Archive for month: May, 2015

In today’s video, I walk you through how to take body circumference measurements.

This is an important skill to have, especially when it comes to tracking your fitness progress (for fat loss or muscle gain).

You’ll see here that I’m using a flexible tape measurer and tracking in five different places. I have the MyoTape Body Tape Measure, though just about any flexible measurer will do.

What’s most important is that you are consistent with not only how you’re taking measurements, but also when.

Today’s post is an interview I did with my current 1-on-1 training and nutrition client, Rachel Brooks. Rachel came to me last fall wanting to shed some fat. At the time, she mentioned that she was thinking about competing as well. 

We’ve been working closely together since then to bring in her best package. She was able to drop 15lbs off the scale and lose several inches all over, and ultimately, she did step on the bikini stage – twice! 

It was a wonderful experience – both from my end as the coach and from her end as the client – and I’ve asked her to share her journey with you all. I hope that you can find some inspiration from Rachel. 


Rachel looking lean and tan on show day!

Rachel looking lean and tan on show day!

Rachel, congratulations on all that you’ve accomplished! Tell us more about what you did the past two weeks. 

These past two weeks I have been in preparation for my two back-to-back bikini competitions. For peak week, my training was more conditioning and the first time during prep that I ever had to do steady state cardio. The training consisted of three days full body with higher reps, supersets and 30 mins of cardio after training.

As for diet, we did a carb load with tapering each day keeping sodium and water consistent. Going into the first show, I felt very full. Based on how I felt and looked, we decided to approach the following week with the less is more approach and went back to my previous training/non-training day macros. This made such a difference physically and mentally. For my second show, I felt and looked my very best. What an amazing feeling!

Sohee’s note: We didn’t know much about how her body would respond the first go-around so we simply made our best guess. From there, we saw how she responded and learned that her body looked better by sticking with a lower carb approach. We ended up not front-loading her carbs at all for her second peak week, and she was much happier with how she came in. I’d like to emphasize here that everyone’s peak week experience is unique, and there is definitely some trial and error involved in figuring out the equation that works best for you. Here is a solid peak week series from Dr. Layne Norton if you’re interested in learning more about it. 

How did that go? What did you take away from the experience? 

It went well! With two back-to-shows, we had to figure out what nutrition approach worked best for my body and which areas of my body I needed to focus more on. Both peak weeks also reminded me how much I dislike steady-state cardio 🙂

Tell us about your prep. When did you start dieting, how long was your prep, and how did it go? 

I started with Sohee in September 2014 for the overall fat loss 1-on-1 training & nutrition. With the steady progress I had made and a lot of learning on my part, I decided I would set a goal and compete. In January, I approached Sohee with this and we got started.

To be honest, the style of diet and training didn’t really change until the 3-4 weeks from first show. This was something totally unexpected since it was nothing like prep in 2012.

All I did was my two favorite things: eat and lift. Sometimes I had to remind myself I was dieting.

What was the best part? Not missing out on anything and still setting weekly PRs!

Sohee’s note: By this, Rachel means that her training approach did not change drastically, though we did start a new training program every four weeks as per my coaching protocol. She stuck to primarily heavy, compound movements with some higher rep accessory work thrown in for every session. We didn’t do anything crazy like hour-long circuits or marathon cardio sessions (in fact, we did no steady-state cardio at all until peak week). With her diet, we utilized a no-foods-off-limits macros-based approach, and we tweaked her macronutrient numbers based upon her progress. 

Rachel Brooks's transformation: September 2014 to May 2015

Rachel’s front transformation: September 2014 to May 2015

Rachel's backside transformation: from September 2014 to May 2015

Rachel’s backside transformation: from September 2014 to May 2015

I understand that the foods that you chose to eat likely differed from day to day. But what were your nutrition staples? What did you eat on the regular? Any must-have treats?  

I’m more of a flavor craving person and generally plan my meals around what flavor I’m feeling, which is mostly sweet & spicy. I live off of chicken, Tabasco Chipotle sauce, habanero cheese. I seriously eat this every day!

I ate everything and anything I wanted, as long as it fit my macros. My staples treats included Quest protein powders & bars, Arctic Zero, Kodiak Cakes, Muscle Egg (Cake Batter!️), and Walden Farms Pancake Syrup.

Arctic Zero Mint Chocolate with Quest Mint Chocolate Chunk - yum!

Arctic Zero Mint Chocolate with Quest Mint Chocolate Chunk – yum!

