20 May My Mistakes Series, Part 4: The Five Biggest Body Transformation Mistakes You Must Avoid
You can have the perfect training and nutrition plan, but if you haven’t got the tools in place to be able to execute it with precision and consistency, you’re going to fall short with your results.
In this final instalment, I’m going to dive into the lifestyle and mindset mistakes I’ve made when attempting to transform my body. More importantly, I’ll discuss the lessons I’ve learnt that will help you avoid the same, and take your results to the next level.
Transformation Mistake No.1 – Not Being Consistent Enough
I know I harp on about consistency in almost every article (I’ve even written an entire article on it here), but it’s because I know how powerful it is.
There’s something to be said for your body being able to ‘gather momentum’ after weeks go by when you’re ruthlessly consistent in everything you do.
Whether it’s muscle building or fat loss, after weeks and months of ticking all the right boxes, your body begins to fire on all cylinders and really accelerate progress.
I see this with clients in their final 3-4 weeks of a transformation. They’ll be plodding along, chipping away each week and then all of a sudden, their body goes into overdrive and begins to blast body fat at an unprecedented speed.
It’s not that the body knows that it’s almost finishing up a fat loss phase. Instead, it’s the 8 to 16+ weeks beforehand of consistency paying off that allows the body to kick into the next gear.
I remember this happening with Shyam during his photoshoot prep. With 8 weeks to go, I was thinking to myself, ‘there’s no way he’s going to be ready’. Even at the four week mark, I was worried. But then what seemed like overnight, his body fat began to drop rapidly, and he was right where he needed to be come shoot day. While I know the deficit was harder, I’d also put this down to reaping the benefits of the many weeks of consistent behaviour.
You can read the full case study here.
Transformation Mistake No.2 – Having No Real Goal
There’s two parts to this lesson: muscle building and fat loss.
If you’re in a muscle building phase, goals can be harder to quantify. When you’ve passed your initial beginner phase, the goals aren’t sexy either.
Case in point; after my last bodybuilding show I spoke with my coach about what I should aim for before stepping on stage again.
‘You’ll do well gaining 5-6lbs of stage weight in the next 3 years’.
5-6lbs in 3 years?!
Now, if I was to use that as my primary goal, I won’t get anywhere. When your body fat increases and you’re 10-20% above (in bodyweight) what you’d be at your leanest, progress can be hard to define.
Instead, what I do is completely detach myself from the stage weight goal, and focus on the steps required to get there, which can be boiled down to striving for progressive overload with perfect form in my ‘indicator’ lifts while staying in a calorie surplus.
To take it a step further, I now set myself 8 to 12 week performance goals at all times, so I have a focus and purpose with my training.
Otherwise, it can be easy to slip into ‘no man’s land’, like I experienced in 2015.
I’d just got into the shape of my life in 2014, and found myself lost in a cycle of binge eating, injuries and no focus in my training.
When I look back, it was because I didn’t set myself any short-term goals. Everyone needs a long-term goal to work towards, but they also need milestones that help dial in their day-to-day habits, and to provide small wins along the way.
After dieting hard again in 2017, I didn’t make this same mistake, and immediately switched my mindset from being physique focused to performance oriented. You can read about implementing this here.
For those of you chasing fat loss, it can be easier to define a hard goal to work towards.
That being said, I still come across far too many people who tell me they just want to ‘look a bit leaner’, or ‘lose some body fat’.
I used to do this back in 2010 to 2012 when it came to dieting, and it would always fail.
If you don’t have a crystallised goal and ‘why’ when you’re dieting, you’re going to struggle.
You’ll find it far easier to give in to temptation, skip your cardio, cheat on your diet, and ultimately, drag out the process a lot longer than it should be.
These people are usually the ones always in a fat loss phase, and never making any real tangible process.
Instead, you’ll be far better off setting a harder goal such as working towards a photoshoot, wedding or a holiday. When you combine this with your ‘why’, along with a big chunk of accountability (either through a coach or just by telling everyone you know), expect great results!
Transformation Mistake No.3 – Not Believing In Decision Fatigue
I used to believe the best diet was one that had lots of variety with different foods, different flavours and different cooking methods.
In an ideal world, it probably is.
But in the real world, it’s completely impractical, unrealistic and time-consuming.
I remember back in 2013 I was writing some meal plans for a book I was helping out with. I thought I’d try to impress by making them as elaborate as possible, with every meal being different to the other.
Here’s an example of one plan I wrote:
Meal 1 – Fillet steak, cashew, spinach
Meal 2 – Cod, coconut oil, broccoli
Meal 3 – Chicken, green beans, jasmine rice, pineapple
Meal 4 – Chicken, cauliflower, basmati rice
Meal 5 – Turkey mince, kale, cashew butter
Meal 1 – Venison mince, macadamias, spinach
Meal 2 – Haddock coconut oil, broccoli
Meal 3 – Prawns, green beans, white potato, red grapes
Meal 4 – Tuna, broccoli, sweet potato
Meal 5 – Mackerel, cucumbers
Every single day of the week was different, and almost every meal was different. Can you imagine the logistics of trying to buy and cook this all?
