Jonathan Montgomery was frustrated. His biceps weren’t popping, but his belly was.
The 38-year-old firefighter was doing everything right, or so he thought. He lifted three or four days a week and watched his food intake, especially carbs.
At first it worked – he got leaner and stronger – but he never quite hit the fitness level he was seeking. After a year, flab crept back and his fitness stalled. He tried to bust out of his rut by lifting more and eating less.
He found himself at a flabby 103 kilograms, strong but out of shape. It didn’t make sense, he says.
One night he Googled for answers and stumbled upon trainer Alex Viada and nutritionist Trevor Kashey, a duo with a no-nonsense, science-heavy approach to fitness. They’d gained their expertise in clinical research settings and teamed up because, they said, fit guys are training all wrong. And then they plateau. They get stuck and frustrated and start to regress.
Montgomery asked the pair for a plan, and their initial demands shocked him: eat more food, mainly carbs, advised Kashey. Do two 60-minute runs a week at a boringly slow pace to supplement the lifting program, suggested Viada.
“Their ideas seemed totally counterintuitive,” Montgomery says. “I always thought carbohydrates and jogging just made you fat. But my own approach at the time wasn’t working, so I committed to following through with exactly what Kashey and Viada instructed.”
By the time he’d completed six months of four weekly workouts, Montgomery had added 45 kilograms to his gym total (combination of squat, bench and deadlift), shaved eight minutes off his five-kay time, run his first six-minute mile, dropped 14kg and sculpted a ripped body. Other men who’ve worked with Kashey and Viada have had similar results.
The pair’s secret is simple. Kashey and Viada regard fitness and nutrition research with the scepticism of scientific inquiry. That philosophy has helped them see through marketing gimmicks and fitness fads to focus on what works.
For example, many nutritionists advocate slashing carbs because large quantities can make you store more fat. That indeed happens, says Kashey, when you’re eating too many kilojoules overall. But if you train hard and take in enough protein and fat on top of your training, carbs can help your performance, which in turn changes your body composition over time.
Viada calls his approach “hybrid training”. It borrows from the best of strength and cardio as well as other disciplines. Too many guys obsess about specialising, he says. They’ll only lift or only run. Yes, specialisation can help you perform better at your sport, he says, but only at the highest levels. For the average guy who just wants to be fitter and healthier, tackling a variety of activities leads to improvements across the board and makes workouts more sustainable.
The two men are living proof of that. Viada has deadlifted 315-plus kilograms one day and completed a 160-kilometre ultra-marathon the next. Later the same year he completed a sub-13-hour Ironman Triathlon at 104kg and then returned to squatting three times his body weight the very next week. Kashey rides his bike to work every day and holds a strongman axle-deadlift record.
If you follow Montgomery’s old plan, pay attention – the following tweaks will lead you to a fitness breakthrough.
1. Train for Performance, Not Aesthetics
If your goal is to have abs year-round, Viada says, you’ll end up disappointed. Once you hit any goal, you always want to set the bar higher, and you can’t stay lean and ripped forever. Your body prefers to have a bit more fat, so it’s impossible to continually progress.
A performance goal, on the other hand, can be endlessly pursued, whether it’s adding another kilo to a lift or taking a few seconds off your five kay.
“Performance goals are more enjoyable,” says Viada, “and the aesthetic part comes naturally.”
YOUR MOVE Make sure you train three days a week minimum; four or five is preferable. Select two or three performance goals and build your training around them.
For example, your goals could be to add 10kg to your squat and run a five-kay race, or complete 20 pull-ups and do a triathlon.
Having more than one goal means you’ll improve across the board – in strength, power and endurance, thereby achieving better overall fitness.
And if you face a setback in one area, you can still make gains in others, which will keep you motivated. What’s more, training multiple skills can also reduce your injury risk, because you limit your ability to go too extreme in any one fitness area, Viada says.
2. Do Slow Cardio
You may have heard that long-duration aerobic sessions eat muscle, making you “skinny-fat”.
Not true for the average guy, Viada says.
Relaxed sweat sessions promote bloodflow, which negates post-workout soreness. They also improve overall endurance so you can recover better and more quickly between weightlifting sets.
YOUR MOVE Do one or two half-hour to two-hour cardio sessions a week, whether it’s running, riding or hiking. Keep your heart rate between 120 and 140 beats per minute.
That’s the sweet spot where you’ll see tremendous heart health and general fitness benefits but won’t hurt your next lifting session.
3. Track Your Numbers
Guys who cut carbs often fail to take in enough kilojoules, preventing muscle growth.
The more you exercise, the more energy you need. “People obsess too much over whether a food is ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ – like sweet potatoes versus white potatoes, for example – and miss the fact that total kilojoule intake is most important,” says Kashey.
YOUR MOVE Measure your kilojoules by weighing your food or using an app like MyFitnessPal.
Once you know how much you typically eat, tweak accordingly: active men looking to be more fit should consume 4-9 per cent more, while sedentary guys looking to shed fat should cut their intake by 6-10 per cent.
4. Stay the Course
Most diet and training programs last 2-3 months. That’s long enough for you to notice a change but not to maximise your gains.
That’s why Viada prefers – and Kashey requires – that clients commit to working with him for at least six months.
Many of Kashey’s clients have worked with him for years – and they’re still improving.
YOUR MOVE If you want to attain elite fitness, find an expert training and nutrition plan and stick with it for half a year, says Viada.
Don’t add or subtract anything. Don’t improvise. Hopping from program to program or tweaking expert-designed plans are two big reasons guys don’t reach the next level of fitness.