The 26 Most Influential Men in Health and Fitness
Chief health officer of Victoria, keeper of calm in a time of upheaval
Given the thankless task of managing the COVID-19 response for a state with the world’s longest continuous lockdown, the job
of Victoria’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, was always going to be a tough one. But thanks to a commitment to dealing in
facts, Sutton managed to disseminate vital information and earn public trust.
About those facts. Victoria’s second wave killed more than 800 people. On Aug. 6, new infections peaked at 725 cases. Facing the prospect of the virus spiralling out of control, the Victorian government went in hard and managed to reduce the state’s case load to zero by Oct. 26, the first of its ‘donut days’.
As the face of the response, Sutton played a key role in synthesing health advice, marshalling resources and providing clarity and context to a hungry media and nervous populace.
Importantly, he wasn’t afraid to deliver hard truths to his leader, Premier Daniel Andrews. According to The Age, Sutton advocated for the politically dicey elimination strategy. Earlier, on June 30, he’d earned the Premier’s ire when he sent an email containing a genomics report showing the surging second wave could be traced to two hotels. Sutton didn’t just email the Premier’s office; he sent the explosive missive to others working on the pandemic response, creating a political headache for the Premier. Andrews would shun Sutton at a press conference later that day, but ultimately it was this report that would shape the state’s fightback.
Sutton also stood out in his praise for health workers and selflessness in a crisis. But it was his commitment to the cause, whatever the costs, that truly proved his mettle.
Author, blogger no nonsense self-help sage
There was a time not too long ago when being known as a reader of self-help books was akin to admitting you pick your nose. In other words, something you should probably do in the privacy of your own home. Then Mark Manson came along. The American revolutionised the genre, writing books that are not only intensely readable but powerful agents of change in readers’ lives, whether it’s sharing advice on how to turn failure into meaningful progress, or helping men embrace honesty as a non-negotiable trait. With two New York Times bestsellers under his belt before the age of 40, Manson is the no-bullshit therapist we all need from time to time.
Vaccine maker at Oxford University, COVID-19 combatant
Under more normal circumstances – in “precedented” times, if you like – it takes 15 years for a vaccine to go from idea to licensing. Hill’s team was tasked with turning one around within months. A pioneer in vaccines for diseases such as malaria and Ebola, Hill and his team at Oxford University created a coronavirus vaccine that is currently saving lives all over the world. With a reported success rate upwards of 70 per cent, at the time of writing there are 54 million doses en route to Australia.
Director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation, gut-health guru
If your shopping basket has been full of kefir, pickles and kombucha in recent years, you have one man to credit. When New Zealander Rob Knight was invited to collaborate on a project investigating the link between gut bacteria and bodyweight, he was initially sceptical. His work has since tied our microbiomes to everything from obesity and immune health to anxiety (it’s a good thing he didn’t go with his gut). In the near future, he hopes we’ll be able to “read” our bacteria like copy fed through Google Translate and use that info to build personalised medicines and diet plans.
Founder of cult fitness facility Gym Jones, anti-influencer
When director Zack Snyder first hired Mark Twight as a mountain safety expert for 4WD ads in 2001, the former alpinist was best known in climbing circles for his death-defying feats. Later, in the words of Vanity Fair, Twight proceeded to set “a new standard for male physiques in Hollywood action films” with the cast of Snyder’s 2006 movie 300 – not to mention most of the Justice League.
Moving on from the cult of his former training facility Gym Jones (a name riffing on Twight’s charisma and hardcore methods), he has more recently reinvented himself as a mind transformation specialist and teaches his “philosophy of effort” to followers via his Project Mayhem-like NonProphet Media.
Pro MMA fighter, producer of The Game Changers, maker of vegans
Veganism used to have an image problem. Or, more specifically, vegan men, who have often been characterised as oversensitive and underfed, had an image problem. With his documentary The Game Changers – which was executive-produced by James Cameron, among others – Wilks ripped this idea up at its roots, arguing not only that meat is expendable in the quest for strength, but that a plant-based diet is actually superior for athletes of all disciplines.
