ROVILSON Fernandez jokes when asked how today's photo shoot went. His tone is sincere, but he can barely contain his chuckles. "By the way, I thought this photo shoot was supposed to be for the cover of Candy Magazine. I need a personal assistant."
As is often the case, Fernandez’s wisecracks are met with guffaws from those present — and he’s always locked and loaded with repartees. If you’re the somber type, it’ll be hard to keep up with his quips, which, along with his shiny shaven head, supersized build, and unflinching attempts to speak straight Filipino, are what have come to define him, at least for those who only see him on TV.
Fernandez was born on a US naval base in Sasebo, Japan, but his ancestry can be traced to Dagupan, Pangasinan. When Fernandez was a toddler, his father, an electrical engineer with the US Navy, was restationed to a new base in San Diego, California. And this was when Fernandez first committed himself to fitness — fostered by a little sibling rivalry.
"Growing up with three brothers, you couldn’t help but be an athletic child,” he recounts. Boys will be boys, and sibling competition pushed Fernandez to be better than his brothers at their favorite sport, American football —before he hit a snag. “My mom, being the typical [overprotective] mom, wouldn’t sign the required under-18 waiver.”
Fernandez was big, fast, and strong enough to excel in pretty much any sport. But moms are formidable opponents, and he took the path of least resistance by getting into tennis instead. “I made it to the varsity team, maybe just to spite her,” he says in jest. “I was a baseliner with a two-handed backhand, like Agassi.”
At first glance, you’d think that Fernandez was the type of guy who’s all about sports and everything athletic. But if you were to cut away all the muscle and pick at his core, you’d discover the film geek trapped inside. “In my senior year, while majoring in film at San Diego State University, I discovered my love for Asian films, especially the stylized movies of Wong Kar-wai,” Fernandez says. His fascination for Asian cinema was one of the main reasons he made the jump across the Pacific and settled here. “They also showed us Marilou Diaz- Abaya’s Sa Pusod ng Dagat. After that, I understood where I belonged.”
He moved to Manila in 1999 — “Best move I’ve ever made… been here 12 years with absolutely no regrets”— and quickly parlayed his self-deprecating likability, that Fil-Am sense of wonder, and his genuine charisma for a gig on Lakbay TV’s Balikbayan Trail.
“I had tossed my resume around and thought I was being called to direct the show, but they wanted me to host!” Fernandez recalls. “I didn’t think I had any aptitude for hosting, but I’d been eating pretty much just ramen and itlog na maalat because I’d been jobless for six months, so I said yes. It was a wonderful learning experience. I owe them everything — they got the ball rolling for my career.” Since then, we’ve witnessed him in local TV programs like Gameplan and even some regional TV shows (and, famously, as a competitor in The Amazing Race Asia), his affability as a host becoming a proven draw. Fernandez lights up every room he walks into. His squeaky-clean image and fitness advocacy convinced WWF-Philippines to make him one of its ambassadors.
Meanwhile, despite the long hours now demanded by his success, he’s somehow kept his body in tip-top shape — even though he battles insomnia nightly.
“I’m a hopeless night owl,” says Fernandez, who admits to routinely sleeping at 3 or 4 AM then waking up 2-3 hours later. “Sometimes I power nap. My coach tells me that I should get at least eight hours sleep. Otherwise toxins build up in your body. So I tell him that I do get eight hours. I’m lying, though, but don’t tell him that — there’s just so much to do!”
One of the biggest reasons for Fernandez’s insomnia is his participation in adventure racing. After hosting Balikbayan Trail, Fernandez was then part of the San Mig Light 6-Packers, a television show on Lakbay TV that combined traveling, adventure, sports, and the occasional chugging of beer. It was one of the first television programs to showcase adventure racing. Also called expedition racing, adventure racing is an unsettling mix of endurance disciplines, with orienteering the navigational dealbreaker. It appealed to Fernandez’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for being part of a team, a sort of brotherhood. And after the show was cancelled, Fernandez actively sought out other avenues for adventure racing, even joining races abroad.
“Out of all the sports I’ve dabbled in, I love adventure racing the most,” says the 38-year-old TV show host. “I’ve competed in Malaysia and discovered that international competitions can be very humbling. The orienteering is crucial. You get one coordinate wrong, and you end up going 20 kilometers in the wrong direction. I’m the last guy you want to hold the compass. Instead, I was the ‘mule,’ the guy who would carry the pack when someone was tired. In a four-man team, I was The Thing, if we were the Fantastic Four.” Well, The Thing, in this case, is significantly leaner.
“This is the fittest I’ve ever been in my life,” he says. Fernandez has lost an astounding 60-plus lbs., replacing his body-builder’s bulk with a leanly muscled 189 lbs compacted into a 6’1” frame.
Fernandez candidly explains his inspirations. “It’s two parts vanity, three parts afraid of dying young, four parts my abhorrence for getting sick, and a dash of love for friendly competition.”
He now seems to see the big picture with clarity. “Everyone goes to the gym and feels a few pushups and bicep curls will cut it,” Fernandez says. “I was once like that. But if you want overall fitness, you must work the muscles people don’t normally pay attention to. Everyone hates squats, for example, but it’s the most fundamental exercise.”
His transformation began by single-mindedly pounding the pavement. “When I started running, I just hit the road. I probably wore the wrong shoes. I didn’t even run with a watch — I just ran.” But Fernandez is too much of a kinesiology geek to stay uninformed for too long, so soon after the endorphin surge wore off, he began to run more cerebrally. His routine nowadays has him doing 10-15 kilometers a week to stay in competitive shape for a weekend ritual.
