How to Make Amazing Gains (Everything You Need)
I was terrified of my old friends. I remember a time in my life when I would freak out and run in the opposite direction if I spotted one in the distance.
To be honest, that wasn’t that long ago. I wasn’t afraid for the sane reasons, either. I didn’t owe them money, I didn’t hold a grudge against them, they didn’t have a grudge against me… mostly… well, ex-girlfriends are exempt from the list of good-termers.
One day I was out running errands when a friend who I hadn’t seen in over 2 years called out to me. I looking around frantically, my body fixed to the spot, frozen in fear like a deer in the headlights. I don’t even remember what we talked about but I do remember that I left the conversation feeling like it was the end of the world.
The reason I was so terrified was that my body had changed a lot over the years. I had gone from a super skinny 130 lbs. to somewhere close to 200 lbs. all in less than 3 years. I was embarrassed for anybody to see me like that because it definitely wasn’t muscle gain.
I couldn’t handle any more awkward stares, or not-so-quick glances from head-to-toe, or the comments like
“Wow, you put on so much weight”,
“You used to be so slim, what happened?”
[or my favorite passive-aggressive one]
“I haven’t seen you in a while, it looks like SO much has changed!”
The chance of this happening turned me off from going to the beach or really enjoying time with my friends. I swore that I wouldn’t go to the beach until my beach body arrived… and I hadn’t been to the beach in 3 years.
Fast forward to this day, just a few short months ago. I was standing on the beach with my toes in the sand, the sun on my skin, the sea breeze in my face and my stomach hanging over my trunks. I was proud and excited, eat your heart out world.
What led to that day and what have I been doing since then? Well, let me tell you.
1. I got my mind right
Alright, I am not going to talk about just how crucial this part is. I already did that over here. But I will tell you how I got to this point.
The fact that I was on that beach was a miracle in and of itself. My wife and I had taken our vacations on the week of her birthday and we were planning to just hibernate at home because we were pretty burnt-out. But in a spur of the moment decision, we were off to a villa in the country in our little car. That is definitely in the top 10 of our best life decisions.
That experience of being away from everything made me realize that even though there are things I want but don’t have yet, like the body of my dreams, I still had a lot of things to be thankful for.
On one of the nights at the villa I wrote a list of things I appreciated. The next morning I pulled open the doors and stepped out into the sunlight, and I read the words. I found that just recognizing how far I have come, changed how I felt about the day. I felt like I could do everything I wanted, include going to the beach and playing in the sand like a complete child.
Since then, I have made a habit of appreciating something each morning. I also added some parts about the person I want to be and what steps I want to take to improve myself.
Here is my word-for-word script I use each and every morning. I spent a lot of time tweaking it and ensuring that each part resonates with me deep down. Here it is:
“I am driven, relentless, resilient, passionate, creative, kind, a loving husband and I deserve to achieve and will achieve all the goals I put my mind to.
I have the eternal love of my wife and many things to be thankful for.
I will do what is right, instead of what’s easy, so that every day in every way I will get better and better.
[Insert new things I am thankful for here]”
2. I cooked everything
Let me be clear about something. It didn’t just magically snap into place for me. For two weeks after that vacation, I was still at the KFC drive through religiously every evening, and getting scrambled eggs and pancakes from Burger King every Saturday and Sunday morning.
On August 1st (Emancipation Day — a big deal here in Jamaica) I went to a huge family dinner. The kind of dinner that if you live abroad and can visit Jamaica only once a year, you made sure not to miss this dinner. It was equally my dream and my nightmare because there was no end to the food and the dessert (oh god, the dessert).
Strangely enough, there was one person who stood out from the crowd, who wasn’t vacuuming platefuls of pudding, ice cream and key lime pie into her face. She was my wife’s cousin and she had come an amazing 3rd place in a national physique competition on her first attempt.
My wife and I interrogated her for about an hour. When did you decide to build your body? How do you stick to it? What do you eat? What foods do you avoid? How often do you work out? A few things that stuck with me from that discussion were:
- She is in her 40s but in better shape than I have ever been;
- She never weighs herself or uses a tape measure;
- She doesn’t own a kitchen scale, or a fitness app that tracks macros;
- She ate what she wanted at the party and even had herself a couple of drinks;
- If you are eating and you don’t know what ingredients are in your food, you’re doing it wrong.
The conversation got the cogs in my head turning, but we still didn’t take any action.
A week later, my wife and I came home with our usual, fresh KFC and plopped down in front of Netflix. We were fumbling through with greasy fingers, trying to find something, anything, to entertain us when we came across episode 1 of “Chef’s Table”.
It was like I was struck by lightning. With just that episode, the long since forgotten passion in cooking felt by my aspiring chef 16-year-old self was renewed.
Since then, I have challenged myself to only eat the food I make (disaster or not). I stored away the scales, deleted MyFitnessPal and now I make it a habit to continuously improve my cooking.
YouTube was definitely great support in accelerating my reintroduction to the kitchen (Fit Men Cook and The Protein Chef were immediate subscribes. I also just search for what I need at a given time, like “how do I cook mushrooms”).
3. I started from the bottom
When it came to working out, I didn’t start until 21 days after I had changed my meal plan.
I hope you are seeing a pattern here — I didn’t change every single thing about myself at once.
I also didn’t start by going back to my old trainer and telling him it will be different this time. I made up my mind to prove to myself and to him that I could use my inner drive to accomplish my goals. Maybe he will see my stunning muscles and abs and say “Paul you look amazing, you did all this yourself? Come, I will train you for free!” I would really like that last part, fingers crossed.
I started working out at home. No weights, except my bodyweight. I figured that since I was heavy (exact weight — unknown, no scales, remember?), it would provide sufficient challenge.
I spent at most an hour a day, 5 days a week doing circuit training and fundamental body weight exercises. Lots of pushups with different variations to target the chest, triceps, biceps, shoulders and back and lots of one legged squats to increase the difficulty and tension. I was able to patch together an exercise plan from different bookmarked sites I liked and used in the past.
The key thing that kept me making progress was pushing until failure. It’s a very different experience than being in the gym doing a precise number of reps per set. You never get to the point where things get easy, you just end up doing more and more each week.
My goal is to see how close I can get to my 8% body fat goal before I return to the gym. I might even train for a physique show after that… who knows? I know my ex-soon-to-be-new trainer would be happy about that.
4. I stuck with it
Napoleon Hill said “the starting point of all achievement is desire”. Personally, I didn’t have any lack of desire during my entire 6 year fitness journey. I have had 2 personal trainers, I have read magazines, blogs, followed Instagram profiles and subscribed to several YouTube channels. None of them got me to the body I wanted. But when I instead started with acceptance and appreciation, desire and achievement came together.
It became easier to remain consistent as well. Just changing my focus to enjoying the process instead of suffering through a diet, hell-bent on the goal, feels so much more natural.
I hope my journey helps you, and remember there are many ways to skin a cat. This is not a rule book. If you are going through similar struggles feel free to ask me questions in the comments or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will answer as many as I can, to the best of my ability.