Like many guys, I’ve wanted to get myself into better shape for a long time. Back in college, I was in the gym pretty regularly, and managed to put on a decent amount of muscle during that time, but as I moved into my 20s I found that it was really tough to keep it up.
My career had become my primary focus, and then my family soon after that, leaving little time or motivation for the gym. I mentally put the whole fitness thing on the backburner, to revisit at a later date. Then, in my early 30s, when things were more settled, I decided it was time to address my slowly expanding waistline.
At first, I tried to jump right back into my old gym routine, but quickly found it challenging to stay motivated without my college buddies around. And I’m not gonna lie, I forgot most of what I was doing too. None of my friends worked out either, so I couldn’t convince any of them to come along with me.
“Back in college, I was in the gym pretty regularly, and managed to put on a decent amount of muscle during that time, but as I moved into my 20s I found that it was really tough to keep it up.”
So, I decided to bite the bullet and I hired a personal trainer, figuring that they’d be able to kick my ass into gear and keep me on track so I could actually make some progress.
My trainer was a great guy – really motivating and fun to work out with, and I made some solid progress in the 2 or so months I trained with him. Unfortunately, it was way too expensive to do for more than a few months, so after my second package ran out, I decided to try keeping up with it on my own again.
Fast forward to 2 years later. I completely abandoned my gym routine after just a few months, and not the best move on my part, traded it for a drinking habit. I wasn’t an alcoholic, by any means, but definitely drinking too much, and my diet had gotten pretty bad too. Mostly fast food for lunch, lots of random snacking, even if I ate a reasonably healthy dinner with my family.
One morning that winter, I looked at myself in the mirror, and had one of those moments where I almost didn’t recognize the guy staring back at me.
As I looked at myself, approaching 250 lbs, I knew that I had to make a change.
But I had no clue how to do so. I knew that I didn’t have the motivation to get to the gym myself, and I couldn’t afford a personal trainer. I was stuck.
“As I looked at myself, approaching 250 lbs, I knew that I had to make a change.”
Then, a couple months later, I came across an ad online for something called online personal training. At first, I must admit I thought that whole thing sounded kind of stupid. How can you personally train with someone online?
But then, after seeing the ad a couple more times, curiosity got the best of me. The company, Caliber Fitness, offered a free trial, so I figured it was worth signing up just so that I could see how it worked. It was $99 a month after the trial, which seemed reasonable to me, compared to how much I was spending on my trainer back in the day.
Plus, I liked how they seemed to focus on strength training in addition to fat loss. I always kind of liked lifting weights, but had lost all of the muscle that I had from my college days. If I could lose the weight and put on some more muscle to replace it, all the better.
So, after signing up, I was matched up with my trainer, Chris. I downloaded the app that he sent me and filled out a consultation form outlining exactly what I was looking to accomplish. I told Chris that I wanted to get down to around 200 lbs, and hopefully build some muscle too, but that I didn’t want to get too jacked – not that I expected this to actually be a problem!
We went back and forth a few times over email, and Chris told me he’d have my plan ready the next day, along with a nutrition plan. I didn’t even know that I’d be getting a nutrition plan, so that was cool to find out, although to be honest I didn’t really know what that meant.
The next day I got an email back from Chris telling me that my workout plan was ready, and that I could check it out in the app. I logged in and was pretty happy with what he had put together for me to start. I remembered most of the exercises from my college days, and there were videos for each of them so that I could brush up on form before I got started.
Since I hadn’t worked out for a while, probably 2 years at that point, Chris told me to go light with the weights at first, and scheduled the workouts for me in the app so I had a specific workout tied to specific days of the week. There were 3 workouts in my plan, and no cardio at this point, since Chris told me that he wanted me to start off gradually as I got back into everything.
On the diet side, Chris told me that I’d be tracking my food in an app. He didn’t want me to make ANY changes that first week, which I found strange, but he said that it was so he could understand how I was eating, and then set actual targets based off of that.
