Tracking your progress is crucial to you being successful in your health and fitness journey. This also means understanding what methods and metrics of measurement apply best to you and your goals.
Whilst what goes on in the kitchen does have a big impact on what state your mid section is in, it's not truly where you're abs are built.
Your abs are like any other muscle group in the sense they can contract and stretch, they can get DOMS and they can become stronger/grow.
Assuming you have average genetics, the key thing where carving out a sixpack is concerned is two things:
1. YOU NEED LOW ENOUGH BODY FAT - This is only to happen by burning more calories than you take in, to then get into a position where your body can utilise some of that excess belly fat as fuel.
2. YOU NEED TO BUILD A STRONG MID SECTION - If you want a well defined sixpack your abdominal wall and deeper abdominal muscles need to be strong and conditioned. Crunches and sit ups aren't the answer. Again, like many good answers to common gym questions, the answer is to get stronger and progress on your big compound lifts that heavily tax your core strength and stability. Deadlift and squat variations are fantastic for this.
So yes, the kitchen does have a huge impact on you showing off a lean torso, but you can't show off well what hasn't been built well.
Revisiting an old blog here, but as I see many guys getting disgruntled with their lack of progress so far in 2017, I wanted to put this out again to give some perspective if you're starting to wonder whether steroids are the answer...
There's two ends of the spectrum here.
On one end, you might make bit of a meh decision to to jump on a quick cycle of gear. You think popping a few pills and a handful of semi structured, mediocre workouts are going to do the trick and have you ripped for ibiza in a few months. Nothing much happens in the first few weeks so you fob the idea off and think no more of it.
You decide to do it 'properly', but just one cycle right? What harm can that do.. You're willing to use whatever drug it takes but you're going to follow the recommended doses right? You train like an animal and weigh your white fish and oats to the gram. You see some results.
But you want more. And because more is better you up your dosage, perhaps you bring in another drug to help 'get rid of that last bit of fat' or 'give you that hard 3D shouldered, Instagram filtered look'.
So you go on holiday and look/feel better than ever have before. You thrive on the compliments and love the attention. You figure you've done a great job and decide when you get home you'll come off the gear and just maintain your shape. Cool.
But a few weeks down the line you feel small, weak and soft. F*&k it, jumping on one more cycle should do the trick.
That right there is the slippery slope of steroid use.
If you get the desired result from taking something, you will go back to it to regain the results you lose coming off it and the further down the path you get, the harder it is to find your way back..
You've not just built a physique with drugs, your mind is now at the mercy of them too.
It's now a part of who you are. You feel the desire to keep up this reputation of being the guy everyone looks at in the gym and asks for advice.
Dysmorphia kicks in. You become increasingly dissatisfied with where your physique is at. Thus more drugs. More drastic measures.
The negative physiological effects have now hit really hard. Unbeknown to you your natural testosterone production is shutting down. Your liver is starting to wane and your nuts are shrinking.
So where does it stop?
Worst case scenario... Your body says enough is enough. Heart attack. Done. You're out. Dead.
Still worth cracking on with a quick course for your holiday?
If you want a physique like the guy in this picture, please believe me that you DO NOT need to take drugs. Is that kind of physique easy to achieve? No. But is it achievable.. For absolute sure.
If you want to be Mr Olympia then yes, at some point drugs will have to come into the equation. But if like most of us guys you're after that lean, men's heathesque kind of look you really do not need to be anywhere near drugs.
Gyms this day and age are littered with guys using performance enhancers and that's their body and their choice, no judgement on them.
But it pains me to see so many young guys resorting to such drastic measures because they feel it's the only way to get the results they want or the easier/quicker way to make it happen.
I urge you to look at the bigger picture and consider your decision on this kind of stuff very, very seriously.
Lets cut to the chase. It's YOU. You genuinely are the only person stopping yourself from achieving fantastic results. You're also the only person that can make it happen. Powerful position right?
Truth is many people would sooner create 100 excuses than find a single solution. What I want to get at in this post is that getting results requires you to take action. You'll have to do some stuff you're not doing currently and probably cut out/adapt some stuff you are doing.
This inevitably means you're going to have to change some habits, which often isn't easy or comfortable. But I can promise you that this is where your results are hiding.
I'm going to give you a couple of case studies from just today coaching my 121 clients:
0900am My first clients walk in the door. A Husband and wife ready to crush a leg session. Husband has been out of training for the last 6 weeks and Wife originally came to me post stomach op a couple of years back and has been working closely with me or my co-trainer ever since. Husband knows he's going to struggle to keep up with her but gives it 110% to keep the pace giving an awesome account of himself showing some real grit in his first leg session of 2017. Wife is also a Mum and juggles a hectic homelife with coming to see me x 3 a week. Coming to me originally post op with apprehension and plenty of work to she has now carved out an envied physique that 95% of women would kill for.