I enjoy the challenge of finding something I used to eat or crave and create a healthier version of it. My favorites are creating variations of pancakes & cheesecakes!

Okay, now let’s chat about your training. There’s this idea out there that if you want to lose fat – and if you want to look like a bikini competitor – you should lifting lots of light weights for high, high reps. Is this what you did? What kind of training programs were you on? 

My program consisted primarily of compound movements at low reps. This is my favorite part about training: squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, and glute bridge variations. They really challenge me and make me feel strong. I love competing against myself and setting new PRs.

We focused a lot on developing my posterior chain, which was my weakness, and balancing out my upper body since I am naturally lower body dominant.

I know you have some training limitations due to some prior injuries. How did you work around that? 

In 2012, I had ruptured my L5-S1 disc during training the week before my first competition. I thought I had just pulled a muscle but didn’t realize I was standing on stage in pain with such a severe injury. I chose to have surgery a few months later after exhausting all forms of treatment.

While in physical therapy, I was told I wouldn’t be able to strength train the same again. This was devastating and depressing at the same time since I had fallen in love with the sport. It was my passion. Over the years, I slowly worked back in a few compounds movements with light weight and yoga and was on my way to recovery.

Since working with Sohee and around my injuries, I can honestly say I have never felt better and stronger and my back injury hasn’t been an issue since. My limitations restricted me from pivotal and spinal compressing movements. We kept weights central to my core and a lot of squat variations. With the modifications to my training program, I am able to strengthen my weaknesses and reach my goals. The fear of my injury was truly my greatest weakness.

What was the hardest part about this prep? What were the biggest takeaways? 

The hardest part of my prep would probably be the last few weeks when my carbs were cut, which actually didn’t end even being all that difficult. I was hungrier at times, but it was by no means unmanageable, and I figured out how to add volume to my meals. For example, the past three weeks, I have included spaghetti squash into my daily meals. I would add it my plate and top it with proteins and fats. My other favorite meal was chicken breast with peanut Thai sauce over squash. Hits all my cravings and macros.

Of course I can’t have an interview without bringing up my favorite topic: mindset. As I always say, transformations begin with the mind first and foremost before change can be manifested in the physical self. What were some of the mindset revelations did you have, and what thought processes did you find pivotal in your success?  

This is a good question – one that can get pretty deep….

Since this is a slow process, you tend to get discouraged and at times wonder, “What’s the point? Why is my progress not faster?” But nothing in life is easy. If you want something, you truly have to be dedicated and patient. Nothing bad has ever come out of being consistent with any positive change or effort.

The biggest difference in mindset for me is the comparison of shows. My prep in 2012 was the first time I had ever been dedicated and consistent with anything and I had 17 weeks to be “ready”.

I remember the struggles and process all too well. It was 17 weeks of “clean eating” meal plans, saying no to every social event, etc. I hibernated the whole time. I developed a warped relationship with food. Although my body was changing, my mind didn’t have time to catch up and take in the physical changes my body was making. It was too quick and not realistic. I knew the deadline was approaching, and my thoughts were, “I’m not ready – I need more time! Will the judges like me? Will I be enough?”

I didn’t place at that show, and my spirits were crushed. How could they not like me? I hadn’t cheated at all on my diet. I had sacrificed everything and they didn’t even take that into account. I consoled myself by binging on all the foods (mostly Reese’s) I had collected over the 17 weeks and sat in pain, physically and mentally. Over the next few weeks, I gained back almost 25lbs. On top of that, I was unable to exercise due to my injury/surgery.

Fast forward to 2015, and what a complete change! Not once in my prep did I exclude myself from any event, denied myself anything I wanted to eat, or put myself through training hell just to be “good enough” based off someone else’s judgement of me.

I did these two recent shows to challenge myself and overcome the fears that had haunted me for three years.

Through this process, I have gained so much: I overcame fear and physical limitations, I created a realistic lifestyle, and I found food freedom, strength, confidence, self love & acceptance.

To me, that means more than someone else’s validation or trophy. I have peace with me, I am enough!

There are lots of people out there who are on the fence about competing and are curious about giving it a whirl. What’s the best piece of advice you can give to them? 

The best advice I can give is… do it for you! Not for anyone else.

Everyone will be judged no matter what, but if you have a clear understanding of who and what your goals are, you will always come out the winner. Don’t let others dictate your life.

What’s next for you?  

Right now, I am starting my reverse diet and have already set my new personal goals. I would like to increase my overall strength and muscular development and definition. Me against me!

