Maximum Fitness

Muscle mags intimidate me. The cleanly plucked torsos, the Giambi-esque bulging eyeballs, the ads beseeching me to "shatter fat loss plateaus"... no thank you. I have never blasted my lats--nor, for that matter, anybody else's--and am more than content to exist in a state of blissful lumpiness.

So, upon encountering the January/February issue of Maximum Fitness, the newly revamped and renamed title formerly known as American Health & Fitness, my initial impulse was to run in the other direction. But then I experienced the vaguely WWE feel of the editor's note, which advised me that I "can kick ass in 2006. [I] just need a plan," and decided to plow forward. Separately, that plan might have included a pledge to avoid pissing off the ostensibly large editors of muscle mags, but that's neither here nor there.

Maximum Fitness does a bunch of things right, especially on the design side. It boasts ample space between lines and the largest font in recent publishing history--do massive muscles breed myopia?--which gives the mag an airy, unforced feel. On the content front, it poaches liberally from health- and fitness-related studies, a tactic that invests its blurbs with the authority so often lacking in its Hulk-smash competitors. Granted, many of the facts presented beg for further qualification ("800 million people don't get enough protein"), but throwing them out there semi-grounds the mag in nutritional reality. The feature on America's toughest gym, which features some kind of Brazilian jujitsu/towel-snapping initiation rite, adds welcome attitude.

But much of what the January/February Maximum Fitness presents falls into the category of obvious obviousnessitude. Tips proffered at the end of the "Before and After" tale include "don't give up" and "get a solid nutrition and fitness plan." Suggestions for one's "Best Year Ever," on the other hand, include "learn to cope" and "really set goals." All that's missing is "to lose weight, don't eat as much."

The "Be a Champ" motivational story juxtaposes likely images (Michael Jordan) with ones that defy comprehension (Bob Barker? Seriously?). A piece promising "great style now!" somehow finds itself under the page header of "Instant Results"; a small item on the freak show known as chess boxing wedges its way under the umbrella of "The Fit Life." And I won't even begin to speculate how a creatine-inhaling monster might respond to the headline, "Corn: A Source of Protein?" All this comes before the mag darts into the lifestyle arena with a piece on razors and what amounts to a press release about hockey phenom Sidney Crosby.

Maximum Fitness also takes a serious pratfall over the editorial/advertising line. I was wondering why a mag catering to weight-room warriors would run a story advising them to "find out why stretching before a workout could make all the difference in the world." Silly me, I missed the small text buried at the bottom of the page that proceeds it: special 4-page ad report. Only the content that followed--two pages of distinctly ad-like Hydroxycut shilling ("It's an appetite suppressant! It's a dessert topping! It's both!")-- eventually tipped me off. The January/February issue contains several of these "ad reports," none of which are immediately recognizable as such.

So while Maximum Fitness is far from an unimpressive product, it doesn't stand a chance in its current format. Here's why: I'm not reading this magazine if I'm a bona fide musclehead, because it devotes too much space to lifestyle pap and tips for beginners. I'm not reading this magazine if I'm a fledgling musclehead, because it devotes much of its energy to advising already-over-the-hump muscleheads.

In attempting to accommodate two distinct audiences, Maximum Fitness likely pleases neither. Give the folks who revamped the title some credit for trying really, really hard if you'd like, but that's an approach which makes zero sense.

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