I often wonder why I never took my health and fitness seriously before. It’s probably not hard to figure out. My parents haven’t worked up a sweat in their lives  and are both rather bookish and non-physical people. The same goes for my extended family, and thus I had no physical role models as a child and no guidance in this area. Additionally, they eat badly and rely on being naturally slim. No-one ever taught me to eat well and it never occurred to me to figure it out for myself in a systematic way.
English culture doesn’t help any either. I started drinking in pubs from fifteen years old and it was absolutely normal to crank out eight pints of heavy beer on a Friday night then get a takeaway pizza before the last bus home. And then do it all again on Saturday . Somehow I went from a skinny 126lb 16-year old to a 175lb lard-ass at the end of my first year of university without putting on a pound of muscle in the interim.
I distinctly remember my New Year’s Resolution midway through my second year at Uni was to reduce my drinking to just four times a week. I cut it further the next year, added in some jogging and cardio and, being young, I was able to slim right down to 147lbs very quickly. After a couple of years working in London I was up to 160lbs – this time with a bit of muscle- and I stayed around that weight right up until 2014.
By then I was in decent shape from fight training and a haphazard attempt to eat more healthy. Then, when I moved out of London in April 2014 everything unravelled. I always ate out, didn’t train regularly, drank far too often, and eventually ballooned up to 190lbs at the beginning of 2017. I held constant at a fat 183lbs until July 2018 when I began this two year body transformation.
I’ve written here in detail about my first year. This is an update. So, without further ado, let’s look at the before/after pics.
May 2018, 83kg, 43yrs / June 2020, 75kg, 45yrs
The studio photo was taken a month ago when I weighed 165lbs (I’m 171 now, about the same body fat) and- dare I say it- I’m in a mighty fine fettle. If you look closely you can see visible abs. In the right lighting and right posture, I even have a visible six pack . There was no gym pump for that shoot, so I look slightly better during a workout. That’s all small potatoes, the point is the contrast with the rather awful before picture (the only reason I still have the before picture is that it actually flattered me alot so I never deleted it!).
I never expected to reach this level of aesthetic at my age without using testosterone injections. My expectations have been far exceeded and I’m thrilled at my progress. What was even more surprising was the impact of my body recomposition on my face.
Look at these before/after pics.
July 2018 vs June 2020
Again, it’s not quite comparing like-with-like because one is a selfie and the other a studio pic. However, the studio portrait is not photoshopped. I really do look like that. It’s shocking how old and battered I used to look. Now my skin is smoother and glows with health, most of my wrinkles are gone, and I have clearly-defined facial bone structure including the all-important jaw line. Again, expectations are exceeded.
So, what is my protocol, you ask?
After much experimentation with my personal trainer, we have settled on what we consider optimal for my body and goals. From Monday to Friday I eat 2,000-2,300 calories with a macro-nutrient target of 150g carbs and at least 180g protein. The carbs are below maintenance to reduce water retention and bloat. Then on the weekend I do a big carb refill, aiming for 400g on Saturday (rice, potatoes, bananas, bread) and 600g on Sunday (try to eat real foods but hard candy and low-fat ice cream is okay if I’m struggling to hit target). There’s no calorie limit on the weekend but I don’t eat more than I need to hit the carb target.
This is a carb super-compensation and the rationale is to deplete my glycogen through the week so that my body over-compensates in carb absorption on the weekend, while the weekly carb total isn’t too far above maintenance overall. I find my weight fluctuates predictably in a 2kg bandwidth doing this. Visually, I look a bit flat by Saturday morning and pumped my Monday morning. My endurance is notably improved on Monday too.
My goal is to keep doing this, inching my lean gains upwards.
I continue to train four times a week, under supervision of my PT every session. We do a weekly split of Back on Monday, Chest on Wednesday, Arms on Friday, then Legs and Shoulders on Saturday. Due to all the Corona lockdown bullshit, I’ve been forced to do nine weeks of home workouts year-to-date and missed two weeks entirely. That required remedial work upon returning to the gym, to get back up to my previous PBs on the usual split routine.
My sessions are usually two hours and consist of:
- Warm up and stretch
- Weight lifting (the meat of the session), 6-7 exercises, 3-5 sets each
- Abs, usually 2 exercises, 4 sets each
- 15 minute cardio on treadmill
- Cool down and stretch
Except for a week off at the beginning of Serbia’s March lockdown, and another week off upon returning to the UK in early June, I haven’t missed a single session all year. Those rest weeks were probably helpful too, as both times when my body realised I was taking a break it immediately shut down and went into recovery mode.
So, do I have any miscellaneous thoughts from what I’ve learned this past year? Of course. But first, a comedy fat bastard picture.
At my worst, 86kg in January 2017
A. Personal Trainers Are Indispensable
I’ve now spent a full year with my coach and don’t regret a moment of it. It’s astonishing to me now to think I went my first year of training relying on the internet and a friend’s advice. That worked out okay, but the past year has been a quantum leap in taking my training towards optimal levels. I learned how to do each exercise properly, how to do the correct rep ranges and loading, how to sync it with diet, and then the additional fact that my coach pushes me harder than I can push myself. It’s been a revelation and I recommend everyone who can afford it to hire a coach.
