Six months ago I slapped 1.5 million won cash on a table and shoot hands with my new personal trainer. I figured should self-discipline ever wain, that substantial investment would guilt me out of bed at 5:30am three times a week.
Today I’m stronger and healthier at 37 than I’ve ever been in my life. Diet and fitness have become something of an obsession. This is evidenced by my my youtube, facebook and instagram having shifted from photography focused adverts to bombarding me with diet and muscle building programs selling for $9 versus $900, but only if you sign up in the next six hours.
The more I learn about weightlifting and nutrition the more questions I have. It’s information overload out there and there still is very little consensus. My first personal trainer, the owner of the gym under our apartment complex, got me started. I always claimed to “hate the gym”, that I would “rather move a pile of bricks than go lift a dumbbell 20 times”. I realize now it was a lack of confidence and rightfully so because I had no HOW to work out. I invested heavily in my first trainer, three times a week for a total of 40 sessions. This allowed me to learn proper weight training form and methodology through sheer repetition. Rather than fumble through my iPhone to figure out the next exercise and spend three minutes watching the tutorial on how to do it properly my coach would load the bar to the appropriate weight, demonstrate, pass it to me, tell me when to go and when to stop.
After the 40th session I was on my own. I felt like a kid leaving home, a little scared and silmotainiously excited to leave home. I used the JEFIT app to program my training. I started watching AthleneX and other YouTubers. Every day I learned a little more. During a short visit to Canada in October I booked three personal training sessions with three different coaches to soak up as much information as I could about health and fitness. I even paid a nutritionist to customize some diet macros for me.
It wasn’t until December, about six months after I had started my fitness journey, that I started to feel I was no longer progressing. Was this the end of “NoobGainz”? Had I hit “the wall”? Every Friday I started voicing more and more frustration in my “Weekly Roundups” when I saw fat increasing, lean muscle decreasing and no difference in the mirror despite having pushed myself just as hard as always.
This lack of growth was disappointing and led me to invest even more time into researching weight training and nutrition in an attempt to figure out what I was doing wrong. I would post my questions and findings on instagram.
Enter coach Bishop. I met Bishop through a Seoul City Crew meetup. Once you meet Bishop you don’t forget him. Imagine meeting The Hulk, would you forget that? Bishop is neither green like the Hulk nor does he have the anger issues (although I can’t be certain because I haven’t pissed him off yet.) He’s just an all round kind, caring and intelligent person – with massive muscles. To me it doesn’t mater what credentials he holds, his body is a walking portfolio and now that I understand just how hard it is to achieve one tenth of that I would say he’s qulified enough to show me how to make some gains.
Bishop had been following my fitness journey via instagram for a few months and even chiming in to answer some of my questions so it felt like the next natural step to hire him on as my personal trainer.
I’ve now had four personal trainers and what struck me different about Bishop is how quickly he replied to my inquiries and the amount of time he put into giving me detailed answers. In some ways I must be both a dream and nightmare athlete to train. I’m highly motivated and disciplined but I track EVERYTHING and always want to know why, “why do you say I should have 2.6g of protein per kilo of body weight when the National Federation of Bodybuilding says 2.0g is more than enough?”. Bishop always gave me a detailed answer backed up with his knowledge on the topic.
I created a list in our Kakao Chat called “So Many Questions” and rather than be scarred off by this Bishop embraced them noting he preferred to answer them on his off hours so we could focus on training during our sessions. After that I knew I’d chosen the right coach. We still haven’t had our first session, that’s tomorrow. In the meantime I though I’d share all the questions I’ve asked and answers he’s given so far in the hopes it may help many of you with similar questions:
—- SO MANY QUESTIONS —-
1. I’ve read in a lot of places 2 g of protein per kilo of body weight is considered the highest amount of protein the body can utilize so I’m curious why I’m in the 2.7 g per kilo range. Is this because I need a calorie surplus and we don’t want all my extra calories coming from carbs and fat?
- There’s a lot of research that suggests that protein requirements are higher for leaner individuals than those who are not. What we are trying to do is create an anabolic environment that is conducive to muscle repair and muscle growth. Your protein requirements would be higher than even that of other athletes simply because your training modalities and goals differ. While fewer grams of protein would be sufficient for others, you’ll need far more if you wish to make the most of your efforts.