Where we can we connect with you online? 

Instagram: am_enough


Sohee’s note: To wrap up, I thought it would be fun to plug in some graphs showing her progress from beginning to end. One thing I’d like to point out is that her progress was by no means linear. Some weeks, she made more fat loss progress than others, and at times it may appear as though she had completely stalled. Keep in mind, however, that there is more to progress than simple changes in measurements. She was still getting progressively stronger in the gym and her body composition was changing for the better over time, and neither of these things can be fully captured via bodyweight and waist circumference alone. She also nailed her macros, of course, and kept up her training intensity week after week; the below numbers are a direct reflection of her program adherence.

Don’t discouraged if you feel that you’ve been nailing your program but the scale weight hasn’t been budging. Pay attention to subtle changes in the mirror, the fit of your clothes, and even comments from coworkers, family, and friends. 

Rachel's bodyweight change over time
Rachel’s bodyweight change over time
Rachel's waist circumference change over time
Rachel’s waist circumference change over time
Rachel Brooks's transformation: September 2014 to May 2015
Rachel front pics posted again for comparison

“I just want to be toned.”
“I need to lean out for the summer.”

For women in particular, slashing calories and swearing off bread forever seems to be the default reaction to wanting a supposed bikini body.

There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to drop bodyfat – let me be clear on that. If you want to lean out, all the more power to you.

But before you move forward with dieting, it’s important to understand that “just lose more fat” is not always the answer to your physique woes. In other words, the body that you’re after – that “toned,” athletic yet slender look – may not necessarily be a simple matter of shedding fat off your frame.

What do I mean by this?

You may not want to diet if:

1.) You’re skinny fat.

Your bodyweight is considered healthy according to the BMI scale, yet your body fat percentage is still high – this is typically manifested in the form flabby arms, flabby legs, and probably a doughy midsection that refuses to go away no matter what. In other words, you simply don’t have much lean muscle mass on your frame, which in turn makes it more difficult to see any muscle definition.

Muscle definition is good.

Oftentimes, people find themselves looking skinny fat if they’ve been focusing solely on scale weight. I don’t condone this approach for several reasons, one of which includes the fact that it completely disregards body composition. At the same time, fear of seeing the number on the scale go up can prevent you from building quality muscle that will actually help you achieve the look that you’re going for.

People usually get here via a combination of long-term caloric restriction, excessive cardio, and avoidance of weight-bearing exercises.

If you fall into this category, then you may want to hit the brakes on dieting – for now, anyway.

2.) You’ve been crash dieting for a considerable length of time.

In this case, your body has likely long since stopped responding to what should be a caloric deficit.

And if this is you, then no amount of cardio or sad lettuce-eating will get your body to drop fat. You may be religious about getting in your gym sessions, drinking your water, nailing your nutrition, and managing your stress levels — in other words, doing all the right things for fat loss — but none of that will matter if your body is pissed off.

We all know that I’m not a proponent of crash dieting. It only works until it doesn’t, and then the aftermath is typically incredibly messy. It’s not unusual to regain the weight that was lost during the crash dieting phase plus more. Why? In a nutshell, because the methods utilized were not sustainable.

(Are there exceptions? Yes, there are a handful of people who can successfully crash diet and then keep that weight off over the long term. If this is you, all the more power to you. But please, don’t count on being the exception. That’s how you get yourself into trouble.)

How do you know if you’ve been crash dieting? In general, your calorie intake has been somewhere in the (10-12) x (bodyweight in lbs) range or lower, and you can’t remember the last time you haven’t been trying to diet. On top of that, your qualify of life has likely gone down the drain, you may be obsessed with the scale weight, and you might be terrified of carbs. Or fats. Or both.

3.) You’re already lean with some, but not much, muscle mass.

This is perhaps the fuzziest category to pinpoint. After all, what qualifies as “lean”? What counts as having “some” muscle mass?

Let’s use myself as an example.

Back in 2008, I had just discovered weightlifting. In January, I was 5’2″ 110lbs with some muffin top going on (yes, really!). Unfortunately I don’t have any progress pictures from that time, but over the next few months, I dropped 8lbs. Here’s what my body looked like by June:

A stringbean Sohee in 2008. I was 102lbs in this photo with not much muscle at all.

A stringbean Sohee in 2008. I was 102lbs in this photo with not much muscle at all.

I managed to get myself pretty lean, as you can see. I didn’t have any extra flab, I’d gotten rid of the rolls around my waist, and when I flexed, you could see a sixpack. I’d estimate my bodyfat to have been around 16% or so.