“The response has been incredible,” says Wilks. “Within a week of the film hitting Netflix, the interest in plant-based eating more than tripled worldwide, according to Google Trends metrics.” Among those said to have switched up their diets after watching the film are actor Dolph Lundgren, strongman Hafþór Björnsson and the CEO of sausage roll purveyor Greggs, Roger Whiteside. “We have also had hundreds of very elite athletes reach out to us,” says Wilks. He won’t name names but reveals: “Soccer is one of the big ones”.
Some of the film’s admittedly more hubristic claims have been met with scepticism, including by this magazine. Wilks is accepting of this fact, though he feels that the backlash has often been more emotional than analytical: “People are very attached to their meat-eating. It’s behavioural psychology”.
He would know. A former mixed martial artist, with black belts in tae kwon do, kickboxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, there was a time when Wilks believed that eating animal protein at every meal was integral to his health and performance. “That’s backwards thinking,” he says now. “If you really think you need meat to build muscle, that’s just so old-fashioned.”
Actor, producer, wrestler and polymath, the Rock
When polls back in 2017 showed that wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne Johnson would beat Donald Trump (with a People’s Elbow, MH votes) at the ballot box, it was inevitable that the most statesman-like geological specimen since Mount Rushmore would announce his campaign for 2020. Johnson even had fun with the idea on a Saturday Night Live skit that seems less like a joke now. In the lead-up to the recent election Johnson called impassionedly for real leadership, while Joe Rogan pleaded: “C’mon, man – we need you”. Until this generation’s Arnie does indeed go the full Reagan, he leads by example: training hard, opening up about depression and being a role-model dad.
Greens senator, crusader for society’s most vulnerable
At 26, Steele-John is the youngest senator in Australian political history. But the best thing about the British-born pollie is the fact his age is about the least impressive thing about him. More noteworthy is the way in which Steele-John has made himself a tireless advocate of disability rights since his election in 2017. The Greens senator was a driving force behind the decision to call the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability in 2019, the effects of which are still being felt today.
More than the sum of his achievements in Parliament House, Steele-John’s legacy will be defined by the way in which he has helped usher in a more humane discourse around the way people with disability are treated in Australia.
Ready meal visionary, founder of My Muscle Chef
As a student and weightlifter, Menon struggled to find the time to cook high-protein meals while juggling work and study. Finding no ready-made options available, he set out to make his own. Nine years later, My Muscle Chef is the best, most comprehensive and gains-friendly meal option on the market. Convenient and healthy, My Muscle Chef has helped a generation of gym-goers get the fuel they need without having to rely on a conveyor belt of protein shakes.
Dr Kelvin Kong
It remains a grim but inescapable fact that the health outcomes of Indigenous Australians are far below those of the non-Indigenous. Among those working to eradicate this inequality is ear, nose and throat surgeon Kelvin Kong, Australia’s first Indigenous surgeon, who has spent much of his career working in remote communities.
“As an Indigenous Australian, I feel obligated to strive to ensure that access to quality health care is available to all Australian citizens,” says Kong, who was named Newcastle’s Citizen of the Year for 2021.
Nike’s VP of footwear innovation, creator of the world’s fastest trainer
The top-three marathon men at the 2016 Rio Olympics were all Nike Zoom Vaporfly guys. In 2017, Eliud Kipchoge ran two-and-a-half minutes faster than the men’s world record of 2:02:57 in the Vaporfly Elite, albeit unofficially. In 2018, he officially smashed the record by 78 seconds in the Vaporfly 4% – that figure being its scarcely believable improvement to the wearer’s running economy. And in 2019, Kipchoge finally (unofficially) broke two hours by 20 seconds in . . . What are those? Are they legal?
