What could you really achieve if you focus on a singular goal for months and months on end?

I think you’d be surprised. Most transformation over-hype how simple, easy and fast the change was. I don’t plan on doing that here. I plan on doing kinda the opposite.

I want to outline exactly what goes into a drastic transformation like this, I’ll go through how it was possible as an “advanced” lifter to do so, exactly what I did, and how I was able to keep it up.

Sure, when you go through it all, it was relatively simple, but it was by no means easy, and it certainly wasn’t fast.

All in all, the time between the pictures was 9 months, which is by no means overnight, but it doesn’t quite cover the whole time-frame of the transformation itself. It would be deceiving to say I gains 16lbs of lean mass in 9 months.

And to show you why I’ll have to give a bit of a background.

BACKGROUND – WHY I DID THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE

Last year (2019) I set myself the goal of gaining a measurable 2-3kgs of muscle.

I failed.

I failed for a number of reasons, but the main one being that I simply didn’t put forth the effort to achieve it. Building muscle is hard. It’s one of the most energy-expensive, biologically confusing processes the body can do. And so it wasn’t a surprise to me that when I looked back on the what I’d achieved in 2019, from a purely muscle-building perspective, I’d come up very short.

And so on Monday 23rd December I took these before pictures in my gym locker room and set myself the challenge of properly getting in shape (again).

MORE IMPORTANT BACKGROUND INFO

One of the biggest influences on a before/after transformation is NEVER spoken about – what was happening before the before picture…

It’s a lot easier to make yourself look like shit than it is to make yourself look awesome, which is why it’s pretty common for people to binge, slack off and do everything they can to make their “before” picture look terrible.

I am definitely guilty of this here, just unintentionally.

The truth is when I look back on my 2019, I had actually lost muscle. I had a pretty stressful start to the year with a divorce, which made eating a complete chore. I had no appetite, training was “meh” at best and my sleep was all over the place. On top of that, I had taken up Brazilian Jiu Jistu, where I was not rewarded at all for my size, I was burning through calories each session and even when I’d gotten on top of my eating, I had decided to do a big ol’ water cut to make the 185lb weight class as an experiment.

Overall in 2019 I spent barely any time in a surplus, and any time I did, it wasn’t long enough to get my muscle back, just enough to get my weight back. And I definitely wasn’t pushing myself in the gym

Looking back now, I probably had been phoning in my training pretty consistently since the end of 2017. After I retired from rugby, I focussed on getting shredded, and once I did I felt kinda lost. I never stopped training, I enjoyed all the mental benefits, but I just didn’t push myself from a strength/hypertrophy perspective much at all. 

Oh, and when I took the “before” shots I’d just got back from Peru where I spent around 3 weeks doing a lot of walking and eating, but zero training.

This might sound like, dare I say, too much context. But I think it’s important for you to understand that whilst this looks impressive, a good deal of it was just regaining what I’d lost.

THE LONG-TERM PLAN

The first thing I did was treat myself like I was my own new client. I needed the accountability and management in place that I give to every one of my guys in Rugby Muscle Elite.

I set myself a year-long plan that was fairly simple. 6 weeks cutting, 4 weeks maintenance, 12 weeks massing, 3 week mini-cut, 8 weeks massing, 2 weeks maintenance, 4-6 weeks more cutting, then finish out the year with another long massing phase.

This was all in a sheet to keep track of everything, along with my weight, calories, BJJ practice, training sessions, sleep and whatever I needed to keep on top of in each phase (yoga, steps etc).

This sheet kept me massively accountable. I had realized how easy it is to hide from your shortcomings if you just simply didn’t document them. Here I had to fess up, because I had specific “goal” and “reality” sections for each of the things I was keeping on top of.

Now, when you’re reading this you might be thinking that if there was a year that one would regret creating such an elaborate plan ahead of time, 2020 would be that year. And to be honest, the opposite was true.

THE LOCKDOWN “ADVANTAGE”

Towards the end of March, the world had changed. COVID-19 had created a global pandemic, offices, restaurants and gyms were closed down and we were told to remain at home. I took the week to assess my options, no gym access was clearly a wrench I had to deal with

Initially, I flirted with the idea of just saying “screw it”, stop training, stop tracking and further my efforts to create a really good “before” picture. 

I chose a better option. I went the opposite direction. 

Lockdown had ripped away many other focuses of my life. Training, nutrition and my body were one of the few things I remained in control of, and now I had very little other distractions. 

So I went to Home Depot and built my own sandbags for weighted movements and I got really creative with my training. I’ll go into this in more detail below.

I truly feel that being in lockdown was crucial for me to be able to make this transformation. I always try to get my clients to engineer their week around making the most progress once you’ve factored in everything else – work, family, social etc.

With my week, there was barely anything getting in the way of me living a life for optimal progress. I had time to train when I wanted, sleep, I took a daily nap, I meditated for up to 30 minutes, I went out and walked, I cooked everything and I had time to keep track of everything in my book. 

A small sample of some of my data

Admittedly, my social life took a hit, as did everyone’s, and I don’t wish for another lockdown by any stretch, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a big factor in all of this.

THE NUTRITION

Ok so now the details.

