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My Dad

I’ve been silent on the blog the past four months.
Here’s why:

At the end of May my Dad was rushed into hospital with what turned out to be a kidney infection.

He had a similar infection two years ago and two years before that. In both cases he had bounced back to a seemingly better state of health than before admission.

But given his 80 years and the fact that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease three years ago and a mild version of Alzheimer’s a year before that, my family was obviously very concerned.

(When I found out about the dementia diagnosis, I was an emotional heap for two days as I feared the day would come where he wouldn’t know our names.)

Around six weeks into his hospital stay, myself and my eldest brother Ciaran had a meeting with the doctors (our remaining brothers Fergal and Rory live in Australia).

It was held in Dad’s ward, so we visited him before meeting the team. He motioned to get out of his bed but Ciaran told him the meeting was for family only. “But I’m family too,” he replied. So, as you see, he definitely still had most of his faculties.

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Dad aged around 17 (1950) at his home in Bailieborough, Co Cavan.

The team told us that Dad had made an “impressive” fightback against his kidney infection. He then contracted another infection while in St Vincent’s but managed to kick that one to touch too.

As a result, the doctors said he could be discharged the following week once we were sure we had enough caregivers for him at home.

However, just a few days later Dad took a turn for the worse. And on July 4 last myself and Ciaran had another meeting in the hospital, this time with the Parkinson’s consultant, a social care worker and a doctor.

When the specialist took a sharp intake of breath before saying anything, I knew it would be awful news. “Your dad doesn’t have much time left,” he said. I immediately asked how long. He said possibly weeks, but more likely two to six months. The Parkinson’s would claim him in the end. It was a 40-minute meeting, although it didn’t feel that long… perhaps a reminder of what little time we had left together. It was surreal having to hear the news, but inescapably real too.

The next week was easily the toughest of my life. Trying to grapple with the fact that a loved one is terminally ill is an emotional struggle that tests you like no other.

(In passing, I should mention that I kept on going to the gym during this time because it gave me the physical and mental fortitude to stay strong).

I had visited Dad virtually every day in hospital up until that point. But from then on, I tried to spend longer on each visit because time was all we had left.

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Dad, right, with his brother Tom and their parents, Nan and Philip. Uncle Tom reckons this was right after a victorious match.

There were times I wasn’t sure he recognised me in those last seven weeks. But any doubts were banished a week after the British Open. I told Dad that Phil Mickelson outplayed Lee Westood in the final round to lift the claret jug. “He’s small beer,” Dad replied, referring to Westwood. I was astonished as it was the most he had said in a while to me. He read that as me misunderstanding what he said, and added: “In golf terms, I mean.” I cried because I knew then that he was still with us, in his mind at least.

Tragically, he passed away on August 22, about seven weeks after the fatal diagnosis. Thankfully, Ciaran and I were both at his bedside when he left us in the most dignified, silent and peaceful way possible.

Ciaran was 80 and the best dad anyone could ask for. He met my mother when he was in the seat behind her on a two-hour bus journey from Dublin home to Cavan and asked if he could sit beside her.

He played Gaelic football for his local club and county and went on to love fishing, pheasant shooting and golf. Dad was an engineer and later an arbitrator. My uncle Tom, a playwright, told me in the days after his kid brother’s demise that Dad was “terrifyingly honest” and “strangely patient”.

Dad never really got angry with us, except for one occasion I remember in 1983. I wrote a letter to the Evening Press in defence of my sporting idol John “Super Brat” McEnroe and was so excited to see it published in a major Irish newspaper that I raced to show it to my father. Dad exclaimed incredulously: “And you put our address, TOO?”

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My parents on their wedding day, May 31, 1960.

He had a great sense of humour. When one of us four boys won an academic prize, Mother boasted to another parent: “He’s got my brains.” Dad added: “I’ve still got mine.”

And two years ago, when visiting him in hospital, he said to me: “Come on, let’s get outta here.
Me: “But you can’t leave until you get better.”
Dad: ‘But I’m not getting any better. I’ve had a good innings. We’re both nearly 80 (he and Mum). I’m happy.”
I teared up, of course.
The next day when my brother Ciaran came in, he asked Dad: “Was Brian in?”
Dad replied: ‘Brian was in tears.”

