It was a little more than a year ago when I finished up the Strong Bastard 911 program and sent in my after pictures, video and essay for the transformation contest run by Joe DeFranco and Jim Smith.
Going through this contest was a real turning point for me with both my personal training business and my own training. I remember looking back at all the progress I made and just being proud of the fact that I did exactly what I set out to do and hit all of my goals.
To find out a couple of months later that I finished in first place was far more than I could of asked for. This was far and away the biggest thing I’ve accomplished in the fitness industry. But, as cliche as this sounds, this journey turned out to be more than just winning a contest. I learned how to take complete control of my training and all the important details I needed to keep in check outside the gym. I’ve saw what it takes to get to where you want to be and I can pass that message on to my clients.
There are no quick fixes or six-minute abs. It’s going to take consistent hard work week after week. But, I’m not saying that in one of those tough-guy trainer voices to scare you off and make you think it’s going to be a terrible experience. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Sure, there will be some obstacles, but you need to understand that going into the process.
I’m going to share with you four tips I used that helped me overcome the rough patches. They may sound obvious, but they shouldn’t be overlooked.
1-SETTING CLEAR, ATTAINABLE GOALS
In my opinion, this is the most important and should be the first thing you do before you start a program. You need a purpose or a “why” behind your training or else you’re just mindlessly doing the same thing without any real direction. You need clear goals and you set them for the short term and the long term.
The problems I see when I ask people about their goals are they are either too vague (lose weight, tone up), too unrealistic (lose 30 pounds in a month) or there are no goals.
My long term goals are to be 12% body fat, squat and deadlift 500 pounds, bench press 275 pounds and perform 15 strict pull-ups. I understood all of those things weren’t going to happen in a three-month span, especially with where I was at. So, for SB911, my main goals were to lose 15 pounds, drop 5% body fat, increase my one-rep max in the squat by 10 pounds and bench press by five pounds. Body composition was the most important to me and I didn’t know how my strength would be after losing weight.
Those were my gym goals, but the “why” behind those goals was what was included as a prize for a top three finisher – a free one-hour consultation with Joe and Smitty. These were two of my fitness idols and I follow every word they say. I know how much those consultations cost and it would be huge to get a chance to pick their brains on training for an hour. The title of Mr. Strong Bastard wasn’t the main goal because I don’t consider myself “better” than others that competed. I didn’t care about the money. I just wanted to place in the top three so I could get a chance to talk to Joe and Smitty because I saw the value in that.
With clear goals set, I knew exactly what I wanted. I took pictures, weighed myself and measured my body fat each week to make sure I was on track. At the conclusion of the program, I lost 15 pounds, dropped 4.8% body fat, my bench press 1RM went up 10 pounds and my squat 1RM jumped 40 pounds.
2-FIGURE OUT WHAT WORKS BEST FOR YOU WITH YOUR DIET
Most of the questions I get from doing the contest revolve around diet. I didn’t really do anything out of the ordinary and nutritional advice really isn’t my expertise. I could give you some tips and guidelines to follow, but I don’t know how to put together a detailed meal plan for you. If you need to get your nutrition seriously dialed in, I’d recommend seeing a nutritionist.
But, for those who are pretty dialed in on nutrition and looking to make tweaks more than major adjustments, my best advice is to find out what works for you and stick with it. I work at a school during the day and a gym in the afternoon and night time. I don’t get a chance to sit down and eat a meal at the gym, so I ate lunch and another meal at the school right before I left for the gym. I’d have a shake at the gym and dinner when I got home. I tracked my calories for the first few weeks, eating roughly 2,100-2,500 calories a day and my macros broke down to 30-35% protein, 45-50% carbs and 20% fat. I made it a point to get most of my veggies and fruit in during the day because I knew when I got home late I wouldn’t be in much of a mood for vegetables. I would strategize a way to get 4-5 meals in a day.
I eat mostly the same things each week, not because I’m a strict bodybuilder, but that’s just how I am. After tracking the same foods for a few weeks, I had a pretty good idea where my caloric intake stood for the day, so I didn’t need to track it as thoroughly towards the end.
That’s what worked for me. That might not work for somebody else. I knew what foods made me bloated and what foods made me feel better. This might take a little trial and error. There’s also outside factors you need to consider like when you can eat and how your work and training schedule is. My eating schedule changes when I’m off.
I always thought visualization and positive thinking was over-hyped until I went through this contest. This is what got me through those tough times and helped me perservere.
I told myself two things are going to happen at the end of this program — either I’m going to follow through or not. This is where you do need to be hard on yourself. If I don’t follow through, it’s going to be another missed opportunity and I’m going to look back at all the times I got lazy and kick myself. Or, I could push through those rough days get the job done, then I’m going to look back and be thankful I put in the work on the days I wanted to quit.
Once I started seeing some progress, positive thoughts consumed me. When I was in my car or going for a walk, all I could think about was the good things that would happen if I did everything I was suppose to. I saw myself talking to Joe and Smitty about training and saw myself on Joe’s podcast talking about the contest. I didn’t think the podcast would actually happen, but it did. I thought about people complimenting me on how I looked and how great I would feel because I accomplished exactly what I wanted. The first few weeks are key. You’ll start to notice those little changes and it will make you think twice about giving up.
I worked long days, sometimes from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Believe me, there were plenty of days I didn’t want to work out and would rather just go home early. But each time I considered calling it quits for the day or wanted to stop a couple reps short, I thought about the finish line. I wanted to look back and say I did everything I could possibly do and leave nothing behind. If I don’t place in the top three, so be it, at least I’ll be able to say I did everything I could.
I wanted to stick to this program and get the best results I could. I knew if I was going to slip at any point, it would be because of my diet. To make sure I didn’t “fall off the wagon” too many times, I told pretty much everyone I knew I was entering this contest. I didn’t want to keep it a secret.
I did this to make sure I stayed on track. I didn’t need them to watch over me every time I ate and slap my hand if I grabbed a chip. I told everyone because so they’d ask how I was doing throughout the process and so they’d ask me at the end how I did. This put a little pressure on me, in a good way. If I didn’t make any progress and they asked me how I did, it would be embarrassing as a trainer to say I couldn’t stay disciplined.
Another layer to that accountability was added when I told my brother James he should do the program with me. Since there’s a lot of variety in the program and I didn’t have enough time to train him on my own, I thought it would be best to bring him along for the ride. James is a guy who is prompt and I knew he would take it seriously. If I missed a workout, not only would I be letting myself down, but I’d let him down. James made sure to remind me of the days and times we would be working out.
James pushed and encouraged me and I wouldn’t have made the progress I made without him. This shows the value of a quality training partner. His positivity and progress lifted me up. He kept reminded me what the end goal was and made sure I never let up.