A Deep Dive Interview With RNT Coach, Kunal Makwana

A Deep Dive Interview With RNT Coach, Kunal Makwana

I’ve always been a strong believer that as a trainer, you should practice what you preach.

Sure, we’re still human and we shouldn’t be expected to stay ‘shredded’ year-round. But for the most part, we should be in good shape and more importantly, we should be able to show that we’ve been in incredible shape at least once.

If you want to be able to push your clients to the extreme, you have to have gone to the extreme yourself. Or you hold no real form of empathy, or basic credibility. Which is why I encourage all coaches to regularly diet hard and see how far they can take it. It not only improves you as a coach, but also inspires your clients to work harder.

I’ve dieted hard multiple times, and even took it to stage condition twice in 2014 and 2017, so I’m well aware of the benefits that a trainer can gain from the processes.

Recently, one our coaches, Kunal ‘KMAK’ Makwana, put himself through another diet after a lengthy muscle building phase.

Kunal’s one of our top coaches, and I’m always impressed at his relentless pursuit of becoming the best trainer possible. To highlight this, Kunal was actually one of my clients last year. He invested in himself to learn new tricks and methodologies well before working for us, and it’s this mindset that ultimately differentiates the trainers who go on to be merely good, or great.

In today’s interview with Kunal, I dive in deep to find out more about how he got into the industry, what drives him, and some of the lessons learned from his recent shoot.

AV: Tell us about the early days. Where did you grow up?

KM: I was born in Kenya and lived there for around 2 years. We then moved to Arusha in Tanzania, where I lived till the age of 8. This is when my dad lost his long battle with lung cancer, and as a family we decided to move to London.

Losing my dad at a young age has influenced me to make sure health is always one of my biggest priorities, and is, in hindsight, one of the reasons I pursued a career in fitness.

AV: Why did you first start training? 

KM: It’s pretty simple. I was chubby, overweight and had no confidence about the way I looked. I remember we did a body fat test at college, and I came in the top three highest in class. This knocked me hard, and made me feel incredibly self-conscious about myself.

What’s ironic is I was actually studying sport science at college at the time. I’d always loved sport as a kid, and I was playing cricket and football regularly for my local team. But I couldn’t resist mum’s cooking, and when out with friends, I never thought about what I ate. So despite being active, I was chubby.

And so I started training…

AV: I was similar in that I was always active as a kid, but you’d never know it. I wasn’t really the chubby kid. Instead, I was the skinny fat guy. So I weighed 58kg soaking wet at 5 foot 10 but still had a pot belly! When I first started training, it never occurred to me it’d be part of my career. It seemed you were different though given what happened to your dad; can you tell us more about how you got into the industry itself?

KM: I touched on it earlier, but I really was obsessed with sport in my teens. So I knew that I wanted to do something in sport, which is why I chose sport science as my BTEC for college. Early on in my course I was leaning towards the physio route, and being part of the staff on a sport’s team. I was even considering becoming a football coach, and completed by FA licensing.

But two things happened. Firstly, I started to learn more about the relationship between psychology and sport success. I saw high level athletes suffer with mental breakdown, so I wanted to know why and how it happened.

The second was a high school trip to the gym (before I’d started training yet). During the trip, we were introduced to some PTs who told us what they did, how they worked with people, and their goals. I thought this was cool. I never really thought about this trip until later, but it stuck in my mind.

Fast forward to the start of my second year of college. I’d been training for 6 months, and I was spending all my time reading about two topics: body composition and psychology.

So I chose to study sport psychology at university, and it’s during these years at university I discovered my passion for helping others achieve their body composition goals.

I started helping friends out, and they were getting great results. Everything I was learning I was applying to myself and my friends, and I was becoming obsessed with marrying the link between psychology and transformation success.

By my final year of university, I knew this was what I wanted to do.

AV: That’s awesome. I like how you never once even considered going down the traditional career path that’s often put in front of you. It seemed like from the start you knew where you wanted to be, and it was more a case of experimenting, learning, and dipping your toes into different sub sections to find the exact spot. Let’s talk more about your own initial struggles with your own physique goals.

KM: My initial struggles with my physique were similar to yours. It’s why I could relate to a lot of your work and chose to work with you prior to starting as a coach at RNT. It was that typical case of thinking I was doing everything right, but doing most of it wrong. That little bit of right is what allowed me to make the changes, and take advantage of the ‘newbie’ gains. But I could have done what I did in a much faster timeframe if I knew what I know now.

AV: Couldn’t we all! It’s crazy how much time we must have wasted in those early years. But, I’m now grateful for that discovery period, and attribute a lot of my client success to those mistakes I made with both myself, and those I was also helping for free when I was starting out.

KM: 100%. If I had to give three, it’d be: 1) jumping to a new program every couple of weeks, 2) thinking nutrition didn’t matter, and that I could out train a bad diet, 3) believing supplement scams.

AV: Those would be up there for me too, especially the last one. Like you, I also part timed in a supplement shop when I was younger, and it’s crazy to think how many people came in for the magic pill.