2. How do you suggest I get that much protein in a day?
- As mentioned before, my favorite sources of whole-food protein are chicken breast, lean and/or fatty fish, pork tenderloin, and eggs. Lean ground beef is also quite nice but can be difficult to find in Korea. Regarding supplements, I of course consume whey and casein protein.
3. I have a weakness for junk food. How detrimental is say once ice cream cone, a few squares of chocolate or a bag of chips to my training/growth if it’s not putting me over my calorie goals / outside of my macros?
- What we want to do is mitigate fat gain throughout your bulk. Sadly, junk foods will not help us in pursuit of this goal. If we practice nutrient timing, however, there are times at which junk food will be less detrimental than others and that will be immediately following or shortly after you workout. If you can not avoid highly processed foods, please make sure that the calories derived from these foods account for no more than 10-15% of your daily caloric intake and always try to consume them AFTER training.
4. On some lifts like the deadlift I find my grip gives out before my back muscles so I have to go with lighter weights for 20-30 reps. What should I do in this case?
- This is a common problem seeing that grip strength is a weak point for many who are just starting out. Immediate fixes will be the usage of equipment such as wrist straps. If you’d like to avoid equipment, try alternating grips (e.g. a mixed-grip vs. a pronated grip).
5. I really enjoy trail running, usually this is a 40 minute intense walk/jog up a mountain that gets my heart rate up to 180 (avg 140). Are these hikes burning my gains?
- If you could forward me a study that shows that cardio is catabolic, I’d be curious to read it. I’m not sure that it is a bad as gym-bros and even bodybuilders make it out to be. Cardio is going to burn carbs that you need for your bulk but it will also burn fat. However, I do notice that excess cardio DOES have a negative impact on my weight-training performance if it is not timed properly. This problem can easily be avoided with proper programming.
6. I’m a little OCD about data. I love tracking things but I’ve heard Athlene X make a point about “not counting” at the gym. I can see how seeing you got 10 reps at 60kg during the last session might mentally block you. What do you suggest?
- Jeff is someone I go to for information on a daily basis and I couldn’t agree with him more. When it comes to our strength movements (the first movement found on each tab in the PUSH/PULL/LEG training log I sent you) you SHOULD BE religious with regards to tracking data. However, once that movement is done and we move to hypertrophy work, what we want to do is aim for a particular sensation/fatigue that indicates that the muscle has been stimulated (and no, I don’t mean training to failure each and every time). What we want to aim for is proper stimulation with regards to hypertrophy work, not necessarily an increase in weight.
- I mean, there are various ways to practice progressive overload which don’t necessarily involve just throwing on more weight. These include changing the intensity, adding instability, or adding more reps at the same weight.
7. I always find doing lower weight with higher reps feels like a much more intense workout, I can be certain I pushed to failure and I feel the intense burn which I interpret to be a signal of progress. Just curious what your thoughts on this are. I guess in this case I’m training more for strength and insurance rather than bulk right? Maybe my nervous system still ain’t comfortable pushing to failure on heavy loads?
- We will use a combination of all of the above to be sure we are heading in the right direction. Heavy, compound movements at the 3-5 rep range to ensure you become stronger, moderate weight isolation movements at the 8-12 rep range to develop the aesthetic we are aiming for, and, relatively light, high volume movements for small muscle groups such as the muscles that comprise the deltoid to ensure that they are worked to their fullest extent.
8. I’ve read pushing to failure in the 8-12 rep range is best for bulking but I’ve also read it can be good not to push to failure every time, to “leave one or two reps in the tank” so now I’m conflicted!
- Is pushing to failure good? Yes and no. Sorry but there is no clear answer on this one. Training to failure can tax your nervous system and hamper long-term growth. However, it can also be positive seeing that it causes your body to recruit more muscle fibers or increase lactic acid production (the burn aka pump) – a predecessor to muscular growth. So, what can you do? I follow the advice that training to failure is only optimal on the last set of each exercise.
9. I’ve hear the importance of sleep mentioned a lot. I tend to average 6-7 hours. From your research and exp would you say hitting 8 hours is critical for growth?
- Absolutely. Multiple days of sleep deprivation is going to cause your testosterone levels to drop (by from what I’ve read) as much as 10%. So, unless your injecting artificial hormones into your body, I’d aim to at least get 8-10 hours of sleep every day if you wish to make the most of your efforts.