In that same week two years ago, he told me that I had to accept nature. I asked him if he was able to accept it. His stoic reply (as ever): “I think I’m better able than you are.” That was Dad… always thinking about others.

I realise how lucky I am to have had that conversation with him. To know that he was okay with death… and that I should be okay with it by extension… is of great comfort now.

I had always dreaded having to do a reading at a parent’s funeral. When the priest suggested I read the famous one about love from the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians, I balked. It was full of emotional landmines that I feared would blow up in my face.

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My Mother with Fergal, myself (in red), Ciaran and Rory in 1972.

It reads:

“Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth: it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes. Love does not come to an end.”

People told me to think of Dad when I was reading it… but I knew that would make things worse for me. In the end I read it because I really wanted to honour my father.

I thought I’d be inconsolable immediately after the funeral, but I think subconsciously I was trying to honour Dad’s wish that I accept nature. In the first few days after the funeral, I’d have mini panic attacks where I had to see Dad there and then. But that soon ended as the harsh reality of logic took over.

Now, a month after his passing, I feel like a half-orphan. I’m finding it harder to come to terms with our family’s loss… now that the visitors to my parents’ house have dwindled and we’re left with our own thoughts.

Thankfully my Mother is still with us because the unbelievable finality of a parent’s death is so coldly cruel. There’s a void that cannot be filled. Life feels, and is, different. Yet it’s just as nature intended. The opposite would be the real tragedy.

If there’s one regret I have it’s that I didn’t ask Dad more about his early life. But, to be honest, I didn’t want to broach the subject in the past few years because I didn’t want him to worry that I was thinking he was about to leave us.

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My parents and I in the late ’80s.

However, I did ask him why he became an engineer. He said it was because he thought it would allow him to be outdoors a lot. And in hospital back in June, I asked him who he had voted for in the last election. I had a suspicion where his political leanings lay, and I wasn’t wrong. It was a cheeky question, but his answer reaffirmed for me the kind of principles he stood by.

I’d like to think that Dad lives on in my brothers and I, and to a certain extent he does, at least biologically and in terms of the life lessons he passed on through the years.

But an interesting aspect of his passing is that it has really forced me to take a long, hard look at my own mortality. It’s made me want to give my life more purpose, so I too can enjoy the kind of love and happiness he experienced in his.

Or to put it another way, as my boss said, for some people bereaving someone close to them can actually be a rebirth of sorts.

My cousin Deirdre told me Dad’s legacy is love.

I dearly hope to pass that on to a family of my own some day.

Treasure your parents… I miss my Dad terribly.

The Science of the Yams

When you’re a skinny guy trying to build muscle, it’s all about the F word. Simply put, you can’t out-train a shitty diet. Simple as.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a seminar here in Dublin with Optimum Nutrition’s Steve Cook and a few days later I went to lectures by two of the UK’s leading nutrition coaches, Ben Coomber and Scott Baptie, when I flew over there for BodyPower Expo 2013.

First off, ON’s seminar.

This was led by sales rep Jay Jacobsen, who pitched questions to Steve Cook on our behalf, before opening it out to the floor.

Here’s the main points from that seminar:

1. You can’t out-supplement a bad diet… meaning, it’s ALWAYS Food First. (And that’s coming from arguably the biggest supplement company on the planet).

2. Jacobsen also said that Pre-Workout supplements have a minimal affect on performance.

3. Building muscle is your body’s last priority. So you have to eat a LOT of food for it to eventually go to adding to your physique.

4. Around 80g to 100g of carbs are needed every day just to fuel brain function.

5. The recommended daily fibre intake is 35g.

I also got to meet two nutrition experts I’ve been following on Facebook lately.

I asked them both the same questions.
What would you give an ectomorph/true hardgainer for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
How much protein is too much?
What quantity of carbs should they take?
And is there a way to make protein shakes work if, as in my experience, they haven’t done much for me?
(Last question background: I was on a food regimen of 50pc shakes and 50pc solid food for first three months of Scrawny to Brawny, but only put on 3lbs. The coaches then switched me to ALL solids, including 1lb of protein for lunch and the same for dinner, with brown rice, spuds or sweet potatoes with each of these meals.)

