(My 8 week body transformation that began about 9 weeks after back surgery)
As a strength and conditioning coach, when it comes to body transformations, I have a two pet peeves that kind of sit on either side of a spectrum. The first one is when unscrupulous marketers tell you how easy it is to transform your body. They will tell you that you can eat what you like, burn fat with a pill or kick start your metabolism in a day by manipulating what you eat. All you have to do is buy into their product or system, sit back and let it happen. Of course, it’s bullshit!
My second pet peeve sits on the other side of the spectrum where somebody chooses to use steroids, works hard and undergoes a mind blowing transformation and then claims, ‘you too can do it with hard work and dedication’. I am always tempted to ask ‘aren’t you leaving something out?’ My frustration with both scenarios is that by saying it’s easy, or omitting very import details (like the fact that you used drugs), is deceptive. If there is one thing the fitness industry needs, its a bit of honesty.
In my 20 plus years as a fitness professional and coach, there have been a few occasions in which I have felt the desperation of some of my clients. I have tasted what it is like to be out of shape, to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. One of those occasions was about 6 years ago when I broke my shoulder badly in a mountain bike accident. Following surgery, it became a frozen shoulder that resulted in a painfully slow 2 year recovery. Most recently (5 months ago) I had back surgery to remove a ruptured disc L4-5 that had been causing a ‘drop foot’ (impaired nerve function and subsequent loss of power to my foot) and months of debilitating pain. To watch yourself lose strength and muscle mass, become flabby, lose the ability to walk without pain and muscle fatigue; to have to tell your kids, sorry guys, dad can’t play with you, is very hard. I can imagine, out of desperation how one can get sucked into the false promises and marketing hype of a magic pill or overnight fix. If it wasn’t for my experience and knowledge I too may have been lured into the marketing trap.
So, I thought I would cut through all the media nonsense and the steroidal guys forgetting to tell you the real secret behind their success and give an honest account of what it takes to transform your body, particularly after surgery or debilitating injury. Here are 5 things you definitely don’t need, and 5 things you will need to get it right!
5 THINGS YOU DON’T NEED.
1. Weights or any other fancy equipment:
I am a big advocate of weight training for its numerous health benefits, from strength to mobility to bone health and high performance that translates into virtually every sport and physical endevour, the list of benefits is endless! The thing is, if you, like me can’t do weights right now, because of injury or access to equipment, don’t worry, you can build a great physique just with body weight exercises, anywhere!
I have never used steroids, and never will. You can build a great physique without drugs. If you choose to use steroids, hey, no judgement here, just don’t deceive people into believing they too can look like you with hard work alone. When you are rehabilitating an injury (in particular), what you put into your body needs to aid in the healing process. Anything like anabolic steroids that has the potential to weaken connective tissue, damage organs and alter the endocrine system is a big NO from me!
3. Fancy supplements:
I am not a big believer in supplements. Sure, if you’re a body builder or athlete looking for every little advantage you can find, or you are deficient in a macro or micro nutrient, a supplement may be an option. For me personally, it’s what you eat that really matters. The only supplement I use from time to time is a decent whey protein to ensure my daily protein intake is on point.
4. Diets with fancy names:
If a diet has a fancy name or some kind of weird and wonderful formula: you know the kind, where you have to eat a perfectly measured portion of animal protein cooked in coconut oil with 6 and a half raw tomatoes and a shot of wheat grass, all before 11:59 am (and if you commit the cardinal sin of eating a carbohydrate, you have to say 5 hail Mary’s before sun set)? Diet is actually quite simple, you need all the macro nutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) in a ratio to which your body responds (experiment a bit) with some fruit and plenty of veg. For me, this is about an equal amount of protein and carbohydrates and about 20 percent fat but it will vary from person to person. When you get this formula right, repeat it daily! (This is often the hard part that requires the acquisition of new habits and skills over time to master and forms the focus of my nutrition coaching). Oh, and I have never counted calories, although, I do believe as a strategy to help you develop an intuition for what is the right quantity and ratio of macro nutrients for you (creating a calorie deficit is key to weight loss), calorie counting can be helpful from time to time. Just don’t obsess over it!
5. Insane exercise routines!:
After surgery, you have to accept that for several months, you cannot exercise at high intensities. By this, I mean that you cannot lift heavy weights or do extreme bouts of aerobic activity. You can however train smartly! With some basic body weigh exercises, like push up and pulling variations (eg inverted rows, pull ups, chin ups), squats, lunges, Nordic curls etc and experiment with principles such as time under tension (keeping tension in the muscles for optimal time periods during exercise), varying the speed of movements, and frequency of exercise (you can work the same muscle groups several times per week when intensity is moderate), you will be amazed at what you can achieve with relatively moderate exercise sessions. I did strength training 5 days per week that included push up, pull up TRX row combinations, squat and lunge variations, 4 days per week for 30 to 40 minutes per day with about 20 to 30 minutes of core and rehab work, to achieve my 8 week transformation in the picture above. In addition to this, always aim to do some form of exercise whenever you have the opportunity (stand instead of sitting, walk when you don’t have to drive, take the stairs, the extra energy expenditure and natural movement really makes a big difference in the long run to your health and physique!
