My Journey To Getting Photoshoot Lean

Written By: Simon

Reading Time: 10-12 minutes

My Fitness Journey So Far And Why We Did The Shoot.

My brother and I have always dreamt of starting up our own fitness business and at the start of this year, we decided to start taking action on that dream. After a few years of experience in the trenches at our respective work places, as personal trainers, we thought the time was right to embark on getting our own business going.

Two years ago we actually tried starting our own 1-1 personal training business up, which failed horrendously, as we had no financial backing, no equipment, no client base and no real experience. That was when SJ Fitness was born. And we have stuck with that name.

At the start of the year we wrote down a list of things to achieve this year for SJ Fitness. One of which was to do a proper fitness photoshoot, to use for our business, on social media and our website. But not only was it for this, but it was a challenge for ourselves to get out of our comfort zones and get in the best shape we’ve ever been in. We wanted to do it properly with no half measures.

When we became hooked in the gym, we had no idea; we had no-one to go to for advice and our source of information was muscle magazines and online posts which ultimately gave us too much misinformation. We didn’t even master the basics of training and didn’t have a clue what we were meant to be eating (apart from increasing our protein intake and buying supplements!). It took us a good 4-5 years of finding our way, learning from the right people, reading and educating ourselves from the ground up, it was a case of trial and error. We did it the hard way, the long way, but it’s safe to say we think were finally on the right track.

In that 4-5 years we barely progressed (going out every weekend getting hammered didn’t help) but we just weren’t clued up, it’s as simple as that. We were the definition of “bro science”, looking back on it, it was embarrassing. But we gotta start from somewhere hey!? That’s another reason why we started SJ Fitness, to educate and get people to learn from our mistakes, so they don’t have to go through the same long, painful process we went through.

In essence we feel we’ve only been training and taking our nutrition seriously for about 2 years, so were still babies in this industry, still learning and still got a long way to go. But we now feel were heading in the right direction. The “journey” has just begun!

The Photoshoot Prep

We roughly started the prep at the end of February. We had just finished a mini “gaining” phase and were in a calorie surplus. From here we planned the next 10-12 weeks. Basically we would drop calories slowly by 5-10% every 1-2 weeks or when fat loss plateaued. Simple.

We would first take our calories from our fat intake, then carbohydrate. Protein would stay constant throughout (2.5-3g per kg/bw) to maintain as much muscle mass as possible whilst heading into a caloric deficit.

This approach worked wonders for us, as we needed to keep that carbohydrate intake as high as possible to fuel our training and active lifestyles. We’ve tried low carb, high fat before, and yes it got us lean, but our energy, mood and performance was awful, it’s simply an approach that doesn’t work for us. And if your training to build or maintain muscle you NEED carbs, there’s no two ways about it, the exactly amount depends on the individual, the same goes for the other two macronutrients.

We only added in extra cardio after about 4-5 weeks, doing 1-2 hours cardio a week, in the form of high intense interval training or HIIT (I take 1 spin class a week anyway) and low intense steady state or LISS on the cross trainer (which I hate!). You don’t need to do endless cardio to get lean, the majority of your training should come from resistance machines, free weights and bodyweight exercises. You don’t build muscle doing cardio, unless it’s sprints.

 

 

Flexible Dieting

The other approach we adopted throughout this prep was the principle of flexible dieting. Something that you need to get right. As soon as someone see’s the word “flexible” people automatically assume you can eat what you want, like IIYFM (If it fits your macros).

We stick to the 80/20 rule, or 90/10 when you become a bit more restricted towards the end of the prep or dieting phase. Simply 80% of your food intake should come from leans meats, complex carbohydrates, essential fats, dairy, fruits and vegetables. The other 20% or 10% can come from whatever, providing it hits your numbers (calories and macros) and that you’ve had enough fibre (this is to ensure you are getting enough fibrous food in the diet like fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes etc…)

This again worked a treat for us. We used to really restrict ourselves during the week, then when the weekend came we went on an all-out binge, which didn’t do us any favours both for our physique or psychologically. Now if we want something we enjoy, we will just factor that into our calories and macros, as long as it fits, so that’s why tracking and planning is crucial. Yes we still do have the classic chicken, sweet potatoes, broccoli or tuna and rice, but it’s not as frequent since we have learnt how to use the principles of flexible dieting effectively.