The interviews are unedited as I haven’t got any mad skills in that area.

I was first made aware of Ben Coomber by our mutual friend Dean Phillips of Hero in Training. Dean was in S2B with me and is a stand-up guy, so I knew if he thought highly of Coomber, who runs Body Type Nutrition, then he must be good. Ben also has a popular podcast that’s fast rising up the iTunes charts.

Here’s what Ben said:

I found out about Scott Baptie from an interview with him on Cut and Jacked. He owns Food for Fitness and has recently scored two Men’s Fitness covers, although, as he says himself, you shouldn’t choose a trainer based purely on their aesthetics. Knowledge is key.

And here’s Scott:

I’m sure there’s lots of other great nutrition experts in Ireland and the UK. These are just two with pretty high-profiles. I imagine you’d be in good hands with either of them.

The Tao of Steve

I learned a new word the other day thanks to the Del Bros Facebook feed.

I realise Mike and Joe Delaney may not have invented ‘brotivation’, but as a newspaper headline writer I was still jealous I hadn’t thought of it first.

As it turns out, I bumped into the Del Bros last weekend when I flew over to the UK for BodyPower Expo in Birmingham — it’s the British version of the Arnold Classic. As you can imagine, there were a lot of alpha male types walking around in their singlets — which is why I dubbed it The TestosterZone — but the Delaney Bros know how to rock theirs, and they don’t take themselves too seriously either.

They had some good advice too. Joe, who’s a similar body type to me, said that he wished he hadn’t spent so much on protein powder at the beginning of their quest given it’s only a supplement to, and not a replacement for, real food.

After a chat with the pair, I was very impressed. The brothers have put in an awful lot of hard work to achieve the kind of ‘bestethics’ I hope to emulate in the coming years with my physique. So bualadh bos, lads! (That’s Irish for “round of applause”.)

Best thing about Del Bros is they like to have a laugh, as can be seen in this shot from BodyPower, with Mike, left, and Joe on the right:

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Their Facebook caption to accompany this photo read: “Soon.jpeg on the far left, plus two epic photobombs on the right. This picture paints a thousand lols.”

I booked BodyPower because I thought it would be useful for inspiration and motivation given I had just come off the S2B program.

It’s pretty much what I imagined — a giant showcase for the biggest supplement companies, which were corralled into one area of the National Exhibition Centre, and a bunch of other companies selling everything from T-shirts to physique-friendly burgers.

There were also some interesting lectures, two of which I attended that were all about nutrition. (I’ll write more about that in the next post, including two videos.)

And there were Beach Body and Strongman contests as well.

But one thing that really annoyed me was that there wasn’t a map of the exhibition area. How basic is that? I had flown over from Dublin, booked a hotel for the night and paid about €40 for the weekend ticket… and no map. But there was a programme on sale for £5… FFS!

Anyway, all gripes aside, it’s worth attending if you’re into fitness. But in retrospect I should have got the 6:20am flight to Birmingham and gone back home that night. You could easily see everything in about 4 hours or less and even the lectures were repeated over the weekend.

A lot of people showed up partly to meet fitness models/bodybuilders they admired. One lad I recognised from the Trinity College gym had stood in line three hours to shake hands with Greg Plitt, who is probably the top fitness model in the world. He’s been on over 200 covers and, according to his website, has appeared on the front of a magazine every month somewhere in the world for six years running.

Now, if it was waiting to meet Nelson Mandela or the Dalai Lama, I might stick it out in the three-hour line. But that’s an awful lot of time to spend in a queue.

Ironically, I fleetingly met Plitt the next day.

I was in the hall outside the Expo and noticed him coming the other way.

Me: Greg Plitt.
GP: Yessir!
Me: Any chance I could do a quick two-minute video interview with you?
GP: (Hesistates)
Me: I understand if you don’t have time.
GP: (Genuinely apologetic look). Sorry, sir. I still have to have my lunch and be back at my booth 10 minutes from now.

What a nice guy. No brush-off, just polite. I was impressed, not least by the fact that he was sticking to his meal plan!