Paula Radcliffe’s 16-year women’s marathon world record (Brigid Kosgei), the nine-year men’s 10K road world record (Joshua Cheptegei), and the men’s 5K road world record (Cheptegei again) were also smashed by Vaporfly runners.
Some observers have demanded stiffer regulations, even a retrospective ban for “technical doping”. “On one hand, it’s a vote of confidence that people are talking about it because we feel like we’re making a difference and that’s what we’re trying to do,” says Bignell. “But on the other hand, it is a little bit limiting.”
In January, World Athletics imposed tighter footwear restrictions, ostensibly taking aim at Kipchoge’s sub-two platform moon boots, with their alien forefoot foam pods. But the Alphafly Next%, launched to the rest of us in June, complies with the sole thickness limit of 40mm. It contains the one permitted carbon plate,
not the rumoured three. It’s not “spring-loaded”. The confusion, Bignell says, is partly because Nike files countless patents for lots of prototypes. Other manufacturers boast similar technologies. But it’s Bignell and his team who, with “hundreds and hundreds” of tweaks and feedback from Kipchoge and co, have nailed the blend.
Running shoes typically lose 30-40 per cent of the wearer’s energy. If they returned more than 100 per cent, that would be cheating to Bignell: “We’re just making them more efficient”.
After a personal tragedy, the voice of Headspace spent a decade as a monk meditating for up to 16 hours a day, during which time he learned to focus less on himself and more on bringing happiness to others. Among the first people he helped was an anxious ad man called Rich Pierson, who became his business partner. The “Google of mindfulness” (the search-engine giant is one of its corporate clients), Headspace is now a household name, with 54 million users. With evidence of its effectiveness mounting, Puddicombe will soon reach his nirvana of doctors prescribing it.
Beard owner, battler of skin cancer
Meet the man on a mission to stem the spread of melanoma, one of the most deadly forms of cancer. Through various fund-raising efforts, including trying to sell his rather luscious beard for a million dollars, Niggles’ charity Skin Check Champions (formerly Beard Season) is helping those most at risk get free and potentially life-saving skin checks. With Aussies at an increased risk of melanoma due to our high sun exposure, the initiative could hardly be more urgent. Consider this a friendly reminder to get yourself checked at your local GP.
Tell them Jimmy sent you.
Actor, mental health champion
Sam Webb was an aspiring young actor when life threw him a curveball. After a close friend unexpectedly took his own life, Webb founded a not-for-profit organisation aimed at reducing the stigma around mental health. With the tagline ‘It Ain’t Weak To Speak’, LIVIN uses fashion, education and community-building to help young people embrace their vulnerability.
Since then, Webb has built his profile as an actor, appearing in Home and Away, Survivor and Neighbours,
while using his rising star to guide healthy discourse around mental health.
Now living in LA, Webb gives inspirational talks on how to live a healthy and positive life. With a reported 65,000 Australians attempting suicide each year, the work he and LIVIN are doing could not be more urgent.
Afl icon, film producer and walking inspiration
The AFL great has had such a large impact on Australian life he could make just about any ‘best of’ list we can imagine. But we’ll keep this testimonial brief. A former Australian of the Year, Goodes established the GO Foundation in 2014 to promote education and health as means of creating more opportunity for Indigenous youth.
In retirement, he has lent his support to a number of causes, speaking passionately about mental health, as well as appearing alongside rapper-author Adam Briggs in a promo video for the AFL educating Indigenous communities on
the threat of COVID-19.
Seven-time Mr Olympia, entrepreneur, septuagenarian six-pack owner
Arnie may have changed the face of bodybuilding, but his influence on the world of health goes way beyond the weight room. Even for those with no interest in becoming the next Mr Olympia, Schwarzenegger’s work ethic has been a source of motivation. After reaching the summit of both bodybuilding and acting and becoming one of Hollywood’s most bankable action heroes, the Austrian-American turned his attention to politics where, as the 38th governor of California, his major policy initiatives revolved around healthcare and climate change.
