before and after photos (+weight)
My year-long challenge ended up forming four distinctive chapters. The chapters were as follows: 1) a 3-month long self-guided program, 2) a 4-month (16-week) re-composition program with PHX Fitness learning food, nutrition, mindset, etcetera, 3) self-guided 2-month mass build, and 4) 3-month (90-day) lean-out and shred with PHX Fitness. The following bullets summarize my progress and include some photos and body weight information at key points throughout the year:
- December 14, 2021 (39th birthday): 203.0 lb, I started a self-guided exercise program and cut out most junk food
————-No Photos ———–
- March 7, 2022: 198.0 lb (-5 lb), hired my trainer and got serious with my food and exercise program (16-weeks)
- July 4, 2022: 187.1 lb (-10.9 lb +muscle), finished my 16-week program and started a self-guided build
- September 5, 2022: 202.0 lb (+14.9 lb increase of muscle and fat), end of my self-guided build, and beginning of my 3-month shred
- December 14, 2022: 185.6 lb (-16.4 lb drop of mainly fat), end of my shred
(Questions were asked by my trainers at the end of my 3-month shred)
Why did you start?
In the latter half of my 30s, my health significantly deteriorated due to long hours of sitting, lack of exercise, and poor diet. Back when I was just 12 years of age, I learned that I have a hereditary degenerative joint in my lower back (L2 to L3 spondylolisthesis). By my 30th birthday, this joint had deteriorated to the point where surgery was recommended by doctors. I always believed that healthy habits and possibly using a passive back brace (which I am still designing) could avoid invasive and debilitating fusion surgery. Since that time, my L2 to L3 have been perpetually ½ to ⅜” out of alignment (which is borderline dislocated, see photos below). This misalignment coupled with a sedentary lifestyle (working long hours on a computer) has caused many issues. Prior to taking control of my health, most days were a struggle and it was hard to get out of bed. At least once per month I injured myself and could not do normal things like go for a hike or do yard work when in pain. Despite being somewhat active (maybe gym 1-2 times per week and some outdoor weekend hikes), I could not do weighted squats nor did I do any leg exercises. My eating habits were poor and I was a workaholic.
In the last year or so I recognized that working too much is not the best way to love my wife and my kids or be a good steward of my health. I recognized that being around more – and hopefully being healthier later in life – was important. I believed that an intentional time investment into my health would be a productive way to be a better husband, a better father, … and what I’m still learning… a person I can be proud of who prioritizes themselves and their own health.
On December 14, 2021 (my 39th birthday), I knew it was time to make a change and intentionally invest in my health. I committed to a 1-year self-guided challenge to get fit by my 40th birthday (this Dec 14). I started with repeated failures… and I put in LOTS of work. After about 3 months, I recognized I could not meet my goals in the next 9 months without help. With the gracious support and dedication of my wife, Christy helped me do some research to find some solid fitness trainers and then found Brett and Amy of PHX Fitness. After reaching out and hearing testimonials, I immediately knew they were different. No BS… and they were not interested in taking me on as a client unless I was committed. It was quickly clear to me that Brett and Amy were not just in it for the money, but genuinely are only interested in helping unless the client is committed to seeing through their goals and following instructions. With some knowledge of what I was getting into (kinda.. LOL), I committed to a 16-week program with them in March. To say the least, it was a challenge.
Why did you keep going?
My first 16 weeks with trainers were really hard.
The hardest part of the 16-week program was making sacrifices at work to make the time commitment to do what was outlined in my program. I own three businesses, an engineering firm, an automotive manufacturing business, and a property and accommodations company… as a dedicated husband and father to two girls (10 and 13), time management was the biggest challenge.
At the same time I was struggling with time management, my old way of thinking was that lost office time meant “$$$ lost daily”. I also have a hard time being told what to do. I’ve been an entrepreneur since the age of 18 for a reason… I’m stubborn as a mule. I rarely give others the authority to direct my life and choices. So giving Brett and Amy of PHX Fitness a license to tell me what to do was nearly impossible for me… but I knew that they knew better. I knew I needed them to meet my goal (I had many mental battles with myself about this). So my stubbornness to not accept failure is what kept me going at first. I admit, sticking it through at that point in time was the lesser of two evils for me. This is also why I made a social media post proclaiming my #Fitfor40 challenge… cause I knew this would help me see it through to the end… I’m too stubborn to fail.
