28 Dec Top 20 Things I’ve Learned In 2017
As 2017 winds down to an end, I’ve had more time to reflect on what I’ve accomplished in the year, where I’ve gone wrong, and what I’ve learned.
It’s been a year full of highlights; I quit my job, started RNT, travelled more than ever and got into the shape of my life.
To say there have been ups and downs would be understatement, but it’s been a hell of a fun ride with many lessons picked up on the way.
I’ll start with what I’ve learned in fitness, while gradually moving into business and life overall.
- NEAT is far too underrated when it comes to fat loss and staying lean
This year I’ve paid more attention to NEAT than ever before. NEAT refers to ‘non exercise activity thermogenesis’ and involves all the ‘non intentional’ exercise you do in the day. Activities like walking, doing the dishes, fidgeting all count as NEAT. The easiest way to track your NEAT is through steps, and what I’ve found is that it really is a game changer when it comes to fat loss and staying lean year round. It also works well as a motivator for clients, and keeps them accountable to a goal on a daily basis.
During my bodybuilding prep this year, I titrated my steps from 8,000 all the way up to 20,000, and then back down slowly to 10,000, where I’ve managed to keep it pretty easily on a daily basis.
The lesson here? When in doubt, move more! We’re all far too sedentary these days, and simply getting out and moving more can make a real difference in your physique.
You can read more about tracking steps here.
- How you approach your ‘post diet’ period will determine the success of your next phase
When I last competed in 2014, I reversed all the hard work of a 17-week prep in 4 weeks. This year I was much more diligent and it’s allowed me to enter my ‘off season’ in a much healthier position to gain strength and build muscle.
I’ve seen the same with clients too – those who have sustained their results best are those who have applied the most discipline to the ‘post diet’ period, where it’s otherwise far too easy to pile on a ton of unnecessary body fat.
The two keys to maintaining your gains after dieting?
1 – Don’t binge! This is a big one. After my last show I was eating everything in sight all day, forcing myself into stomach cramps and constant lethargy. This time I think I only had one slip up, which came about 5 weeks after. Besides this, I never ate till the point of feeling sick, and it paid dividends.
2 – Stay active. If you’ve been doing an hour of cardio and 20,000 steps everyday for 6 weeks, suddenly stopping is a quick recipe for fat gain. You need to stay active and taper your activity down slowly in order to recover properly from a diet.
To learn about how to best approach the post diet period, check out the series we’ve put together here.
- Trying to stay too lean after a diet isn’t a good idea
With all that being said about approaching the ‘post diet’ phase, I took it too far this year. 5-6 weeks after competing, I was still only a few pounds above stage weight, and could have stepped on stage with 7-10 days notice at any time.
Looking back, I was finding it hard to ‘let go’ of the striated glutes and ripped abs I worked so hard to achieve. But this mindset was only prolonging my recovery from dieting. My mood was up and down, my sex drive was in the tank and my strength was actually regressing.
It wasn’t until I gained a good 15-20lbs that I started to feel much better and more like myself again.
While this isn’t an excuse to get fat, I learnt that you do need to get out of the ‘danger zone’ that being absolutely shredded will have you in as quick as possible. It’s just not healthy.
You can check out how I approached my ‘reverse diet’ here.
- You can always dig deeper on a diet than you think you can
There’s a real difference between getting merely lean, and getting completely shredded. It’s an entirely different ball game, and requires a mind-set and willingness to dig really, really deep.
At the start of 2017, my bodybuilding goals were to get ‘cheese grater’ glutes, feathered triceps, pull off the vacuum and destroy my previous condition.
I achieved all of them, but had no idea how hard I’d need to push to be able to get there. For the last 3 weeks, I had a constant ‘flying sparks’ in my eye sight, bouts of blurred vision, and had to plan my toilet breaks so I could muster enough energy to get up and go.