Perhaps surprisingly for someone who once boasted about eating more than a dozen eggs a day, Schwarzenegger has in later life embraced a largely vegan diet, reportedly swapping the steaks for Beyond Meat. Appearing in James Wilks’ documentary The Game Changers, Arnie’s support for veganism has helped do away with the notion that you need troughs of meat to maintain a muscled exterior.
For all his work across health and fitness, though, Schwarzenegger’s most noble contribution, for some, is his tireless advocacy of the ‘Special Olympics’, founded by his former mother-in-law Eunice Shriver. Arnie became a spokesperson for the Games and even turned down the offer of a 24-metre Terminator statue in 2002, suggesting instead the money be spent on supporting the Special Olympics.
Pioneering PT, creator of just about every game-changing fitness app
Imagine the ideal personal trainer and you are likely piecing together the characteristics of Apple’s senior director of fitness Jay Blahnik. Infectious personality: tick. The ability to motivate without being annoying: yup. And the technical know-how to get results: absolutely. Rather than go down the path of building a social media empire or starting a flashy gym in West Hollywood, Blahnik has applied his skills in a way that ensures the most people possible can benefit: by teaming up with fitness giants to mastermind innovate technologies and apps that motivate people to get fit and stay fit.
Having worked with Nike on the launch of Nike+ Running, Blahnik joined Apple where he recently debuted the Fitness+ app that simplifies online workout tutorials, making them more accessible and more fun. Our favourite feature? The ‘Try Something New’ carousel that suggests workouts to help you break out of your comfort zone.
Athlete, activist, all-round legend
It would normally be enough to say the man has represented Australia in not one but two sports, but it’s what Alcott has done off the tennis and basketball courts that will have the biggest impact on Australian health. Launching the Dylan Alcott Foundation as well as Ability Fest, a musical carnival aimed at normalising disability, Alcott has consistently used his platform to push for greater rights and access for those with disability, all the while winning 12 grand slam titles
in wheelchair tennis.
Justin “JC” Coghlan
Co-founder of Movember, the man who made fundraising fun
Like many of the best ideas, the concept for Movember was dreamed up in a pub. Inspired by the work they had seen women doing to raise funds for breast cancer, Travis Garone and Luke Slattery felt that men should be taking similar action in regard to their own wellbeing. So, they challenged 30 of their mates to grow a (sponsored) moustache. The following year, they registered as a company and gave Justin “JC” Coghlan a role as campaign manager.
Their first big campaign was titled ‘Give Prostate Cancer a Kick in the Arse’. “We were young men,” says JC. “We got hit hard by the media at the start. We had straight-laced cancer organisations saying, ‘Cancer’s not fun’. We knew that. But to cut through the stigma, we had to get men having fun together.”
The risk paid off – generously. Today, Movember has raised more than $1bn for men’s health causes. Cancer remains a focus, but in recent years, suicide prevention has proved itself more urgent.
“It’s what keeps me awake at night,” says JC. Movember is not a crisis-point charity, and JC’s approach has been to target men and boys with average to poor mental health and ensure it trends towards the former. “That middle area is the game changer,” he says. Many of his initiatives have focused on providing support to marginalised communities, where young men are in desperate need of mentorship.
Most recently, he helped launch Movember Conversations, a tool to coach people on discussing difficult topics. “I hear a problem, and I want to solve it,” he admits. “But people aren’t looking for a solution.
They’re looking for support.”
Trainer, fitness entrepreneur
You may not know the name but you most certainly know the brand he helped create. Along with Rob Deutsch, Istomin masterminded the F45 fitness behemoth, one of the fastest growing fitness franchises in the world.
Understanding everyone’s need for fast, efficient training that fits into our increasingly busy schedules, F45 changed exercise for many people, offering them a quick and easy way to get fit during lunch hours and early mornings. Now with his new venture, Re:Union Training, up and running, few people deserve the title
of ‘Australia’s PT’ more
Athlete agent waging war on sport’s concussion conundrum
Yes, he’s an agent, but hear us out. Issues relating to concussion on the footy field have become a major public health concern in Australia and few people are fighting the good fight like veteran player agent Peter Jess.