1000am My next guy rolls up as he does every Saturday morning with a smile on his face and ready for action. This guy's a city boy with a demanding career as well as a happy home and social life. Despite this he's managed to adapt his weekly routine in a way that he gets his 3-4 training sessions in which has seen him progress every single month. To the point we even worked towards a successful photoshoot a couple of months back to showcase his fantastic results so far.
1130am It's time for one of my newest recruits to get involved. Heading into week 3 of working together and I'm starting to see the first glimmers of progress. He has been willing to strip back the weight on a lot of movements and start from scratch to relearn techniques with superior execution than previous. He has also made conscious decisions nutritionally detailing to me how his day pans out and the new informed choices he is making rather than just opting for what is easy and convenient. I'm excited to see where he is in a few months time.
All three of those above have the same thing in common. They haven't just voiced their desire to change, they've consciously made decisions followed by positive actions and a willingness to learn and embrace feeling uncomfortable.
Research as much as you want, spend as much money as you can and take all the most cutting edge 'fat loss' supplements you can, but I promise you NOTHING will change until you start acting in a way thats conducive to change. Thoughts are great, but they don't change anything. Actions do.
Something a lot of us guys want when it comes to physique goals is to fill out our tshirts with a thick chest, round shoulders and dense arms that hug our sleeves. Classic superheroesque kinda torso. Whilst some guys can be more genetically predisposed to slapping on muscle tissue quicker, many struggle adding that extra size. Typically known in the industry as hard gainers! Is this you? If so, read on for my five commandments to bring even the skinniest of you the best results possible...
1/ DECIDE WHAT BODY COMPOSITION YOU WANT - If you just want size, size and more size and body fat isn't really something you're bothered about (within reason) then congratulations you can get bigger, quicker. On the other hand if you want to keep body fat gain to a minimum, then you're going to have to play the longer more gradual game of making 'lean gains'. Although this longer more steady process requires more patience, in my eyes it is the superior approach. It's better news for you hormonally (the fatter you get the worse your hormonal profile will become). It's also going to reduce the chance of you developing any physiological and psychological food issues from over eating/bingeing on junk, which is typically what happens when people go on a no holes barred, aggressive bulk.
2/ GET STRONGER - Getting stronger on all your big compound lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift, lunge, pull up etc) is going to help massively when it comes to laying down new muscle tissue. The process of getting stronger requires you to get better at essentially 'turning on' muscle fibres and the better you get at this, the better you can break them down to allow them to adapt and grow back bigger and thicker.
3/ BE PROGRESSIVE - Don't keep doing the same workouts with the same weight, exercises, sets, reps etc and expect drastic change. Your body responds to changes of stimulus so be sure to track your training shooting for progression week in week out. Try to change up your program every 4-6 weeks as a general rule.
4/ CALORIE DENSE FOODS - If you struggle to get in enough calories because of a modest appetite 1. I'm very jealous of you! (closet fat boy) and 2. You need to be wise with your food choices opting for foods that contain a lot of calories without being too much of a chore to get down your neck. Snack on nuts/nut butters, use a little oil in your cooking and incorporate fruit juice and full fat milk into your diet if you're looking for some easy calories. Making your own mass building shake is a great idea in between meals. 1/2 pint full fat milk, 1/2 pint coconut milk, 2 tbsp peanut butter, 40g whey, 1 banana, 50g oats. Blend. Done.
5/ ARE YOU WORKING AS HARD AS YOU THINK? - Adding muscle takes intensity. I drone on about this all the time, but if you aren't training hard enough, you simply will not build muscle. Period. A great training partner or a well equipped personal trainer should take your training to the next level. Having someone else there allows you to really get stuck in and leave nothing on the table. You can start throwing in techniques like negatives, forced reps and AMRAP sets much more effectively when your right hand man is there to make sure you don't squash/decapitate yourself.
Address those five points, be patient, and you will grow!
For anyone who is at the start of their health and fitness journey I can completely understand if you're a little puzzled as to what direction to turn when it comes to building muscle. Just google "how to build muscle" and you'll be bombarded with over 8 million search results! So here's a couple of key things that in hindsight I wish I had got to grips with sooner when I made my start.
1/ CALORIE SURPLUS - Without this you won't build muscle. It's as simple as that. What this means is you need to be eating more calories than you are burning for a sustained period of time. It works a little like this... Imagine a house (your body right now) and it's made of a certain amount of bricks (calories). If you want to build a bigger house, you're going to need more bricks right? Very simplistic analogy but you get the picture.
