Staying fit, trim and healthy can be challenging for college students, and gaining the notorious “Freshman 15” is all the more likely these days given restrictions necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
That’s why health buff Nick Siegel ’22 decided to spread the fitness gospel online. His blog, seagullstrength.com is a fitness guide tailored to the needs and mindset of busy college students, featuring workouts that can be performed in a dorm room or outside in a quiet treed spot on campus.
You might think that someone who had been a lifeguard for the Recreation and Wellness swimming pool, served on the Campus Community Emergency Response Team, and belonged to Stony Brook’s Sailing Club would be brimming with health and self-confidence — but it wasn’t always that way.
In fact, the Stony Brook University biochemistry major, who is minoring in marine science, suffered from a poor self-image for much of his teenage years. Caving to peer pressure to look bigger, the self-described ectomorph spent much of his youth attempting to bulk up, with unsatisfactory results.
Eventually he learned a hard lesson: His disparagers and taunters only cared about preening before the gym mirrors. Siegel eventually shifted his emphasis from simply looking good to feeling fit and being healthy. During the course of his exercise journey, while reassessing his fitness goals, Siegel’s weight fluctuated from a “scrawny” 130 pounds to a bulky 180 pounds, and back down to 160 pounds and lean.
“I used to get cranky and hungry all the time, but now that I am focusing on my nutrition and eating the right foods at the right times, I feel more energized and refreshed throughout the entire day, even when I am hungry,” Siegel said. “Meditation has also helped me feel less anxious and stressed about everyday activities and schoolwork, and I am more in tune with my body and my feelings than ever before.”
His ultimate objective: losing fat and gaining lean muscle in its place. The Seagull Strength blog helps to keep him on track and offers friendly, often humorous, advice to his peers.
“Seagull Strength is a play on words of my last name ‘Siegel,’ and I also like the alliteration. A good friend of mine [Sid Maharjan] also designed the logo that can be seen on both my website and Instagram of a seagull lifting a dumbbell,” he said.
The blog is structured into four categories, or what Siegel calls the four M’s of fitness: meals, muscles, meditation and mindset.
Every Tuesday, he posts a new blog entry in a different category of fitness, eventually rotating through all four topics.
“I understand what kids like me are going through, and I understand how hard it can be to stay fit and healthy in college,” Siegel said.
His blog and videos come with a common sense disclaimer for the exerciser to consult a physician before beginning a fitness program.
“It is important to mention checking with your doctor first because maybe one student has knee problems and should not be doing an exercise like squats, while another student has perfect knees and squats are the best thing to be doing,” he said.
Siegel became interested in fitness at a very young age, but more recently became fascinated with the world of nutrition and how it ties into health. In particular, he realized that obesity and obesity-related deaths in America are escalating problems.
“If you have been overeating since a young age, it can be extremely difficult to change your habits and lose excess weight later in life,” he said. “That is why I believe starting to focus on your health now, as a college student or even younger, is extremely important to prevent obesity later on in life.”
Siegel said the point of his blog is to promote overall fitness.
“I don’t want people to complete my workout plans, lose 10 pounds, and then stop and immediately gain it all back,” he said. “My goal is for them to learn some good habits that they can continue throughout the rest of their college experiences or even their lives to stay fit and healthy for extended periods of time.
Siegel said he turned to Instagram during quarantine as a way to motivate himself to continue working out.
“If I forced myself to post my workouts on Instagram, I would have my followers hold me accountable to actually complete them,” he said. “However, I quickly fell in love with the planning, filming and editing of the videos I was making, and started posting more and more. Then I saw my following increase, so I wanted to post more informative information that was scientifically based to help teach people about fitness and exercise.”
Instagram, however, has its limitations — it doesn’t have much room for captions and most people aren’t on it to learn. Siegel came up with the idea of a blog that allows longer articles and a website that people can visit to learn how to stay healthy and fit.
Up to now, Siegel relied upon advertising his blog through Instagram and other social media platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat, with mixed success. Although he is now simply relying on word of mouth and hoping people sign up for email notifications on his website, his ultimate goal is to get more people to sign up for his email list.
He credits Stony Brook University biology classes for helping him understand how to read and research articles in a more efficient manner, especially when he is trying to find the best and most reliable ones to cite in his posts.
Although Siegel would never consider himself a “computer whiz,” he does have a wealth of technology experience that has helped him understand how to use the software needed to design his blog website.
For example, he is the assistant to the conference and events coordinator at Stony Brook’s Southampton Campus, where he helps set up AV equipment and troubleshoot technology problems.
Siegel takes a community-minded approach to fitness, and is always eager to help others benefit from what he has learned.
When he first got started with Instagram, he offered fitness advice to friends and family, sometimes even designing whole workout plans for them for free.
“I really just enjoyed helping them improve their health and fitness, and it made me feel so good to see how grateful they were,” he said.
Siegel realizes that no fitness journey can be completed alone, and he emphasized how much it meant to him that his friends and family were always there to support him in both his own personal fitness journey and now his new journey to help others, which was sparked by a national tragedy.
In late May, George Floyd was killed by police officers in Minneapolis.
“Having seen the video of him being murdered, I knew I had to do something, so I started selling workout plans on my Instagram for $10 each to raise money to donate to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund,” he said. “My parents offered to match whatever I was able to raise. I ended up raising $300, and in total, since I started my Instagram, I have helped 28 people with either exercise advice or full workout plans, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon!”
The fitness regimen on Siegel’s website is based on plans that he had made for others.
“However, since many beginners have the same goals and the same equipment, I decided to upload these on to my blog so that everyone can benefit from them, not just personal friends,” he said.
As for Siegel, he works out four days a week in his dorm room with resistance bands and parallettes bars, which resemble the parallel bars that gymnasts use. Two days a week he works his entire upper body, and the other two days he works his lower body. He also follows the “if it fits your macros” (IIFYM) style of eating, outlined in his blog.
“The IIFYM Diet is one of the easiest diets to do while on a campus meal plan — where I am in a slight calorie surplus, I am trying to gain some lean muscle weight.”
Although Siegel’s blog and website take up a good portion of his time, he always has an eye toward the future.
He is now on a pre-med track, but is still undecided about which path to pursue.
“Obviously, I am very interested in health and nutrition, but I do also enjoy spending time on the water and studying marine science,” he said. “So I am currently trying to explore all the possible paths out there and decide which one is the right one for me. I could go down the nutritionist, physical trainer or marine science paths, or continue down my current doctor path. There are many options to choose from. But after all, isn’t that what college is for? To figure out what you want to do in life? And so far, Stony Brook has been the perfect place to do that!”
— Glenn Jochum