Muscle & Fitness

I bought the July issue of Muscle & Fitness hoping against hope that it would contain some kind of post-season wrap-up of cover boy Michael Chiklis' "The Shield," which is only the best show on television. Seriously - has any other show that has generated such critical and popular acclaim ever flown so far beneath the mainstream radar? These are the questions that haunt my every waking hour.

There's barely a trace of "The Shield" in M&F's look at Chiklis' training regimen for the upcoming "Fantastic Four" flick. Nor, actually, is there much of anything in the mag besides muscles and fitness. I counted exactly three pages out of 264 - one on the revamped Dodge Charger, one on sunglasses, and one on sunscreens - that had nothing to do with the magazine's title subjects.

And that's precisely the way it should be. M&F doesn't dilly-dally; there are no specious "songs to work out to" lists or features on weight-room décor. It delivers on its title promise, and that's that.

To its credit, the publication does so in a surprisingly imaginative manner. Take the Chiklis/"Fantastic Four" tie-in. In addition to a short Q&A with the star, the mag adds a five-page "Super Power Workout" comic created by Marvel Comics that drops the superhero-y gang into the weight-room setting. The mag also sets photographer John Hunt loose at the Arnold Fitness Weekend, and the resulting hazy, black-and-white photos make the competitors appear almost genteel.

The July issue finds M&F continuing to stretch its editorial wingspan. The publication now offers a dedicated section for women readers, highlighted by a feature on Hollywood stuntwoman Danielle Burgio. Wisely, the profile concentrates on Burgio's fitness regimens, rather than on tales of Hollywood pomp and debauchery. If M&F readers want fluffy featurettes, Lord knows there are other places they can turn. Here as elsewhere, the publication keeps its eyes on the prize.

That prize, of course, is a bod so taut and solid that it could double as a department-store mannequin. Needless to say, M&F hasn't turned its back on its legacy of providing incredibly involved workout and nutrition tips. The July issue offers a training notebook (complete with perforated rip-and-save tips on calf-sculpting), a series of training-table nuggets (pizza without at least eight meat toppings? The horror. The horror.) and an anecdote-minded training section (profiles of training routines, rather than personal histories). The mag also presents "boredom-busting" workout variations and a proposed regimen for individuals who don't have the time to pump (clap!) themselves up during the workweek.

I don't have any problems with M&F's straightforward, straight-faced tone, which is proudly devoid of puns and pop-culture nods. I wonder, however, when the mag will get a tad more adventurous with its design. Granted, given their instructional bent, the stories have to include a certain number of inelegant gruntin'-and-liftin' shots and illustrations. But the "Fantastic Four" and photo spreads excepted, M&F doesn't offer much graphically.

In his editorial, M&F executive editor and California governor (giggle) Arnold Schwarzenegger notes that he is "reluctant to come across as the retired sour-grapes bodybuilder pining for the 'good old days.'" While I can't speak to anything hulk- or bulk-related - an attempt to lift my printer/copier dealie the other day left me in traction, sobbing for my mommy - it's heartening that the magazine itself adopts a similar approach to the one Gov. Schwarzenegger (chuckling uncontrollably) recommends. Its tone is sincere to a fault and forward-looking, advocating hard work rather than quick fixes. There's more than a little nobility in that.

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