2/ MUSCULAR DAMAGE - This is something you're looking to create through training. Not in the same way that you would tear a muscle and end up with an injury, we're talking about tiny micro tears within the muscle tissue. Causing these microscopic tears is one of the goals of weight training when trying to build muscle. Again, lets use the above analogy... If you're going to build your bigger house, you're going to need to chip away a few bricks and cement (muscle damage) to be able to add on more bricks (new lean muscle tissue).
3/ PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD - This is crucial for making progress in whatever the aspect of fitness and building muscle is no exception. The term progressive overload simply means progressing your training over time. This might mean adding extra weight on certain movements or maybe more total reps and sets of specific exercises. The key is to log your training so you know your numbers to then push forward on as the weeks move on.
4/ PROTEIN - Being in a calorie surplus is important but if you don't have an adequate amount of protein in your diet then it's all for a lost cause. Aiming for 2/2.5g protein per kg of bodyweight puts you in a great position. If you don't want to get lost in the maths of it, another good gauge is to include a palm sized protein source in every meal (based on three meals a day) and then supplement with a standard whey protein shake once a day too.
5/ FEEL THE BURN - If it ain't hurting it ain't working. You need to understand that the dull ache you get towards the end of an exercise, that's important! I'm not saying you need to yourself into the ground killing yourself 7 days a week, especially in the early days, but you do need to get your game face on and get comfortable being uncomfortable. It isn't a social event and it will require effort.
6/ IT TAKES TIME - Building muscle is a long steady process. There is absolutely zero chance of you waking up and seeing superman's torso after a week of bench pressing. If only it were that simple! One week you might notice your a couple of pounds up on the scales, the next month you might notice your t-shirt sleeves getting a little snug and next year you might be looking back at holiday pictures and getting some clean cut perspective of the gains you have made over the year.
Building muscle isn't easy, if it was everyone would be walking round looking enviably good! But the benefits of carrying a little extra muscle mass than the average guy or girl definitely make it worthwhile. In fact, they deserve a post all of their own, so i'll leave this one here for now!
Online health and fitness coaching has surged over this past few years. The development of relevant apps, software and communication technology had made online coaching a legitimate service than can help you along your health and fitness journey. That being said, it doesn't come without it's drawbacks too.
WHAT IS IT?
Well this can vary. There are many different models of online coaching out there but generally ranging from the low budget model which will involve equally low input from the coach. My honest advice is to avoid the cheapest services out there. You won't get any individualisation or contact time with your coach as the business model involves bringing in a high number of clients to make any kind of profit. You are for the most part treated as just a number.
Move across to the other end of the spectrum where you will have to part with a more chunky investment and you should find yourself in the hands of a coach that truly customises your training, nutrition and lifestyle plan to help you obtain the results you want. This means bespoke training, a nutrition plan that is tailored to you (this could be macronutrient based or more meal specific) and the guidance you need to help address the 23 hours outside of the gym, not just the 1 in it. They should also hold you accountable and regularly evaluate progress, whether that be email check ins, weekly calls, weigh ins, photo updates etc.
WHO IS IT FOR?
Online coaching works best for those with a good basic understanding of training who aren't fearful of walking into a gym environment. Those with little to no experience of training should seek a 121 Trainer first ideally. As an online client it's up to you to shoulder a lot of responsibility, you need to make sure the workouts get done and you must be honest with the Coach. They cannot pick the weights up or eat the food for you. If you find it tough to fit allocated slots with a 121 Trainer into your hectic schedule then Online Coaching might be great for you. You get all the structure of working 121 but get to train when it fits in best for you.
HOW I DO IT?
My online approach has evolved over time and still does much like my approach with each of my 121 clients. Some of the common components my online coaching involve are:
- Access to the Brisbournefit app where you can access and log your specific workouts.
- Weekly check ins evaluating the week previous and pre-empting the hurdles in week coming up.
- Initial diet diary assessment and relevant guidance moving forward (Myfitnesspal set up/meal plan templates etc).
- Detailed check in calls/Skypes/Facetimes varying from weekly to monthly.
- A number of 121 sessions if geographically viable (e.g. day one, half way point, completion date).
- 1/2 day workshops where I set aside time to go through specific, relevant content as well as spending some extra time getting to know one another.
- Nutritional sensitivity testing via blood draw.
- Basic supplemental set up.
- Hormonal assessment and custom supplemental protocol following this.
- Email/Whatsapp support as required within guide times.
