Why I do these client case studies?
To illustrate that everyone’s journey is different and a definition of triumph and success is different for everyone as well – therefore there are no linear pathways – but there is expert guidance. Some people aren’t even aware of their own success, even as it’s happening.
So, having said that, let’s talk about my client who I often refer to as “Young Maxx.”
When Young Maxx first came to me he was confused. Maxx was the typical target demographic of the most popular ‘bodybuilding’ supersites that target young men between the ages of 18-25. These sites rouse excitement, and combine that tactic with magic programs and magic supplements and of course magic results. The result is confusion.
Here is a “‘before” and “in progress” picture of Young Maxx. (More below!)
and no longer self-conscious about taking his shirt off!
I’ve asked Maxx to contribute his own words to this article, so Maxx’s words are below, and then I will comment.
When I first hired the Coach, I wanted to lose weight. I was looking to get 6 pack abs and sit around 10% body fat. I thought that would take about a year or less and I’d be ripped for life. I also wanted someone to write me out my workouts. I didn’t know anything about actual workout programs. But I will get to that.
Before Coach’s guidance, I would eat a lot of protein, low carbs, and honestly barely focus on fat intake at all, but I ate it. I would try to eat generally healthy. I ate sandwiches, and I especially ate large portions of chicken and ground beef and some veggies.
I tried Keto and thought that was the end all be all diet, because I had seen success with it in the past, I thought that was the only way. So any time I felt bad about myself I would cut out all carbs and get right back on “track.” Rarely did I ever make it a week doing this.
I even tried a juice cleanse, but I didn't make it 24 hours!
I would also race home from the gym and take my protein with some other supplement that was full of sugar because I had to swallow that within the ‘peak absorption window’. I believed in all those time constraints on eating.
I thought these were the secrets to get me to where I wanted to be.
Then I went on to eat a couple big meals every day, like Intermittent Fasting; as well as going out to eat sprinkled in there.
In that whole time realm of trying to lose weight, I’d go out to eat at least 3-5 times a week. And on the weekend there was no such thing as being healthy. There was a lot of alcohol and fast food. Portions really weren't even a thought to me. But of course I still thought that I was following a diet to get 6 pack abs.
The flip side to this was when I would go out to eat, I would wake up the next day feeling physically terrible, as well as, and maybe even more intensely, mentally and emotionally terrible. I would feel so bad about myself not being able to stick to a diet or anything. Then I'd not eat until dinner or just until I got hungry because I thought that if I just didn't eat that would be better than adding more food into my big fast food meal that I had the night before. I'd also go do cardio in order to help facilitate fat loss after going out to eat. It was a never ending cycle.
I never tried any sort of paid nutrition until I hired Coach, but I was always scouring the web for the best new diet and then I would never stick to it anyway. The next thing was always going to be the best thing.
Then, I also started using a fitness tracker which made me obsessed with my steps and calories burned, and if I didn't it reach the goal on my tracker, I would have anxiety and feel like I didn't accomplish anything.
I was the person who went into the gym with no plan. I didn’t even know there was a difference between a workout and a program. And I was the typical gym goer, who, no matter what, I always did 30 minutes of cardio, every single time I went to the gym. I lifted weights but I didn’t really know how that fit into losing weight, which was my goal. I was not very consistent either. I thought I had to go to the gym 5 days a week at least or I felt terrible about myself. I would just lift weights, and do cardio. No real solid plan.
The gym I attended was a CrossFit gym with field work like sprints and agility. It was the kind of place that reinforced the thought that I needed to throw up or be on the ground panting after my workouts. So I used to believe that the way to getting my chiseled six pack was that I needed to leave the gym and have to sit in my car, slumped over the steering wheel for 15-20 minutes to recover.
That place gave me diet advice which I would not give to anyone lol.
And I didn’t even really lose weight working out like this; but I did get exhausted, which I interpreted as doing everything right to reach my goal.
Issues and Solutions
Many of Maxx’s issues were not going to be solved by with a diet and a program (although I will discuss his diet and programming). The most glaring issues we had to work on were these:
- Guilt as foundation of identity with respect to fitness
- Faulty perspectives of success
- Definition of insanity
- Common sense
- Self-Rejection vs. Self-Assurance
Let’s examine each of these briefly and then I will show you how all of this influenced what I assigned Maxx for diet-strategy and workout programs.
Guilt as foundation of identity with respect to fitness
Look at how often and how much “guilt” was Maxx's “go to” thinking: guilt cardio, cutting carbs based on guilt for diet indiscretions., etc. He repeats this several times.
Guilt and shame are horrible self-concepts for achievement. Guilt drives and reinforces a failure-mindset and this squashes motivation and confidence.
So, this was 100% the first thing I wanted to address as the coaching relationship unfolded.