Speaking of which, I went to an Indian restaurant in the burbs on my first night in Birmingham and mightily impressed a diner at the table next to me.

He was out with his wife and kids and came up to me after dinner and asked incredulously: “‘Ow much can you eat?… Myself and the wife watched you have a starter, main course… and you had puddin’! There’s a McDonald’s up the road if you’re still hungry.”

His granting me props for my appetite made my day, especially since he was a lot bigger than me (but not overweight).

I also cleaned up the next day in the wardrobe department. Most of the supplement companies were handing out free T-shirts with their sample powder packs and so I made sure to bag my Optimum Nutrition shirt right off the bat.

For those of you who don’t know, ON is in the top tier of supplement companies on the planet and I’m blowing its trumpet because it’s owned by an Irish food conglomerate called Glanbia.

Incidentally, in my enthusiasm to get a free USN shirt, I fell onto their stand as my right foot caught their raised platform. My right knee slammed onto their floor but I quickly regained my composure, went up to the nearest rep and said: “I just fell on your stand. Any chance of a free T-shirt?” It worked a charm, but the guy told me not to tell anyone else or everyone would be injuring themselves.

Below is a 90-second video I shot with Steve Cook, who is the main face of ON if its ads in fitness magazines are anything to go by and he does excellent videos for his Swoldier Nation.

It was a quick-fire round covering least favourite exercises, best abs routine, his guilty pleasure, best advice and favourite blogs. I had asked in advance if he could give this blog a shoutout. But the plug didn’t go quite as planned, although the video’s funnier for it.

Here it is:

‘Melt Some Ass’

My year-long S2B transformation is over. But, like all good trainers would say, it’s a lifestyle, not a quick fix.

So there’s still a LOT more to come on this blog as I aim for 10,000 views and beyond (currently at 6,400 views from 55 countries).

I already have a plan to take me into next year and it’s quite ambitious.

I’ll write more about it in the next post, but for now I’ll just say that it involves more accountability on two major platforms… and one minor one (although the last will be the hardest).

The nice thing about having finished this course, which was a major milestone in my physical and mental development, is that I can take things a little easier now.

As they say in movies, there’s no ticking clock any more, meaning I don’t have the pressure of having to meet a self-appointed goal within a certain time period (the 12 months of S2B).

I’m hoping that reduces stress, which should in itself make building muscle easier.

As far as that goes, my S2B coach Paul Valiulis strongly advised we all take a month off from the gym to “reset” and do something entirely different.

He suggested yoga, specifically Yin Yoga, which has long poses that really stretch those tired muscles I’ve been hammering over the past year.

But given I work evenings, I’ve had a helluva time finding a Yin Yoga class between 11am and 2pm in the burbs or Dublin city centre.

So I asked Paul what yoga I should definitely avoid.

I don’t think he’ll mind me sharing this so here’s what he said:
“Power, Vinyasa, or Flow. If it says any of those, run your stiff weightlifting ass the other way.

“Look for yin (best for weightlifting guys), restorative (good for injuries and pregnant women, okay for weightlifting guys), or gentle hatha.”

I then thanked him and he replied:
“No probs.
“Melt some ass!”

So I found a Gentle Hatha class the other day and it was pretty good. Until the next day when I had DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).

In fairness, though, it had been 10 years since I last did any kind of yoga.

And I realised that the part of my ass that hurt was the same area I injured when I hit a ‘glassy’ patch and crash-landed on my coccyx while snowboarding in France a few years ago… and that’s after over 100 days on the slopes when I lived in Utah.

(I had a season pass three years in a row, and would hit Brighton resort twice a week… an amazing workout for your quads and abs, as if you hadn’t figured that out already).

For now, I’m planning on doing yoga at least once a week from here on in because I think it will really help me get down deep on my squats, and my legs and pecs are the areas that I’d really like to focus on.

As always, I was looking for some good visual content to illustrate this post, and found the following on YouTube.

Let’s hope you don’t have this yoga instructor in your class…

A Holy Shit Moment/The Top 12

I had a day of day of highs and lows last Wednesday.

That morning I was interviewed by Ryan Tubridy, host of one of the top morning shows on RTE Radio (Ireland’s version of the BBC).

