A year ago, Jonathan Montgomery, a 37-year-old firefighter with the Hillsborough County Florida Fire Rescue, was overworked, overweight and sluggish. “I was strong, but slow and fat,” he said. Fast-forward to today, and Montgomery is a physical specimen. See the photo above as evidence. He lost 14 kilograms, now weighing in at 91kg, and is more muscular, stronger and faster than he’s ever been in his life.
How’d Montgomery do it? He put together the dream team.
The trainer: Alex Viada, a mutant of fitness. He deadlifts over 300kg, runs ultra marathons and has coached over 400 athletes, from special forces soldiers to Ironman triathletes.
The nutritionist: Dr Trevor Kashey, a strongman and nutritionist who works with everyone from bodybuilders to Olympians.
Now, you can steal their secrets and apply them to your own routine. Keep reading to find out what worked for Montgomery, and then start your own transformation today.
Train for Everything
A common training method is periodisation, or progressing through different “phases”. For example, one month you might work on building strength, the next month on upping your endurance.
Scrap that way of thinking, says Viada. It’s not necessary for the average person. Do “hybrid training” instead.
“I like to have people work on everything concurrently,” he explains. “That allows the average guy to improve across the board – in strength, power and endurance – without interruption.”
In an average week, Montgomery would focus on long-distance cardio one day, weights and high-intensity cardio another day, and then lifting with an easy cardio cooldown on another day.
This type of training allowed Montgomery to improve in every facet of his fitness. He hit personal records on powerlifts and decreased his five-kilometre time from 30 to 22 minutes. “The fact that I look a lot better is just a nice side effect,” says Montgomery.
Hybrid training has other benefits besides just making you a well-rounded, more-sculpted athlete. “If you only have one thing you’re training for, it’s much easier to get derailed psychologically if something goes wrong,” says Viada. But if you’re working towards improving a variety of skills, then a small setback in one area – like an injury that affects your running – won’t sideline you, he says.
Do Long, Slow Cardio
Lots of trainers say that relaxed runs impede your strength and muscle gains. But it’s actually quite the opposite, believes Viada.
Spending time doing long, slow cardio – where your heart rate sits between 120 and 140 beats per minute – was one of the cornerstones of Montgomery’s program (as it is for nearly all of the programs Viada writes).
Viada says that when most lifters delve into cardio, they go too hard. “That just wipes you out,” he says. “Less intense work builds your endurance; gives you adaptations that help improve your heart, nervous system and circulatory system function; and allows you to recover from intense workouts. It’s much more sustainable than intense work.”
One of the biggest benefits of easy aerobic exercise – which includes jogging, cycling and rucking – is that Montgomery can now perform his job better as a firefighter. “I can put 75 pounds of gear on and go fight a fire and it’s so much easier now,” he says.
Don’t Fear Food
Getting ripped doesn’t mean you have to cut a ton of kilojoules and carbs. In fact, Kashey increased Montgomery’s intake of both.
“Jonathan was lifting and running, working out 5-6 days a week,” says Kashey. “He was eating about 12,500kJ, and that just wasn’t enough for all that work.”
Your body needs fuel so you can get stronger and faster. So Kashey had Montgomery eat about 1700 more kilojoules from carbs each day – and it was then that Montgomery saw his body begin to morph.
“I’ve noticed favourable body composition changes when I have athletes who are under eating take in more kilojoules,” says Kashey, who isn’t sure of the exact mechanism behind it, but thinks it might cause a spike in metabolism.
If you eat healthy and train hard but can’t seem to run faster, lift heavier or improve your body composition, add more kilojoules. How many? It takes a bit of experimenting to figure that out.
First, determine how many kilojoules you currently eat on a daily basis by entering your food in an app like MyFitnessPal.com. Then use a calculator that estimates your kilojoule needs based on your age, weight and activity level.
If the amount you’re burning is higher than the amount you’re eating, add the difference to your diet in the form of carbs. “These online calculators aren’t perfect,” says Kashey, “but they’re far better than a shot in the dark.”
Time Your Meals
Montgomery ate five meals a day, each containing about 2500kJ to 3000kJ. He consumed breakfast, lunch and dinner at the usual times, and then stacked his other two meals as close to before and after his workout as possible.
The reason: it gave him fuel during his workout, and then further increased muscle protein synthesis afterward, according to Kashey. Timing his meals led to bigger long-term gains in strength and lean body mass.
But Montgomery wasn’t just putting anything in his body to reach his allocated energy intake. He typically ate foods high in protein, carbs and fibre. His go-to plate: chicken, rice and vegetables. “It may not be the most exciting meal,” says Kashey. “But it won’t upset your stomach while training; it gives you quality carbs and protein; and it’s so easy to make a bunch of meals at once, put them in individual containers, and take them around with you. My clients who make the best progress all do this.”
In any training program, you’re going to have a bad day, week or month. When this happens, a lot of guys jump ship, adding “extra” stuff to their program, like metabolic finishers, or they go find a new program altogether.
“Progression isn’t always linear,” says Viada. “You might not get better for a period, but just trust your program and stay consistent.”
Montgomery agrees, admitting he had a few bad weeks along the way. But look at him now. “Just listen, commit, and work hard,” he says. “That’s how you make progress.”
It’s not about a quick fix. It’s about sticking to “the plan.” When you do that, not just for 30 days or 60 days or 90 days, but for 12 months, you can see serious, lasting results. The key is that you need a plan that fits your lifestyle and goals and that allows you to follow through. The world’s greatest plan won’t work if it’s not right for you. But Montgomery is proof of what happens when you fit the right plan to the right man. So remember: it only looks like magic.