If you're considering hiring the services of an Online Coach, do your research first. Run a google search, read some reviews, even speak to some of their current/previous clients if possible to get some insight first hand into what it's like to work with them. The fitness industry comes in all shapes and sizes and finding not just a coach who is knowledgable, but a coach that you get on well with and respect is massively important. Use the beer test. If you can imagine going out for a beer with them, chances are you will work well together. Well maybe, not a beer, but you catch my drift!
The gym is a fantastic tool to help get you to your goal physique but I can promise you that a gym membership alone isn't going to see you very far into your transformation.
Firstly, you need some TRAINING KNOWLEDGE on what you actually need to implement into your daily regime to make your body change. You need to learn how to train in a way that's specific to your goals and know how and when to progress your training. Whether you outsource this to a Personal Trainer or read up and learn enough yourself, you can't just rely on turning up to the gym and hoping the rest looks after itself.
The next big key is NUTRITION. This really is where most people come unstuck, especially where fatloss is concerned. Your gym might have the most expensive state of the art equipment going and you could be in there 7 days a week slogging your guts out but if your calorie balance is out of whack (you're taking in more than you're burning) your body fat is going nowhere. Understanding nutrition and your specific nutritional needs doesn't need to be overly complicated. You don't need to understand everything, you just need to understand enough.
Lastly and probably most crucially is your MINDSET. Being dedicated enough to turn up to the gym is awesome, but where that dedication comes from is what's important. If it's simply a messy Ibiza weekend in a few weeks, chances are your physique isn't going to budge much, and definitely not long term. Everyone has their own motives and I'm not here to tell you what is right or wrong in that sense, but what I will say is those who have a deep rooted, internal motivators in my experience are the ones who bring about the greatest physical changes that only improve more and more as time goes on. Maybe you want to be more confident in social situations, perhaps you want to be the best role model you can for the sake of your kids or maybe your lack of physical health is harming your business?
There are so many more important aspects than just the three I have highlighted, but I guarantee if you get your head around just those you will drastically improve your chances of finally gaining the physique you want.
With more trainers providing services than ever before it can be a minefield when it comes to sourcing a top quality Trainer that's best suited to your needs as a client.
If you're currently looking for someone to get you on track to turbo charge your health and fitness results, ask yourself these questions:
1/ ARE THEY CERTIFIED (AND INSURED)? - The fitness industry isn't regulated all that well when it comes to this so be vigilant and do your research. You're potentially going to trust this person with large components of your health and if they aren't legitimately qualified to handle this responsibility you could be in for big problems.
2/ DO THEY SPECIALISE? - You wouldn't go to the GP to fix your teeth and it's the same principle with getting the best services for your fitness endeavours. You want to lose fat and gain muscle? You need a body composition expert. You want to build the muscle back up in the leg you broke playing football? You could do with seeing a sports performance and rehab specialist. You want to step on a bodybuilding stage? A prep coach with a track record of successful competitors is going to be your best bet.
3/ HAVE YOU WATCHED THEM OPERATE? - If you're considering starting with a trainer, if its possible to do so, watch them train other clients. Do they look interested? Do their clients look like they're 1. working hard and 2. enjoying what they're doing? OR... Does the trainer lazy appear bored? Easily distracted? On their phone? Generally just uninterested? Finding someone who is present and passionate about what they do should be right near the top of your wish list.
4/ DO THEY WALK THE WALK? - This is a controversial one. I'm not saying they should look like a Men's Health cover 365 days a year BUT they should look healthy, they shouldn't be turning up to Sunday morning sessions hungover. They should enjoy what they do and enjoy living a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
5/ DO THEY TRACK PROGRESS? - Physical results, performance tests, dietary analysis, session briefs, weekly check ins... There's tons of things your trainer should be monitoring. Without doing so you're flitting from one session to another, not really sure of the progress you're making. Having some solid data and numbers will help keep you accountable, motivated and keep track of what does or doesn't work for you in regards to working towards your goals.
6/ ARE THEY CHEAP? - We all love getting value, but when it comes to a personal health related service it's important you value yourself high enough to invest in yourself without necessarily shopping purely on price.
7/ ARE THEY A TEACHER OR DRILL SERGEANT? - A great trainer won't just tell you what to do, they will tell you how and why. Their goal is to give you the tools to at some point down the line walk away from them with the knowledge they need to carry on their progress without you needing to put money in their pocket. As a client you should feel your knowledge is always growing and not just your biceps.