What you do need
- A good plan:
Planning is about knowing yourself and your environment. If a plan completely overwhelms you and the thought of eating 6 meals per day and training at the gym for 8 hours per week keeps you up at night, it’s not a good plan for you! Devise a plan that gently nudges you outside of your comfort zone but gives you a sense of confidence that you can do it! If that means you need to start with 20 minutes of home exercises per day and eating one healthy meal, then that’s where you start with the intention of progressively building on that. Plan your week meticulously to accommodate the changes. If you have been injured, be prepared to adapt the plan as you discover what your body is and isn’t yet ready for-never work through pain! Once you have a plan, be realistic about the results you can expect. A slow start may be just what you need, but set your expectations for slower progress. Hey, you’re in this for the long haul anyway!
2. Consistency and repetition:
You don’t always want to go to work when you wake up in the morning; you could do without having to take the kids to school; don’t you wish you could just miss that exam or presentation; do we really need to cook dinner tonight? You do the things you don’t always want to do, because you value them and understand the consequences associated with not doing them. Your body transformation is no different. You need to value your health and approach your eating, exercise and rest as a non negotiable (like going to work) in order to achieve the transformation you want. Do you have to kill yourself? No, consistency beats intensity every time. Do you have to be committed? Hell yes!
Repetition goes hand in hand with consistency. When you are recovering from injury and you’re not weight training, exercise choices are limited (In the last 3 months I think I have done every variation of push-up and pull up known to man). The same goes for your rehabilitation. Consistency is key! Get used to doing the same types of exercises day in and day out. There are a number of ways to change variables in an exercise, such as repetitions performed, speed of movement, hand and foot position, combinations of exercises, progressions etc, but there are certain fundamental movements like squats, pushing and pulling that you have to just keep repeating. Get creative doing the same basic exercises, by playing with the variables!
3. Discipline with eating:
I have said time and time again that you don’t have to kill yourself or drive yourself mad, but you do need discipline! When an advert tells you that you can transform your body whilst eating all the things you like. that’s crap! Your food choices need to be predominantly high nutrient, low calorie foods like tuna, chicken, lean meat, vegetables, with your more calorie dense foods eaten around exercise bouts to fuel activity. How much discipline you need depends on what you’re trying to achieve. If you are wanting to lose a bit of weight and improve your health (which is a great goal and starting point), make healthy food choices from all the food groups in a ratio that works for you, 80% of the time, and eat when you’re hungry. Enjoy a few drinks with friends on the weekend and a glass of wine with supper as well as the occasional weekly indulgence! If you want a six pack, it’s a different strategy. You will need to eat at regular intervals and consistently throughout the day whether you are hungry or not. Get used to eating the same foods often, with less variety. For example, if you’re eating purely for health benefits, substituting a protein portion of chicken breasts for Greek yogurt is perfectly fine, but if you want a six pack, you would need to choose the chicken breasts over the Greek yogurt every time or substitute it for tuna or lean beef for example! You may also need to go through periods where you eliminate things like alcohol and unhealthy snacks entirely from your diet to take you to the next level!
4. Pull up bar or straps:
I said earlier that you don’t need any fancy equipment and that is true. The one disadvantage of having no equipment is that you struggle to get enough back work in. If you think about it, most of the upper body work that you can do using only body weight involves pushing movements with very few opportunities for pulling movements that promote enough muscle force to produce the desired results. If you perform a disproportionate volume and intensity of pushing movements to pulling movements, you may create muscle imbalances that lead to further injury, and from an aesthetic point of view, you fail to achieve the balanced look that you’re after. For this reason, I highly recommend investing in a pull up bar or some suspension training straps to give you additional pulling options (not to mention a host of other exercise options including core, legs, abs, arms etc).
The transformation I managed to achieve in 8 weeks is backed by 20 years of training experience, muscle memory and practice in implementing the healthy eating and lifestyle habits that I know work for me. If you don’t have the experience and time under your belt, the chances are that your transformation will be slower, AND THAT’S OKAY! Be patient, take time to learn your body, practice new habits until they become entrenched, keep experimenting with what works for you and have fun in the process. There is a misconception that this has to be an overnight success, remember, this is about a lifestyle, not an 8 week challenge.
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