Phil Graham is a highly-respected competitive bodybuilder, performance nutritionist, fitness expert and personal trainer. He is based in Northern Ireland.
When it comes to building a better body, the majority of people have their heads turned by the newest supplement, or a pro bodybuilder’s diet plan, or some fancy gum shield that’s been ‘proven’ to increase performance by 10%. And that’s why the majority of people fail in their attempt to build a truly impressive physique. Because when it comes to genuinely transforming your body, you need to get the basics right first and foremost. If not, you’re simply wasting your time and wasting your money.
Having been in the fitness industry for ten years I’ve identified five very important pillars you must have in place to realise your potential. Read the list below and ask yourself honestly whether you have you mastered them. If not, you need to prioritise getting these foundations into place before doing anything else.
1. Adherence is everything
Whatever your plan you need to be able to stick to it. The psychological aspect of getting in shape is often overlooked but is crucial in determining your overall success. You also need to realise that your level of motivation may not resemble that of a professional sports person whose career and livelihood depends on how they look and perform. Consequently they will be used to having an all-out 100% approach to training, eating and recovery. You won’t. Their mindset is different to yours so don’t compare. It’s pointless.
Your diet must be affordable, accessible and account for your personal food likes and dislikes. You’re hardly going to stick to a nutritional strategy full of foods you don’t like. It’s one sure way to encourage binge eating. Your training regime must suit your current level of strength and fitness. It also helps to have regular access to the equipment on the plan.
2. Be patient
Are you worried you’re not making enough progress? I’ve never heard of anyone complain they’re progressing too fast. We all know the odd person who looks incredible no matter how dumb or lazy their approach, but the overwhelming chances are that’s not you, and everyone is subject to a plateau no matter how genetically gifted they are. It just happens at different times for all of us. Your body can and will adapt to everything you throw at it, both from a nutritional and training perspective. Accept the fact you will never progress in a linear fashion, and instead be patient, identify plateaus and work to overcome them. It’s like what I say to all my personal training clients: those that train the smartest last the longest.
3. Build the right diet
When it comes to the right diet for you, everyone is different and what works for one person might not work for another. So you need to do some trial and error to find the right fit. Here’s a breakdown of the key factors I take into account when helping my clients focus on their long-term dietary success: appropriate calorific intake, the major determinant of weight loss and muscle gain; essential nutrients (fats, protein and micronutrients); metabolic abnormalities, or underlying medical conditions; flexibility; and diet breaks. Realise that you won’t be able to stick to your programme 100% day-in and day-out. There will be times when things will slip. There is nothing wrong with this – it’s called life. But having the right plan in place allows you to compensate with minor slip-ups and get on back on track as quickly and smoothly as possible.
4. Work on your mobility
I’ve seen too many people neglect the extremely fundamental yet essential aspect of mobility. Good mobility translates into quality movement; quality movement translates into getting more out of every lift. As a result you can expect to load your exercise more safely and achieve a fuller and more effective range of motion. This equates to increased muscle fibre activation and stimulation, which is essential for maximising your muscle gain and fat loss efforts. Healthy mobility also reduces your chance of injury as limited movement ranges can result in the body finding compensatory movement patterns, which equate to strain on certain areas of musculature that shouldn’t be so directly involved.
I’ve found that the following factors improve mobility: strengthening the glutes and core, which function as key stabilisers; foam rolling; static stretching; and ice baths, which help calm neural reflexes and tightness associated with overworked tissue; being ‘postural aware’ and taking regular breaks from sitting; focusing on quality movement, not just shifting a load from point A to point B; utilising different training techniques and exercises to work around injury and pain; and adequate, rest, nutrition and hydration as part of a thorough recovery strategy.
5. Don’t heed bad advice
It’s very easy to get confused about the best way to build a better body. Information is incredibly easy to access, whilst credible information and real knowledge is difficult to source. What makes information credible? A set of abs? A first place trophy in a show? A very popular social media account? You can’t argue with results but if you fail to consider the issue of great genetics and the growing problem of performance-enhancing drug use within the industry, then some people might obtain excellent results without really knowing what they are talking about.
Get advice from someone who can both talk the talk and walk the walk. Not one or the other. In order to get the best advice possible you need to have someone in your corner that both understands the physiological (book knowledge) and psychological (practical experience) of what it takes to get into phenomenal shape.