Strength-wise, I wasn’t doing too terribly for a beginner weightlifter. After less than six months of teaching myself how to lift, I was deadlifting 90lbs, squatting 85lbs, and dumbbell bench pressing 30lbs in each hand. I hadn’t yet built up the strength to do a full bodyweight pull-up just yet, however.

It was during this time that I hired an online coach and told him that I wanted to lose even more fat. He agreed to help.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, Lose more fat? From where? And looking back, I can certainly attest to the fact that I definitely should not have been continuing to diet. With my calories already in the 1,300 range and my steady-state cardio at 45 minutes a day, four days a week, I hadn’t left myself with much wiggle room to make progress.

I didn’t really get anywhere over the next six months (surprise!). Yes, I got a tiny bit stronger, and yes, my conditioning improved, but my calorie allotment was so low (started out at 1,200 and ended at just under 1,000) that I was essentially running on fumes. As well, over time, my cardio was gradually bumped up to six days of 45-minute steady-state sessions per week – all of this in addition to four days of weight training. I was moving a lot and eating very little, in other words.

That program turned out to be the perfect recipe for a rebound. Once my bodyweight hit 99lbs — and some simple math will tell you that I lost a measly half pound per month — I had so depleted my willpower that my eating spiraled out of control, and I proceeded to pack on 20+ pounds over the next two months. The kicker? Nobody had noticed or even cared about the 3lbs that I’d dropped. Oh, and I was miserable.

Here’s what should have happened: Despite my desire to achieve that ripped, shredded look, my coach at the time should have recognized that I had neither the muscle mass nor the caloric flexibility to try to continue to lean out. At best, I would have listened to him and switched to a slow muscle-building phase; at worst, he should have refused to work with me had I insisted on dieting. As it were, neither of those scenarios unfolded, and I was left to struggle with the repercussions over the next four years. 

Hot damn.

Ladies, if your bodyfat is already under 20% (men under 12%), you’re considered pretty lean already. If you want to shed a few more pounds of fat, that’s probably okay. But once you near 15% (men 9%), you’re reaching the land of diminishing returns: lots and lots of work and hurting for fewer and fewer gains.

Build a fit, lean look with the following steps:

1.) Pull yourself out of a caloric deficit.

I understand this can seem scary. After all, you may know nothing but dieting non-stop year-round.

However, what many individuals – women in particular – may struggle to grasp is the fact that having more lean muscle mass actually makes you look better. It gives you the shapely curves that you’re going for – provided that it’s not covered by a thick layer of fat, of course. And consuming enough food will ensure that your body is provided with the energy it needs to build said muscle.

I’m not saying that you should become Ben & Jerry’s next best customer. The point is not to swing wildly from one extreme to the other.

All you need to do is to not be in a caloric deficit. For some of you, that may mean adding in an extra 300 calories per day. For others, that may look more like 500-800.

In general, maintenance calories for people tend to be in the (14-16) x (bodyweight in lbs) range. This number can be influenced by genetics, age, dieting history, and lifestyle factors, but most people will be able to hang out here comfortably. The formula isn’t perfect, of course, but it’s a good ballpark estimate.

If I’m a 25 year-old female who is lightly active during the day and has not been dieting for the past six months, my maintenance calories may be calculated to be on the higher end of the range at just above 1,700 calories.

2.) Consume sufficient protein.

Protein is king! That much is clear.

Protein not only helps you build muscle, but it also helps retain it. And while the RDA sits at 46 grams per day for a 57.5kg woman and 56 grams per day for a 70kg man, remember that these recommendations are for sedentary individuals – and we’re not sedentary, right?

When you throw strength training into the equation, protein requirements increase. Why? Because muscle protein breakdown rates increase, and you need to overcome that via dietary intervention.

It makes sense, then, that if you want to build muscle (and you do want to build muscle), then you should be making protein a priority.

Recommendations for active individuals will vary across the board. I’ve seen coaches prescribe anywhere between 0.8-1.2 grams per pound of total body weight.

As a general rule of thumb, I like to keep my intake at 1.0 gram per pound of total bodyweight at the bare minimum.

3.) Start weight training for strength.

Remember: Muscle is good. Strength is good.

When it comes to weight training, anywhere between two to four days a week is a solid starting point, depending on the individual. For most people, I’d recommend either a full body split or an upper/lower split. Doing so will allow for increased opportunity to work given muscles.