KM: Ah, it was unbelievable. Every day without fail, I’d have at least one person coming in asking for a ‘fat blocker’ or a fat burner, or a pill to help lose weight. Of course, what they really needed was education. So I’d try my best, but it was a hard sell when you know they came in with the sole objective of coming back with a pill.

AV:I know that too well. It’s why we place such a strong focus on education at RNT. Let’s skip forward a little and talk about the photoshoot you just completed. How did it come about?

KM: Because of you!

AV: Ha, I know. But for everyone else…

KM: I’d been working with you as part of my long term gaining phase, and the ultimate goal was always to lean down and see what was underneath. Once I started working for RNT in a coach capacity, we discussed it being the best time to do it. I remember you sending me an email saying ‘ready to get peeled?’

I was ready! I wanted to show my clients that I can walk the path with them, and I wanted to inspire them that they could also achieve a physical and mental change. I’d pushed the gaining phase hard, and it was getting to the point the body fat was escalating a little too high. So it was the perfect time.

AV: What was different this time?

KM: The accountability. I was accountable to you as my coach, to the other coaches in the team, to my clients, and I booked in two photoshoots. So there was no room to fail. It was all eyes on me.

It was also the pressure of taking it to a level I’d never achieved before. I’d been lean before, but never in photoshoot condition. I’d never got my legs to separate, and this was a goal of mine too.

AV: Accountability is huge, and if you set it up like you did, the results are there for the taking. What else was key to your success?

KM: Routine. Building a routine that worked for me. I had to make sure I got all my training, cardio, meal prep and steps in, so I had to keep my schedule regimented.

It took me a while to build it, and find what was right. But once I did, I wrote it down in my diary and followed it daily. This made all the difference.

AV: I’m also a creature of habit and routine, and feel lost without it! What were some of the obstacles you faced during the process?

KM: Social occasions for sure. Like everyone else, I still had weddings, birthdays and other social events to attend to. For many things, I could navigate around it, or create the right buffer in the day to accommodate for it. But the hardest of all was my cousin’s wedding. It was about 6 weeks out from the shoot, and you know Indian weddings, I couldn’t really eat any of the food! Not only that, but it was out of town, and dragged on for 5 days! So I was surrounded by curries, cake and alcohol non-stop!

To be honest, the food there wasn’t the issue. It was the social pressure. It was everyone asking me ‘why aren’t you eating?’, and then attempting to force feed me sweets. I know a lot of my clients go through this, so I was almost glad it happened to me at this time.

To me though, it was a clear understanding of my why and how important this goal was for me that drove me through it. I prepped meals in advance, took shakes, and bought food in nearby supermarkets to get me through this bit. That isn’t always necessary, but when you’re only 6 weeks away, and you’ve got everyone watching you, you do what needs to be done!

AV: What’s amazing about that is I don’t think you even told me. You found a way, didn’t complain, and got it done. On a similar note, everyone has that day on a transformation where they’ll remember as being the hardest. What was yours?

KM: I can’t remember the exact day. But it was one of the hottest days of the year, and I was walking back home from the gym. Normally, it’s about 20-25 minutes. This particular day it took me over an hour. I was dragging my feet all the way home. But when I got home, I sat down and smiled.

In fact, I’d like to give a special shout out to my clients who inspired me through this, and all the tough periods of the #VaghelaGrind that came in the last few weeks. I know many of them were going through it at the same time, and they were one of my strongest ‘whys’ in this whole process.

AV: I had a few very similar days when I dieted in 2017. It’s those days that really push the needle forward though, so you’ve just got to embrace it. How did you find the photoshoot?

KM: Really fun! It was a whole new experience for me. I’ll definitely do it again. But before that, I want to take some of my clients through the day too!

AV: What’s your next goal?

KM: On a personal level, building muscle. No doubt about it. I want to spend the next couple of years really building more muscle.

Where I gain most fulfilment though, and what continues to drive me are my clients. I want to continue inspiring my clients to achieve both physical and mental transformations. I want to help them achieve things they’ve never done before, while improving their confidence, health markers and overall well-being. Nothing makes me happier than receiving an email or text from a client to tell me how I’ve impacted their life for the better.

AV: Couldn’t agree more. Let’s finish this up by giving three quick fire lessons you’d like people to take away from your experiences.

KM: 1) Preparation. Always prepare in advance. 2) There are no shortcuts. 3) Do you. Don’t worry about what other people say. Do what drives you, what makes you happy, and never give up on your goals.

AV: Perfect way to finish. Thanks for sharing your insights, I know many of the readers, your clients in particular, will find this very interesting!

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Akash Vaghela

Akash Vaghela is the Founder of RNT Fitness, where his mission is to see a world where everyone experiences the power of a physical body transformation to act as a vehicle for the greater good in their lives. Akash has produced 200+ blogs, 100+ videos and hosts the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, which has amassed over 110,000 downloads in 90+ countries across 100+ episodes. Alongside this, he's been seen in Men's Health, BBC, T-Nation, Elite FTS and the PTDC, while also regularly speaking nationally and internationally on all things transformation.