My Unexpected Fitness Journey

29 Lessons from Baffled Bro to Evidenced Based Coach.


Where it all began

The year is 2006, England have just been dumped out of the World Cup on penalties again against Portugal, who remembers that match Rooney getting sent off deary me!

Anyway it was this year that I had my whole life in front of me, I had just finished A-Levels and was off to University ready to take on the world. One small problem I did not have a clue of what I wanted to do. The only reason I was going to university is because that is what I thought you did. Did I want to go who knows, was it a success? No way!

To cut a long story short university was a big fat failure for me, dropping out 2 years later and about 2 stone heavier!

Why I am telling you this.

Well it is this dropout from university that led me on my unexpected fitness journey. I had no plans on being a personal trainer/coach when I was younger but this dropout led me into the industry. Fast forward 9 years later and I have come a long way, I have learned a huge amount, and I have also made an absolute catalogue of mistakes and expect I will make more, but that is life.

This blog is all about that 9 year journey.

In this blog I will give you 29 lessons that I have learned along the way from starting off as a baffled, skinny fat bro to an evidence based coach, who wants to carry on improving as a coach and helping Team SJ and all our clients get dream results.

But first if your interesting in finding out tonnes more about building muscle, gaining strength, losing bodyfat and improving your physique. 

Why not join our FREE facebook group. We have over 300 members in there now who are all after dream results just like you. So if you like lifting, laughing and eating this is the group for you.

Feel free to join the group at the link below.


Without further ado lets get on with the blog and those 29 lessons.

1. Focus on You

First one is a huge mistake that I made in the first few years in the gym. Let’s be honest the gym is an intimidating place especially for the first few weeks. When I first started in the gym I was not in great shape far from it!

But I was so self-conscious for the first few years, I was so focused on what other people were doing in there. This led me down a path of getting some very questionable gym advice, which we will come onto later.

But once I learned more about myself and my own muscle building potential, I switch focused and blocked all the gym noise out and started to focus on me and my training.

2. Don't compare yourself to others

This brings us onto our next point perfectly. I can tell you I did a lot of this. Do you find yourself doing this in gyms? This was a big weakness of mine when I was younger, every single guy who was bigger than me and there was a lot of them at that time lol. I used to think why I am not that big? What is that guy doing differently?

This is one of the worst ways to approach your training and your goals.

Everybody has different genetics

Everybody had different training experiences.

That huge guy could have been in his 5th year of training, where you’re in your 5th week!

Not to mention all the extra help that is available these days in the form of steroids and performing enhancing drugs that people will just not admit to.

3. Ask for help

Building muscle, gaining strength and losing bodyfat can be tough sometimes, infact it can be a real challenge. You cannot do it all alone, believe me swallow your pride and ask someone for help.

But do your research ask someone you can trust, who has experience and knows what they are talking about.

Probably don’t ask the guy who is doing quarter squats with 200 kilos and going to failure.

4. Look and learn for people who know more than you

After 5 years of the broscience stuff, I was sick and tired of it all! Something had to change, one thing I did was do a ton of research on people who were actually in the know in the industry.

I started reading more textbooks, I listened to every podcast under the sun. I paid to go on courses, I attended seminars.

I basically emerged myself in the evidenced based community and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I still continue to do this.

5. Do not take gym gossip as the gospel truth

The amount of nonsense that is spoken on the gym floor is ludicrous, some of the things I overhear I literally want to knock myself out with a dumbbell. But the worst thing about this, is that I actually believed a lot of this rubbish!

Things like creatine makes you fat or squats are bad for you.

Try and get your training knowledge from credible sources, instead of Dave the bricklayer who has just finished another course of steroids.

  Yeah do not take this guys advice

Yeah do not take this guys advice

6. Accept it will take time

Getting the physique you want, is one of those things that just will take a bit of time, results will not happen overnight or even in a couple of weeks.

That was the problem with me in my younger days, I always wanted very quick results, to achieve these quick results, I always looked for the most extreme measures that I could not sustain.

If you can go into the gym with the attitude that it will take a bit of time, then you are already one step ahead.


7. Train your whole body (including your legs)

I am not joking in my first couple of years of training I only trained my chest shoulders and arms. That was it! No wonder I did not achieve the physique I wanted and picked up injuries. If you want to achieve a good, well developed physique you have to train your whole body including your legs.

Depending on how many times you can hit the gym, set your training up so you are hitting your main muscle groups at least twice a week.

8. Not every session has to be beast mode

Ah classic beast mode, the gym warrior’s battle call. This is where every single time you hit the gym you train yourself to the point where you want to throw up and you have to drink your protein shake through a straw on the way out.

Yes we need to push ourselves at certain points in the gym, but if you go beast mode every single session you will come unstuck.

9. Spend ALOT of time building muscle

Something that I regret to this day. In order to keep improving your physique and better your last results you have to add and build more lean muscle.

More muscle on your physique will improve it.

Don’t be the guy who tries to cut 10 months of the year and only try’s to add muscle for 2 months.

