Everything in Las Vegas, from the buildings to the buffets, is designed to strain credulity. You can't believe what you're seeing, and yet, there it is right in front of you. This has made the city an ideal host for the Olympia Weekend, where the limits of muscular size and definition have been getting redefined every September for the last 15 years. But the truth is that on any night of the week, on almost any stage on the strip, you can have your mind blown by stunning displays of bodies in motion, at rest, and—always—in performance.
From the audience, it can be easy to assume that Las Vegas's top performers were born into the world with superhuman skillsets and photo-ready abs. But head backstage or follow them to the gym, and you'll see they earned their way to the stage with the same techniques that lead the rest of us to succeed—or fail—in fitness and life: hard work, discipline, and the willingness to do boring stuff.
So let's pull back the curtain on five supremely talented and fit performers in Las Vegas: an illusionist, a singer, an aerial acrobat, and two dancers. Their lives may be more hectic and better-lit than yours, but they still have valuable lessons to pass along about achieving lofty physique goals in the middle of a crazy schedule.
USE YOUR ILLUSION CRISS ANGEL
Illusions are about making the impossible look real—and easy—so it's tempting to think that Criss Angel has some trick to explain his massive success. But ask him, and it becomes clear that Angel's competitive fire burns like an athlete's—and that by any measure, he is winning.
This Halloween, his show "Criss Angel BeLIEve" celebrated its sixth anniversary at the Luxor Hotel and Casino, where it pulls in a reported $150 million a year. This comes on the heels of his A&E TV show "Criss Angel Mindfreak."
Criss Angel Mindfreak: Best Of Strongman
Watch The Video - 05:17
"Las Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world, and for me and my competitive spirit, second is not an option," Angel says. "I want to continue to be the best at what I do, how I do it, and how I look when I am doing it. Ultimately, I can only strive to be the best me, which is always a battle."
That intense drive didn't just materialize out of thin air. Angel's father was a Golden Gloves boxer, football player, and bodybuilder. Angel, who is 6 feet tall and 170 pounds, has applied the same caliber of fitness training to bolster his career as a master illusionist, pushing around serious iron in the gym and following nutrition plans from bodybuilder Dave Palumbo.
Is your physical training all to support your show, or is it more general?
"I think they go hand in hand. The demonstrations I perform nightly at the Luxor are physically demanding. As part of a healthy lifestyle, I believe it's a necessity for the mind, body, and spirit to be in sync. Discipline is the key to success, no matter if it's with your diet or profession. A strong mind, focus, and a clean lifestyle are mandatory to achieve goals no matter what your environment is."
Fitness tip: "Quest Bars, Cookies & Cream flavor, two or three times a day. I eat protein, protein, protein, and essential fats, and I train six times a week: cardio and weight training. Training can be difficult when your schedule is crazy. The most important thing is not to miss a day, even if you only work out for 20 minutes. It's essential to maintain the discipline and routine so you don't get lazy."
DIALED-IN DANCER EVE DAWES
It's been said you can spot dancers by the way they walk, before they ever dance a step, and that's certainly true with British expatriate Eve Dawes. She performs in Marc Savard's "Comedy Hypnosis" show at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, but that's just the latest stop in an amazing physical journey. She's fluent in ballet, jazz, contemporary, tap, character, ballroom, and Latin, having studied dance and spent most of her career performing abroad in everything from ballet companies and musicals to casinos.
Now 34, Dawes has also defied the unwritten rule that dancers shouldn't lift weights. She's been working out with iron since the age of 16, and now competes in the National Physique Committee's (NPC) figure division.
A sponsored Team Labrada athlete, Dawes pens articles for Labrada Nutrition's weekly "Lean Body For Her" newsletter. She also holds instructor certs in spinning, yoga, and Zumba, and is an NASM personal trainer.
In Las Vegas, being a great dancer isn't enough. You have to look good, too. How do you balance skill work with aesthetic work, and do the two ever seem like competing/contradictory aims?
"The competition stage-ready bikini look is definitely harder and more muscular than the dancer's ideal body, so I try and soften up while staying lean when I'm not preparing for a show. The biggest challenge with making the crossover work between weight training, bodybuilding, and dancing has been keeping flexible and not creating bulk, but rather long, lean muscles. I've achieved this by stretching after every single cardio session, weight workout, and exercise class. Lifting has really helped with my strength, especially in my core, as well as my general fitness. My dancing has definitely helped with bodybuilding and competing too, because it's taught me discipline and posture."
Fitness tip: "Be consistent with your training and nutrition, and you'll get results. I've become stronger and fitter as a dancer by working out, and my weight is back to where it was at ballet school in 1998 because I'm consistent with my nutrition. It's made me better at goal-setting, increased my discipline, and made me better equipped to help others because I'm hungry to learn and pass that knowledge on."