It’s not unlike daygame in that respect. Loads of cheapskates figuring they can do it solo and then wondering why they have shitty technique. It’s the Dunning-Kruger effect in motion. They don’t know what they don’t know, just like I didn’t when I started lifting.
My advice on choosing a coach is the same as it is for choosing a mentor in any other area: find a guy who already has what you want, then ask him how he got it.
B. Testosterone is (mostly) a mug’s game
Synthetic testosterone is available over-the-counter in pharmacies in Serbia, and costs about £2 for a week’s supply. Yet I’ve never taken any despite training here for a year. Why? Well, I was very tempted in the beginning when I didn’t yet know what was possible naturally, and I was impatient as all hell. I’m very glad I chose against it.
Drug abuse is rampant in gyms and often the juiced guys don’t even look very good, so you have to learn to spot the androgen tells before you realise who is on it. I’ve noticed that very few of the juiced guys look good, for the following reasons:
- Most are idiots who use it as a short-cut and never bother learning how to train properly, or discipline their diets. So, they have over-developed arms and shoulders, fat guts, weak legs, and poor posture.
- Those who do train smart look great for a while but then….. keep going. They get way too big and push well past the aesthetic optimum. Presumably they are so thrilled with getting bigger and stronger that they just fall in love with “more” and keep pushing.
- You can’t stay on it. At some point all the toxins accumulate and you have to come off-cycle, at which point you rapidly lose over half of your gains. Your hormones plummet, your mood plummets, and your body visibly melts. To do a proper PCT to return to healthy levels, you need to be off-cycle for as long as you were on. By then, you look as if you’d never even taken testosterone. It was all a gigantic waste of time.
I can think of a narrow range of situations where injecting testosterone is a good decision. First, if you have abnormally-low levels naturally which is messing up your moods and prevents natty training from adding muscle. Second, if you’re suffering reduced levels through ageing (i.e. you’re mid-40s onward) and don’t mind staying on it for- quite literally- the rest of your life. That makes you awfully vulnerable, but I can see the rationale.
What isn’t smart is doing it for the reason nearly everyone actually does it: as a short-cut to looking superhuman for a few years, before the consequences catch up with you and you look shit for the rest of your life.
C. Most people don’t train hard
I’ve spent enough time in gyms now to spot who comes in to talk, and who comes in to train. If you’re running your mouth  or taking phone calls, or texting between sets, then you really aren’t trying. Proper training requires focus, and that means no distractions. I’m even suspicious of people who listen to music on the treadmill now.
If you’re training hard, you should really feel it. You should sound like a women’s tennis match on half of the machines, and should frequently stumble away at the end of your set with a lost look on your face. You should be red faced, huffing and puffing, and dripping with sweat. Otherwise, you’re half-assing it.
Don’t feel bad. Nearly everyone else is half-assing it. Including more than half the lads on steroids. I’ve watched the juiced guys carefully and it’s amazing how many do their entire routines while keeping up conversations, and never sweating. Ridiculous. If you are going to hurt your health with androgens, you might as well train 100% so you get the maximum gains on the minimum dosages.
D. Smart training is incredibly beneficial
My coach tells me what to lift, and I lift it. That’s the limit of my thinking in the gym. Every other atom of brain power is channeled into focus and willpower. It is commonly said that intensity plus consistency equals results. I agree. Don’t fall off the diet wagon, don’t skip gym sessions, and always give your all. If you do that, you can make massive progress.
I’ve really felt the loss from my lockdown-induced setbacks. It takes time to get back up to pre-lockdown strength and conditioning levels. If you’re half-assing it with inconsistent discipline, you are like that all year. No wonder most people make no progress.
Those are some of my thoughts. I don’t pretend to know everything, but I certainly know way more than I did two years ago and my own transformation is good enough to prove I’m doing it at least mostly correctly. It’s been absolutely worth it.
Girls say “nothing tastes as good as slim feels”. There’s the male equivalent. I only spend 2-2.5 hours in the gym, 4 times a week. That’s really not a big time investment. And yet the benefit is that I feel great 24/7 for 365 days a year . The years have dropped off me. I go through each and every day with vim and vigour.
What, you want another comedy fat bastard picture?
If you’d rather learn how to daygame, pick up Daygame Overkill here.
 Except, presumably, for the obvious
 To do otherwise would be to invite suspicions of homosexuality
 I call this my Special Situations Six Pack, visible only in the locker room mirror at my gym, and only then when I’m pulling up my trousers and thus optimally flexing all my abs. My SSSP hasn’t been documented outside of this very contrived situation but I’m hopeful of the future.
 Except on arms day, which doesn’t take much out of you aside the arm muscles themselves
 Except that time I had a can of spoiled tuna and shat myself