I must admit, when Monday morning came around, I didn’t feel like going to the gym for my first workout. But the little reminder in the app guilted me enough to go after work. That first workout was really tough – I didn’t realize how out of shape I was – but also felt really good afterwards.
The next 2 workouts that week felt a little easier, even though I was sore for days afterwards (especially my legs). Chris told me that this was all part of the process, and that I’d stop feeling sore after a few weeks on the program.
He also told me about something that I never knew before. That the real key to building muscle was something called ‘progressive overload’, which basically just meant trying to do a little bit more each time I went to the gym, so that you kept getting stronger and stronger. He said that if we stuck to this process, he was very confident that I’d see results in the next few months.
While I had never followed such a structured workout approach before, this all kind of made sense. Back in college, I just picked exercises randomly, and used the same weights that I was comfortable with. This progressive approach to strength training was new to me.
At the end of the first week, I got another email from Chris, this time about my diet. He told me that we would be working with a ‘flexible diet’, which meant that no foods were off limits, and that instead I would be following some calorie and macro targets that he set for me. I wasn’t familiar with what macros were, but learned that this just meant protein, fat, and carbs.
He told me that as long as I more or less stuck to these targets, even if I wasn’t perfect, I would start losing fat very steadily. My carb target was higher than I expected, but Chris assured me that I didn’t need to cut my carbs in order to lose weight, and that actually carbs were important for my progress at the gym.
I had tried a bunch of diets before, never for very long, since they always sucked. I’d always start off strong, but would then start feeling really tired of not being able to eat foods that I liked. It never felt sustainable to me. This approach was different, more of a lifestyle approach.
“This approach was different, more of a lifestyle approach”
Since I had a good experience on the free trial, and had already lost 4 lbs after those first 2 weeks, I decided to stick with the program, at least for another month.
Well, things ended up going so well, that 3 months later I had lost 23 lbs of weight! But this wasn’t even what I was most excited about. My strength on all of the exercises in my plan had improved considerably, and I was looking a lot more muscular than I was when I started. Some of my friends were even starting to comment on this, which I have to admit felt great.
I had missed a few workouts here and there, but Chris helped to keep me motivated, and told me never to stress about missing the occasional workout as long as I stayed committed. Same thing with my diet, if I splurged one day. I came to learn that I didn’t have to be perfect, as long as I generally stuck to the process.
At this point, I have to say that I got hooked on the whole online personal training thing. So much so, that a more than a year later I’m still training with Chris. I can’t believe how much things have changed since then. I got my weight as low as 200 lbs, after starting at almost 250 lbs, but this is also with a lot of muscle weight added on top!
In the chart below you can see how my body weight has progressed over the last year.
During my journey, though, I learned that I shouldn’t always be focusing on the scale, as I had done for a long time. How I looked and felt were what mattered most, and since muscle is heavy, I actually found that I felt too skinny at 200 lbs, and wanted to bulk up more.
But the biggest thing for me has been watching my strength develop – I never believed that I could get this strong as I head towards my 40s. I can now bench press 215 lbs, deadlift 330 lbs, and squat 280 lbs. When I started, I could hardly lift the bar!
It’s been an amazing experience, and I can’t thank Chris enough for changing my life (as corny as that feels to say). I felt like I was at a dead end with my health, and a year later I feel like a new person – far stronger and more muscular than I was even in my 20s! I’ve also had the pleasure of getting to know Chris really well, and it’s been crazy to see how you can develop that kind of relationship and friendship with someone entirely online.
“I feel like a new person – far stronger and more muscular than I was even in my 20s!”
I would highly recommend trying out CALIBER, if you’re looking to have accountability and guidance from a great trainer, but in a way that’s affordable and that you can stick to for more than a few months. I was skeptical about online personal training, but it’s been hands down the most rewarding fitness experience I’ve ever had.
Editor’s note: Just in time for summer, CALIBER is currently offering a 14-day free trial for new members. If you’re curious about online personal training, check it out here.