Building muscle requires time and patience.

10. Cutting 365 days a year

Which brings us to our next point perfectly, you cannot have a six pack 365 days a year, unless you are a genetic freak.

If you’re obsessed with always being lean and having a six pack like I was, you are missing out on building new muscle.

To build new muscle you have to be in calorie surplus, which means eating more food, which could mean a bit of fat gain. Which means those abs could be covered up for a while, but accept that you’re improving your physique for the long term and those abs will be back with vengeance very soon.

  Do not be like this guy lol!

Do not be like this guy lol!

11. Use progressive overload

Progressive overload is the king, when it comes to building more muscle and more strength. To progress and get better in the gym this has to be applied.

In my early training days I did not know what progressive overload was and none of the trainers never mentioned it.

The fact is everyone who makes progress in the gym, is applying progressive overload, whether they know it or not.

But it’s much better if you actually know what it is and apply it.

Find out more about progressive overload and how you can build more muscle by clicking HERE.

12. Have a plan

This ties in nicely to our next point. Muscle does not grow on trees and you can only blag it for so long. Once your first 6-12 months of training is over (newbie gains) results and progress start to stall.

This is where most people are stuck in no man’s land and end up spinning their wheels for years and years and eventually give up.

That was exactly me, I was spinning my wheels for years and years because I did not have a plan and I was trying to blag it.

Have a plan, follow the plan and watch results come.

13. Don't make your workouts up on the spot

Which brings us to our next point, it is like someone actually planned this blog lol! But just going into the gym every single session and making it up there and then is a mistake.

The main reason is that changing your workouts up all the time will make it increasingly hard to track progress on certain lifts and this will make it very hard to apply progressive overload, which needs to be in your training for you to grow more muscle.

14. You're not a warrior for going to the gym

When I was young and naive I thought I was hero for going to the gym 6 days a week, eating out of Tupperware and putting up motivation quotes everywhere.

Just because we go to the gym and lift weights does not make us a warriors and does not make us hard workers. It is our choice.

15. Don't copy the huge guy or follow bodybuilders advice

Another mistake I made was trying to copy the ridiculously big guys in the gym, yes ask for advice and help. But those huge guys have been training in the gym for years and years and you are only in your first year of training it just does not work like that.

Not to mention like I alluded to early, you do not know if these people have extremely gifted genetics for building muscle and if they are taking steroids. If they are and you take their advice, it will not work for you, believe me I know!

Are you still with me?

Take a break if you fancy it, as we still have another 14 lessons from a baffled bro to evidenced based coach.

Hope you are enjoying it so far.


16. Do not cut out food groups

Now we go onto some nutrition points, this should be fun! Firstly do not cut out any food groups, unless you have a really good reason to do so,

Protein, carbs and fats all play a vital role especially if you are in the gym training with weights and looking to improve your physique.

17. Eat carbs

The one food group I always cut out was carbs. I was really conscious of how many carbs I was eating per day.

I never really ate more than a 100g of carbs a day, which is absolutely nothing, especially for a young skinny bro who wanted to build muscle.

If you’re in the gym training hard with weights you needs carbs in your diet to perform in the gym and make progress.

18. Sugar is not the devil and you can eat some "junk" food

Sugar is another food group that has been unfairly blamed for everything. It is not overeating on just sugar that makes us gain weight, it is if we overeat on calories on a consistent basis.

Also don’t be afraid to eat some “junk” food, one of my huge mistakes was that when I was looking to gain muscle, I was constantly trying to get all my calories from chicken and veg. Let me tell you now this is a pain in the arse if you want to build muscle and get stronger.

I actually wrote a whole blog on how “junk” food may actually help you with your muscle building goals, check that blog out HERE.

19. "Clean" eating does not exist

The term “clean” eating has been around in the fitness industry for far too long, it is time for it to go once and for all. I feel victim to the whole clean eating bandwagon, thinking that only certain foods would get me results. It made me miserable, weak and my diet was boring!

You ask 10 people their definition of “clean” eating your get 10 different answers, everybody will have their own interpretation of what “clean” eating is. For example vegetarians and vegans will think that meat is not “clean”, whereas people who follow a paleo style diet will think meat is “clean”

You see what I mean. It comes back to finding out what works for you. But do not follow this term “clean” eating.

20. Coconut oil is not the holy grail

There was a spell in the nutrition space where coconut oil was labelled as the saving grace. It could do anything, help you build muscle, help you burn bodyfat, give you more energy, make you look like Brad Pitt.

In fact coconut oil is a highly calorie dense food source, that can easily add high amount of calories to your daily intake without you even noticing.

If you’re cooking every single meal in coconut oil and placing it in your coffee and even eating it right off the spoon, you are adding a lot of calories onto your daily intake.

If you’re trying to get lean and lose bodyfat this is not the best idea.

21. Calories are important

I did not track a single calorie for the first few years of my training and my results sucked! I just thought you had to eat “clean” drink a protein shake after training and you were golden.

How wrong I was!

