Running and strength training helped me get shredded in 5 months
William, a 31-year-old attorney from Los Angeles, shares with men’s health how he burned fat and built muscle by overhauling his lifestyle and committing to being consistent in his diet and training.
My job is incredibly stressful and lends itself to late nights, poor eating habits, and alcohol and substance abuse. Fortunately, I saw these risks in advance and tried to avoid them from the start. I started training on my own in February 2019, aiming to lose about 20 pounds and get a six-pack, through a combination of running and weightlifting with dumbbells. While I lost weight and gained definition, I didn’t see the type of results I really wanted. I did this for a while until mid 2020 and ran my first half marathon (virtually, due to Covid).
In October 2020 I had a medical condition and passed out in my apartment. I went to the ER and the doctors’ best explanation was probably stress and lack of sleep. After that, I was afraid to exercise. I was afraid that I would pass out again and be in a place where I would either be seriously injured or where no one could help me. I also gave myself a lot more leeway with my diet and turned to comfort foods like pizza a few times throughout the week. Over time, the weight I had lost slowly came back and I found myself back at square one. In May 2021, I weighed around 169 pounds with 27% body fat. I don’t remember being embarrassed by my appearance, but I wanted to change. I knew I had to get things back on track and change my lifestyle for good.
I started training at Ultimate Performance Los Angeles three times a week doing strength training: deadlifts, bench press, hack squat, pendulum, pull-ups, lateral pull-ups, and accessory work with machines and dumbbells. I also started running again and ran a few miles twice a week. And I made sure to take at least 10,000 steps a day every day. I also usually did a Peloton HIIT class once a week, as well as a 10-minute abs video on YouTube a few times a week.
I had worked out with dumbbells before, but no work out with dumbbells. Honestly, I was intimidated by barbell work and worried about looking like an idiot in the gym or worse hurting myself from poor form. Lateral pulldowns were really hard for me at first. I felt like there was a lot of work in my forearms and I got tired quite quickly. Kevin, my trainer, trained me to focus on feeling my shoulder blades lift and then focus on consciously pulling my shoulder blades down as I did the exercise. Thinking about this more during reps really changed the way I did the exercise and ensured that I was doing as much work as possible with my lats. I tried to focus on the growth the discomfort was going to give me when I was in the middle of a tough set.
I cut out processed foods and focused on eating whole foods with several servings of vegetables a day. I made sure to eat at least 165 grams of protein and tried to drink as close to a gallon of water a day as possible. For the first two weeks of the program, I was on an extremely low carb diet of about 50 grams a day for a kind of reset. During the following weeks of the program, I was more around 130 grams of carbohydrates per day. It’s so simple. But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.
A typical meal day for me during the transformation was an egg white and whole egg omelet with spinach and onions for breakfast. Lunch was usually boneless, skinless chicken thighs (which I prefer over chicken breasts, but had to account for the extra fat) with cauliflower rice, zucchini, broccoli, or peppers. Dinner was generally similar to lunch, with protein being either chicken, salmon, sea bass, or lean steak.
I also cut out the alcohol almost completely. I like to drink, but I don’t need it and I really didn’t want anything to slow my progress. I attended a bachelor party for one of my best friends in the middle of the makeover, but Kevin and I had planned for this and stuck to spirits rather than beer. As the transformation continued I would drink the occasional glass of wine or cocktail but by then I knew how to properly account for it and not let it spiral out of control where it would ruin my diet for the day, or how my body felt the next day. daytime.
Kevin really helped me be consistent and patient, and taught me not to overreact to weight fluctuations, but rather focus on trends over time. He also taught me a lot about good form and how to get the most out of every exercise we did. I no longer feel intimidated to walk into a gym and am much more comfortable with dumbbells than I was before I started working with Kevin.
I travel a lot with work and had a try in the middle of the transformation. Kevin worked with me to develop a program that I could use while I was away from the Ultimate Performance facility, but it was up to me to make sure I practiced. What I’ve realized is that even when we seem overwhelmed with work, there’s still time we can get on with the things that really matter to us. So I found a 24 hour gym and most of the time I woke up at 4am to make sure I got to the gym, worked out, then had enough long to get into the office to start working on things for the trial before court started that day.
In five months, I went from 169 pounds to 149 pounds, losing 30 pounds of fat and gaining 10 pounds of muscle. I also had a DEXA test which showed that I had reduced my body fat to 9.7%. I’ve never really struggled with self-esteem, but my body composition definitely makes me feel more confident about my physical attributes. The biggest thing I gained was increased confidence in my ability to achieve any goal I set for myself. I didn’t track health markers or do any blood tests, so I have no idea how those might have changed during the transformation. But in general, I feel healthier with my lifestyle now. I eat better, sleep better, work better. Exercising is a huge stress reliever for me. So even though work stress has increased in recent weeks, keeping my workout routine consistent has helped me adapt and cope with work in a much healthier way than in the past.
The next goal for me is to run the LA Marathon in March. I started training for this towards the end of my transformation and can’t wait to push my body in another way. I will say that I noticed that all the strength training I did had an incredibly positive impact on my running. I recover faster and don’t deal with as many lingering injuries/illnesses. Let’s hope this good fortune continues.
If you want to improve your own fitness but don’t know where to start, my advice would be to not be afraid to ask for help. Just try to educate yourself on what you need to do to achieve your goals. There are many fitness snake oil vendors, but you can find proper form videos or different exercises on YouTube for free. The most important thing is not to know where to start, but to start anyway. As has been said so many times, nothing changes if nothing changes.
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