Looking back, I pushed myself to a level I didn’t think I could. I felt like crap all the time but I also secretly loved every minute of it, and I can’t wait to do it all over again when the time comes again.
Taking myself through that has made me a better coach in all aspects because remember, if you haven’t been to the extreme yourself, how can you take your clients there? This probably explains why the level of conditioning I’m achieving with my clients is getting better and better, as I know I can push them that little bit harder than they think.
- If you’re truly shredded, you will flatten quick if you’re not careful
I’ve always managed to perfect my peak for the morning pre-judging at bodybuilding shows, but have always fallen off and faded in the evening shows. While I’ve gotten away with it in the past and kept my position, this year it cost me.
After looking on point at pre-judging and leading the competition, I don’t think I realised how much the posing depleted me, and how quickly you flatten out when you’re truly shredded. In the evening, I lost my pop, my glutes had faded and it ultimately cost me first place. All I ate in between the two was a box of chicken and rice, and it just wasn’t enough. This is a mistake I won’t be repeating in the future anymore!
- Low to moderate volume beats high volume both when training for fat loss and muscle building
During my last body building prep in 2014, I trained with very high volume, doing over 30+ sets of work 6 days a week. This time round I still trained 6 days a week for the last 6 weeks, but I used a low to moderate volume approach of 10-14 sets a workout
The difference in muscle retention, strength and fullness were miles apart. In 2014, I was flattening out every 3 days from the sheer volume of work. This time round I didn’t require many refeeds, and kept my strength pretty much until the last 2 weeks, which was a big improvement compared to last time round.
I’m now a firm believer that for both fat loss and muscle-building goals, low to moderate volume is the way forward for natural trainees with average genetics. High volumes cuts into your recovery too much, breaks down too much protein, and jacks up cortisol too high for ‘normal’ people with normal lives to recover from.
- For MY legs to grow, machines beat free weights
Coming from a powerlifting background, I’d always looked down on machines as inferior to free weights for both strength and muscle gain. After banging my head against a brick wall with free squatting, I finally gave them up at the start of the year. Not only have my injuries reduced, but my legs have looked the best ever, and I now feel my legs every time I train them, instead of the usual hip and lower back pump I’d get.
My leg exercises of choice now are leg presses, V squats and hack squats, and I can’t wait to see what a full year of being progressive on these three machines will do for my overall leg growth.
To learn about my personal approach to leg training, check out this article here.
- Keeping your set execution ‘clean’ is key to avoiding burnout and injury
A big change I’ve made to the way I train this year has been altering my set execution from ‘rest pausing’ my way to a rep target, to keeping the sets clean and continuous.
What I mean by this is that previously if I had to squat for 10 reps, it’d end up being more like 6,2,2, with long breaks of deep breaths to hit the target.
As the year has progressed, I now keep 90% of my sets continuous, and will only use one break at the most during higher rep sets of legs (10+ reps). This has helped in avoiding nervous system burnout and injuries, while making it much harder on the muscles.
You can learn about this approach in more detail here.
- Going for a morning walk has become a ritual
I’ve always done my cardio fasted in the morning before breakfast. This way it was done, and there was less chance of life getting in the way later on. Once prep finished, and I’d ‘transitioned’ into my off-season, I decided to keep my morning walks in there, albeit for less time and at a slower intensity.
Every morning now after writing for an hour and prepping my food the day, I’ll head out for a 10-20 minute walk before breakfast. I’ve found this to be a great way to clear my mind, think about new ideas or listen to a podcast. It also gives me fresh air early on, loosens my body up and if it’s summer time, some sunlight!
- You can only ‘blast’ one thing at a time
I’ve always liked ‘all consuming’ goals, which is probably why I love the 24/7 nature of bodybuilding and business. It suits my personality and the way I like to approach everything.
I’ve found that I can only ‘blast’ one thing at a time in life, and so the idea of balance has always been a tricky concept for me to understand. This year when on prep, bodybuilding was my number one priority, and no matter what the circumstance – whether I was leaving my job, setting a new business up, or travelling – nothing was getting in the way of it.
