My first dumbbell exercise was probably about 15 to 16 years ago. I don’t know the exact date, though I remember the memories of buying my first dumbbells from Dick’s Sporting Goods and getting another set from my neighbor. Since then, I’ve gone and tried a lot of things out on my own.
- I inconsistently trained on my own while in school, and ended up forsaking the gym for weeks to focus on academics.
- I had long summer breaks or winter breaks and tried to absorb all the free info online and “get jacked.” Even back then, there was a decent amount of info out there. I was never as consistent or committed as I expected I would be and didn’t see big gains. I consumed a ridiculous amount of fitness content during this time. And I still do that an extent. I occasionally watch or follow fitness influencers on many platforms. But theory and action are different things.
- I spent a couple years floundering after school in a similar way. My focus was on career. It was also just because I didn’t know how to stick to it.
- Then, I developed this baby step technique of going to the gym for ten minutes a day, something so tiny I couldn’t help but to do it. And then, I lengthened the duration until I could go for longer and longer. This worked for me!
- After a year where I had developed the habit of an hour in the gym 4 to 5 days a week, I transitioned to CrossFit. I’ve detailed my experience and reasons in previous videos and podcast episodes. I felt the community and social interaction I got, for example, was better for my mental health after work.
- After 5 years of CrossFit, going to the gym consistently four to five days a week, including maintaining a routine throughout the COVID-19 quarantine, something I’m proud of and few accomplished, I decided to test transitioning back to commercial gyms and/or fitness classes. There were a few reasons for this, which had to do with me transitioning to a life of travel and not seeing the size gains I had been told would happen. I did see noticeable strength gains though, and I am proud to say I went to the gym and completed class more often than 90% of members; most members may go once or twice a week if they’re lucky. (Side note: for women scared of gaining too much bulk from CrossFit, this is an example that shows that gaining muscle isn’t that easy. I really only saw it happen to the 1% of members who were very hard core and on-point with their training and nutrition.)
- I spent about two years trying all fitness classes under the sun, as a drop-in, usually through ClassPass or direct purchase. Cyclebar, BJJ, Yoga, Hip Hop Dance, Dance Pump, Barre, you name it. This was a fun time, though these places have pros and cons too. I found almost all of them are likely not going to get me the training volume or intensity I need to gain muscle size. For someone who wants some light, total body endurance resistance training to add to their cardio, it works. It’s funny how a large portion of the service-based fitness industry in the USA isn’t even close to optimized for a young man looking to gain size. Even the more male-oriented fitness bootcamps seemed more like a hodgepodge of dumbbell exercises tied together that don’t seem to be the optimal rep ranges or movements. (If there’s interest, I can elaborate about my experience here in a future podcast episode; let me know if there’s any interest.) During this time, I would occasionally go to a commercial gym and/or drop-in at CrossFit as well.
- And that gets us today, which is when I finally decided that trying to figure it all out on my own with free content hasn’t been working, so why not hire a coach. The goal is size and aesthetics, but also health. The coach I hired was a YouTuber I had followed for many years. He’s one of the only jacked Asian men online, so he’s an inspiration I can relate to. He also has a near-perfect physique from years of hard work. I figured he’s not getting any cheaper, and I might as well follow this theme of “let’s try investing in this rather than figure it out on my own” that I’ve been doing for every other area of my life.
So, I am writing this only half way into my first week of a three month training program. However, I already have a lot to say and learned a lot, so I couldn’t wait. Part of this was due to the fact that I had many weeks to think about this and prepare leading up to when the session started. Here are some lessons learned so far.
- I’ll confirm once this is done, though I’m fairly sure one big contributor to my lack of size gains so far is nutrition. After being told to track my macros again, I found that I average about 110 fat and 100 protein per day. That’s too much fat and not enough protein. It’s not terrible, though, I actually need 60 more grams of protein and around 40 less grams of fat a day.
- *Some important context is that I have a blessed, rare metabolism. I have always been able to eat what I want whenever I want until I get full and still maintain a skinny look. And I have a reputation amongst friends and family to be able to eat a lot more than the average person. That said, when I track through MyFitnessPal, my calories usually range from 2200 to 2600 a day. That’s far from “competitive eater” level. That just goes to show you the power of tracking the numbers and doing the actual math. I’m sure anecdotally, it looks cool to coworkers or friends when I can down a whole pizza. It’s probably still more than the average person can eat in a sitting and in a day, though when you add it all up, it’s not that abnormal of a number.
