by Ryan Burgess
For many people, there is a perception that personal trainers and strength coaches are “bullet proof.” We live in gyms from sun up to sun down Monday through Sunday, educating, motivating, inspiring, and working out ourselves. We’re all in the best shape; we all have the perfect hair, perfect smile, and perfect body, right? WRONG!!! Often times we are in the same shoes as the clients we serve: we hit training plateaus, we get burned out, and believe it or not, we struggle too! That is where the idea for this article originated. Dating back to high school, all the way through college, and up to now, working as a health professional, I have been very open about my own personal struggles with health and weight. This candor has rubbed some the wrong way, but if my experiences have taught me one thing, it is that by sharing the challenges that I have faced with others, it helps them know that they are not alone, and that anybody can make the positive lifestyle changes that they seek…
As a college football player, my playing weight hovered around 290-295 lbs., which was pretty average for a Division I offensive lineman. After my career ended, however, my weight ballooned up to 320 lbs. I was miserable; this was when I was graduating from college, what should have been one of the proudest moments of my life, yet all I could think was, here I am, about to receive my degree in Health & Exercise Science and yet the unhealthiest I had ever been. At that moment I knew something had to change. After applying the things that I had learned through college and working incredibly hard to get my life back on track, I lost a total of 60 lbs. over the course of the next 12 months. I was elated- I achieved my goal, had never felt better, and order in the universe as I knew it had been restored. Then a funny and unexpected thing happened: I got stuck. I gained back 1 pound here, 2 pounds there; before I knew it, I had gained back about 15 pounds over the course of the next 8 months, and wasn’t feeling ‘good’ anymore. Sure, over those months there were periods of time when I would try to regain the control that I once had, but I could only hold on for so long. It was literally as if a large concrete wall stood in front of me when it came to achieving my health and weight loss goals. Once again, I knew something had to change.
As I approached the next step on my perpetual quest to “de-offensive lineman-ize” my body (how’s that for creative vocabulary?), I tried to conjure up the best ways to attack this challenge once again. I started to think back to some of the things that helped me in the beginning, and found a lot my focus revolving around goal setting. One phrase in particular played a crucial role from the get-go: when setting out to accomplish something, set “S.M.A.R.T” Goals- Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic and Time-Sensitive. Reading those words helped me realize how I drifted off course. After my initial weight loss, I still had goals, but they weren’t “S.M.A.R.T”. I had become a broken record of saying “I want to lose my playing weight”, without putting much thought into it or creating any plan of action whatsoever. Knowing that I needed something to kick start my transformation once again, I decided to go to the other extreme: very specific, very realistic, and very time-sensitive. I figured that if I could just put together something, anything for that matter, which I could stick to, I could get back on track. So I decided for the next 30 days I wouldn’t touch a dumbbell or a barbell. Now at first glance it may seem odd for someone who wants to lose weight to say, “I’ll achieve that by not lifting”, so I need to further explain myself. I was NOT scrapping my resistance training; far from it! I just made a rule that on my resistance training days, I could only utilize medicine balls, bands, bodyweight, or any other object I could find to lift that wasn’t a barbell or dumbbell. The “lack of bars and bells” training method got my brain turned on again about working out, and it forced me to focus and develop a solid game plan. The additional rules I soon created:
- Train at least 6 days per week
- 3 days of “No Bars and Bells” resistance training
- Incorporate 3 days of low intensity cardio (long runs, biking, etc.)
- Incorporate 3 days of high intensity cardio (intervals)
Simple enough, right?
The results, to say the very least, have been life changing. By setting and sticking to that small simple set of rules (30 days; train 6 days a week, hitting high and low intensity cardio and 3 resistance training sessions; no weights whatsoever), the spillover effect into other areas of my life was amazing. I started eating better, sleeping better, and quite simply living better. Now I could’ve just said, “For the next 30 days I will train 6 days a week, making sure I get both types of cardio and 3 resistance training sessions in each week”, but I knew I needed more if I was to truly follow through. By focusing on the specificity of how I had to go about my resistance training, it became a daily challenge that I loved facing. With that forced focus, it was easier for me to find and carve out other areas of my life that needed a little bit more attention. The discipline and self-control that I was able to establish after the first 2 weeks surprised even me. As I write this it has been about 45 days, and I can honestly say that I’m healthier now than I have ever been in my life: I’m eating better, I’m more active than ever, and overall I’m feeling better. And as far as the weight loss is concerned, I’ve lost the 15 pounds that I gained back and then some: weighing 250lbs now, my total weight loss is at 70 pounds, and I can firmly say that there is still more to be lost.
The take-home message from this article is this: if you feel like you’ve hit a plateau, hit a wall, burned out, or whatever is keeping you from achieving your goals, take a moment to stop and think. Find some small aspect in your life you know you can change – use nothing but stairs when you are out, unplug your TV (or simply turn it off at an earlier time), or if you’re really brave, skip your morning cup of coffee. Notice that it doesn’t have to be something that you think you should change, just something you know you can change. Now I want you to commit to it for the next 30 days, and watch how it carries over into the rest of your life. I’ll even offer my full fledged support: e-mail me your ideas (RBurgess@FitnessQuest10.com), and I’ll get back to you every 7-10 days to see how you are doing and keep you on course. I also need to make sure that no one out there gets the message that they should stop lifting weights to lose weight; I chose that because it was something that I knew I could do while still putting myself through a successful training protocol- if you want to lose fat and build muscle, you HAVE to resistance train, plain and simple (but that’s another article entirely). I hope you have found this advice helpful, and if I get through to even one person, I know I’ve done my job.
Ryan is a Strength & Conditioning Coach and the Director of Football development at Fitness Quest 10. He enjoys working with and training people from all walks of life and lives to motivate, educate, and inspire people to work hard, persevere, follow their heart and pursue their dreams. He believes firmly in the quote “Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart is in it, and live the phrase ‘the sky’s the limit’”.