Following the posthumous diagnosis of AFL great Polly Farmer with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), Jess has lobbied the code to adjust its concussion protocols, even threatening to wage a class action lawsuit similar to those levied against the NFL in the US. It’s already had an impact, with the AFL recently doubling the time a player must spend on the sidelines following a concussion.
Still, there is some way to go, and it’s no overstatement to say the future health of today’s AFL stars rests on the work of those like Jess.
Founder of activewear brand Gymshark, pioneer of influencer marketing
“Fuck standing on the sideline. Fuck injustice. Fuck racism.” Where some brands virtue-signalled vaguely in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Gymshark spoke out, donating $125,000 to Black Lives Matter and committing to driving change via its channels.
A “red thread” of community runs through the UK sportswear company, says founder Ben Francis, fresh of face at 28. “We’re super-inclusive, super-caring, super-transparent.” And unlike the older, clunkier competitors that it’s circling, the spandex predator is “extremely agile”. At the start of lockdown, it deftly changed its social media handles to “Homeshark” to remind its fam that: “This ain’t no joke”.
That nimbleness is despite Britain’s fastest-growing fashion label swelling into an $890m megalodon with 500-plus staff and outposts in Denver, Hong Kong and Mauritius. With no retail stores, traditional advertising or outside investment, social
media has turbo-charged the expansion of Gymshark, which Francis started in his parents’ garage when he was 19, while
studying business and management at Aston University by day and working at Pizza Hut by night.
“I wish I could tell you that it was this master plan,” says Francis. As a 16-year-old, he was inspired to join a gym by fitness YouTubers. So, when he and friends began hand-sewing and screen-printing their own clothing, more tapered than traditional bodybuilder apparel, sending samples to their online idols seemed only fitting.
Francis has a big vision, too: “I want us to create the greatest community, and I want us to be the greatest fitness brand on
CEO of Whoop, health metric frontrunner
Ahmed came up with the idea for Whoop – a wearable that monitors a range of metrics to give people usable feedback on their exercise recovery – while studying at Harvard in 2011. A year later, he and two friends launched the company, which went quickly from tests with LeBron James and Michael Phelps to becoming the tracker of choice for CrossFitters and nine-to-five athletes. Whoop pivoted quickly after the spread of COVID-19, providing users with respiratory-rate readings to reliably chart a more critical kind of recovery.
Paul Sinton Hewitt
Founder of Parkrun, transformer of Saturday mornings
Sacked from his marketing job and injured, the Parkrun founder kept his spirits up by organising a weekly timed 5K
in Teddington, London for 13 or so friends in 2004. “The Bushy Park Time Trial” has since grown into a movement of more than 350,000 runners and volunteers from the seven million registered, turning out every weekend across 2000 locations in 20 countries.
UFC president, pandemic-era sports visionary
The ink was dry on the success story of the UFC: a freak show, bought by White and the Fertitta brothers for $2.5m, that grew into a global force sold to Endeavor Group Holdings for $5.5bn. Then a certain pandemic cancelled sport. White reacted quickly, with spectator-free fight cards making the UFC the first major North-American pro sport to resume. His next move was “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, which has been operating as a COVID-19 safe zone for fighters and their coaches to live, train and compete. A sport-starved world is grateful.
Podcaster, presenter, truth seeker
Australia’s answer to Ryan Seacrest, Günsberg has Aussie media cornered, churning out a diverse range of content via podcast, TV, social media or his best-selling autobiography. But the 46-year-old is a hell of a lot more than a media personality. Suffering from anxiety, depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Günsberg regularly tackles his mental health with a refreshing sense of honesty and wit, helping Aussie men shed harmful stereotypes around speaking about their feelings.
Add to that his commitment to a regular and gruelling workout regimen and the man is truly an inspiration.