“I pretty much join a race every weekend — 21 kilometers is my preferred distance,” says Fernandez, who can clock an astounding sub- 2-hour time for this distance. “It’s long enough to keep you honest. You realize that, yeah, you’d better exercise because this is a painful distance. In running, I don’t have a killer instinct. I just want to have fun. I don’t really care about winning, although I always make it a point, in the last one kilometer of a race, to sprint as fast as I can if someone challenges me.”
Somehow, in between all those kilometers spent on the road during muggy days and nights of tossing and turning, Fernandez manages to sneak in gym sessions twice a week. At the gym, he “never uses the machines, just free weights” and occasionally puts on headphones “to listen to Bieber,” he jokes — or at least we hope so.
As a friend who’s worked out with him a few times once said, “Rovilson? That man’s a beast. He’s an animal.” And if you look at the kind of training he does now as well as the diet he’s following, he’ll impress you even more.
“Pop a multivitamin every day — it’s the best supplement!” Fernandez says. “If you want to do more, then fish oil, too. If I’m training, then I’ll take whey protein to feed my muscles. I used to be a pill popper and take creatine, that sort of thing. Six years ago, when I started running, I had a change of philosophy.”
At first, Fernandez’s nutritional notions seem normal enough. “I’ve never been a big fan of diets. You’re alive. God put all these wonderful foods for you to eat. Fish, chicken, even bacon, you can eat — just none of the processed stuff.” Fair enough. From here, however, it gets kind of crazy because he’s now on the Paleolithic diet, aka the caveman diet. The contemporary version typically has dieters eating fish, grass-fed meats, fungi, nuts, and roots, among other finger-licking delights. But if you think about how much of the good stuff you have to renounce, it will hurt.
“Basically, you eat what the cavemen used to eat,” says Fernandez. It’s a diet obliquely espoused by CrossFit, which, according to its own website, is “the principal strength and conditioning program for many police academies and tactical operations teams, military special operations units, champion martial artists, and hundreds of other elite and professional athletes worldwide.” In short, it’s just the sort of thing that would appeal to Fernandez’s warped threshold for pain.
“I’ll never forget my first session, [when] I threw up the first time I did the Murph,” says Fernandez, pointing to the spot in Taguig City he defiled. This workout, a CrossFit tribute to the memory of Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, NY, who was killed in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005, will seem (to the unsympathetic, at least) a gratuitous way to simulate his death many times over: first, a one-mile run; then 100 pullups, 200 pushups, and 300 squats; and finally — and traumatically — yet another one-mile run. Even Fernandez, whose patriotism spans two countries in two continents, would want to quit. He doesn’t, of course.
“Enlightened friends have introduced me to more scientific, efficient ways of being physically fit,” Fernandez says. “I used to stay in the gym for over two hours. Thanks to CrossFit and running, I now get a complete workout in 20 minutes. I have so much more confidence nowadays. It goes beyond the physical. Emotionally and mentally, it’s been a game changer for me.”
And this is a side of Rovilson Fernandez his viewers and fans don’t get to see. On camera, he’s the perennial class clown, the laidback funnyman with a bottomless stash of witty remarks and a willingness to laugh at himself. But off the camera and in training, he’s another sort of animal altogether — he’s not quite a glutton for punishment, but he’s certainly got persistence, passion, and a rare kind of balls-to-the-wall dedication that makes him seem larger than life.
+ READY TO CAVE
Before you try the Paleolithic Diet, here are a few things you need to consider
1 This high-protein, low-carb diet eliminates processed food from your meals. Basically, you’re only allowed to eat food that can be hunted, fished, or gathered (like eggs, fruits, herbs, nuts, seeds, and vegetables.) For meats, it’s preferred that you limit yourself to the grass-fed, wild, or organic variety.
2 It also takes out refined grains like wheat and rice as these weren’t available for cavemen millions of years ago. This helps you reduce your risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
3 For your carb needs, your picks are fruits and vegetables. Going all natural is certainly healthy.
1 With dairy excluded from your diet, it’s tough to find enough calcium to meet your body’s needs. Also, organic and grass-fed meat is expensive and a bit difficult to find, which makes this diet somewhat impractical for budget-conscious guys.
2 The diet also has you relying heavily on animal protein; thus, you eat more saturated fat, and you risk elevating your body’s cholesterol levels. This means a greater risk of getting heart disease in the long run.
3 Whole grains, taken out from your meals once you go Paleo, are excellent sources of the essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber your body needs.
CROSSFIT BENEFITS (WITHOUT THE PUKING)
The program’s founding principles aren’t unique to “the box.” Incorporate these CrossFit strategies into your own workouts and leave the heaving to somebody else.
Competition is a great motivator. A 2010 study by UK scientists found that training in a group boosts people’s pain tolerance. What’s more, a 2007 study by researchers in Spain revealed that competition releases a surge of endorphins that can high-five you through competitive stress.
KEEP IT SHORT
No, really. In a study from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, overweight adults who trained with weights for just 11 minutes a day, three days a week increased their muscle strength and burned more calories at rest 24 hours after each session than nonexercisers burned. Right: 11 minutes!
USE TOTAL-BODY EXERCISES
A 2011 study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that men who performed whole-body resistance training exercises (either single-set or 3-set) boosted their metabolism by 6 percent for up to three days. The more muscles you work, the more calories you burn.
Syracuse University researchers found that reciprocal supersets (that is, paired exercises that target opposing muscle groups with limited rest) burned more calories every minute than sets of unpaired exercises with rest in between did. Higher intensity now means less fat later. -maria masters
(The article first appeared in the October 2012 issue of Men's Health Philippines magazine. For more visit: https://www.facebook.com/menshealthphilippines)