This is a short story of my fitness transformation journey of how I fought through the chaos of misinformation in fitness magazines and “bad genetics” to eventually go on to compete and win several amateur bodybuilding competitions.
I was sick and tired of being a skinny-fat guy.
I was sick of being sick with pneumonia. I was also tired of being told my genetics were the reason why I couldn’t build muscle. After all, I was just a normal guy wanting to get into shape to look and feel good.
Let’s turn the clock back and look at the true beginning of my fitness transformation journey and the origin of my so-called bad genetics.
My Skinny Teenage Years
As a teenager, I was a skinny computer geek. I loved dismantling computers and re-assembling them.
Every now and again, I would go for a jog around the neighborhood and at night, do multiple sets of push-ups and sit-ups in my bedroom. This was the first time I tried to work on building a six pack.
As an Aussie kid, I was also raised on Vegemite and toast! If you’ve never heard of Vegemite, it looks like this…
I never had any fitness role models in my life nor did Instagram exist for a fitsperation fix! There was no such thing as “eating your veggies” in my household.
Like most teenagers, I wanted a six pack. And as an 80s kid, I didn’t have YouTube (or the internet) as a tool to figure out how to get one. I had Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rambo as distant idols to an intangible goal.
At around 19, I signed up to my first 12 month gym membership in Bundaberg. After less than half a dozen visits of trying the cables machines, I realised I hated the gym and stopped going.
My “Skinny Genetics” Belief
After years of being told by people that my genetics were the reason I would be skinny for life, I started to believe they were right.
After all, if you look at the photo of my body (above) taken 9 years apart, not much has really changed. I’m still skinny.
This was confirmation that those critics were right about my skinny genetics.
Try and Failing… many times!
For most of my 20s, I went through phases of trying different diets, attending Tony Robbins’ health seminars, and becoming momentarily inspired to train in my basic gym at my apartment complex after going to one of these “pump me up” seminars.
I tried so many different schools of thought — trying to find the right way to get into shape.
I also tried the food combination diet, being a pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan. From the many books on dieting that I had read, I was led to believe that it wasn’t my genetics but my food choices that was keeping me skinny-fat.
This led me down the path of “clean eating” and becoming obsessive about the types of food I was putting into my body.
For lunch, I would eat salads such as these…
And by the following month, I would jump on some kind of crazy expensive “juice cleanse”. Believing the reason for being out of shape was due to toxicity in my body which I needed to cleanse out of me.
Editor’s Note: When I look back on these photos, I cannot help but to think how ignorant I was of the science of fat loss and muscle gain. Agh! I wasted so much time!
When I was around 25 years old, I decided to sign up to another gym membership in Port Melbourne and give fitness another chance.
For the next few years, I would casually visit the gym and do Les Mils group fitness classes and cable machine workouts. I didn’t know what I was doing! I never tracked my workouts or the food I was eating.
I knew nothing about protein intake requirements or the importance of protein intake for building muscle.
At the time, I worked a corporate job that involved alot of night shift. There were no shortage of people that told me that working night shift would undo my efforts to get into shape.
I also looked at celebrity training and nutrition programs. Ryan Reynolds caught my eye and I saved this photo (below) as my own inspirational physique.
At one stage, all I wanted was a physique like Ryan Reynolds.
Hospital Visits for Pneumonia
It was around 25 or 26 years of age that my accumulated stress levels and bad eating habits led to regular visits to the emergency ward of the Alfred hospital here in Melbourne.
Every 6 to 8 weeks or so, I would succumb to really bad chest infections which led to incessant dry coughs that would last for weeks. Seriously, I would cough non-stop for weeks on end.
I would often need to take time off from my corporate job to deal with this debilitating illness. I would often get chest scans, blood tests, and urine samples to try and isolate the probable cause.
After several years of visits to the hospital for episodes of a persistent dry cough — the doctors suspected that an accumulation of stressors in my life, along with my poor dieting habits, contributed to a degree of pneumonia.
Here is one of several letters from a doctor that was treating me at the time.
I just ended a 6-year long relationship (and moved out of her apartment), paused my ambitions of becoming a commercial pilot, and decided I would finally figure out how to get into the best shape of my life.
Moving out of my ex girlfriends apartment toward the end of 2014 and “starting over” was one of the hardest decisions of my life. My new apartment bedroom was a complete mess.
The accumulation of the stress of trying to run a business with my ex, undertaking flight training, working a corporate job, and eating junk food, all at the same time, was putting me in a vulnerable position to falling ill with pneumonia.
Hitting Rock Bottom
One day toward the end of 2014, I was laying on the mattress in my new bedroom with another chest infection— miserable — and I said to myself, with absolute conviction… I need to work on myself! I need to fucking figure out how to get fit and healthy… once and for all.
