Online Coaching and Personal Trainers
Part 1: What you need to know and what to look for
Written by: Joachim Bartoll
Classic Muscle Newsletter, Agust/September 2015 (issue #12/13 - Summer Edition)
The Swedish Nationals and the newly started Tyngre Classic competition are approaching and I’ve once again been flooded by requests from athletes struggling with their competition diet and the lack of results. They all have one thing in common – they’re getting help from some “famous” Facebook- or Instagram Trainer.
As you probably know, I’ve been in the gym- and fitness industry since the early 90’s. At first I helped athletes in various sports with strength training and nutrition and then I moved on to working with competing bodybuilders. It was my curiosity with taking your body to the extremes that made me take that step into the world of body transformations and shredded physiques.
During the early years, I did not charge for my services. All I wanted was to help as many as I could fit into my schedule, just to gain more knowledge and experience with different body types and scenarios. In my mind, I was not good, nor experienced enough, to ask for payment. Usually, I ended up getting a small check or a present as a thank you for a job well done, but I never asked for anything.
It was not until I started to get noticed as a coach and already had helped close to a hundred athletes that I decided it was time to start getting paid for my work. At that time, I was already well-known through my work with Iron Magazine L.L.C. and B&K Sports Magazine.
That was 15 years ago.
In 2008 Fredrik Carlsson and I started The Talent Hunt Project again (we helped with the project in 2001 and 2002), were we helped and sponsored 8 to 12 people to reach their goals and compete in body building or body fitness. We ran this project during 2008 and 2011. After that, I’ve only worked with competing athletes and most of them were people I worked with for a couple of years.
It was not until early this summer that I opened up new spots for my online coaching again. At first, I only opened up for four new clients. But more than 24 people wrote to me during the first 24 hours and as the days passed by, more and more people continued to ask for help. And among those a lot were athletes preparing for the Nationals and/or Tyngre Classic.
Before I move on and tell you some of the reasons why they were contacting me, let’s look at how I take on a new client. This information might help you if you’re looking for help, or if you’re looking to work as a Personal Trainer and/or online coach.
When you apply for a spot in my coaching program, you start by providing some basic information. This is done online through a simple form. This will give me some background information, which makes it easier to pick top candidates if/when you get a lot of applications. I usually put previous applicants (that are queuing for a spot) at the top of the picking order, and then I add in the most interesting new applicants. No matter if you have a queue system or not, it’s important to get a general feeling for the person who wants your help. Once I’ve made my first picks. I will send out a standard e-mail with some basic information about how I work and what is required. If they agree, I will send a full evaluation form with more than 35 multiple answer questions. And once they’ve paid my first monthly fee, I’ll begin my work.
These steps are crucial in two ways. First of all, I don’t want to start studying a client’s background and begin to plan an approach only to find out that they don’t have the money or that you need to constantly hold their hand; sucking all your energy and wasting your time. And two, the evaluation form gives me a pretty complete picture of their background and current life situation. It also shows me their level of commitment (you don’t take an hour or two to fill out a detailed form with if you’re not committed to follow through), and some of the questions are tailored to show commitment and consistency.
Among these questions, one is about previous experiences with similar services – such as online coaching and/or personal training (one-on-one or in groups). Another question touches on what kind of diets they tried in the past one or two years. This is important, since I need to know what they’re used to eating and what kind of metabolic damage they might have caused themselves (if any).
For example, if someone contacts you and want to lose weight and they’ve been following a ill-advised 800 kcal meal plan for a couple of months, your job will be a lot more difficult than what you first might have thought. In that scenario, your task will shift from simply designing a fat loss diet, to putting together a fat loss and metabolic stimulating diet (and possibly a diet designed for metabolic repair trough reverse dieting – more on that later on).
Going back to these questions, this also means that any clients who has used online coaching and/or personal trainers usually send me their previous diet and training program to look at. A lot of these diets and/or training programs are from “famous” personal trainers you usually see on social media all the time (touting their own horn). I guess you’re now wondering what these diets look like?! Well, embrace yourself. Stupidity is coming!
Diet templates and meal plans
The first important part about any plan is that it has to fit into your daily schedule and life style. This usually means that you need a different plan for workdays when you hit the gym, another one for workdays off from training and yet another one for your weekends. And perhaps you engage in other activities, like playing floor ball or basketball with your friends on the weekends? Well, if so, you’ll need a specific plan for that too.
By describing your situation and your typical week, your trainer should provide plans for all these conditions. I you only get one or two templates, you should probably look for help elsewhere.
In the next part I will give you some examples of how I design different diet templates and meals to choose from.
When you have templates for every day and every situation, you know when and how much to eat. After that, the next step is the meals themselves. If your trainer or coach hands you a single piece of paper with some meals, saying something like “8 oz of chicken breast, a cup of rice and some veggies”, you know that he or she is one lazy bastard.
A meal plan should give you several options. You cannot eat the same meal or food over and over again. You need some variety. Not only for your own sanity, but to prevent food intolerances from developing. Also, each meal should be detailed. Using measurements like cups, table spoons, etcetera is not precise enough – especially not with energy dense foods such as oils, rice, or fatty meat. You need to weight your food and every ingredient should be listed in grams or ounces.
Food and calories
While a meal plan is important to make your daily life easier and to reduce stress around meal planning, the actual meals, the ratio of macronutrients and the amount of calories are pretty much decisive for your progress. This is also where most people fail, including trainers and coaches who actually should know better. A lot of the mistakes can be contributed to the belief that you need to do tons of “cardio” to burn fat. While exercise and activity will help with fat loss, especially in the beginning stages of a diet, it can be detrimental towards the end – especially if you don’t know how the body works and you keep cutting calories.