Right after our live 5-minute interview, the reseracher who I had dealt with earlier emailed me with the subject line “RTE Home Page Right Now”.

I went online and saw my favourite shot of the final photoshoot staring at me from the home page of Ireland’s biggest media website. As one S2B friend put it, “you made national news”.

It was a “holy shit” moment.

A few hours later, I logged on to the S2B website and saw they had announced the Top 12 finalists.

Scrolling down the page, I had a growing sense of dread that my name wouldn’t be there.

I was right. 

Although I had already made the Top 21, as one of the truly scrawny guys to begin with, I was crushed.

But I’ll get over it.

As a wise friend told me: “For almost all of us, there will ALWAYS be somebody who does a particular thing better than us. Doesn’t matter. Look what you did for YOURSELF. That’s the important thing, and no outside assignment of rank can change that.”

Congratulations to the winners, especially JC and my friends Simon Dannapfel and Don Vanco.

Here’s the list of finalists.

http://www.scrawnytobrawny.com/winners-may-13

And yes, if you’re wondering, I would wholeheartedly recommend S2B to others.

It has provided my body and mind with an excellent foundation on which to build what I’m confident will be an awesome “house”.

Here’s the screen grab from the RTE home page last Wednesday morning… (you can click on it for a better view).

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The First Cut Is… the Brawniest!

Today on the Scrawny to Brawny Blog they announced the Top 21 Body Transformations out of the cohort of 200 guys who joined S2B in May 2012.

Proud to say I’m in it. But it’s only the first cut. Next week they’ll announce the finalists, which if past contests are anything to go by will be in the range of 7 to 10 dudes.

Obviously I’m sorely hoping to make it to that stage.

For now, here’s a look at what other guys have done.

If I had to choose a grand prize winner other than myself, I’d go for Simon (full disclosure: I have Skyped with him once cos he’s a fellow European/Scandinavian… but I still think he had a great transformation for a fellow scrawny guy like myself).

http://www.scrawnytobrawny.com/help-us-pick

And my full set of AFTER shots are in this earlier post….

http://briansbigproject.com/2013/04/05/theyre-like-gq-meets-mma/

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What Would Brad Do?

My year of S2B is almost over, so it seems like a good time to crunch some numbers.

I started the year at 135lbs and reached a peak of 154.5lbs at the end of January/beginning of February.

At that point, I had to decide whether or not I was going to go for a lean look in the end-March photoshoot or bulk up some more.

I opted for the lean-out and dropped 18lbs in six weeks. Most of that was water and fat because I kept on doing ALL the workouts and eating BIG (except carbs, of course).

But I was still puzzled as to why I lost more than the average guy. And I bet a lot of my readers are also scratching their heads.

So I turned to Coach Paul and asked him to explain this for me.

Here’s his response (and I think it’s a great explanation, by the way). So he’s officially my first guest blogger:

“Everyone aspires to the body of Brad Pitt in Fight Club. I don’t think I’ve met a single guy that hasn’t given him credit for how bad-ass he looked in that movie.

“But then every guy makes the same next-step inference: They think that in order to look like that, they’d need to get bigger muscles, and it’d suddenly all come together.

In reality, most guys (you included, at the beginning) are too fat, and actually need to LOSE FAT to look like Brad Pitt.

Case and point?

He was 155lbs in that movie, and close to 5% body fat.

Normally, he walks around at about 174lbs. So he had to lose nearly 20lbs of (mostly) fat to look like that.

Similarly, I had to lose 14lbs to stand on-stage in this shape. Hard to believe that I had 14lbs to lose, but that’s what I had to do.

So your fat loss? Totally normal, and expected.

Most people don’t realize how fat they are until they’re forced to lose it. You, even now, could keep going and will end up looking EVEN BETTER at a lower weight, because your body fat levels will be so much lower than your “before” shot.

The irony is that people sign up for Scrawny to Brawny thinking that “most” of what they need to look better is just more muscle. But in reality, it’s less fat, so the muscles they have can actually show.

But let’s crunch the numbers.

At the start, you were 133lbs and 12.5% body fat (=16.6lbs total fat).
After the photo shoot, you were 137lbs and 8.7% body fat (=11.9lbs fat).