I downloaded e-books on my kindle and started consuming as much content around training and nutrition as possible.
If you are serious about getting into shape, this book is a must buy. I have a copy of it on Kindle which I still reference every now and again.
I also learned of the push-pull-legs training method which helped me to structure my workouts. A methodology which I still use to this day!
The principles of bulking and cutting, calculating my macros and calories, learning meal planning, and using DEXA scans to track progress, were some of the many concepts that contributed to my success in this area of my life.
I also used MyNetDiary to help track and monitor my calorie intake for bulking and cutting.
I would also play around with my macronutrient intake ratios inside MyNetDiary ensuring that my protein intake was always around 35 to 40% of my calorie budget.
I’d usually set my carbs to around 40 to 45% and my fats around 20%. Overall, my macronutrient ratio would be 40–40–20 (protein, carb, and fat).
At this point, in 2015, I had just turned 30 years old and committed more than ever to “beat my genetics” and get into shape, never returning to hospital again.
My Bulking and Cutting Journey
As a complete newbie, I decided to try my first “cut”. This means reducing calorie intake to be in a calorie deficit. Which means with every day your body is in a calorie deficit, you will lose weight.
At the end of 3 months of my first cut, I was very disappointed! I was left with a body with no muscle and, well, skinny looking! Exactly where I started (those damn genetics, I thought!)
Although I nailed the principle of being in a calorie deficit (to lose weight), I failed to correctly hit my macros (which targets body composition, or the ratio of muscle to fat on your body).
My protein levels were around 70–80 grams per day! No where near enough — I should have been on at least 150–200 grams of protein per day. I screwed this up! Meaning, while I was doing my first cut, I was losing muscle and fat! (High protein levels preserve muscle while in a calorie deficit).
I decided to pick myself up and try again for another bulk!
In February 2015, I decided to start the process of the longest bulk known to man! Seriously, I didn’t really know what I was doing. The bulk should have lasted 3–4 months but instead, continued for almost 12 months!
During this 11 month bulking period, using a macronutrient calculator, I determined my target calorie intake to be around 2,900 to 3,000 calories per day while setting my macros to 208 grams of protein, 390 grams of carbohydrate, and 66 grams of fat.
I followed a “if it fits your macros” approach where I ate the food I enjoyed against various flexible meal plans and at times, applications such as MyNetDiary to help track and monitor my calorie and macro targets.
My aim was to be within 100–150 calories of my daily target calories and within 10% of my macro targets.
And while I was bulking, I was also weight training using a push pull legs weightlifting blueprint. I was training for 5–6 days a week in the gym, for a maximum of 60 to 70 minutes, emphasising heavy compound weight lifting.
During my bulking and cutting journey, I incorporated DEXA scans where I would pay $60 per visit to receive a scan of my body composition and learn how much muscle I’d gain or fat I’ve lost.
Although a DEXA scan is not essential, I was always fascinated by how much fat I’d gain (or lose) versus muscle during any cut or bulk.
In my results below, I ended my first cut in March 2015 at around 11.2% body fat to begin the process of a bulk.
Here is a summary of six DEXA scans which reveal how my body fat percentage (and overall mass) changed with my bulks and cuts.
Typically, I would typically try and cut my body fat down to around 10–11% before bulking again, and commence a cut when my bulk reached 16–17% body fat.
Toward the end of my second cut, I was around 12.6% body fat when my physique started to really shine. I was seeing striations and muscular development I had never seen before (in my life!)
It was during this stage of my second cut that I started to think more and more about competing in a drug-free amateur bodybuilding competition.
My First Amateur Bodybuilding Competition
I started my fitness transformation journey with the goal of trying to build some muscle and never wanting to return to hospital. Competing on stage with an insane tan never crossed my mind… not even the slightest.
After 6 months of juggling the idea of competing in my mind, it was around October 2016 that I decided to prepare for my first amateur bodybuilding competition for March 2017.
I wanted to challenge myself further and see how far I could push my body and my mind. I had no idea what I was doing and decided to start researching.
I learned that I needed to find a competition coach, a “posing” coach, and a “Federation” to compete within. I wanted to compete in a steroid-free Federation and find a coach that could hold my hand, so to speak, and prepare me for my first competition.
Here is a session I did with a posing coach. I’m learning how to “pose” on stage in front of the judges and audience!
I also spent alot of time in the gym, late at night, practicing the “quarter turns” and pretending I was in front of a live audience.
After 4 months of preparation (from November 2016 to March 2017), meal prep, training with my coach, and dedicating my life to being the best I could be on stage… I got first place in two separate divisions!
Even as I write this story in July 2020, I reflect back on the moment my number was announced (№ 87) and being handed a giant trophy and Champion Trainer Award.
