“Despite lifting weights for about 9 years and loving the gym, I've never really stuck to a process for too long, or had a scientific approach to programming and nutrition.”
Like many people, Killian had been lifting weights for nearly a decade but still struggled to design and follow a structured training strategy that would truly optimise his results. Even for someone who loves the gym, the organisation and research that is required to create an excellent personalised training strategy can feel overwhelming. Having a coach can hugely benefit someone who doesn’t have the time or the desire to do this much planning and research, but who is still very enthusiastic about training and wants to get the most out of it.
What ultimately made Killian decide to try online coaching was the pandemic gym closures, which meant his preferred training style of powerlifting was unavailable. He wanted to learn how he could work with the equipment he had at home to keep progressing towards his long-term goals of getting stronger and building muscle, so he reached out to me for some coaching. Taking the time to recalibrate his training strategy ultimately led to him being stronger than ever when the gyms eventually reopened!
strength vs muscle gain
Training for strength and training for building muscle have some overlap, but you generally need to compromise on one to optimise the other. Although taking the time to build muscle can hugely increase your capacity to gain strength in the long term, many people who love powerlifting fall into the trap of training for strength all the time at the expense of not building much muscle. The lockdown meant that Killian had to take a step back from lifting heavy and shift his focus to building muscle. Taking the time to do this ultimately allowed him to hit strength personal bests once he returned to the gym, and it has set him up with the tools to continue to periodically gain muscle to increase his strength potential within powerlifting.
“I normally focus on strength and Big 4 lifts in the gym, but I now have a much better understanding of the importance of accessory exercises and the reasons for each of them. Especially as I've been training at home for most of the last few months, it's been great to bring real focus to form and getting the most out of every exercise. I'm certain that this helped me hit some PBs while the gyms were briefly open over Christmas.”
Killian knew that in order to maximise his hard work in the gym, he needed to work on his nutrition. When you’ve been lifting weights for many years, going through an active weight gain phase known as a ‘bulk’ can bring your strength and muscle gains to the next level, but for many people actively gaining weight can be very intimidating.
It’s very normal to feel anxious about pushing your body outside of its comfort zone the first time that you try bulking. Killian and I decided that taking a slow and steady approach to bulking would allow him to support his training performance whilst easing him into the psychological challenge of his first bulk.
Coaching can be incredibly beneficial when someone has decided to do their first active weight gain phase, because anxiety and doubt can lead to wanting to back out and go into a fat loss phase too early. Having a coach to reassure you that your rate of weight gain is optimal and that everything that you are currently experiencing is normal can help people to stick with a bulk for long enough to truly see the benefits.
As you can see from his progress pictures, our moderate approach certainly did not stop him from achieving excellent results. Not only did he gain a significant amount of muscle, he also reported better body image and less food anxiety as he progressed through his weight gain journey.
“I was hesitant about the concept of doing a bulk, having never actively tried to put on weight before, but I actually found it very liberating and helpful with body image issues. Richeal was really helpful in giving me a nudge in this direction and focusing on protein intake.”
Caoimhe came to me with no previous experience with lifting weights, and without a strong background in any particular sport or activity. For people who don’t have a long history with consistent exercise, picking up strength training can be intimidating. When you haven’t seriously committed yourself to a fitness goal in the past it’s difficult to know what to expect. Questions like, ‘How many times per week do you need to train to get results?’ or ‘Do you need to drink protein shakes?’ can create doubt and make it difficult to focus on being consistent with your workouts. Hiring a coach helped Caoimhe feel a deep sense of confidence in the plan, and made it easier to put one foot in front of the other and complete their training on a weekly basis.
“I was nervous to start as I had no experience of working with weights, but she put me totally at ease from our first conversation.”
Caoimhe’s goals were to build muscle, particularly in their upper body, as well as get fitter and improve their posture. In their first 6 months working with me they gained a substantial amount of muscle, with a 4kg increase on the scales. The increase in their muscle mass has helped them to feel fitter and more capable in day to day life.
consistency over perfection
A key principle we applied to help Caoimhe achieve their results is consistency over perfection. Caoimhe trains twice per week because this is what they feel they can stay consistent with. A lot of coaches would insist on a minimum of three sessions per week, but if that isn’t realistic for someone then you are setting them up for failure. Consistency with two great workouts is better than constantly feeling like you’re not good enough and then quitting because you can’t hit three.