As soon as prep finished, it’s been ‘all in’ on business, and for the foreseeable future, I suspect it will continue to be the case. I love what I do, what we’re creating at RNT and what the future holds, so ‘blasting on business’ doesn’t feel difficult at all. It’s exciting.
- Results will always be number one in marketing
In an industry full of ‘promises’, fads, myths and snake oil salesmen, the best marketing method is, and always will be, results. There’s a reason we call ourselves ‘Results Now Training’, and it’s because our business is built on results. You can market all you like with funnels, trip wires, ads etc., but if you’re not getting results, you won’t get anywhere.
I always knew this to be the case when I was a ‘technician’ working for someone else, but now that I’m running my own business, I see it crystal clear.
My vision at RNT is simple: be the best at producing results, and create the best educational ‘hub’ for people to learn about muscle building and fat loss.
You can see some of the transformations we’ve produced in only 7 months of RNT here.
- My ‘magic time’ of creativity is between 6am and 10am
Everyone has their ‘magic time’ in the day when they can get their most productive and creative work done. When I used to work in the city, I never really had the chance to explore mine given I was out of the house at 5.45am and home at 9.45pm every day with my personal training clients. The busiest time as a personal trainer is always before 9am, and after 5pm, so the only time I’d have to be ‘creative’ would be the odd half hour during the day when I’d be free.
Once I cut down on PTing in May, and eventually stopped completely in September, I quickly realised that my most productive time is between 6am and 10am. This is the time I dedicate to creating new content, writing strategy and coming up with new ideas to push the business forward. No emails, texts or phone calls – this is my time to be proactive, and not react to other people.
Because it’s my magic time I do everything I can to protect it, and I’ve learnt that as a business owner, this is one of the most important things you can do to progress.
- Fight the resistance
A great book I read at the start of the year was the ‘War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield. The focus of the book was on resistance, and how if we want to produce great work, we need to fight our inner resistance that forces us to procrastinate.
Anyone who’s known me a while will know I’m a very private person, and unless you’re part of my inner circle, I won’t disclose much at all. Now that I run an online training business with an albeit very small social media presence, I have to fight the resistance daily to push my work out there.
This used to be difficult, and I’d overthink every post, article and blog. But as the year has progressed, I’ve found it much easier to fight this resistance, and now feel it is my duty to hit ‘publish’.
If I want to spread my message, reach more people, and grow RNT, I need to focus on shipping without fear as much high quality work as possible.
- Decision fatigue is a real thing
I’ve always been a bit weird with wearing similar clothes and eating similar foods on a daily basis. Ever since starting RNT, I’ve become more and more ‘same’ with my choice of clothing and food.
I’ve done a lot of reading on this recently, and found that ‘decision fatigue’ is a very real thing. By reducing the options I have on what to wear and eat, I can ‘save’ my willpower and decision making for what really matters.
I don’t want to think about whether I should wear a green or red t-shirt today, or whether I should go for chicken or cod as my protein source. So here’s what I do:
- When I’m working, I wear the same black joggers (I have seven of them) with a hoodie.
- If I go out, I’ll wear either dark green or dark blue trousers with either a white or black top (a bit more choice when out!)
- My daily diet will rotate between two different menus that are 80% the same, but have two options for breakfast and dinner. I just alternate between the two on a daily basis. During my bodybuilding prep, I went through the last 8 week stretch eating exactly the same food every day with no deviation. I literally went onto complete autopilot for this period, and it made following the diet so much easier.
This might all sound a bit weird, but I’ve spoken to many other business owners about this, and many agree that they subconsciously do the same thing. And if they weren’t previously, when I turned them onto this concept of ‘limiting choices’, their productivity, creativity and dietary compliance have all increased!
You can read more about this idea of ‘cognitive capacity’ here.