Since educating myself and continuing to learn more and even the more advanced side of nutrition it still comes down to the basics.

I have learned and I understand that calories are extremely important even if you don’t want to admit it.

To get lean you have to eat less calories

To get huge you have to eat more calories

22. Protein is important

This is probably the one thing I did get right although I was consuming far too much of it. But protein is not just for the guys who are looking to get jacked.

Protein is an extremely important macronutrient that is important for the majority of people.

It would serve most people well, if they increased their protein intake throughout the day, just don’t eat 350g a day like I was back in the day.

If you controlled your calorie intake and you consumed adequate protein each day, you would see significant progress.

23. Meal timing is not important

This is one I got the wrong way around all the time. I put meal timing on a pedestal I thought it would get me lean and jacked. I put meal timing way above overall calories, protein intake and micronutrients.

In the grand scheme of things it is not that important.

For example I was obsessed with my post workout protein shake, thinking it would make all the difference. But I probably was not consuming enough overall calories for my goal which was to build muscle.

Another example if your goal is fat loss and you eat every 2-3 hours because you believe it keeps your metabolism “firing” but all these meals place you in a calorie surplus for the day, you will not be losing any fat.

24. Processed foods will not kill you

Another nutrition habit that can drive you crazy and drove me crazy, was trying to eat unprocessed, chemically free food 24/7. Its 2017 and that is basically impossible! Yes some foods are more processed than others, but in this day and age every food will go through some sort of processing.

Do you really think that the kiwi fruit, you are eating, that has been flown halfway around the world to get to your fruit bowl, has not been processed in some way?

25. Supplements will not get you results

Next point that I thought was extremely important when it came to nutrition was supplements. The amount of hours I used to spend browsing the internet when I was younger (yeah I used the internet for supplements sad I know) but I wasted so much time looking for the silver bullet supplement.

That one supplement that would bring me all the results I ever wanted.

There is no one supplement out there that will get you results.

Supplement are just not important and you can get awesome results without them.

There are some very helpful ones out there.

But there are loads out there that are just a huge waste of money and I wasted a lot of money on them!

26. Learn and use flexible dieting for you

Coming from a rigid “clean” eating past where I was scared of bananas, finding out and learning about flexible dieting was a game changer.

It allowed me to start eating foods again that I really enjoyed, without any guilt or regret. Not to mention it was actually helping me towards my goals. I was seeing more results and progress than I ever had!

It was like the flexible dieting gods had shown me the light.

The best thing is, it’s a lifestyle. It is a way of eating that you can sustain literally for the rest of your life. You can tweak it here and there depending on your goals and lifestyle.

Flexible dieting is not just for Christmas it’s for life.

27. Working out does not have to be a grind


With all the gym warriors out there that are constantly posting pictures of lions and using #grind #grindcity #allworknoplay. It kind of makes us feel that working out and hitting the gym is a chore and we have to grind through it.

Yes training and changing your physique will be a challenge.

But what happened to just enjoying working out and the whole process?

28. Consistency will ALWAYS beat perfection

Between the ages of 20-25 I was not consistent with my training and nutrition. Yes there was times I would smash the gym like a madman 7 days a week and live off chicken, broccoli and strong pre workouts.

But there was also times where I was demotivated, burnt out and injured and would be out of the gym for a couple of weeks.

This was down to the approach of always looking for perfection, looking for the best ever workout, looking for the best supplements, looking for the best macro split etc etc ect!

I was obsessed.

But I would have been far better of choosing a less optimal approach and just sticking with it.

That is exactly what I do now. Every single week I will hit my training and I am least consistent with my calories, my protein and my fibre intake every single day. That will add up over time.

29. Learn to enjoy the ride!

Which brings up perfectly onto our final point.

Learn to enjoy the ride!

In this fitness space we get so obsessed with the end goal, having that sixpack, getting to 10% bodyfat, adding 20kg onto our squat.

That sometimes we completely forget about enjoying the process, learning more about ourselves, learning more about training and nutrition.

This is something I do now, yes I love seeing results and that is what I am in the gym for to improve my physique and get better. But I now focus on enjoying that process, doing this will make getting to that end goals so much more enjoyable and easier.

So there we have it 29 lessons from baffled bro to evidenced based coach. When I first started in the gym all those years ago, I really did not have a clue what I was doing. All I knew is that I wanted to improve my physique as my confidence was at an all time low.

During these 9 years I have made a lot of mistakes, spent a hell of a lot of money, injured myself on many occasions, read hundred and thousands of words on both training and nutrition, changed my mind on certain things, got into decent shape, go out of shape, got back into shape.

But more importantly I have learned to enjoy the process, both me and Simon are in the training and nutrtion game for the long term, we love it, we literallt live it each and single day, so we are here to stay.

If you fancy learning more about SJ Fitness, but more importantly learning more about building muscle, gaining strength and getting lean!

Feel free to join our FREE facebook group, it will be great to have you there, you can join the group at the link below.


Thanks for reading

Coach Joe