Without a doubt, the biggest challenge that Caoimhe has faced throughout this process has been self compassion. Perfectionism is a huge issue that most people face when they start their fitness journey because they feel they need to maintain 100% consistency in order to maintain results. A big part of our work together has been focused on self forgiveness, and breaking the habit of being excessively self critical after weeks where they did not get as much training done as they would have liked. Working on having more positive self talk has really helped Caoimhe become more motivated, which has in turn actually improved their consistency.
empowering through learning
Caoimhe likes detailed explanations and understanding why they are doing things helps them to stay motivated when implementing the plan. During our check-ins we always made plenty of time to dig deeper into how each exercise and dietary habit would help them to achieve their desired outcome. This is especially helpful when these things are outside your comfort zone and you might need a bit of extra motivation.
“Her knowledge not only of the physical processes of my workouts but also of the human body in general is vast and I appreciate her explanations of why certain exercises work for my specific needs.”
not just physical health
Focusing on training has brought Caoimhe more than just improvements in their physical fitness. Showing up for yourself by being consistent with your training routine often leads to knock-on benefits in other areas of your life such as your general wellbeing and productivity. Caoimhe found that training acted as a positive trigger which motivated them to look after themselves in other ways.
“I feel I’ve gotten a lot better at looking after myself in general with her help, not just from doing exercises but also with eating healthier, respecting my physical limits, and getting enough rest in between sessions.”
As I have worked with Caoimhe over the past 6 months, I have noticed a shift in their mindset. Caoimhe has developed a deeper sense of confidence in the training process; they no longer feel anxious about whether they are doing enough. They have put the work in for long enough to develop a sense of patience and maturity when it comes to their goals, because they know that the small steps they take each week are building into something great in the long term.
“The most important things I've learned so far are: Working out is about showing up for yourself, and you are worth the time and the effort. Do the best you can do each day. Pay attention to your limits and when you need to obey them or push them. These help me to stay focused when I need to and I think it will help keep me motivated and able to take a look at the big picture moving forward.”
I work with many clients, but few are as dedicated as Hannah. In the space of 13 months, her journey has brought her from being intimidated to hang off of the pull up bar to being able to do six perfect chin ups. For someone who is extremely determined like Hannah, the key to success was having clarity on what strategy would actually get her the best results. Showing up with a consistent effort and using methods that actually work only lead to her becoming more and more motivated in the long run.
During our time working together, Hannah has successfully completed a muscle building phase and two fat loss phases. During the muscle building phase she gained a substantial amount of strength and built muscle that helped her achieve the toned look that she was after. The fat loss allowed her to reveal the definition of that muscle and show off her hard work.
“I lost 4-5cm from my waist at the end of my first cut, my PB on push ups is 23, and my PB on chin ups is 6. So I guess I've surpassed all my goals way beyond what I expected!”
a demanding schedule
As someone who worked a full time job and was studying on the side, Hannah had a demanding timetable, which meant it was very important for us to tailor and streamline her plan so that it fit into her schedule. We also needed to make regular alterations to the plan to work around her issues with lower back pain that sometimes could flare up in response to intense training. The Mentorship 1-1 Coaching Programme was a great fit for her because the personalised monthly plan and intensive private check-ins made it easy to alter the plan to work around these challenges.
“I have never been consistent with exercise or a diet, and I could only have done it with someone who met me at my level and actually took the time to personalise the best approach for me to hit my goals.”
Learning to always focus on the bigger picture is something I emphasised in my work with Hannah from day one. For someone who is driven and cares deeply about achieving their goals, putting small setbacks into perspective is really important, otherwise the journey to achieve your goals can become stressful and unsustainable. Some key areas we focused on were learning to understand why the scales can fluctuate, that perfecting exercise technique is a constant work in progress, as well as learning how to enjoy weekends with friends and family without entirely forgetting about your goals or being overly restrictive.
“I've learnt that good weeks and bad weeks are part of building consistent habits, to enjoy and celebrate achieving goals, and that it's in my power to maintain these new habits I've developed.”
sustainability = consistency = results
I cannot overstate the role that Hannah’s consistency has played in her success. I can count the number of workouts she has missed over the last year on two hands. You would think that in order to achieve such amazing results in just the space of a year, that you would need to be training hard 6 days per week, but her plan has never had more than 3 or 4 workouts per week. Through open and honest communication, we have always been able to identify what feels sustainable to her, and it has been her consistent ability to tick the most important boxes that earned her such great outcomes.
“I did have doubts that I wouldn't be able to stick to any plans long term, but by taking each week at a time, I was able to keep going without worrying about whether I'd still be able to be consistent in 6 months. Having short term weekly goals was more manageable and achievable in the long run.”