It can be easy to lose your motivation when you don’t see results from the hard work you feel you’ve put in. A six pack or smaller dress size can feel a long way off when you’re starting out, so how long will it really take you to see results?
We gave some Myprotein team members a challenge to meet their goals in just 12 weeks to see whether it really is that difficult to make a change. This time, we caught up with Neo to find out about his journey to becoming a buff bodybuilder.
Neo spends most of his day behind a desk, but this hasn’t stopped him from training in his spare time. Having been incredibly active in his university years and even doing some fitness modelling, it’s no wonder that Neo wanted to put in some work to get his lean body back.
He’s been training and bulking for the past couple of years, so this fitness journey was the perfect excuse to get trim and see real results from his hard work. Find out how he got on…
Why did you put yourself forward for the fitness challenge?
Many people often make the excuse that you can’t balance a fitness lifestyle and a full-time job. This was something I was adamant to disprove as I’ve personally done it throughout my life — I believe anyone can if they have a strong enough mind-set.
Before the start of my 12-week journey, I’d been training in the gym fairly consistently since April 2010, as well as playing university-level basketball throughout my masters & undergraduate degrees.
Alongside my sport, I placed 3rd in a fitness modelling competition in September 2015 where I managed my own diet regime during a 16-week bodybuilding prep. Since then, I’ve been bulking with the intention of cutting and getting shredded for natural bodybuilding competitions in mid-2019.
I wanted to do a 12-week fitness challenge because I’d really like to get back into fitness modelling & natural bodybuilding competitions. I also wanted to regain the athleticism I had playing basketball at university.
Tell us about your journey through the 12 weeks
At the beginning, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how changes in exercise tempo made exercises I was very familiar with extremely challenging. My first leg workout with this slow-tempo style for maximum hypertrophy was an eye-opening experience I won’t forget any time soon! My legs were sore for at least a week doing pretty much anything after that.
I followed the meal plan provided by the meal prep company we all signed up to. Unfortunately, it just didn’t really work for me in terms of my macros and knowing what was in each meal. I saw little change in my body composition in the first 4 weeks which was disappointing.
Another change I made was I incorporated the “Blood & Guts” training philosophy by 6-Time Mr Olympia, Dorian Yates. I would reduce set volume and do 2 working sets to muscle failure. I think this gave me the most mechanical stress on the muscle that would yield the greatest muscle adaptation.
I hoped that this would allow me to retain as much muscle as possible whilst in a calorie restricted state. This proved successful as I maintained almost all my strength on the key compound lifts. I also improved strength on exercises I was still relatively new to such as the military shoulder press.
Around the 5-week mark I decided to have full control of my nutrition programme. Due to the lifestyle I live, I switched to intermittent fasting for nutrition timing as it was easier for me to follow and not indulge on things I shouldn’t during my fasting window.
This also helped trick my body in thinking I wasn’t necessarily in a calorie restricted diet as I only had between a 4-6-hour window to consume all my calories. This meant my meals were large and similar to what I had been used to in the 3 years I was bulking after my last competition.
I started to see a decline in my upper-body strength in exercises such as barbell rows and bench presses — it was annoying, but expected as you continue to lean out.
Bodyweight exercises like pull-ups and dips became far easier, though. So, I decided to use additional weight through a dip belt in order to maintain the intensity of these exercises as I got progressively lighter due to fat loss. Bodyweight exercises became so easy that I even started adding muscle-ups to my routine for an added challenge.
At this point I knew exactly what was going in my body and was also fairly consistent with the meals I chose to have on a day to day basis. Due to the fact everything to do with nutrition was so regimented, I felt like a machine and could fully focus on optimising my training and getting the most out of each session.
When did you begin to see progress?
I saw progress from week 5 when I made the decision to stop relying on the meal prep company and manage my own diet by tracking macros. This allowed me to fit in more food that I enjoyed eating for a more sustainable diet I could really stick to.
I didn’t have much progress — if any at all — by week 4, which is why the pictures looking fairly identical in my opinion.
Was there anything you were surprised by?
I was shocked by how much food you can actually eat if you are more strategic and utilise “smart swaps” with your diet plan. For example, switching pasta for sweet potatoes or vegetables allowed me to squeeze in guilty pleasures like my “Naughty Bowl” which consists of oats, chocolate whey protein isolate, cashew butter, almond milk and frozen strawberries.
What was your hardest moment and your biggest temptation? How did you overcome them?
We took the Week 4 progress photos and I was nowhere near my former fitness modelling physique and my weight hadn’t significantly decreased to what I expected.
It was very depressing and left me full of regret. I thought to myself “why did you let yourself get so fat”. I had to remind myself that the body fat I had accumulated during the bulking phase was necessary for muscle gain and I would need to strip off the body fat to prove it. Once I accepted that, I put my head down and just worked towards that goal.
I was in the car with a work colleague and he gave me a pep talk. It was the motivation I needed to carry on to achieve my personal expectations of myself during my journey.
What kept you motivated?
Looking at previous photos of my fitness modelling competition really helped as it gave me a clear reminder of what my body was capable of looking like.
At this point, I realised I had done this before by myself, so I could definitely do it again as long as I kept a strong mind as well as focus on achieving my ideal physique.
Following like-minded individuals on social media who have achieved or going through similar journeys also really helped.
My biggest milestone was when I got to below 80kg and officially hit the 10kg weight loss target I set myself at the beginning of the 12 weeks.
What did you learn from your fitness journey?
I learnt about how my body responds to different styles of training in terms of rep tempo and rest intervals.
I also learnt the importance of making a fitness plan easy to stick to. In my opinion, that’s the key to implementing a true long-term lifestyle change.
It isn’t necessary to do “fish and a rice cake” or “chicken & rice” every day for every meal, like you read in a lot of bodybuilding articles. You can incorporate smart swaps that allow you to have a more manageable diet you enjoy.
What are the most notable changes you’ve experienced?
- I developed 6-pack abs, vascularity in my upper body and muscle separation in my legs.
- Can easily grab a 10ft basketball rim – slam dunking consistently will be the goal for 2019
- I was more confident in my appearance on a day to day basis
- Confident to wear more fitted clothing that compliments my new body shape more.
What one thing are you most proud of?
That I stuck to my guns and used my years of experience to manage to diet and training regime myself. This gives me confidence knowing that this is something I can easily do independently for the long term.
Will you build any of these changes into your lifestyle?
I will carry on tracking all my calories on a daily basis in order to ensure I carry on leaning out as my main goal is to win a Natural Bodybuilding or Men’s Physique competition before the end of 2019.
I will continue to include 40min cardio after my weight workouts as it ensures I stay in a net weekly calorie deficit. This makes it easier for me to continue getting leaner without having to overly restrict my calorie intake. This is something that becomes increasingly difficult as a diet progresses because of the need to hit minimum protein requirements for maximum muscle retention
Now, I won’t ever try diets that are restrictive to particular foods as this creates bad eating habits and a relationship with food that leaves people prone to binge-eating.
I strongly believe even “bad foods” are fine and important in a diet when consumed in moderation as they provide a source of mental relief at times during an exhausting fitness journey.
What one piece of advice would you give others starting out on this journey?
Educate yourself on the basics of diet, nutrition, and exercise in order to find the plan that best aligns with the goal you are trying to achieve with your given lifestyle. This allows you to have a tailored approach that is the easiest to follow for you. The best routine you could choose is the one that has the most consistency. Ultimately, the saying rings very true that “consistency the KEY to success”.