I will never forget this moment and the nerves I had standing on stage in front of huge flood lights, a line of judges and hundreds of members in the audience.
I really felt like I was out of my comfort zone! I had never won anything before! It was my first time I had ever come first in anything…
Unfortunately, my coach did not attend my fitness competition to take the Champion Trainer Award (which I later handed to her after the competition).
But I did have a line-up of gym buddies that supported me on competition day that I had been training around for years… they saw me when I was just starting the journey! They witnessed me learning how to deadlift and bench press. They saw me at 11 pm at night learning how to “pose” in front of the mirrors and at 5.30 am in the morning, learning how to do pull-ups.
You just can’t wipe the smile of that face! 🙂
And after the competition, I caught up with my competition preparation coach to hand her the Champion Trainer Award.
Competing in the World Titles
After winning the rookie show in March 2017, I was invited to compete in the “World Titles” in June 2017.
At that point, I had the momentum of achieving something I never thought I was capable of in my lifetime (genetics?). The decision was easy… let’s do it!
I registered my intention to compete in several divisions, booked my flights and accommodation at the Slate Resort, and continued my preparation with a new coach.
Although it is a story for another article, I didn’t win the competition. It was extremely tough and the guys I was competing with were at the top of their game.
The guy standing in the middle of the photo (above) won first place!
I walked away with a few achievement medals and 5th place.
To be honest, I was just happy to be sharing the same stage as some of the best athletes in the Federation (and world). At that point, it wasn’t about “winning”… I felt I had already won by finally getting into shape and being so healthy, I never returned to hospital ever again.
While I was competing in the World Titles, I had organised my second photo shoot with a local photographer (based in Phuket).
If you ever decide to do a fitness contest or bodybuilding show, I highly recommend hiring a photographer to take photos of you for your own memories. It’s the best investment!
Here are a few photos that were taken around the Slate Resort over the weekend that I was competing at the World Titles.
My Post-Competition Fitness Transformation Journey (2017-onwards)
After my first season of competing in 2017 and the World Titles, I was invited to compete in a “pro qualifying” show.
I spent some time thinking about it and decided to turn down the offer. To be honest, I was mentally exhausted from four back to back competitions and the coaches, meal planning, tanning, training, etc, that went along with it.
I was also working a corporate job and doing alot of night shift! So I was beginning to struggle with the demands of competing and my full time corporate job.
As I write this article in July 2020, I’ve never competed since.
My Fitness Street Journey
When I finished the World Titles in June 2017, I decided to take a taxi to Phuket Top Team and see what the fitness camp had to offer.
I only had a few hours before I had to catch a flight back to Melbourne so it was going to be a quick visit.
It was when I walked down Soi Taied in Phuket where I noticed protein shake huts on the street, gyms, fitness camps, and supplement stores. My mind was blown away!
The protein shake bamboo huts with tubs of protein look like this…
I had never seen so much dedication to fitness on a single street before. Ever.
At the time, the street was casually known as “Fighter’s Street” for its bias to Muay Thai training camps that train fighter’s and Muay Thai enthusiasts alike.
After spending more time on Soi Taied, I felt that Fitness street was a more appropriate label as it encompassed everything you’d expect such a street to offer.
I also felt that re-branding the street to Fitness street would make it seem more welcoming to the casual fitness enthusiast, rather than the seasoned professional fighter.
Fast forward to 2020, I’ve now been to Fitness street around half a dozen times, for up to a month at a time! I’ve also produced a docu-series on Amazon Prime and YouTube that covers the training culture on Fitness street.
My passion has been to create videos to inspire people from all around the world to come and experience Fitness street. Consequently, I’ve received hundreds of emails and DMs from people that have watched the videos, travelled to Fitness street for a fitness vacation, and have transformed their lives.
It has been such a fulfilling part of my fitness transformation journey and as of 2020, despite being in lock down and unable to travel outside of Melbourne, I continue to create content to inspire future travel to Fitness street.
My fitness transformation journey has not been a straight road to “success” and neither do I have it all figured out. I consider myself a student of the game and getting shredded is just a singular fitness goal of many.
I’ve considered training for an iron man, my first amateur Muay Thai fight, a power-lifting competition, and a marathon! All are very different goals and require their own level of dedication and commitment.
I’ve also considered competing in another amateur bodybuilding competition in 2021.
I hope this article serves to inspire you to start your own fitness transformation journey. Whether it’s a body re-composition or to prepare for an endurance event.
There will be plenty of naysayers that will doubt you, judge you, or sneer at your fitness ambitions. As mentioned, I was told by all sorts of people that my genetics were my biggest limitation.
Sure, they play a role but they are not as over-arching as we are all led to believe.
If you would like to watch the video version of this article, click on the video below.
Are you looking at kick starting your own fitness transformation journey?
Let me know in the comments below!