I forgot to mention (because I actually never think about it) that at the beginning of 2019 I went plant-based for ethical reasons – probably another factor in my muscle loss.

This year, after playing around with all types of vegetarianism, pescatarianism and full-blown veganism, I settled back into being pescatarian.

I’m not going to do into this too much because I think it’s just unimportant. You can eat meat if you wish. What’s more important is my macros.

For the 20 weeks or so of massing my macros were:

  • 220-240g protein
  • 300-600g carbs
  • 50-60g fat

I based this off some recent research on high-protein, high-carb diets and just went with it. What should be obvious is that fat is the easiest macro to store as fat… it is fat. It is a mind-numbingly “no-shit-Sherlock” statement to make, but I did so nonetheless because it explains why I wanted to keep my fats low.

I used the carbohydrates to fuel everything and my body thrived, I started at the low end and sequentially added in more each week.

The low fats also helped me keep myself in check, I have a big appetite and have no problem pounding down food. The low fats helped me really keep my diet “clean” because I couldn’t really just load up on junk, I had to be tactful about what I ate – for example when I got up to 600g carbs, I chose to avoid oats because of the fat content.

For the mini cuts I kept protein the same and simply aimed for around 2k calories. For maintenance phases, I didn’t really track, I just at at maintenance.

Final important points on nutrition – I cooked and at 99.9% of my food at home and ate most of my meals at the same time. My biggest meal, post-training was often well over 1000 calories with very little fat, I’d sometimes work up a sweat from that meal!

I was able to basically get everything dialed in to perfection as far as muscle-growth goes.

THE TRAINING

Now here’s where you might be fooled into thinking that I did anything remotely spectacular with my training.

I didn’t. It wasn’t really possible. I had to be creative.

What I did, was consistently progress my training adding load, reps and sets each week for 4-8 weeks before deloading. 

As far as where I trained it was a complete mixed-bad. I trained at home, I sourced my buddies garage gym to train in 2x a week, I used a park that was a 3 minute run from my apartment and when my community gym opened again in June/July – I used that.

What DID Change.

Whilst my logbook wasn’t remarkable, it was consistent, and it was written down. I got fed up with trying to log my results on my phone and finding myself down another rabbit-hole of distraction every time I unlocked the thing. I kept my phone away from me and went back to paper and pen. This enabled me to keep a remarkable intensity when I trained.

I also took 5-10 minutes to properly warm up and 10 minutes to properly cool down after each session. Maybe I’m getting old, but to me, this made a huge difference.

Prioritizing Body Parts

I’ve spoke about this before but an important part of training as you get more advanced is prioritizing what’s important for each training block.

Because you have a limited amount of effective sets you can do throughout the week, I’m a fan of prioritizing 1-2 fitness components, or body parts in each training block. I will go more in-depth in this strategy in a later article.

“GOOD” NOT “PERFECT”

I’m adding in this section a little late, because I realized there was a HUUUUGE point that I almost completely omitted that really paints a fuller picture on this transformation.

I was more vigilant with my training, my nutrition and my recovery than I probably have ever been (yes, thanks to Lockdown), but to say I was “perfect” would be a complete and utter lie.

I recall days where I went around 80g over my supposed carb intake (snacking at a buddies watching UFC). I had to change some of my training mid-point because they moved some equipment. Some days I didn’t make the progress I’d really thought I earned on my lifts.

Another thing I did better than ever, was I forgave myself. I slept in. I chilled out. I realized that the key wasn’t being perfect, it was being relentless, so that’s what I focussed on. If I ballsed up, I logged it and focussed on the next thing. I focussed on it with a fresh mindset that I was going to nail it.

SUMMARY

Although the biggest factor in this Transformation was the stuff that happened before, I do think there’s a more significant conclusion to be drawn: if you’re stuck and haven’t seen any significant progress in your training in a long time, maybe you aren’t at your genetic potential, maybe you’re just kidding yourself into believing you’re doing what’s necessary.

I thought I was at my genetic potential and got to the point where I actually REGRESSED over 2-3 years barely improving on my lifts. 

I thought that was it, I thought the only real purpose I could find in the gym was the mental benefit it gave me.

And I was okay with that. I thought I had pretty good genetics and worked hard, but nothing crazy. I thought I was finished making significant progress.

But I was wrong, I was so incredibly wrong. All I had done was create a self-fulfilling prophecy, I thought that because I hadn’t seen progress, none of it mattered. I didn’t prioritize my recovery, I didn’t dial in my nutrition anywhere near as good as I possibly could and I fucking phoned in the vast majority of my training sessions.

I got in my own way. 

Any program or coaching I go into now I do ALL of the thinking up front. Then I just log the data and see how I respond. I try to stick as closely to the plan as possible and constantly remind myself that I can make excuses, but I’ll probably regret them.

Now, I totally understand that this is much easier said than done, believe me. Life get’s in the way and things rarely go according to plan. I get that, being flexible and adaptable is incredibly important, but that shouldn’t be the default. Don’t hold yourself back before you’ve even started.

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

― Norman Vincent Peale

I truly believe that is how you’ll get the most out of anything, switch off your brain and focus on executing the plan to your best ability. I think you’ll be amazed at the progress you can make if you actually decide to do this.

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