The number one goal any one comes to me with is to strip down their body fat. There is so much conflicting information out there on what you need to do to make this happen so I can completely understand the frustration of anyone seeking out the real answers. Lets not overcomplicate it; here's 5 fundamentals that will help you on your fatloss journey:
1/ CALORIE DEFICITS - You must be in a calorie deficit to burn body fat (ie. burn more calories than you take in). It's important to remember to look at this beyond being a daily thing, i'll often look at a client's whole week's worth of calories balanced against what they get burnt in a total week. This leads me to my next point nicely.
2/ FAT DOESN'T GET BURNT IN A DAY - Another good reason for the above is it encourages you to look at fat loss on a longer term basis rather than expecting drastic results from some nutty 2 day lemon water and nettle detox in Bali. Your body has a lot of stored carbohydrate (glycogen) to burn through before you get near burning any body fat, hence when you keep topping up your glycogen stores on the weekend with sugary food and that cheat meal you feel you earnt, you feel no real changes the following week.
3/ FAT BURNING FOODS DON'T EXIST - Broccoli, blueberries, avocado, protein powder... whatever the food source, I promise you it doesn't have magical fat burning capabilities. Certain food groups make it far easier for you to stay in a calorie deficit than others that's for sure, but the likelihood of you finding a food that burns 'stubborn fat' is as likely as me riding my Unicorn to the gym tomorrow.
4/ FAT DOESN'T MAKE YOU FAT - Confusing I know, but in reality fat is an important part of your daily diet. It keeps your hormones in check and cells healthy. Where people can slip up is by including too much fat in their diet, which is pretty easy given that 1g of fat is 9 calories compared to 1g of protein or carbohydrates only being 4 calories. The best thing you can do is limit your fat intake via artificial, processed foods as this will help keep your calories in check and the fats here are likely to be poor quality ones doing your body no favours anyway.
5/ YOU CAN'T TARGET STOMACH FAT - Do as many sit ups, crunches, planks and leg raises as you like, but this won't help you lose stomach fat. While you might be targeting the stomach muscles doing these movements, they won't make the least bit of difference unless you address your diet and your calorie balance too. Everyone's body will store and burn fat slightly differently but for the most part your body will prefer taking fat from where it stores most of it when you initially start to lean down.
There's one thing that seems to crop up again and again with the guys I speak to who want to achieve all their health and fitness goals but aren't right now.
Have you caught yourself saying any of these recently?
"I'm going to start next week/month/year"
"I'm going to get comfortable in the gym first"
"I'm going to get Christmas out the way"
"I'm going to wait until things settle down at home"
"I'm going to wait until this project is finished"
We are all prone to putting things off and waiting for so called better timing. I used to slap myself regularly for falling into this mindset.
Truth is, there isn't a perfect time to start something awesome. You're procrastinating and waiting for a fictional situation.
Realise time is running out and it always will be, so the longer you wait the more you are leaving on the table.
Health and fitness is one of those things that there is no one stand alone, textbook way to get success, so stop waiting for a golden opportunity and take the plunge of putting one foot in front of the other.
It will be the best thing you ever do and one of the most valuable habits you'll ever learn.
1. STOP THE BULKING - You don't need 10,000 calorie cheat days or any of those sickly mass gaining shakes to get this kind of physique. A steady calorie surplus/deficit is as crazy as it needs to get.
2. CONDITIONING & BODYWEIGHT EXERCISE - Don't just lift weights if you want a muscular but athletic build. Keeping mobile incorporating various training methods will do wonders. Think plyometrics (explosive bodyweight movements), callisthenics (bodyweight bar work) and also get creative with your cardio.
3. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF - So if you're after this kind of physique, it's no good laying down the muscle and shedding the fat if you have a back hairy as Big Foot's and you haven't showered since last Friday. I'm not saying you need to be hollywood hairless and fake baked but you do need to cover the basics of male grooming!
4. BUILD YOUR V-TAPER - This is all about creating the illusion of a tight waist with a wide back and shoulders. Even more important if you have a naturally broad waist like me. Hitting lots of lateral raise movements and going easy on the oblique exercises will help create this.
5. POSTURE WORK - The vast majority of us guys are internally rotated to some degree (round shouldered). To combat this you need to hit your back training sessions hard. All of a sudden you'll find your chest will start looking awesome and you'll grow an inch.
6. STOP STARVING YOURSELF - Going super low on calories will burn fat initially, but long term it leaves you in a sticky situation where you'll pack on fat twice as quick as you lost it and you'll find yourself in a constant yo-yo battle to get your abs back. Again, like the bulking point above, there is no need for extremes. A slight deficit in calories will bring about fatloss, just be patient, consistent and stop expecting to wake up looking like an action figure overnight. Good things take time.