Home Body Transformation How to Get Six-Pack Abs – Ultimate Performance CEO Nick Mitchell – menshealth.com

How to Get Six-Pack Abs – Ultimate Performance CEO Nick Mitchell – menshealth.com

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If you need a little extra motivation to work out today, try visiting the wall of transformations on the website of the gym chain Ultimate Performance. For a company that prides itself on helping clients hit their weight loss goals, pack on muscle, and achieve the physiques of their dreams, well, the wall more or less speaks for itself. Each row of before-and-after photos—there are hundreds—tells a story about someone who walked into the gym with a goal, and walked out weeks or months later feeling stronger and healthier.

As a result, Ultimate Performance—also known as UP—has gained a reputation as one of the leaders in the field of body transformation. Given its track record, it’s no surprise that the gym also is growing fast: UP now has locations on all four continents and boasts a robust offering of Covid-friendly online personal training classes. Founder Nick Mitchell, a trainer himself with more than 15 years of experience, estimates that UP has helped tens of thousands of clients hit their goals since he founded the company, but stresses that his focus is on more than just aesthetics.

“We don’t think of them as weight loss transformations,” he says, “we think of them as health transformations and the journey someone goes on.” As the world gradually emerges from lockdown—while cautiously eyeing the spread of the Delta variant—Mitchell says interest in looking and feeling better only continues to increase.

“People are now much more aware of their own mortality. Those who might’ve never considered personal training are thinking, ‘Crikey, I’ve got to get a grasp on my health. I’ve got to do something about it.’ So one of the positive aspects to come out of the Covid crisis is that more people have decided, ‘Now is the time to take control of my health.’” Here, Mitchell shares some of his best advice about how you can do just that.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Your gym is known for—among other things—very dramatic before-and-after transformation photos.

Our goal is always to create maximum value for the client. Sometimes that’s a before and after photo, and sometimes there’s barely any change afterwards. Certainly, the physical aesthetic is a side effect of the goal that we’re looking for, which is to improve health, mobility, confidence, and control.

This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

What’s the secret to taking a great ‘after’ photo once you’ve hit your goals?

In 95 percent of our before-and-afters, we don’t do anything different. It’s just day-to-day progress. Sometimes we might do a photoshoot. If we do, of course we’re looking to peak for that photo.

A lot of prep coaches will try to make last minute adjustments. They’ll manipulate water and sodium, they’ll deplete carb load. If you’re in shape, though, you’re playing Russian roulette with the final outcome if you overly manipulate the pre-shoot protocol. What you really want to do is to be in shape a week before and then you cruise in with no stress on your body and maximum predictability. We try to reflect the real result.

We tell everyone to take the same photo and in the same position, ideally with similar or the same clothes and flexing the same—a lot or not at all. We want the same poses, clarity, sharpness, and don’t manipulate the filters so that we get a true and genuine reflection. We don’t game it.

Trainers do get promoted and paid extra money based on showing us the evidence that the client has received a significant return on their investment. [But] if a trainer submits a result to us and we think they’re trying to game it, which is human nature, that trainer gets penalized in terms of how we mark up the result.

What were some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome training people remotely during the pandemic?

We reluctantly started to do virtual training during the lockdown because we were shut down everywhere. I was very cynical about it, but I wanted to help our clients, and so I went into it and I was delighted with the outcome. You do lose something when you’re not physically present—the conversations don’t flow as naturally. You don’t get to pick up on body language in the same way. Those are the biggest challenges.

But the truth is that if you look at the success of [a company] like Peloton, the group exercise experience is about two things: social community and the endorphin high you get from exercise, which is typified by the nightclub experience you get in a Barry’s or Soul Cycle.

So if Peloton can recreate that so successfully while losing the two key things that really make group exercise work, then one-to-one personal training doesn’t lose that anywhere near as much. You need to use a lot of tech, and we’re developing a lot of tech. Even now, it can’t just be that you leave a trainer to do a Zoom call. If you do that, there’s no accountability. Everybody, no matter their level, needs to be accountable to someone.

Let’s say you only have 30 minutes or less for a quick workout to burn fat and build strength. What would you recommend?

The simple answer: Use compound movements in a challenging rep range of about six to 12 reps. Pick 3 or 4 exercises and go from one to the other. For example, there was something called the ‘death circuit’ popularized by Charles Poliquin—a 10-rep max squat into a 10-rep max pull up into a 10-rep max dip into a 10-rep max deadlift with no rest. Then you rest a couple minutes and repeat. If you’re picking the 10-rep max weight right, most people at some point on their second or third cycle will need the puke bucket.