I committed to trusting Brett and Amy them and their process, this is why I hired them! I love my scotch and beer, and I cut that right out – cold turkey. I committed 100% and went through the refining fire. One step in front of the other, I started to get accustomed to new food habits. All the while, I did my very best to not look at the financials in my companies… and just trust that it will work itself out. In the meantime, I got much better at delegating things I should have delegated years ago… I had no other choice.
I wanted to quit… but to be honest, I did it for my wife, and also my kids (at first). I didn’t want to let them down… I envisioned myself not being able to go skiing or hiking with my kids in my 40s. I didn’t want to be like that. (emotional as I write this)
I had two small back injuries in the process and had to pivot as required. My core continued to strengthen and it got easier every day. I finished my 16-week program and was already in the best shape of my life.
After my 16-week program, I was on my own again. I did my best to “reverse out” of the diet, and immediately go on a build. I applied my newly learned skills and habits (and some tips from Brett and Amy on how to go on a build) and kept to the plan with some healthy cheats here and there. I gained significant muscle (several lbs over the entire year is a lot) and did it all naturally through hard work and dedication (I’ve been asked in the gym what I’m on cause they see my gains). That’s right, no drugs, no shortcuts… hard work, and dedication. I realized I CAN do this on my own… and I can do it really well 🙂.
I gained almost 15 lbs of muscle and fat from July 1 to Sept 1 (the ~plan). Despite my success, I was starting to burn out and I needed some motivation and comradery to keep going. Work stress was increasing and I knew it was time to start a 12-14 week lean out before my end goal (which is the hardest part of my whole year plan). This is when I heard about PHX Fitness holding a 12-WEEK SHRED challenge. It was meant to be. I knew it was what would help propel me to the end. I immediately signed up. Despite being a bit tight on cash at the time, I knew the outcome would be worth so much more than the investment. My wife immediately supported me in the decision and I signed up.
The shred has been the hardest part of the whole process… but a large part of what kept me going was the helpful support of all the other people who signed up and were doing it with me “shoulder to shoulder”. Perfect strangers… now good friends. People from all walks of life between the ages of 20 to late-60s… and mostly women! It was an amazing experience. I found the shred group somehow normalized the suffering and provided me with much clearer direction.
I’ve always believed that you can’t appreciate the sweet without the bitter. I also believe that we are all meant to suffer… all things good in life are born out of suffering. We should not run from uncomfortable or hard situations… rather, we should embrace them. This challenge was the same, and it helped me push even harder into the uncomfortable areas.
What were some of your breakthrough moments?
This summer while near the end of my 16-week program, I was camping on the Oregon coast with my family. I had no cardio equipment and decided to run (I hate running). While running along a beautiful endless beach, I was listening to “Bad liar – Imagine Dragons” and was reflecting on my existence here on earth. I started thinking about all the sh*t I tell myself and how I lie to myself. I was thinking about how I keep telling myself “I can’t” or “It’s too hard” … or “what will people think”. (more context below)
SOMETHING TWEAKED in my head… in that moment, I decided to STOP listening to those lies. I blocked it out. I ignored the pain. I refused to stop… I f*%#ing ran.
(writing this I’m emotional again)
The tears started to fall. My heart was pounding. I knew there was more in the tank, despite already being WAY past my normal point of tapping out. I pushed myself harder. The heart rate kept climbing. I checked my Garmin and saw I was at 180 beats… rather than listening to the voice that usually says “that’s high, you can back off now”, I ran flat-out. My heart topped out at 198 beats… I knew I had more. I wanted to see what I had in the tank. I pushed it for almost 15 more minutes before I had to stop.
I found myself several kilometers away from any visible remnants of other human beings. I was spent. Nothing but sand, dunes, and ocean in all directions. The sky was so blue, not a cloud in it. I turned off my music and all I could hear was my just body sucking back air, my heart pounding, and I was drenched with sweat. As my body slowly came back down… my senses could only hear the sound of the ocean and the reeds on the dunes swaying in the wind. It was a spiritual moment… I found my centre. I felt like I was in the centre of it all… right where I was meant to be. I rose my hands to God and said in my heart… “here I am”… “no more lying”. It was a big moment in my life… so I took a short video of myself so I could watch it back years later in case I ever needed to revive the memory. That moment was when I really found my center. I took the shot… and saluted my future self.