We didn’t cut out anything from our diet, we kept drinking milk and consuming other dairy products (skimmed or semi skimmed when our fat went down). We ate fruit EVERY SINGLE DAY. The myth of fruit will make you fat is complete BS. Yes if you eat tons of it all day every day, then you probably will gain weight, but isn’t that the same with anything? We had 2-3 serving of fruit every day, the majority of that coming from berries then bananas or apples around our workouts.

We ate bread, bagels, cakes, brownies, ice cream, burgers, pizza, apple crumble, full English breakfasts, pancakes, muffins, alcohol, the list goes on. People must think, “Surely not, you can’t get that lean eating those kinds of food” but you can! When you learn the art of moderation, tracking your food consistently and becoming calorie conscious. Just have a look through our Instagram feed if you don’t believe us. The proof is there.

If you train hard, with a sound resistance programme consistently, partner that up with flexible dieting and don’t forget good sleep (7-8 hours minimum), then you’re onto a winner with great, SUSTAINABLE results.

Supplements

Finally with the prep, in terms of supplements, we didn’t do anything out of the ordinary.

First of all we’d like to thank Go Nutrition for supplying us with their great products, which gives us that extra 5% “boost” when it comes to our overall wellbeing in life and performance in the gym. That’s what supplements are and should be, that 5%. It’s the training, nutrition, rest and sleep you need to build up first and master, then call upon supplements if you need them, which I would recommend to most people who train, but there’s only a handful.

Whey protein and creatine are my staples and should be for anyone who weight train regularly. The evidence is there with both these products and they will help with your training.

I also use omega 3’s, which were important for us as we couldn’t fit much oily fish into our diet when our fat intake was low and I take them anyway. There are tons of health benefits to omega 3’s, if you don’t get enough oily fish in your diet (which many of us don’t) then 2-3 capsules of omega 3 fish oils should cover you.

I also include a multi-vitamin or greens powder, just so I know I’m getting enough micronutrients into my system. Again, we should be getting most of our vitamins and minerals from food, but if you don’t have enough time to cook up some veg, or don’t like fruit or whatever then a multi-vitamin and or greens powder will cover you, it’s not optimal but it’s better than getting nothing in.

The only other supplement I added in was Acetyl L Carnitine. This was to aid with the fat loss for the last 4-6 weeks or so and to get that extra bit leaner. It enhances fat burning by transporting fat molecules to the mitochondria to be used as fuel for your training. I took 2 caps 30 minutes before a training session.

That’s it, nice and simple. We always say if your supplement bill is higher than your food bill, then you’re doing it wrong, another mistake of ours back in the day. God knows how much we’ve wasted on pointless supplements in the past. Stick to the basics and the supplements that are PROVEN to work!

 

Thank Yous and Shout Outs

When we first started out on this “journey” we didn’t really know where to begin. So I reached out to Danny Lennon of Sigma Nutrition after he sent out an e-mail to all his followers asking if they needed any help with anything health, fitness or nutrition related. This was great timing as it was just about when we were thinking or starting to “shred up” for a photoshoot.  He gave us a few pointers of where to begin and also suggested we ask Mike Samuels of healthy living, heavy lifting for some help and advice as he had literally just done a shoot.

The advice we received seemed to work really well for us and really go us heading into the right direction from the word go, so for that we thank you. I urge anyone to follow these two guys, both clued up to the eyeballs and talk a lot of sense in the world of health and fitness, something we need more of in this industry.

I’d also like to thanks Matt Marsh for doing the shoot.

Unfortunately we decided to get the train to Richmond, Surrey where Matt’s studio is situated. God I wished I’d driven! The trains were in turmoil all day, meaning we ended up being 15-20 minutes late for the shoot, and for that we sincerely apologise to Matt. Moral of the story is, never trust London transport on a weekend!

Although we were late, Matt made us feel very welcome and made us feel at ease throughout the shoot, which was great after feeling very stressed and tense about A) actually doing the photoshoot as it was our first one and B) being late, so not having much time to get ready and get our “pump on”. Once we got going, everything went well and we grew into the shoot, getting some great (and shit) photos along the way.

