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…