(Oregon State, Fort Steven’s State Park, close to the end of my first 16-week program) – Open in Youtube for full-screen on mobile.
Further context to what I was relecting on while running:
While I was running, I was reflecting on my existence here on earth. All the while, I was pushing through an extremely difficult physical experience… one that had already lasted almost 8 months which put mental, physical, and other demands on me that have FAR exceeded what I have ever self-inflicted in my 40 years here on this earth. While I reflected on the struggle, I wondered about what other “struggles” are self-inflicted. I considered all the questions I ponder on a regular basis… “who am I supposed to be?”, “am I good enough?”, … “am I forgiven?”. In that moment, I was also struggling with the physicality of the run… my own voice saying “stop”, “you’re tired”, “give up”… on and on. While I was running, I knew that a big moment was brewing. No one was watching. It was just me and my Maker. It was as if it was just me in the centre of it all and I had a choice to make – “Will I keep listening to all these lies?”. I knew at that moment that what I did next would be an expression of my answer. It was more than just a physical fitness challenge… it was a commitment to be better and trust in God. It was a commitment to accept suffering and accept forgiveness. It was an opportunity to be laid bare. In that moment I was honest with myself again…
At the age of 19 was the first time I was honest with God and it was the first time I truly prayed and allowed the precepts of God to direct my life and choices. Despite this, I allow culture, common beliefs, and other “norms” to dictate who I should be, how to act, what to say… on and on. This moment reminded me again of who I am meant to be. It reminded me that I am accepted for who I am despite what I do… and my life should be an expression of the grace I have so freely been given.
At the end of the run (the moment I took that video), I knew there was no turning back again. This IS my life. It wasn’t just about the new healthy habits… but all the lessons I’ve learned (and the lessons I’ve been reminded of). I CAN be a better person. I knew I was free of all that sh*t I told myself… in a funny way… all aspects of my life have been easier since that moment. I CAN give in to suffering. It IS NOT that bad. There IS more in the tank. And now at the age of 40, I truly believe the best half of my life is yet to come. And if it is cut short, I am grateful for the life I’ve lived. No regrets.
What did you learn about yourself?
I learned that I can do anything I put my mind to (provided I make the appropriate plan and dedicate myself to it). I also realized that my “tank” is much deeper than I ever imagined. It was not until the 10th month of my year-long challenge that my body could no longer keep going at the pace I demanded of it. When I reflect on that, I have a new appreciation for the body I live in. My body has stepped up for me this entire year up to this point… despite the abuse I have dealt it for almost 4 decades. Despite its shortcomings and my back condition, I am so thankful for it. I’ve learned how to listen to it and be in balance with it. I now know how to fuel it and take care of it. I am so thankful for this experience (emotional as I write this).
UPDATE for my back (lesson learned):
As a follow-up to my back issues… until this point in time, I only had two mild back injuries in month 4 and 8, and a bout of back soreness 6 weeks before I finished. At these three points in my training schedule, I really needed to pivot, change it up and skip certain workouts. Compared to before I started, I could not even do weighted squats. As a comparison, this week (in one “leg day” workout) I crushed 75 reps of 180lbs on the smith (squats), followed by 68 reps of 568lbs on the hack squat machine, then 650 kcal on the stair climber, followed up with front squats (135lb @ 60 reps), quad machine (175 lbs @ 65 reps), and hams on the laydown (130 lbs @ 60 reps), LOL. Crazy… I would not have believed it 12 months ago. My strengthened core has made such a huge difference. The strain and pain on my degenerative joint have been almost entirely mitigated. It will still be a challenge for me in time, but I have already achieved a 90% improvement in the issues I was having and significantly improved my quality of life.
UPDATE for my work (lesson learned):
Being forced to delegate has actually improved my businesses and increased sales and the volume of services rendered. Almost across the board, we have had ~25% increase in business revenue and profitability. More time spent working does not equate to more money… just less time for life. “Work is meant to serve life… not life to serve work”.
How did you surprise yourself?
