy vista awarded to great entrepreneurial success, a penthouse view reserved for business moguls, politicos, and local boys who've cashed in on, say, the most lucrative fitness phenomenon the country has ever seen.
"Transformation is such an interesting thing," says Bill Phillips, a former champion bodybuilder and sports-supplements impresario who can justifiably be called America's reigning personal trainer. He turns away from the window. "You have hundreds of millions of people across the world who want to change, who try to change, but they pull their hair out because they don't know how."
Phillips walks to the table where I'm sitting with his manager and media handler, Jim Nagle, and takes a seat. He's dressed in faded jeans, a navy T-shirt, and leather sandals, his short brown hair gilded with blond highlights. His arms are ropy with muscle, shaved smooth, veins braiding down to his wrists. Phillips is 39, but he looks collegiate, frattish, cool.
You might already know Phillips as the guy in a tight black tee glaring at you from the cover of his best-selling book Body-for-Life, which to date has sold 3.5 million copies in 24 languages. Or maybe you've heard of the company he built and eventually sold for more than $100 million, Experimental and Applied Sciences (EAS), currently the largest sports-nutrition operation in the United States. Or maybe someone you know has taken the Body-for-Life Challenge, a 12-week fitness contest that, if you believe the hype, can turn people with torsos like soft-serve cones into mini-Schwarzeneggers. If you've gone that route, chances are you've watched a Body-for-Life videotape, or belong to one of hundreds of BFL-related Internet chat groups, now atwitter about Phillips's new book, Eating-for-Life, due out this month.
Then again, maybe you haven't heard of Bill Phillips at all, and are still chowing down on dreadfully misproportioned piles of carbohydrates and fat, and working out halfheartedly, or misguidedly, or not at all. Yet now and then you feel the tug, standing in front of a full-length mirror, fantasizing about cannonball shoulders and chiseled biceps. Stare hard enough and you may even begin to see the ultimate badge of contemporary fitness lurking beneath the flab: six sculpted abdominal muscles, stacked above your waistband like masonry stones.
This is what the Cult of Bill vividly imagines, the holy vision BFLers work for every day. To enter this realm is to fervently believe that such a physique is not exclusive to the genetically gifted but is attainable by anybody, young or old, male or female, fat or skinny, rich or poor. All it requires, say the converted, is resolve.
Phillips swivels in his chair and looks to the window again. Outside, we can see the broad, circular drive that rings the office complex. Today a local bike race is taking place here, and just now a pack of cyclists comes chugging up a slight rise in the road. On cue, the riders hammer past the building in a blur of color and pistoning legs.
"Everyone has the power to change, to be better," Phillips continues quietly, thoughtfully, as if the idea is dawning on him for the first time. Nagle looks over, glancing at my notepad. This is important. Are you getting this down?
"Those riders out there—they're working hard, trying to improve themselves," Phillips says. "What makes them different from anyone else? Why people change and why they don't is fascinating. To me, it's the greatest mystery of life."