- Another result of having a food scale is that I’m getting a much more accurate sense of how much four ounces of chicken is and how much five grams of creatine is. These are things that I would guesstimate off the “it’s usually 3 ounces = a palm” technique and get that wrong. I was likely undercounting creatine intake and overcounting protein. I also learned that many restaurants I now should avoid since they don’t post nutrition facts, and guesstimating food can be very off.
- My coach has given me a 75 fat per day rule. That will be and has been somewhat difficult to maintain, although I am doing it very well so far without losing my sanity just yet. We’ll see if it’s sustainable. I’m going to stick with it, at least for as long as I reasonably can to see. In the future, I may bring up if it’s necessary given my metabolism. Another reason is although people have told me they would guess I am all skin and bones or abs under my shirt, I am occasionally skinny fat when I look at myself in the mirror, especially after a big day of indulging in food. Hence, it couldn’t hurt to see where this will lead. I was also given an abs workout routine; although I don’t care about getting a six pack and voiced this to him, I’ll also play the game and see where this leads.
- My relationship with food is different from some people. I was watching some of Stephanie Buttermore’s videos and her fitness journey and relationship with food is almost the reverse of mine. For the first two decades and change of her life, she saw food as only for the utility of it and starved herself, which caused a lot of mental stress. She has gone through a more intuitive eating, “all in” approach to reclaim mental and physical health in the last few years and have discovered all these new perspectives of food, such as eating great-tasting food for the sake of it. I have been the reverse kind of because of my metabolism, a blessing that now I have to learn to not rely on. I see food as an enjoyment in itself for the taste. It’s also a way of dining with others and bonding. It can also be a skill and art to be admired. I sometimes also see it as a bucket-list item or life experience if I’m visiting a city and there’s a must-eat food there. Fortunately, eating in a more disciplined way is not completely new to me. Back when I did CrossFit, I’ve tracked my macros for a full year and guest posted about it (unfortunately, that post is no longer active anymore on that site). And I have been trying to live a healthier life these last few years, so have been stepping away from just eating all the junk food to healthy food when I can.
- There’s still a long way to go with my nutrition habits. While I didn’t eat junk food every day. I have to go from eating burgers or fast food a few times a week to eating chicken breasts, pasta, high protein foods, and veggies.
- Healthy foods don’t always have to taste bad. I already knew that to an extent with certain things like fruit. I had to do a lot of research via social media and Google leading up to this and during, and I found a couple recipes I have tried that actually taste great, such as a low-fat chipotle alfredo chicken pasta recipe. It’s still not as tasty as a burger or pizza. I haven’t hit that craving yet so we’ll see what we can or cannot withstand.
- I’m in this for the long-term. I want to find a new sustainable routine that I can carry beyond these three-months. I do not want to knock it out of the park and then binge as soon as the program ends. I will re-voice this to the coach so he knows and doesn’t forget. This may end up being something in between his assigned macro program to me and my eat what I want approach. That way, I’m not so strict that I end up binging or burning out.
- A lot of this is still on me to handle. I’m given a workout and nutrition rules. But I’ve still been had to do my own research and figure out what creative ways I can find recipes that fit my macros; that’s not done for me with this coach. The coaching is purely text message based, so I’m really not getting that much interaction. This was news to me that I discovered afterwards. I’m not sure if it’s because he can fit more clients in and maximize revenue. I think it loses some heart and bonding with the clients. Oh well. So far, I still think it’s worth it. You may disagree. Keep this in mind though: I would’ve never gotten the big wake-up call that I needed to up my nutrition and be more consistent with eating and working out until he assigned all these things for me.
- There are small, subtle things that I’m learning I should be doing or would benefit from through being told I need to do it. For example, weighing myself and my food. Or that most of my foods need to be whole foods. Or to foam roll out most of the muscles I will work from a warm up. I wasn’t doing any of that. I don’t think they’ll make or break things, though they’re helpful in little ways.