I never thought I could bench 300 lbs, so that was cool. LOL. But seriously, I would say it goes much deeper… I remembered how important it is to “get low” and be humbled. Submit to the struggle. Dive into the “dirty areas”. I am so much tougher than I thought I could be. I don’t have to be grumpy when suffering. I have WAY more patience and self-control.
What were some of your struggles and how did you overcome them?
So many. Most struggles I encountered were struggles I’ve avoided all my life. This year-long challenge left no room for accommodating or avoiding unresolved issues… I had to meet those issues head-on. So in short, I had to get vulnerable and allow myself to recognize my shortcomings and pivot. The pivots were hard at first… but over time, they came easier and easier.
What information would you pass along to others wanting to do a similar fitness challenge?
I kept a journal the whole way through. Here are a few of the lessons I noted along the way to pass on to others that want to take on a year-long fitness challenge to get shredded:
- You need to diligently choose who and what to listen to. Do an honest and whole-hearted search for the help you need. Don’t just adopt some online information out-of-context and apply your whole life’s health/diet plan. This will take LOTS of time, but hiring an experienced expert is WELL worth the investment. It takes many years of trial and error and often post-secondary education to get the information you need so it’s worth paying for (I would hire PHX Fitness, and I will hire them again).
- You ain’t gonna make muscle gain without:
- Eating the proper foods and the right amount. And when I say proper foods, I mean CARBS TOO! Carbs are not bad. If you don’t fuel with sufficient fast-digesting fuels (carbs), your body will not have the fuel it needs when demanded. A lack of carbs will limit muscle repair and energy in your workouts. You also need sufficient protein. Without this, your body will not have the necessary ingredients to support muscle growth and maintenance, especially when you are in a deficit. Fats are delicious and give excellent long-lasting steady energy… but these are good only in moderation. Learn your macros. And for those who are considering the keto diet… it works but it comes with its own challenges. In general, it is unsustainable for most long term to cut out carbs (which you need to do to stay in ketosis… a state in which your body fuels off fat). Fat burning gives you long-sustained energy (keeps you feeling satiated even when in a calorific deficit). Problem with this is that your energy output is slow and limited… no explosive energy. The paleo diet is similar.
- Putting in the work. Whether you are doing high reps or heavy weight, just moving it around in the gym to look good is not going to make gains. You need to push to failure EVERY SET! Keep reps slow and controlled with good form. Don’t worry about how you look. Focus on the muscle and work it to failure. Trust me, it will look better in time. Much better.
- If you’re trying to lose weight, LIMIT high-intensity cardio (130-140 beats or so max). As I understand it, the body can effectively fuel activity on mostly fat if the intensity is low, but if you demand too much fuel too quickly, the body will draw energy from other areas which can limit muscle gain (also why eating carbs is important, so you can fuel high-intensity output). Note: high-intensity cardio is great for other benefits… not fat burn.
- Don’t let peer pressure affect you.
- People will notice, and everyone will respond differently and will have things to say, take it all with a grain of salt…
- Don’t feel bad about turning down food, drinks, etc. Don’t apologize. Stay the course!
- This ain’t easy, surprisingly the social aspects are the hardest. No, I’m not doing steroids. No, my trainer doesn’t do the work. Yes, I need to make an insane sacrifice… I’m human just like you. I have a job, a family, and tonnes of s#@t to do. I can go on and on.
- Get a support network and some accountability
- I don’t suggest friends… friends are good for many things, but you will want someone at arm’s reach where the relationship is focussed on fitness goals. I suggest a trainer, gym comrade, or someone else going through the same thing.
- You will be stretched, challenged, and will need someone to share successes and failures. Most people (I mean almost everyone) will not be helpful here. You will want to share with others, but I warn you, most discussions with others will not be constructive (surprisingly). C’est la vie. I am privileged for my wife, she was my main support and I could share my struggles and wins with her daily.
- Celebrate and mark your victories. Anyone can do it, it just ain’t easy. So if you do it… you are one committed SOB. So you’d better celebrate it. You only live once, and this isn’t about making other people comfortable. Mark your wins and celebrate them. You should also record them so your future self will be reminded about all the lessons you learned. We are forgetful creatures.
In short, if you have managed to read this far, I would like to thank you for allowing me to share my journey with you. I sincerely hope it inspires you, whether it is with your health or in other areas of your life.