- Investment in yourself will always pay the best dividends
I’ve always seen the value in coaching. As a personal trainer, if I don’t see the value in hiring coaches for myself, how can I sell it to potential clients?
This year I’ve taken it to another level and invested more in coaching than ever before. Aside from having a coach for my physique goals, I’ve also invested heavily in business coaching and consultations. And to say I’ve seen a return of investment would be an understatement.
You can never learn enough, and having someone to hold you accountable, guide you on the right path and provide trusted advice is invaluable. Which is why our clients at RNT do so well – we don’t hold any secrets per se, we just hold our clients to such high standards that success is inevitable.
- Solo travel is underrated
Prior to 2017, I’d never been away on my own. This year I went to Nice and Monaco for four days in May, and then went to Toronto for a week at the end of September. In the super connected world we live in, it’s hard to get time to yourself to reflect and think. Going to Nice straight after quitting my job and a long term relationship provided some much needed time alone to think about everything, what was ahead with RNT, and where I was striving to reach. I’m going to definitely try and do this more!
- I love being able to work from anywhere, anytime on my own terms
One of my definition’s of success has always been to have the flexibility to work from anywhere, anytime, and on my own terms. As a personal trainer in the City, this was never going to happen doing what I was doing. I saw many of my colleagues who’d have kids, but never be able to see them because they’d be working. I knew I’d never want this, so change was necessary. 2017 has been a slow transition from full time PT, to now having a flexible work life that has allowed me to dictate my own lifestyle.
This has also allowed me to travel to eight different countries this year without losing my ability to work. I love this, and creating this lifestyle for myself has definitely been one of the highlights of my year. It’s not been easy by any stretch, but it’s been 100% worth it.
- The importance of staying in your own lane
One of the best pieces of advice I got this year was to ‘stay in my own lane’ and ignore what everyone else was doing around me. With social media, it’s easy to get bogged down with what other businesses are doing, what cool things your friends are doing, and everything you’re ‘missing out’ on. But it’s all a façade. What really matters is that you’re running your own race, in your own lane.
Any time I find myself veering off track and thinking, ‘oh, maybe I should do that too’, I quickly remind myself what my one thing is, what my goal is, and that the path to my success will only be found in my lane.
- You can’t do it all by yourself
This year has been an eye-opener in many aspects of life, but one of the greatest lessons has been that to succeed in any endeavour, you need a solid team. My own team is made up of my family, my closest friends, my clients and my coaches. Besides my business partner and online coach, no one is involved in the fitness industry, and I think this has been great for me. It’s allowed me to gain wider perspective on business, life and relationships and helped push me forwards in ways I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to.
I’m very fortunate to have a number of mentors in my life too. If there’s ever a business problem, I have a handful of people I can immediately ask for advice if needs be. For example, my mum has one of the most brilliant business minds I know, and has been a great mentor and source of support for both Adam and I throughout the year. Many of my clients and closest friends are also successful business owners themselves, and are always on hand to offer solutions to problems they may have faced in the past.
RNT wouldn’t be where it is without the support from these people, so we’re always grateful and appreciate it all!
One of the highlights of my year was seeing the turnout of support from family and friends at my bodybuilding show. After months of hard work, having all of them there in one place made me realise how lucky I was, and how important having a close-knit circle around you is.
- Consistency is king, but change is sometimes necessary
Whether you want to lose body fat, build muscle, gain strength or build a business, no tricks or ‘hacks’ will work better than simply being consistent. It’s boring but in an age of chasing instant gratification, there’s something to be said in just playing the long game, ticking the right boxes on a daily basis, and being patient.
That being said, if you’re on the wrong path, change is necessary. This year I’ve had to make a few difficult pivots with the bigger picture in mind by cutting out various toxic people from my life, and quitting my job. While tough at the time, they’ve been the best decisions I’ve made this year, and had I not made them, I wouldn’t be heading into 2018 as positive and excited as I am.