Faulty perspectives of success
Look at what Maxx says about “keto.” He says it had always worked for him before, but then the very next thing he says is that when cutting carbs he barely made it a week, and he couldn’t sustain it. That is a faulty perspective of success.
Ideally, these experiences should have taught him that things like this did NOT work, and only led to more self-sabotage. So that was also something we focused on.
The definition of insanity
The definition of insanity is to “keep repeating the same behaviors while expecting different results.”
Maxx kept trying to cut carbs based on guilt, shame, or internet searches, and it only led to further diet-sabotage. I challenged Maxx to address the notion of what he thought he knew about what works and what doesn’t work, so he could see the insanity of repeating that same behavior over and over again.
I got Maxx to start constantly asking, “Is this sustainable?”
Training to exhaustion, doing guilt cardio, cutting carbs — none of these behaviors were sustainable. Once he started focusing on that questions, Maxx understood this very quickly.
Getting anyone to buy into the unsexy stuff like common sense is a challenge. “Common sense” is just not as exciting as the internet-hyped solutions.
Here's what makes it harder: if you want to, say, become a member of various online fitness communities, then a common sense approach has less panache and suddenly you don’t fit into these groups, because you can’t go on and on about agreeing with these magical solutions.
Sometimes this is where trust comes in to play. When the client has doubts, the coach can step in and say, “Yes, it is that simple. Keep doing what you're doing.”
You can see how this is related to my above point.
As I always tell people, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. As above, “trust” helped, but so did that question I mentioned earlier: “Is this sustainable?” A lot of pinballing is actually a result of unsustainable taining strategies. Once you're doing things that are sustainable it's much easier to keep on the straightest path to success.
By focusing on his weight, Maxx was constantly missing the big picture. I had Maxx re-direct his focus on other more real things – like self-discipline, authenticity, being true to his commitments, and of course I had him focus on the notion that ‘the goal is the process.’ In other words I had Maxx take the focus off, of his weight and on to more and better intangibles.
Training and Diet
Everyone just wants to know, “Yeah, but what was his program? What is his diet?”
People still see magic where there is none. Re-read everything above. What Maxx required was simplicity, sustainability and something he could learn from straight away.
I started Maxx on a whole body training protocol that was well below his actual work capacity at the time. Why? Because I wanted Maxx to start learning about the power of consistency. You can’t be consistent if something is not sustainable.
Next, and even more importantly, I wanted Maxx to build a mindset of self-assurance. By getting him to abide in something uncomplicated and not overly challenging, the benefits of sustainability became obvious to Maxx. He has since graduated to more complex and intense training programs, but first we laid the foundation.
Initially it wasn’t about “what he did for cardio” or anything. These things were incidental, not instrumental.
His diet strategy took the exact same approach.
We kept it simple and we kept it common sense. And do I even need to say this? We used a carbs-based diet. WE EAT CARBS in the Abel camp, and I will stress that whenever I can and as much as I can.
We got Maxx off the low-carbs carousel, and–as with the training–this helped him experience the value of sustainability and consistency.
In fact, when I initially wrote about “breaking vegan” Maxx emailed me and wanted to know if he could go plant-based as well.
Guess what my answer was?
I said, “NO! Not right now!”
That is how important it was to get him on something sustainable that he could be consistent with, and teach him the value of both of those concepts, until they became ingrained habits in him.
Lessons and Special Insights
Maxx has learned one key secret: THERE ARE NO SECRETS. There are only sound principles and consistency of their application.
Maxx is now much more aware of extraneous “noise” in the form of unsolicited advice, gimmicks, bad information, and vogue nonsense. Now he ignores them or laughs them off.
By keeping things simple and doable, and by challenging him just enough to sustain his interest while also helping him build specific habits, Maxx’s mindset was able to begin entertaining self-nurturing and self-assurance.
Other Really, Really Important Stuff
But it doesn’t end there.
After a certain time of Maxx being consistent and compliant with diet and training (and thereby proving something to himself) I started challenging Maxx with higher ideals about why he is really doing all of this to begin with. I started challenging him that he could do better, be better, and get better. I pushed him more than I would have at the beginning.
For example, one time when Maxx reported in about a minor diet-indiscretion and how it didn’t matter because he looked the same in the mirror and his weight didn’t change, I challenged him about how immature that line of thinking was, and where it got him in the past. I challenged him about whether that line of thinking was consistent with “doing better, being better, and getting better.” I wanted to make sure he wasn't slipping into a “what can I get away with?” mindset, and I wanted him to be able to look in the mirror and just trust and like the reflection he sees looking back.
Final (and Very Impressive) Outcomes
Look at Maxx’s before and after pictures. Take a really good look. Maxx’s whole mindset changed trajectory, and because of that, his body just followed along.
That is how you do it if you want it to be sustainable forever.
Maxx lives a healthy sustainable fitness lifestyle (and this is monumental when you compare it to where more yo yo dieting might have led him).
Put simply: Maxx has changed the trajectory of his life.