Of course, you’ll want to prioritize compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, pullups, and bridging variations. Women in particular may want to place special emphasis on their glute development by working them more frequently.

By “weight training for strength” I mean that you should be striving to make progress from one week to the next. Take each session seriously. Do your warmup and focus on the exercise rather than gossip with your girlfriend in the middle of your set.

Progress can mean you add an extra 5lbs onto your squat, or perhaps it means that you stay at the same weight but squeeze out an extra rep. It can even mean that your form improves slightly – that still counts as progress!

If you’re looking for a quality training program, I’ve written a two-day split for you here and a four-day split for you here.

4.) Give it time.

It’s easier to be impatient; we’re accustomed to instant gratification. I totally get it.

But if you want to build a solid foundation of muscle and look more athletic (and leaner!) in the long-term, you have to give it time.

A scant two months at what you’ve calculated to be your maintenance intake before diving straight back into a steep caloric deficit isn’t going to cut it. I know the temptation may be there – because maybe you have this lingering fear that if you’re not chronically dieting, then you’re going to gain 20lbs overnight – but I encourage you to stick with it.

Building a physique takes time. It takes months and years of hard work and dedication. And if you’re too busy cutting calories left and right, you’re never going to give your body a fighting chance.

In general, the longer you’ve been dieting, the longer you should be out of a caloric deficit.

Again, that doesn’t mean that you have to bulk or pile on tons of fat. If you want to reverse diet, you can certainly do that. If you’d prefer to simply eat enough and keep your calories stagnant for a while, that’s fine, too.

A before and current transformation of me. Left: anorexic. Right: eating right, lifting heavy and hard.

A before and current transformation of me. Left: anorexic. Right: eating right, lifting heavy and hard.

Here’s a before and current side-by-side of myself to show you what can be achieved.

On the left, I’m 14 years old and anorexic. In that picture, I’ve already lost over 20lbs off of my already-small 5’2″ frame and I’m hovering right around 80lbs. I’m eating exactly zero calories per day plus running 15 miles and doing 300 pushups and 5,000 sit ups every single day. I’m not lifting any weights out of fear of getting bulky – and yet I’m wondering why I don’t look the way I want.

On the right, I’m 25 years old and I have over seven years of strength training under my belt. I’m still 5’2″ (unfortunately) and my weight is at 108lbs. I’ve followed the four basic principles above for long enough to see positive change take place in my physique. As I write this, I can squat 160lbs, bench press 105lbs, and deadlift 215lbs.

I look much healthier and athletic now if you ask me. (Not to mention, I’m far happier.)

Learn to enjoy the ride.

If you’re in this to make a long-term, lasting lifestyle change, then I encourage you to take the focus off the scale weight.

If I’d never let go of my obsession with staying below 90lbs, I never would have known what it felt like to be strong. I never would have allowed myself to build any muscle. I would have stayed petrified of any and all food, and hell – maybe I never would have made it here.

Fitness is about so much more than how much you weigh.

Ladies in particular: I urge you to set performance goals in the gym. Shoot for one strict bodyweight pullup. Train for a powerlifting meet (that’s what I’m doing now!). Learn a new skill, such as how to double clean kettlebells.

Doing so will allow you to feel truly empowered, and you’ll learn that true fitness success comes when you fall in love with the process and enjoy the ride.

There’s a lot to be said about consistency, both with training and with nutrition.

Stick to the four basic principles outlined above and your body will be thanking you for many years to come.

This is a 10-minute mini-band glute circuit that you can do from anywhere.

I like to do this at the end of a strength training session OR as a stand-alone glute workout.

Here’s what it looks like:

A1. RKC plank 10-20s hold
A2. Banded bodyweight squat 10ea
A3. Wide-stance banded bodyweight squat to reverse lunge 10ea
A4. Monster walk (band around feet)
A5. Seated band hip abduction 10,10,10 (3 ways)
A6. Feet-elevated bodyweight glute bridge

Rest for 30-60 seconds and then repeat the circuit one more time.

In this Physique Science Podcast episode, we chat with Coach Stevo about behavior change, working clients, and different coaching methods.

Stevo is the nutrition and behavior change consultant at San Francisco Crossfit. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA and holds his MA in Sports Psychology from John F. Kennedy University. He runs a habits-based coaching program for wellness professionals all over the world. He also helped Dan John write Intervention in 2012.
Coach Stevo is a huge fan of honest feedback, empathy,  and hard conversations.


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