In other words,
Before:
135 lbs total, 11.4pc body fat (119.6l lbs lean muscle, 15.39 lbs fat)

After:
137 lbs total (125.1lbs lean muscle, 11.9lbs fat)

Which means, not only did you gain 5.5 lbs of LEAN MASS, but you also LOST 3.5 lbs of FAT MASS.

Paints quite a different story, doesn’t it?

(Thanks, Paul)

ADDENDUM:

For the record, I first joined S2B in the May 2011 cohort but had to quit 5 months in because of a major family crisis.

So here’s the Before and After figures from May 2011 to March 2013 just for the hell of it…

In May 2011 I was 133lbs and 12.5% body fat (=16.6lbs total fat).
In March 2013 I was 137lbs and 8.7% body fat (=11.9lbs fat).

In other words,
Before:
133 lbs total (116.4lbs lean, 16.6lbs fat)
After:
137 lbs total (125.1lbs lean, 11.9lbs fat)

So I gained 8.7lbs of LEAN MASS and LOST 4.7lbs of FAT MASS in that period.

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“They’re Like GQ Meets MMA”

Peak Week was going pretty smoothly, the only thing I really had to ‘worry’ about was the spray tan, which Coach Paul insisted I get, because I looked “as white as a cracker”. I was leery of looking like an Oompah Loompa, or John Boehner, so I had talked to the photographer the week before about what I should go for.

The photographer, Philip Leonard, was a local guy. He’s the first shooter I called when we booked the date months ago (under S2B we had to book early so we’d have a very real deadline in our minds that we could work towards). He offered the best quote by a long shot and he told me he had recently photographed a Polish bodybuilder, which made me feel he’d know exactly what was involved for my assignment.

We didn’t have to get a professional for our AFTER shots, but I’m so glad I did.

I’ve been taking photos ever since my grandaunt Kit (who was an Irish-born nurse, who moved to the States, served as a nurse during the Second World War and settled in Newark, NJ) gave me a simple Kodak 115 film camera when I was about 13. I have a pretty diverse Flickr page that’s worth a visit, IMHO. But even I knew that I couldn’t do the job properly myself because professional lighting was key.

Secondly, the self-timer on my camera only allows you 10 seconds to get the technical poses right. And thirdly, even if you get a partner, family member of friend to take the pictures for you, you’re not gonna want to waste their time setting up your poses… whereas a professional will take plenty of time to make you feel comfortable.

So Philip advised as light a tan as possible because he said that brides he had shot often realised too late that the tan they got was far too dark for their big day. Tans grow darker after you get them, so you have to be careful.

I got the tan after my last workout, and I wouldn’t call it the most pleasant experience. For starters, the spray itself is cold and can take a little while to dry. It also smells, not bad, just kind of an annoyingly unnatural odour, if that makes any sense. And it’s a sticky feeling all over.

But the great thing about the tan was the confidence boost it gave me for these AFTER photos for the S2B contest. When you have a shade that’s just enough to “take out the white”, which is what the photographer recommended, you instantly feel more muscular. It’s like it’s easier to look at yourself flexing in the mirror and feel proud because the muscle definition seems to “pop” more.

While that may sound vain, and it is, the flexing/posing is what it all comes down to for the photoshoot. If you don’t know how to pose correctly then it’s like going to a Black Tie event wearing Nikes — it’s not the look you want… not the one you’ve worked so hard to get.

Luckily I had gotten Posing lessons from an S2B alum that Paul put me in touch with, so it was all good.

On the day of the shoot itself, I felt pretty good. And it was down to one reason — I had worked my ass off all year and there was nothing more I could have done. So I was at peace with my effort. Now all I had to do was be confident and give that big smile for the camera.

My weekend changes every week, given the nature of newspaper work, so I had requested the day before the shoot and the shoot itself off — that way I could concentrate on the task at hand with few interruptions or other demands on my time.

When it came to the shoot, I brought two shopping bags of books for a 15 minute workout in the photo studio to “bring the arms up”, as recommended in the S2B lessons. I also used a chair to do dips with my triceps for a similar “pump”.