Anyone looking to get a professional shoot done anytime soon, check out Matt Marsh Photography. He’s done some awesome shoots in the past (including oursJ), he’s friendly and really easy to work with. Deciding to do the shoot with him was a great decision, which was actually down to Joe.

Finally I’d just like to thank family and friends who supported me throughout the 12 weeks of prep. It was tough not only for me but for them too. Sacrifices have to be made when doing something like this. Not being able to go “all out” at a family meals, weddings or birthday parties is something you just have to do, especially in the last 4 weeks or so.

That means missing out on a bit of cake at a birthday (although I did have some during my prep), saying no to mates for a big night out (no more than 3 alcoholic drinks), or missing out on a family meal. Whatever it was, I needed to be a bit more “cautious” especially when it came to food, so I’d like to just thank all the friends and family for being understanding on that front.

Two people who deserve a special mention is first, my girlfriend Amber. After 12 weeks of me constantly asking her how many grams of what was in our dinner, getting her to weigh things out and me being on My Fitness Pal straight after every meal, must of a been increasingly annoying for her! So I’m glad you put up with it all, you were a big part of my success in the photoshoot and made things a lot easier for me (like cooking some awesome meals for me). Doing this whilst raising our 10 month old son, Isaac, has been such a challenge in itself, but one I’m so proud of, you and him are one of the main reasons why I never gave up and never will.

Last but not least I’d like to thank my brother who was with me every step of the way during the prep, he was like my coach in a way. We did a lot of research together and used the advice given to us by Danny and Mike to get as lean as we could, naturally, without being too “restricted” (adopting the flexible dieting approach). If there was one regret we had during the prep, it was not having a proper coach, as it would have taken out a lot of guess work on our part. Either way we are damn proud of the shape we got ourselves into.

We drove each other on, had some gruelling sessions together, compared our nutrition and macros all time, got addicted to snack a jacks and 10 kcal jellies, had ups and downs (near breakdowns), missed full fat milk and mince, got a fake tan and shaved our legs, but by the end of it, it was all worth it and most of all we ENJOYED it (for the most part).

Without my brother I probably wouldn’t of looked as good as I did without his help along the way, I’ve always learnt from him and is my “go to guy” when it comes to anything with health, fitness or nutrition. I may have better genetics than you as you always say, but you’ll always be smarter than me!

 

Final Thoughts

The past 12 weeks has been an experience we’ll never forget and was no means a walk in the park. I busted a gut every time I stepped foot in that gym, and my body was pushed to its limit, both mentality and physically. By the end of it my body was telling me to rest, which I have done. Getting photoshoot lean is a completely different ball game to just getting a bit leaner, and does require a bit of “suffering” especially towards the end, so let’s get that straight.

I’ve learnt so much from it (like tracking our food intake down to the gram for one thing!) but it’s also built my character and mental fortitude, I have now developed an even greater respect to the men and women who do this for a living, year in year out. It requires and incredible amount of self-discipline, hard work, consistency and careful planning. I’ve always admired fantastic physiques and I now have a better idea the amount off craft you need to put in to make it a reality, and it can be done!

Going forward, we want to go one better, so this will not be our last photo-shoot, you can always improve in this industry and get better, that’s why I love it. Hey, who knows, I’m already thinking about taking it one step further and maybe even competing, naturally, in a men’s physique show. So watch this space!

But for now, it’s time to focus on mine and my brothers business, SJ Fitness, and really start getting it off the ground. That’s our main passion, our main goal. To help as many people as we can with our ethos of cutting out all the fads and gimmicks that surrounds the fitness industry.

You can look good and feel good at the same time, whilst enjoying it along the way. You don’t need to cut out certain food groups, cut out carbs, go on a diet, take a fat burner, do cardio all the time etc… To get great results. Nutrition and fitness is there to enhance our lives, not hinder it, as soon as you think it’s doing more harm than good or not getting any results, it’s time to make a change.

We want to get rid of the “quick fix” mentality, build and educate people’s lifestyle through our knowledge of training and nutrition for the LONG TERM, making people feel what we all want to be in life. And what we all deserve.

HAPPIER.

HEALTHIER.

STRONGER.

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 This is just the beginning for me, my brother and SJ Fitness.

Thank you for reading!