- The training protocol / exercises aren’t that mind-blowing, original, or secret. You can probably get something just as good through an ebook from any of your favorite influencers. Or even free material online. The magic of coaching is probably in these other things:
- I had to audit and reflect on my training experience in the intake form. I realized I was dropping the ball by the third workout of every week. I was often skipping or reducing my leg days.
- I don’t want to disappoint the coach or myself, so I have been sticking to all the workouts, including leg days so far. I also was curious as to see what I was doing wrong that wasn’t leading to gains, so I’m open to just doing whatever he tells me to as long as I reasonably can.
- I wasn’t getting enough volume in through the CrossFit programming. The strength portion of a typical WOD (workout of the day) usually has rep ranges from one to three reps. You also lose a noticeable amount of time waiting for the coach to explain the technique for newbies every day and to rack up and set up the lifts. Bodybuilding uses optimal rep ranges from 6 to 10, which gets more volume in less time, for hypertrophy. It sounds obvious, but when you’re in a CrossFit box and you see a percentage of members who are jacked or ripped, and you’re being told to keep at it since it worked for them, plus, you like it and have made friends there, and don’t want to return to the isolation of a commercial gym, you can see why I stuck to it.
- I have had to get creative to find high protein, low fat sources. We’ll see if I can sustain this. I tend to like a lot of variety. So far, I have found these interesting ideas that I’m trying or will try: high protein flavored nacho chips by Quest, beef jerky, canned tuna, Chef Boyardi ravioli, protein pasta, chicken breast air fried breaded or skinless, shrimp, shrimp fried rice, chocolate protein bars, greek yogurt, protein fruit smoothies, Chick Fil A grilled nuggets, salmon, tilapia, smoked salmon, teriyaki chicken double meat at Panda Express, Mandu dumplings, Chipotle bowls without cheese or sour cream. As you can see, it’s cut out a substantial selection of foods I would normally have access to or consume, such as cake, sweets, chocolate, cookies, burgers, chicken thighs, tacos, and so on. That said, there’s more options than I originally thought. Fingers crossed. We’ll see how this experiment goes and what’s sustainable. Once again, long-term sustainability comes first.
- This really is taking up a decent amount of my free time and mind space after work. It’s like having a part-time job. I am hoping the load will lighten over time as I get used to this since I’m coming into this as a beginner, especially with nutrition. I have more respect for anyone who has trained an aesthetic body because it takes a lot of discipline and consistency. You can argue that yes, I did do that with CrossFit, so it shouldn’t be a problem. I had five years of going to an hour and a half classes 4 to 5 days a week. That’s true, but it was more social and it was also a time where I was younger and I lived in a place with not much else to do after work. I have found through my own travel experiences that the less stuff there is to do where I’m living, the more I work out. That’s a double-edged sword because I prefer having more things to do and don’t want to have a lifestyle of just lifting and not meeting people or doing anything else. Boring! I crave a certain level of social interaction, especially since I’m often working at a computer rather than talking. I will likely bring this up with the coach for advice, though he may not have an answer or can relate since his job is going to the gym and making videos about it.
- I’ll be happy and fine whether or not I get jacked. I have learned it’s earned with a lot of hard work and years of dedication. Most Americans aren’t ripped or even in good shape. In fact, Healthline claims that 42% of Americans are obese. I shouldn’t be too hard on myself that I get depressed or frustrated by setting my sights too high that they’re unrealistic. Plenty of people are happy, successful, and doing just find even though their body isn’t that great. What I do know is that I will likely be in a better place after this program. My goal is not to get to this coach’s level or anywhere close. It’s to pack on some more muscle so that I look decent, ideally above average, doesn’t have to be anywhere near competition level though. And I’ve already acquired a few bits of knowledge and different behaviors that I can carry with me moving forward.
I filmed two episodes of my journey through this on YouTube. They’re not getting much engagement, so I am likely going to stop and wait until I get much deeper into the program or towards the end to do a bigger summary or recap video. I may transition the content to this blog or podcast rather than YouTube. Here’s episode one:
I have a lot more coming ahead of me! If there’s interest, I’ll keep you updated after I get through much more of this journey.