(AND WHAT YOU DON’T SEE BEHIND THE SCENES)Before and after pics are the most common form of fitness marketing, and it makes sense why that is. “Here’s John and Jane Doe before starting with us. A few weeks later, look at their results. You can do this too! Sign up here!” There is nothing outright wrong with this (unless the photos are photo shopped to be misleading, of course), but it really doesn’t tell the whole story. So I wanted to share my transformation and the lessons I learned, including my personal before and after pics. I’m hesitant to share these because I strongly believe before and after pictures can be misleading, and for some people borderline dangerous depending on their mindset. So, I’m sharing them with the takeaways you don’t normally hear about, not just the Instagram highlight reel of “look how good I look – hire me for fitness and appreciate my efforts”. (This is also part of the reason we don’t use half-naked before and afters in our marketing at LSFW – we want a sustainable change that sets people 45-50 and beyond on a healthy trajectory for the rest of their lives.) Without further ado, here are my before and after pics:
BEFORENot bad, but I had some work I wanted to do. Notice the hips shifted over? Scoliosizand a fractured vertebrae set me back, and I’ve made great progress with rehabbing it the last few years!
AFTERAaaaaaand of course they made me do the stereotypical 80’s bodybuilder pose haha! Over 12 weeks I lost almost 30 lbs of fat and water weight while gaining 4.4lbs of muscle, and went from 19% body fat to 10%. I did a DEXA scan before and after, which is the gold standard of measuring body composition – including bone density! I want to make it clear – these are exceptional results, and I’m very proud of the work I put into making this happen. However, the reason it’s dangerous is these pictures don’t tell the whole story. They don’t show how boring my meals were, what I sacrificed, how my life was set up, what I had “on the line”, my energy levels, and sleep patterns. Most importantly, they don’t tell you anything about my training status going into this. So here’s the whole story that pictures online don’t share, to give you some food for thought when you see advertising and hear stories of other people’s success. TAKEAWAY #1: YOUR EXERCISE BACKGROUND AND EXPERIENCE MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE. What experience and tools do you have that you can use for your journey? When I did this I was 24 years old, and worked out anywhere from 2 to 10 times per week for the previous 8 years. At this point, I had also been a personal trainer for 5 years, and I do a lot of continuing education so there were a lot of tools in my toolbox to use for success. The other side of the coin is I hadn’t been exercising as intensely leading into starting this, so I was the most out of shape I’d been in years – I was 10-15lbs heavier than my normal. The combination of lots of experience and “muscle memory”, and being more out of shape than usual, gave me faster results and made the impressiveness of the before and after pictures stacked in my favour. For someone starting out who has to learn how to exercise with good technique, and learn about what foods have what nutrients, and is new to troubleshooting plateaus, results are always slower. Think of the difference between a mechanic fixing your car, and someone who needs to do repairs but has never looked under the hood. The mechanic can do a better job in a fraction of the time because of their experience and tools. TAKEAWAY #2: YOUR RESULTS ARE OFTEN PROPORTIONAL TO YOUR LEVEL OF SACRIFICE, AND EVERYONE IS WILLING TO SACRIFICE DIFFERENT THINGS FOR DIFFERENT RESULTS. What aspects of your life are a non-negotiable, fulfilling part, and what are you willing to change? I was INCREDIBLY on plan all the time. In the 12 weeks doing this, I never missed a workout (5x/wk+), and I missed my calorie and protein targets only three times. That means I was on track over 97% of the time. For reference, if you are perfect Monday to Friday and take weekends “off”, that’s 71%. I didn’t drink any alcohol, weighed EVERYTHING I ate, slept 8-9 hours a night and went to bed early to do so, and never missed a workout. I was obsessive. If you asked me to hang out in the evening, I left by 8pm so I could be asleep for 9:30pm and up for 5:30am. I even got Katja (girlfriend at the time, now wife) having the same meals as me. I also worked a lot and sacrificed a lot. I worked 70+ hours a week, didn’t have much of a social life, didn’t see family often, and didn’t do much other than work, eat, and exercise. I was always hungry, always tired, and the last few weeks I was miserable. It was honestly awful. In the pictures where I looked my best, I felt my absolute worst – mentally, physically, and emotionally! This is rarely talked about, but the closer I progressed toward the end date, the worse weaker I became mentally and physically. It’s incredibly hard to stay on track when everything about the plan, aside from the result, sucks. In short, for these 12 weeks this was my top priority and my next priority was a distant second. Very few people want to give up family, friends, and happiness for a good picture, and I honestly don’t think most people should make that sacrifice. Take it from me – having abs is not nearly as rewarding as relationships and joy.