To get a picture of a very common scenario, let’s look at competing women, who make up the majority of my clientele. Some common threads are:
- Steady state cardio done two times a day for 60 to 90 minutes, 6 to 7 days a week!
- Strength training for 90 to 120 minutes a day, 6 days a week.
- A diet consisting of 900 to 1200 kcal a day.
So, who of you failed math class? Obviously these famous “coaches” behind these “diets” did!
Let’s break this down really quick. Unless you’re a slow-paced zombie, 60 minutes of steady state cardio will “burn” about 200 to 280 kcal. Let’s say 270 kcal since fitness girls usually have some more metabolic active tissue than the average girl looking to lose a few pounds. At two sessions a day, that’s 540 kcal “burned”.
As for strength training, if you keep to mostly free weights you’ll probably “burn” about 350 to 450 kcal an hour. Let’s say 400 kcal because of wasting some time with selfies and Instagram. It’s hard to keep the rest periods to a minimum with a smart phone and the urge to be “fitness” on social media. Anyhow, now you’re at 940 kcal a day.
And as a fitness girl at a body weight of about 135 to 150 lbs, and having a slow paced job, you’ll need about 1500 to 1700 kcal a day only to maintain your body weight. Let’s say 1600. So, if we sum it all up, this girl has a daily calorie expenditure of about 2540 kcal, and this Personal Trainer, Facebook coach or whatever, has her on a diet of only 1000 kcal. That’s a deficit of 1540 kcal a day! Unless she has 22 kg (49 lbs) of body fat to lose, she will hit a wall within a few weeks. Not to mention that she’s wasting 3 to 5 hours a day on training, where 2 hours should more than suffice. Just think about all that wasted time you could have spent with your family, friends and loved ones.
And yeah, this example is far from the worst I’ve seen! I’ve been approached by plenty of women barely surviving on 800 to 1100 kcal while exercising for 5 to 6 hours every day of the week!
Cutting calories during a diet is backward thinking
Anyone working with clients should know that a healthy body can only release about 70 kcal of fatty acids per kilogram of fat tissue a day (that’s 32 kcal per pound of body fat). And this universal rule is only true if the subject is healthy with normal hormone levels. If your hormones is out of whack, this “fat burning bar” is lowered. And on the flip-side, if you use hormones or other Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs), the bar will be raised, which explain why a lot of bodybuilders can cut calories while retaining their muscle mass. Do not underestimate the power of testosterone, thyroid hormones (T3 and T4), beta-adrenergic agonists (such as Clenbuterol) or metabolic poisons such as 2,4-Dinitrophenol (DNP).
Coaches or trainers who have used PEDs during their own competitive career, or who are used to working with other athletes using these drugs, are extremely dangerous as they have no clue to how a normal body actually works. If you as a natural athlete hire a coach who rely on drugs, your diet and training will probably fail miserable, leaving you broken down and burned out.
Anyhow, this physical limitation means that if someone is in perfect health, and has a total of 30 pounds of fat, they can only burn about 960 kcal a day. And as their fat stores get smaller, their daily maximum amount of fat that they can burn also gets lower and lower. At 29 lbs of fat the limit is about 928 kcal a day, and at 28 lbs it’s down to 896 kcal and so on.
This is why you should NEVER lower your calories and/or add in more exercise as the diet progresses and you get leaner. That is backward thinking!
Unfortunately, you see trainers do this all the time. Even worse, they lower calories AND increase the amount of exercise. Unless their clients take a shit load of steroids, T3 and clen, they will crash and burn. And since the explosion in popularity in events such as body fitness and bikini fitness, where most new girls can’t even spell clenbuterol, a lot of hopefuls have destroyed their bodies and their metabolism due to these incompetent coaches and trainers.
My concept, since 2006, has been to add calories to a diet as the fat loss progresses. This is TRUE reverse dieting and it has worked wonders for hundreds of clients. And if you hit a plateau, you can add in both calories and some additional exercise, such as some intervals or simple MetCon work. I written several articles about this approach, but since there’s still so much confusion out there, I have a book in the making on the subject.
And please do not confuse this with Layne Norton and his Reverse Dieting. His concept is tailored to restore your metabolism after a diet. I’ve been doing that since early 2003 with clients who have been abused by ignorant trainers. So Reverse Dieting in that sense is not something new. It’s simply common sense. That concept is something you use if the damage has already been done.
My Reverse Dieting is something you do from day one of you diet. It’s a way to actually maintain or even raise your metabolism during your diet – as well as preserving ALL your muscle mass (or even gaining some). By doing this, it’s also very easy to transition off your competition diet to a regular “off season” diet. It’s also extremely easy to stay lean year round.
With that being said, part of the blame for all the misconceptions lies with fitness magazines, social media and the veterans (and drug users) of the sport. There seem to be this idea that a diet should be a living hell and that you need to punish yourself with steady state cardio in the morning and preferable another session in the evening, right after you’ve had your 2 hours workout. The image that is being portrayed on social media is that; if you don’t suffer and work out for several hours a day, you’re not even training. Then you’re not part of the “fitness community”.
Don’t buy in to that crap. I’d like to turn it around. If you do all that training while eating like an anorexic bird, you’re actually the laughing stock, because you have no idea about the physiology of fat loss. You’re wasting hours of valuable time when you don’t even have to, and even worse, the results will be slower and you might very well mess up your hormones and metabolic environment for years to come in the process. Be smart – and make sure your coach is as well.
In the next part, I will guide you through my coaching process. I will show you how I work with clients, how my templates might look like and how I put it all together.