It’s amazing how that 15 minutes can make you feel “game ready”.

We took almost an hour to do the six main poses plus a few more relaxed shots. The hardest part was the smile. I’ve been told I have a nice natural smile, but when I have to do it on cue it can look forced and cheesy. But I think I managed to pull it off, for the most part.

Philip and I went through the shots and we both agreed on which were the best choices within each pose. But then I realised I hadn’t shown my left hand in the Back Relaxed. So we just shot that one again.

Later that night, I tried to upload the shots to the S2B page, but they wouldn’t save properly, which never happened before.

So I emailed Paul with my photos and told him about the technical difficulties. I suggested he might pass them on to the tech guys to make sure I made the submission deadline.

I woke up the next morning to find a handful of emails from Paul about my photos. He loved them. He said I looked like “a Men’s Health model…. or something even fancier… like GQ meets MMA fighters magazine”. He added: “This took some serious ball-busting. But it paid off like CRAZY.”

After feedback like that from one of the biggest S2B success stories out there, it would be an understatement to say I was stoked.

And as you can see, Paul’s a great guy to have in your corner — there’s few people I know who embrace life with such fearless, unbridled anticipation as he does.

As for the photos, it’s hard to judge how good your gains are but I’m pretty happy with what I see below. My arms, chest, shoulders and legs all seem to have good size improvments and my upper abs have never been as defined before.

I still aim on getting quite a bit bigger with very specific targets in mind, and now I know a lean bulk is definitely the way to go.

But that’s the whole point of this program… you’re always growing, on a physical level and, more importantly, on an emotional one too in that S2B helps you become your own hero so that you’ll always have someone to look up to even in the tightest of spots.

I also had to get my final measurements the day after the photoshoot. It was then I found out that leaning out is no problem for me because my waist dropped four inches to 31 inches in the six weeks of my lean-out.

When I say it was no problem, that’s not a boast. To be honest, I was dubious about how much I could cut from my waist in a month-and-a-half, but my body, and my willpower, thought otherwise.

As if that wasn’t enough, the day after the shoot, John Connor of the Irish Strength Institute took my skinfolds. Five weeks ago he had measured me at 13.5pc body fat and I felt that I may have hit the 10pc mark since then.

As it turns out, my body fat came in at 8.7pc. For context, 12pc is considered “athletic” and the magazine cover models come in at 5pc to 7pc. While skinfolds may not be the most accurate measure, my body fat was clearly moving in the right direction.

Ironically, I bumped into one of John’s clients, rising Irish MMA star Cathal Pendred, the 2013 Cage Warriors welterweight champ, who had a sparring session with John after I was finished my hour. They featured him on the cover of the Irish Independent’s FIT magazine. See here for more. He’s also listed in the Bleacher Report’s “5 Top Welterweights the UFC Should Sign” here.

So overall, the personal takeaway from my shoot is that I now have a fantastic foundation for the awesome ‘house’ I plan on building on top of my more athletic frame.

My physique has taken a truly quantifiable quantum leap from what it was last May.

Here’s some BEFORE and AFTER shots (May 2012 to March 2013) that I submitted for the contest, but I’ll let you judge for yourself…

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Peak Fitness

Going into Peak Week, I looked at the S2B lessons and protocols and, if I’m honest, I started to sweat a little. There was a diet matrix that seemed complicated at first, although when I read it, I felt more comfortable about it.

It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be, but then everything was to change for me because Coach Paul decided I should do things a little differently from the others.

The other guys in his cohort were on intervals for the first day of Peak Week, then three gym days and three rest days. Diet was protein with veggies, no fruit for first four days, then protein and dry carbs for three days. Water consumption varied up to a maximum of two gallons, and a minimum of a cup (the latter for each of the last two days).

The plan Paul put me on was to stick with the Paleo Diet I was on for the Photoshoot Lean-Out, which I had given myself six weeks to do.

For breakfast, that was a huge omlette with mostly egg whites, some cherry tomatoes and a slice of cheese, followed later in the morning by a protein shake with BCAAs, veggies and greens powder.

Lunch was a two-chicken breast salad with homemade dressing, crushed chillies, a red/yellow/orange pepper and a Pink Lady apple (it’s sweet but not soft, so it makes it easier to chow down about a pound of chicken).

