“Just out of pure joy to be back on tour and playing music again, I was like: you know what, this shirt is full of sweat, I might as well take it off,” Puth, who met with Men’s Health at his home in L.A., says. To the surprise of absolutely no concert-goer in the history of music, the stage disrobing caused Toronto to erupt. “Everybody went crazy,” remembers Puth. “It just made me feel really good about myself. It’s kind of cheesy.”
Cheese or no cheese, for Puth, the shirtless moment came after a year of hard work and confidence building. He'd earned it.
Puth first blew up in 2015 as a featured vocalist on Wiz Khalifa’s single from Furious 7, “See You Again.” His debut album followed, went platinum, and sent Puth on his path to stardom. (In the past couple months, he's kept busy, releasing the singles “I Warned Myself” and the bona fide jam, “Mother”) But Puth has always had trouble seeing himself as a star, and he's spoken about being bullied at school and suffering a nervous breakdown when all the fame got to be too much.
But a lot’s changed for Puth over the last few years—and not merely his star recognition. He’s given up unhealthy dietary and fitness habits, and in the wake of this new lifestyle (and to his complete surprise), Puth has discovered some non-physical boons of wellness: being healthy has made his music even better.
“The moment I started eating healthier and not eating chicken fingers every day, I started coming up with ideas quicker,” Puth says. A year ago, he was eating a “half-healthy” diet— healthy in the morning and then in the afternoon “pigging out” on Fish Filet and other indulgences of that nature.
Puth says he also changed his fitness habits to the betterment of his music making—and his mental health. “I found that when I started working out, my music-making process got better, because I think my mind was less crowded.” Puth now hits the gym almost every morning before going to the studio. His most conducive exercise, he says, is working out on the treadmill; it acts as his meditation and allows him to zone out. “It’s like driving,” the pop star says.
Puth explains that what he and his trainer do in the gym is minimal (bodyweight, free weights, light machine work), but with maximum results. It’s a strategy he translated in the studio: producing minimalistic beats, but making sure his vocals on top are “at their maximum.” So in a weird way, Puth explains, his exercise mentality has helped inspire parts of his upcoming album.
Exercise for Puth means utility. It means feeling confident on stage and clearing his head for work in his studio. He doesn’t want to destroy himself chasing after the perfect body—just a near-perfect body. “[My goal] is not to become too bulky, but to find that happy medium of just being cut and in shape,” he says. “I don’t want to look like Arnold [Schwarzenegger]… maybe like 30 percent Arnold.”
This article originally appeared on Men's Health