What’s some of your best advice to stay consistent with your weight loss goals? Especially if you’re at home most of the week and surrounded by your favorite foods?

Remind yourself that one swallow does not a summer make. One bad meal, one bad drinking session does not ruin all of your work. Resist the temptation that men seem to have much more than women to go, “Fuck it! I’ve gone off the wagon once. I’m going to go off the wagon for the next two days—the weekend, the week, the next two weeks.” It’s a journey. We’re all allowed to slip up and you must go easy on yourself.

You can also plan for these “slip-ups” and the way to do that is to go hard leading up to the cheat day when you know it’s going to come. If you know that you’re going to spend a weekend eating enough carbs to kill a white rhino, what do you do? Deplete the carbohydrates from your body prior to the carb fest so that when you do eat the carbs, the effect is massively mitigated.

How do you deplete those carbs? By cutting your carb intake down and, of course, ensuring you do a sufficient amount of resistance training and weight training.

If you’re on a tight budget, what’s the best bang-for-your-buck piece of fitness equipment you can invest in to get in shape fast?

Rings. They’re like 20 or 30 bucks and you can do almost anything that you need to do for your upper body if you have something to hang a set of rings from. For me, that’s number one. The second thing would be second-hand dumbbells. And I know that second-hand bells are at a premium right now, but I would be looking regularly on eBay. A barbell might be easier but it’s not as versatile. If you have rings and a set of dumbbells—especially an adjustable set of dumbbells—that’s a very good setup.

What’s the most underrated machine or piece of equipment available in most gyms?

The dual-adjustable pulley—it allows the pulley system to go up and down so you can take it from different heights. It’s also the most under-utilized piece of equipment and there should be multiple machines just like it in all gyms. Nordic Curls are also massively underutilized—they’re a vital exercise to anyone wanting to improve their athletic endeavor. They’re very, very hard to do. Most people have to do them eccentric while holding onto something like a band. Master that exercise and huge, lower parts of your lower body will improve.

Which celebrity body type do you most frequently hear men say they want to achieve?

Brad Pitt in Fight Club. What do I think this says about guys? Brad Pitt in Fight Club looks like he gets the most girls.

Do you have a favorite transformation story from the thousands you’ve seen over the years?

No. I have hundreds of favorites. I can’t pick one. Which one do you pick? The person who’s lost 200 pounds, changed their life around, fixed their type two diabetes. The person who comes to you and says, “Nick, I haven’t had an erection in 15 years. Thanks to your program, I’ve now got an erection.” The person who took the program while successfully battling a brain tumor and said the program anchored him while going through his treatment. The program where we worked with a trans male, who understandably had a lot of body issues and we gave him control over his body so that was going on his mind finally started to be reflected in his physical appearance. There’s so many. I know this is a terribly political answer, but for me, they’re all wonderful stories with their own nuance.

What are the most common reasons people fail to hit their weight loss goals?

Besides not committing, people make excuses. They fool themselves into thinking that they want to make a change. They do, but they want to keep their old lifestyle more than they want to make a change. It’s not about motivation; it’s about desire. That desire is not strong enough and that’s why they fail.

Something else you may never have considered: The people who fail are typically the ones where the money spent on personal training doesn’t mean that much to them. I’m generalizing here, but the best client from a personal training perspective tends to be the client for whom your fees are a bit of a stretch. They value it the most.

Conversely, the worst client—and again, I’m generalizing—is the one where you’re giving it away for “free.” They don’t value it. And if they don’t value it, they’re not as committed with you on the journey.

Do you agree with the old maxim that abs are made in the kitchen?

We exercise to burn calories, but even that doesn’t burn as many calories as the fidgeting and moving around that we do in our normal everyday lives. We also exercise for our cardiovascular system, our hormonal system, and to allow our bodies to use food better.

Many Americans are type-two diabetics or pre-diabetic. If they were to weight train, that problem would be fixed. So, yes, abs are made in the kitchen because diet is the number one thing to control and calorie balance. It’s all about calorie balance, but don’t underestimate the importance of exercise. It doesn’t have to just be at the gym.

What’s the most common diet mistake people make, and how can they fix it?

They don’t have a proper understanding of what they’re eating. Most people eat more food than they think. Plain and simple as that. What most people need is a short period of time where they track their food very carefully to become educated about what they’re eating. Then they can segue into whatever form of eating best serves them.

