Michael Ashford's life changed when he looked at a photo taken of him on the beach, and saw a man who looked unhealthy. The Denver, Colorado, resident committed to a new diet and exercise regimen, and managed to pack on 30 pounds of muscle—not to mention sculpt a six-pack. This is his story.
"Skinny was simply my body type," Ashford says of the way he grew up.
"I was always the skinny kid growing up, having been blessed with the metabolism of a desert jackrabbit (thanks mom and dad, ha!). I was also a distance runner in high school, and I had the body to prove it. Because of this, I didn't have to really try when it came to being skinny ... I could eat whatever I wanted, and it really wouldn't affect me. But, all that being said, skinny doesn't necessarily equal healthy."
His fitness journey began in 2012, with a photo taken on the beach.
"I had taken my wife and young son with me on a business trip to Ocean City, Maryland, and after I finished work one day, we went out onto the beach as a family. As we walked up and down the beach and played in the waves, my wife went ahead of me and my son and took a picture of us."
"When my wife showed me that picture of me holding my son's hand on the beach, something inside of me snapped. In that picture, I saw not only how unhealthy I looked, but how unhealthy I felt. And I felt the weight of the responsibility that I was now a husband and father with a family that depended on me to be there for them."
First, Ashford felt embarrassed "that I lacked any sort of muscle definition whatsoever."
"But more than that, I was struck with the reality that when it came to my health and fitness, I was 'just getting by,' and my family deserved more from me. I vowed in that moment that I would dedicate myself to living an intentionally fit and active lifestyle, for my sake and for my family's sake."
He wasted no time in getting started.
"As soon as we got home from that business trip to Ocean City, I joined a gym and immediately started going 5-6 days a week. I began a fairly straight-forward bodybuilding regimen, first and foremost to add muscle mass."
Ashford also switched up his diet.
"I changed my diet, both for health reasons (gluten intolerance) and because I realized just how much of our health is directly linked to how we fuel our bodies with the foods we consume. This was hard, as I grew up in the Midwest just outside of Kansas City, where comfort food is the norm. Casseroles. Lots of cheese. Fried and breaded everything. And of course...Kansas City barbecue. I committed to a simple concept when it came to my nutrition: Eat real food. Eat food as close to its natural state as possible. The fresher, the better. And if it came from a box or a can, I'd think twice about putting it in my body."
At the start of his fitness transformation, Ashford had to learn how to balance his time.
I was a husband and a new dad—I now have two wonderful, beautiful children and have been happily married for 11 years—and I had a full-time job at a software company. I knew that to make this work, I would have to live an unbalanced life; meaning, I would have to cut out or reduce the things in my life that didn't align with my goals. And I also had my non-negotiables—things I would not sacrifice. For example, my time with my family in the evening was a non-negotiable, so I started getting up earlier and sacrificed a bit of sleep to get to the gym in the morning."
"I started seeing real, visual results probably about 10 months in," Ashford says.
"I was on another business trip, and this time, I was by the pool in Phoenix, Arizona, and had another picture taken of me. In this picture, I noticed I actually had shoulders, and that my chest was slightly more defined. The changes were slight, but to me, it was all the evidence I needed to prove to myself that I was on the right path."
These days, he's a big fan of total-body workouts.
"Typically, a total-body workout will start with a couple of the staple compound lifts with variations of squats, deadlifts, and presses. Then, I'll knock out a few exercises per body part to hit all of the major muscle groups for a couple sets. I'm always careful to not overdo it, and I move quickly to keep the blood flowing.
"I also love superset workouts, like pairing chest and back, or pairing a strength move (heavy squats) with a power move (dumbbell squat jumps). And I LOVE leg day. Some of the biggest changes I experienced physically came when I started working legs twice a week."
He sets goals outside of the gym, too.
"I want to be fit, not just muscular, and so I love hiking—I hiked three 14,000-foot mountains in 2018 and plan to do at least another four more in 2019—and I love obstacle course races like Warrior Dash and Spartan. I still run from time to time as well."
"I'm a more confident person that I've ever been," Ashford says now.
"I'm at a good point with my fitness. I'm happy. As I said, I want to be fit and healthy in every way, and so I change things up constantly. It keeps me on my toes and gives me something new to shoot for."
He wants other guys to know they can change their bodies, too.
As I've made my own fitness transformation and seen the positive effects its had on my life and my family's lives, I've felt pulled to help other men—particularly fathers—experience the same thing. That's why I started FitDadFitness.com and the Fit Dad Fitness Podcast. I want fathers to live active, involved, healthy lives with their children, and I think fitness can be a fantastic foundation to keeping families together.
Check out Ashford's '16 Goals of Fitness':
- Commit — To yourself and the process
- Work hard — Just because it's hard doesn't mean it's not worth it
- Persevere — Don't let setbacks beat you
- Improve — Every day is an opportunity to get better
- Be tough — Mentally and physically
- Be self-disciplined — Do it even when no one is watching
- Give great effort — Give your very best every time
- Be enthusiastic — Attack your health and fitness with passion
- Be positive — Negativity or fear are counter-productive
- Be accountable — Be honest with yourself and others
- Don't accept quitting — If you do so one time it will be easy to do so for the rest of your life
- Don't be self-limiting — Expect more of yourself
- Don't take shortcuts — Do it right the first time, every time
- Be consistent — Do it until it . becomes who you are
- Challenge yourself — Push beyond the limits of what you think you're capable of
- Be responsible — You are responsible for your performance
This article originally appeared on Men's Health