DEXA scans are cool – I felt like I was in a Star Trek scanner, looking for some sort of alien parasite 😛TAKEAWAY #3: THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THE GREATEST CHANGE USUALLY HAVE LESS DEMANDS SO THEY CAN STAY CONSISTENT, AND ALWAYS HAVE A COACH TO HELP THEM REACH THEIR GOAL. Knowing your life and commitments – what is reasonable for you, and who can you hire to save time, energy, and stress? I had a lot on the line, and a very simple life. Like I mentioned, I was working lots of hours, so didn’t have time for hobbies. I rented a small condo, living with someone else in the fitness industry since Katja and I hadn’t moved in together yet – no grass cutting, no maintenance, no homeowner stress. Because I was so broke, I also found “side hustles” to pay the bills. I worked in person as a trainer, I had a business doing online fitness coaching, and I had a consulting gig ghostwriting workout programs. The consulting gig was the spark for this transformation – I was going to be in charge of an online coaching program for a MASSIVE company, and they wanted me to have the ‘street cred’ to match my ‘school cred’. My boss paid for my DEXA scans, he set up the photo shoot, he coached me through the process and essentially they dangled the carrot of “if you get X results you’ll make Y money”. As a recently graduated, borderline-broke 24 year old, I had a ton of external motivation. My life was so simple it was easy to focus on my action steps to have a good photo shoot, and my coach had my back to make things even easier for me. For the vast majority of fitness results, we have other things in life that take our attention, and usually are fulfilling. If I had to do this again now, I couldn’t put in the same amount of effort – I have more going on that’s important to me, and I wouldn’t give it up. TAKEAWAY #4: THERE ARE A LOT OF THINGS DONE TO PHOTOS TO MAKE THEM APPEAR BETTER THAN THEY ARE – LIGHTING, PHOTOSHOP, AND TANNING TO NAME A FEW – AND THE MORE DRASTIC AND QUICK THE CHANGE, THE HARDER IT IS TO MAINTAIN. What pace is appropriate for you, and how can you set up your plan in a way you can maintain your results long term? These before and after pics are outright misleading, with everything for those pictures stacked in my favour. I’m proud to say these aren’t photo shopped like many are, but we still did things to make me look as good as possible. The lighting was perfect for my photo shoot and done on a professional camera, in a professional studio, with hundreds of pictures taken to get a handful of good ones. In contrast, the before picture was on a cellphone, in an office, and we only took one picture. I also had to go tanning. A lot! And I shaved the hair off my entire body…it took 2 hours (Ask me in person and I’ll share the misery). My complexion is very pale with dark body hair, and something as simple as getting a tan and removing body hair makes you look immediately more fit and defined. In the before pictures it was January so I didn’t see a lot of sun, and I can say quite confidently I never shaved my body up until this point and hope to never do it again. I’m also flexing (hard) in all the after photos. I was amazed how draining a couple hours of photography can be – I was exhausted. Every picture has every muscle flexed to look as good as possible, and my boss at the time was coaching me how to pose to maximize my shoulders and chest and minimize my waist size to get that ‘V’ taper… In the before pictures, I am standing completely relaxed without giving it any thought. Water and carbohydrate intake were also adjusted so as to be as lean as possible for the photo shoot. I had the photo shoot in the morning, and in the afternoon I did the DEXA scan for the results. In the couple hours it took to drive from one to the other, I gained 5lbs. Those pictures are quite literally a snapshot in time of me looking my very best for 1 hour after 12 weeks of work. Lastly, it was incredibly unsustainable. I still fit treats and snacks into my calorie goals, so it wasn’t about the foods – mentally I was just toast. I didn’t want to track anything anymore. I didn’t want to be hungry. I didn’t want to workout all the time. I didn’t want to have to think about fitness. It stopped being fun. I wanted to spend time with my friends, hangout out with my family, and enjoy life. I don’t remember the exact timeline, but I very rapidly gained 10-15lbs, and because I was so burned out from the excessive effort I put in, I actually exercised far less afterwards to mentally recharge. I learned a lot, but if I do this again I will take a much different approach, focusing on losing weight slower, prioritizing habits of tracking, and making some other changes. DEXA scans are the gold standard for measuring bone mineral density. You can see strength training pays off. Honestly, if it took me 3x as long, I achieved only 80% of the results (and maintained them) I would have been happier. I hope this gives you some insight into what goes into a before and after picture, and shines some light on what the picture doesn’t show you. If I were to do it again, I would change a lot about what I did. Don’t get me wrong – I hit the goal, but I couldn’t get the same results at the same speed right now. And I’m 100% okay with that. I am a huge believer in human potential – people can do exceptional things. And at the same time, pictures don’t tell the whole story. No two people will necessarily achieve the exact same results, and quite frankly it might not be worth it to you to make the sacrifices needed. A happy life involves good health and fitness, and it also involves friends, family and other sources of fulfillment – many of which you need to neglect to get a 6 pack. If you’re interested in learning how to get great, long-lasting results, while enjoying your life, contact us to see if LSFW is right for you.