Debunking Myths: A Few Things You Need To Know About Dramatic Body Recomposition

How many people have a personal trainer? Without a shadow of a doubt the uptake of 1-2-1 training has dramatically increased over the past decade. This could be attributed to the development of the industry or the fact that it is now seen as more common place. Fact of the matter is, more people are investing in training and nutritional coaching services.

With this being considered let me ask another question; how many of these people are getting results? Now it could be argued that general improvements in health and well being are the most important by-products of training. Improving a client’s self-esteem and confidence is extremely rewarding as a trainer. However, casting this briefly to one side, how often do you see someone who dramatically changes their body fat levels, muscular appearance and gets stronger simultaneously? It’s actually quite rare, and here’s why.

Now firstly, let me explain what this article won’t be. This categorically will not be a glorified brag about how I have developed a system that will get everyone and anyone lean, quite the opposite really. Making this assumption as a trainer can be extremely limiting to your business model. What this will actually be is an account of where I’ve faulted in the past and how making these mistakes have enabled me to improve my services and results.

1. You have nothing without baseline variables

I very much doubt you’d be very good at darts if you were to play in the dark. You might hit the bullseye, but you also might make a nice dent in the wall. The chances of both are high. Without knowing what someones baseline calorific intake is, you’ve robbed yourself of an extremely valuable tool for getting a client lean.

Why is this?

Well how do you know what to do? Trainers like to through around buzz words to impress/confuse their clients; adrenal fatigue, metabolic damage, hormonal disruption are a few phrases that spring to mind. These could all come in to play, but regardless of what someone is suffering from, it’s likely you will need to manipulate their energy consumption in order to see some sort of positive change.

If a client is chronically under eating and not recovering well, then by tracking their calories you can tell them to eat more. It’s that simple. From experience, I can tell you this; people who say they eat a lot never eat as much as they say they do and people who say they don’t eat that much always eat way more than they think they do.

Consistently tracking calories is just like turning the light switch on when playing darts. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll hit the bullseye, but it’ll give you a much better chance.

2. Carbs DO NOT make you fat

Now this statement could take me in to writing an entire article…or even book, but I’m going to keep this one brief. Our relationship with carbohydrates and Insulin does play a huge part in how we look, feel and perform. Carbs do play a massive role in body composition, but so do fats and protein.

I look for in the trenches correlations. I do like research and scientific studies, but if I see something regularly enough in practise then I am happy to make the assumption that there is at least some sort of link between actions and results.

Without going too in depth, I would agree that the over consumption of carbs DOES lead to increased fat storage around the midriff area. However, this is when someone is in a calorific surplus either through the over consumption of calories or the under expenditure of energy. Again it all refers back to the management of a baseline energy intake.

One thing I can tell you is that carbs are muscle sparing. They make us anabolic and aid recovery. This is fairly straight forward science. Removing them completely from someones diet is robbing them of a commodity that will enable them to look and feel stronger. The real key is smart manipulation, timing and sources.

3. Frequency is essential

What’s the one thing that’s lacking in the majority of commercial gym’s PT business models? Frequency. Members are persuaded to buy a block of 10 sessions, do one session per week and maybe do some cardio or abs on their own whilst the kids are playing tennis. Now anyone who knows me knows I very rarely speak in absolutes; but this system doesn’t work. I know this because I’ve done it before.

Say two people enquire for personal training. One comes to see me but can only do one session per week. The other goes to a newly qualified personal trainer with limited knowledge and experience, however, due to whatever reason, they can train five times per week.

I would put good money on the person training more frequently getting much better results than the one with me.

Regardless of the intelligence of the programme, exposure to intensity is what works. It’s why Crossfit gets people shredded and “lifting heavy” seldom works effectively for fat loss with the general population. We need to work hard!

If someone wants radical changes in body composition I would now expect to see them four times per week to achieve this goal. That may seem like a lot but it actually makes a lot of sense. This type of frequency means you can address imbalances, work on conditioning, strength, hypertrophy and so on. You have more time to do more. Of course it means a greater investment for the client but the more they pay, the more they pay attention (Poliquin quote).

I’ve learnt if you are going to do something, do it properly. If you want to gain muscle then you need to be training at least 3-4 times a week.