FIT TO FLY ALAN J. SILVA
Alan J. Silva was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, into a long lineage of circus acrobats and aerialists. He was the only little person among them. At age 4, he began tagging along to their workouts en route to becoming a performer himself. After mastering the trapeze, he eventually pursued a form of aerial acrobatics called "flying silks."
His mesmerizing performances—in which his character, Tissus, appears to be flying above the stage—unfold twice a night, five times a week, in the show "Zumanity" at New York-New York Hotel and Casino. Silva, 32, is a certified personal trainer, and his own workouts rely on free weights, cables and bodyweight exercises to maintain the strength he's already developed in his 3-foot-10, 80-pound body. His toughest workouts, he says, are his performances.
Describe the strength demands of "flying silk." They must be pretty intense.
"Well, I'm flying in the silk, the fabric. I use my body to create positions and shapes that require a lot of strength and some flexibility. When I'm above the audience, I hold my body in the horizontal position to create the impression of flight. If I didn't use my muscles to hold that position, I would just be hanging. I have to use muscles in my back and my arms to hold that position. People are like, 'Wow, he's really flying,' but actually I'm just activating the muscles I've trained."
Fitness tip: "Always keep fitness fun. I worked as a coach for Cirque [du Soleil], and I trained several people who mainly wanted to learn aerial stuff like the flying silks—not because they wanted to perform it, but because it's a fun and different way to train. It's similar to the craze surrounding pole fitness and competitions. My clients want a really good workout besides just lifting weights, and they want it to be fun."
Tissus Zumanity Aerial Silks
Watch The Video - 06:56
GAM GLAM JENNIFER WILLEY
In a city of retina-riveting physiques, Jennifer Willey makes an indelible impression. Standing 5-foot-10 and with legs that separate the grown-ups from the kids, the 25-year-old physical therapy student works as a go-go dancer at Marquee Nightclub in The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. She also walks on stilts, performs tricks with fire, and twirls a baton, a skill she honed by competing in it at the national level while growing up.
Always on the hunt for a new physical challenge, Willey is now working her assets in bikini contests. In only her third outing, and her first national competition, Willey was in the third callout among 30 ladies in Class F of the bikini division of the NPC's National Championships, held in Miami in November 2014.
Being a dancer would seem to impose multiple physical demands, from strength and flexibility to endurance. Do you train those capabilities separately or look for workouts that bring them
all together at once?
"Multiple physical demands come along with dancing, especially in the fast-paced club where I work. My other performance skills—which include stilt walking, fire performing, and baton twirling—also place different demands on different parts of my body. My workouts bring all those capabilities together. They're usually fast-paced workouts that keep my heart rate up."
"To maintain my flexibility, I also make sure I stretch after each workout. I generally do shorter amounts of cardio in the gym, because I get in plenty of cardio dancing at the nightclub!"
Fitness tip: "Track your progress. It's very important to see your progress written down on paper, whether it be losing pounds or lifting more weight. Keeping track of your diet and everything you put in your mouth also helps. It makes you think twice about grabbing a candy bar instead of an apple."
"When you see your progress, it gives you motivation to keep going. And if you don't see change, you can go back, see where you got stuck, and adjust accordingly."
THE AGELESS VOCALIST ANDREW TIERNEY
Andrew Tierney and the other members of the Australian pop vocal group Human Nature perform a Motown-themed show at the Venetian, working up a sweat for two-plus hours, four or five nights a week. You might be surprised, then, to see this 40-year-old working the treadmill at 6:30 a.m. the next morning.
Human Nature - Get Ready
Watch The Video - 02:51
After cardio and a healthy breakfast, the 5-foot-11, 178-pounder heads off to Gold's Gym for weight training on one of his five-day body-part splits. The year 2014 has marked the 25th anniversary for the group, and as he ages, Tierney finds that his fitness only grows in importance. "Working gives you more confidence, and nobody wants to see an insecure performer on stage," he says.
Your wife, Heather Tierney, is a WBFF Bikini Pro. How has she influenced your diet?
"If she is preparing her meals, she does me the favor of preparing mine, too, so I always have meals ready to go. I think I've got discipline, but when she's preparing for these comps, there is no room for error. I don't think I could do it. We were away on a trip once, and Heather had brought some fish with her that was frozen when she needed to be eating it. So she had the choice of eating frozen fish or skipping a meal. She sat there and I watched her eat frozen fish. I couldn't comprehend that sort of dedication. It was a surreal moment."
Fitness tip: "If you can afford it, hire a trainer. Even if you know a lot about training, it makes you accountable to someone else. Plus there's someone to be objective about your training and tell you whether to back off or pick it up. The good ones are worth every cent you pay them."