Dinner was super simple. A pound of beef or lamb slow cooked in a casserole sauce and served with two peppers and a can of corn, with Tabasco or chilli powder on top.

During the middle of the lean-out Paul also added an avocado a day and some Extra Virgin Olive Oil to dinner in an attempt to slow down my weight loss (which was mostly due to water, glycogen and fat).

As for gym work in my modified plan, I was to rest the first day, then do Lower Body (Day 2), Lower Body (Day 3), Upper Body (Day 4), Lower Body (Day 5) and Upper Body (Day 6), all the time working different muscle groups.

Day 7 was the photoshoot, which meant no gym and introducing some carbs into the mix. These included an egg-white omlette with oats (not quite like eating cardboard, but close) and beef with white rice.

As for water, I was to drink 5.5 litres a day, except for the last day which saw me knock back about 4 litres before the shoot.

I’m glad I didn’t have to cut water on the last day cos I drink a fair amount with my food to make sure it all goes down.

And boy was I glad that I didn’t have to do another workout after five days in the gym.
This will give you an idea of how I felt…

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Will Power

This week is Peak Week on S2B. It’s seven days of a special diet and exercise program that started yesterday and end in a final photoshoot this Saturday… or sometime before next Friday at the latest.

Mine is scheduled for next Tuesday and it’s the final set of photos we’ll post during the year. These are the photos from which the judges will select prizewinners and there’s prizes of $1,000 to $10,000 at stake.

I promised myself at the beginning of this process last May that as long as I ended the year more muscular and without a major injury then everything else was gravy.

I’ve had the slight hiccup along the way… a tear in my Rec Fem (upper leg) at the beginning, and about five weeks ago I did something to my right triceps at the point near my elbow.

Luckily I have a great physio (David Richards of Ballsbridge Physiotherapy here in Dublin… and no, I’m not getting free visits) who’s been right every time on how long the injury would take to heal.

Patience and listening to your body is key, along with knowing how you can work around an injury.

David also says that when you’re working on an injured area in the gym, if the pain is between 1 and 5 when you’re doing a particular exercise, and it doesn’t last longer than the gym session, then it’s probably OK. If it’s more like 6 (out of 10) upwards, and you still have it when you get home, then that’s obviously bad news.

But back to Peak Week. As great as it is being injury free and more confident, I’d still like to get that final imprimatur from the judges by ending S2B as a finalist.

But, just like in the movies, the last hurdle for our protagonist is often the one that’s hardest.

And for this protagonist, it’s the photoshoot where I have to do poses like the ones you see bodybuilders do on stage.

You feel like a numpty doing them, but after a while it’s not so bad. In fact, on S2B my coach Paul Valiulis has recruited two grads who have done a bunch of bodybuilding contests in the past.

One of them spent about 90 mins on Skype with me over two separate occasions in the past two weeks.

The idea of posing in my undies is, I know, a little weird. But it has to be done.

However, Paul then asked me to post my pictures online to get feedback from the coaches and the other S2B brothers. Initially I balked, but I trust his judgement so I put them up.

I’m glad I did in the end cos the poses take a LOT of practice to get them right and, as has been said before, “you learn to do by doing”.

I’ve since put up a second set of pictures of my (hopefully) improved poses, again at Paul’s prompting.

I asked Paul if he thought I needed a spray tan. His reply: “Yes, you’re white as a cracker.” I’ve never had one before and I’m gonna get an awful ribbing in work, but it’s gotta be done.

Paul has been very encouraging about my progress on the posing. He says that I’m making “lightning speed”.

He then added: “To borrow a word from my main man Will… “It’s already done. Now I just have to wait for all y’all to see it.”

He was referencing Will Smith, of course. Funny enough, I’m a big fan too ever since I read an US magazine article (when US was monthly and had great interviews where they’d spend days with actors, directors etc) about WS from 1998, I think, before Independence Day came out and he really blew up as a blockbuster star.

In it I found out that he hired most of his siblings to manage different aspects of his career. I thought that was awesome.

Here’s a video Paul emailed me along with the Will quote.

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