Now this could be a deterrent for anyone who’s schedule does not accommodate for this; working mums, busy executives, shift workers etc. Remember what I said about frequency, if you can’t get to the gym at least do some form of activity. Do body weight exercises, yoga, pilates or walk. Get moving and do it frequently.

4. Do not exhaust all your options at once

One of the things I want to hear from a client during the beginning phases of a body composition programme is “Am I doing enough?”

I want them to be inquisitive about cardio, supplements and extra sessions as these are the things that they shouldn’t be doing…initially.

The way I see it, why do something if you don’t need to do it. It’s a waste of time and possibly money. If someone is in a slight deficit and they are nicely losing 1-2lbs a week, then why get them doing cardio or taking additional supplements. They don’t need to. Doing the basics first isn’t advisory, it’s a necessity. Just getting someone eating consistently and competently executing movements that are applicable to them should always be your first port of call.

Having this approach has many beneficiaries. Firstly, it means the client’s schedule and existing regime isn’t dramatically effected. I would say there is a trend between lack of consistent compliancy and the more you initially change. So for example, if someone doesn’t train at all and eats cereal for breakfast, getting them to weight train four times a week, do fasted cardio twice per week and eat steak and nuts for breakfast may have a limited life expectancy. Doing that stuff 100% works, but you’re better off applying one feature at a time, not all at once.

Advanced nutritional and training strategies should be saved for the end of a programme, if utilised at all. If a trainer gets you doing drop sets and taking fat burners in week 1 of a programme then please get them to comprehensively explain why.

5. You can’t have the same approach for everyone

Something I’m very passionate about is individualisation. We are known as personal trainers for a reason. I find it quite annoying when people assume a copy and paste job works for everyone who walks through the door. Not everyone should go low carb or squat or take supplements. Trainer’s should by all means have a set methodology and beliefs, this is what makes them unique. However in my opinion it should never be a case of using extreme protocols and seeing who “survives the system” through volume of numbers. A method may work very effectively for one person but the exact same model could prove detrimental to another.

This is why I’m such a big fan of Christian Thibaudeau’s recent work on neurological profiling (to see article click the link here). It makes sense as to why some people can survive on chicken and broccoli for 12 weeks whilst others fall in to a self destructive binge adhering to the same principles after just one week.

I used to set out with pre-planned objectives when I got a new client. I’d want them to count calories, meal prep, keep a food diary and report back to me as much as possible. Training wise I’d want them to squat, deadlift and overhead press. These are all effective tools to use, however the reality is that some people won’t be able to do these things straight away. It’s not your fault and it’s not their’s. It will just require an appropriate strategy to get them to where they need to be.

An initial screening with a 1-2-1 client in my opinion should include an assessment of:

  • Gut health
  • Muscle length tensions
  • Injury, diet & training history
  • Personality profiling
  • Body fat

If by chance the analysis of all these factors indicate the person will benefit from zero carbs and high intensity fat loss circuits for 12 weeks solid then great, but this isn’t always the case. You have to have set principles, but you need to know how to adapt them for each individual case. 

6. Time frames will NOT be the same for everyone

The fitness industry without doubt has a fixation on 12 week transformations. It seems like an arbitrary period of time that has become unanimously associated with changing your body. In retrospect, it is extremely difficult to accurately pin point the duration it will take to see a noticeable change. By doing so, you are not accounting for potential obstacles such as muscle imbalances, gut health issues or lifestyle factors that may effect nutritional choices. It could take 12 weeks to address any one of these hurdles.

If someone achieves sensational results in 12 weeks then fantastic. The amount of time is probably just sufficient enough to make a substantial difference, but also not too daunting that it becomes difficult to adhere to. A problem with assigning a specific time frame is that health may be compromised for appearance in the weeks up to the final weigh in. As long as this isn’t the case, then it’d always be advisable to work towards a goal, however speed of progression will always be person specific.

Conclusion

I’m by no means a body composition expert, but with each set of results I get I can say I am gaining more experience in replicating results with a wider assortment of clientele. If there’s one thing I can vouch for though, it’s that there is nothing more useful than being able to effectively execute the basics and keep things as simple as possible.

“The secret is there is no secret” – Jay Magee