Some people love to track everything in an app. Other people would go insane with that level of micromanagement. As a trainer, you have to find out the best way to partner with someone on their diet. The approach that works with one person won’t work with them at a different point in their life—and that could even be within the same year. It always goes back to that honest conversation every trainer constantly must have with the client.

This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

What are some other ab-related myths you wish you could bust?

Many people think sit-ups are the best ab exercise and that they can do hundreds of sit-ups to burn their abs. You don’t need hundreds of reps of sit-ups. Because it’s a short range of motion, you do want to do slightly higher reps, but you’re talking 15 to 20 repetitions typically. Five hundred repetitions is a waste of time.

You also want progressive overload just as you do with any muscle group—that is, you need to make the workout progressively harder. So you need to either add weight or put yourself into increasingly mechanically disadvantageous positions in order to mimic the idea that you’re adding more load.

What’s the key to striking the right balance when it comes to still enjoying the occasional high-calorie indulgence like beer or baked goods?

First, you need to figure out what your goal is. If your goal is to stand on a bodybuilding stage while shredded to the bone, then sorry, I’m afraid the beer has to go—especially in the last six to eight weeks. If you want the greatest results anyone has ever seen in that timeframe, then you need to be Spartan in your approach.

On the other hand, if it’s a journey—you want to reach a certain point, but it can take time—you’ve got more wiggle room. If you can’t give up your daily cookie, we factor that into your calories. If you kept it to one day a week, that’s probably better. It depends on how hard this person wants to go. Typically, one should always leave a little bit of wiggle room in a diet. Almost all diets have basic premises: Calorie control, protein, fiber, and so on. There are hundreds of ways to skin the same cat.

The way that you do that is through an honest dialogue with yourself and your trainer, if you have one. If you think you need to have three beers on a Saturday night or you’ll go insane, don’t go insane—factor it into your diet.

What’s the one most important piece of wellness advice you find yourself repeating most often?

It depends on the person, and there’s no single piece of advice—but at the end of the day, it’s calories. Calories count.

We’ve seen plenty of surprising celebrity transformations over the years—from Kumail Nanjiani packing on muscle to Ethan Suplee and Action Bronson losing more than 100 pounds this year alone. Has any celebrity transformation left you the most impressed?

In terms of control over his body, I’d say the number one celebrity is Christian Bale. He can go from looking muscular in American Psycho to overweight as Dick Cheney to emaciated in The Machinist. So he’s the number one Hollywood transformer. The man has incredible willpower and incredible discipline and incredible focus on his craft. If you have incredible focus on your craft and incredible focus on a goal, you can move mountains. That’s what his success should teach all of us.

Which celebrity jumps out to you as having the all-time most impressive physique? Bonus points if you can pick someone besides Arnold.

Well, it has to be Arnold—he was my reason for getting into the gym. When I was 12 years old, I wanted to go see Conan the Destroyer for my 12th birthday. From that moment on, that’s how I thought a man should look. So it’s always going to be Arnold.

There’s no second pick, either. Everybody’s a copy of Arnold, but if you want another example of an incredibly impressive physique, just look at Lou Ferrigno. He was the Incredible Hulk, but he did a Hercules movie, too. Look at Lou Ferrigno when he was Hercules in the ‘80s and look at his physique as a 6’5” man. It’s one of the most impressive physiques of all-time.

What are some of the primary reasons most men tell you they want to get fit?

“I want to play with my children” or “I want to keep up with my children” are very common ones that you don’t often hear discussed. No matter how fit you are as a man, go out and play soccer with a bunch of 10 year old kids—they’ll hand you your ass. That’s a very humbling experience and it’s a very real thing. There are also the usual ones—health and vanity, divorce and being in the shop window again. But playing with your children is the one that people don’t talk about often enough.

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Once clients have reached their ‘goal’ weight and look, how do you help them set new challenges and stay motivated?

It’s simple. Your goal as a trainer should not be to teach but to demonstrate the joy of exercise, the endorphin high of a good workout, and the feeling of that extra spring in your step. All of a sudden, you’re moving better and feeling better. You’re lighter on your feet. Your brain is thinking more clearly. Your sleep, sex drive, and moods are better. All of those things come together in this perfect storm so that as your clients reach their goal weight, they want to remain looking and feeling fantastic.

What about in terms of more practical measures?

It’s all about performance—sharing the wins, and being honest about the losses. When someone doesn’t try hard enough, you tell them they don’t try hard enough. That way, when they’re in the gym with you, they want to perform for both you and for themselves.

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