While it sounds like a great diet to be on, you’d need a full time chef to be able to execute it.
With my own dieting, I was doing something similar. Maybe not to the same extent, but it was certainly far more elaborate than now.
As I’ve gotten older, my diet has become more and more simplified. It’s now to the point it’s the same everyday, which may be a little extreme for some, but it works for me.
It allows me to take all the thinking out of my diet, and just run on autopilot. By standardising a non creative element of my day such as my food intake, I can maintain my cognitive capacity for more important tasks in the day, such as my writing.
There’s also the willpower benefit of reducing the choices associated with your food. If you’re constantly deciding what to eat and when, you’re draining your willpower in the day. Which is why so many people tend to cheat on their diet in the evening. They’re so drained by work that when it comes to deciding what to eat, they’d rather go for the easy sugar fix, as opposed to what’s in alignment with their goals (which if pre planned, wouldn’t be an issue).
All our clients are busy, and so by maintaining a fairly monotonous diet, it allows them to go into autopilot and not have to worry at all about whether it’s chicken or turkey tonight, or if they should eat rice or potato with it.
To learn more about eating when you’re busy, read this article here.
Transformation Mistake No.4 – Not Grinding Hard Enough
When I started coaching people back in 2010, I always got decent results. But it wasn’t until I competed in bodybuilding in 2014 that my results really took off.
I knew that to get into shape you had to push yourself and suffer a little. What I didn’t realise was how hard your body can push, and how hard some people need to go in order to get into the shape they want.
Bodybuilding taught me this, and unlocked a whole new level of condition for not only myself, but my clients too.
After going from lean to shredded, I was now about to empathise and relate to everything a client was feeling along the way. I could now take them to the dark places of a diet, knowing I’d been there and probably worse.
Bodybuilding gave birth to the #VaghelaGrind, and it’s been a game changer for my career. Most people have no idea what their bodies are capable of, and sometimes you just need to do what you need to do in order to get into the shape you want.
Transformation Mistake No.5 – Not Playing The Long Game
A major part of my training philosophy is the concept of progressive overload. To make progress, you need to be striving to improve all the time.
However, the way I approach this has changed drastically over the years.
If you asked me how to implement progressive overload five years ago, I’d have said if you’re not adding a rep or weight every session, you’re doing something wrong.
But now my thinking is a lot different.
A couple of months ago I was telling one of my training partners I’d just hit 145kg for 6 on the RDL, and that my goal over the next 12 weeks was to get it to 150kg for 6.
He said, ‘surely you could do that in a couple weeks, or with a bit of extra psyche now?’
I responded, ‘sure, but I’m in no rush. I’d rather take it slow and keep my form perfect, ensuring the right muscles are being hit, and I’m reducing my chances of getting hurt.’
Now that I’ve been through all the injuries, I know how debilitating it is, and how detrimental it is to your progress.
I still want to be lifting in 20 years time, so I’m no rush. And while I set myself performance goals on a regular basis, they’re never outlandish or unrealistic.
I use weeks in my training cycle to focus on making the set ‘cleaner’, or just ‘milking the weight’.
The same goes with my diet. When I speak to guys in their 40s and 50s who have been doing this for decades, their advice is to always take it slow, think about your health and eat for longevity in mind. There’s no rush.
They also talk about the importance of knowing when to blast and when to cruise. Unless you’re a paid professional athlete, none of us do this for the money. We train and eat right because we love it. To maintain that love, it’s important to have periods where you’re going pedal to the medal, and times where you take a step back as well. This balance keeps you healthy and prevents the burnout I see so many people go through, whereby they lock away their social lives for years on end in the dream of a wishful pursuit.
Instead, once this becomes a ‘lifestyle’ for you, then it should be about maintaining a balance between all aspects of your life. It should part of what you do, and not what controls you. That’s why it’s critical you’re playing the long game.
Whenever I get asked what the biggest mistake people make in their quest to be biggest, stronger or leaner, I always answer with program hopping.
In a world of instant gratification, it’s now engrained into us to think the grass is greener elsewhere. That’s why I spent years jumping from program to program, in search of the magic bullet. It’s why all our clients all did exactly the same.
We all want short-term fixes. It feels good when we try a new exercise and increase the load by 20kg in 4 weeks (which is all part of learning the movement). It feels good to try a new diet and think you’re onto something ground-breaking. It feels good to switch programs and think that you’re finally on the right path.
What doesn’t feel good is sticking with one plan and being ruthlessly consistent with it. That’s boring.
But in the world of body transformation, boring works. Boring is the greener grass. Boring is where the results lie.