In years past, I haven’t been particularly interested in my birthday. Growing up, it really wasn’t that big of a deal, and I’ve carried that into adulthood.

This year, it was a bit different. Not because it’s my birthday, but because of a new significance I placed on that date. You see, I’ve just turned 40…cue minor-key piano music! For most, including myself, this particular age has signified a sort of turning point in life, middle-age, beginning of the end, Mayans were right, that sort of thing. For me, though, it was a date to prove all of that wrong, that 40 can be better than 30, and anything is possible with the right kind of guidance and hard work.

Here’s my story: Despite a degree in Exercise and Fitness, I have struggled with weight/fat gain over the last few years, and have been searching for a way to get it all under control. While I’m not a “magic pill” kind of a guy, and haven’t gone down that route, I have found that I’ve spent 100’s of hours working out and eating “right,” and still gaining fat and getting less fit. It came to a point where I simply was at a loss for how to “do it right.”

Rewind to 8 months ago, my wife Michelle and I began conversations with our trainer, Pamela Sampson (and STS’s resident expert.) Over the last 8 months, she has helped us develop exercise and nutrition plans to get us to a point of fitness that we’ve never had, and we’re not done yet.

My birthday became a sort of interim goal date for me, trying to get as lean as possible by that date. Unfortunately, like everyone else, sometimes life just gets in the way. I had a couple of set backs. The first one came from a partially torn bicep (not from weight training, from lifting a dishwasher in a bear hug,) and then a fairly serious bacterial infection. While I never stopped working out and eating right, it did derail my overall progress by a few weeks.

So, how did I do? Well, the pictures tell the story pretty well. In 2008, at my heaviest of 205-206lb, and more than 22% body fat (I actually think it was quite a bit higher,) I was absolutely miserable. The sad thing is that I was actually “trying” to keep the weight off, but nothing was working. Even with all my knowledge, I was still failing. It sucked, and I never want to be there again. As I write this, I’m just under 8% body fat, 179lb. The 18lb weight loss is a little misleading, though, as there is a fairly significant amount of Lean Mass gain, along with a ton of fat loss. With the right program, it IS possible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time.

This is the before and after from April to December:

This is me at the worst I’ve ever been. Those are 36″ shorts. Now, a pair of 34″ literally fall off, and 32″ are really lose. Interestingly enough, working out also may cause a sudden loss of body hair. ;->

Some specific numbers since I started tracking at the beginning of April 2012.

Total Weight Lost: 18lbs (this is why relying on just scale weight can be misleading.
Fat Loss: 26lbs
Fat Loss %: 13%
Muscle Gain: 9lbs (before I started cutting 6 weeks ago, this was more like 13lbs)
Ab Inches Loss: 5.25inches

My soft goal for my birthday was to be under 8% body fat. I made it there, but I am still somewhat disappointed because without my setbacks, I think I could have been sub 7%. But, it is what it is, and I’m moving on, sights set on April. My lower abs are the hardest part to lose fat for me (we all have those areas,) so it’ll take a lot of work to get that area leaned out.

The new goal is for April 20, 2013. I need to build size, stay lean, and work on my posing…next stop is the stage at my first Men’s Physique bodybuilding competition. For those of you unaware, Men’s Physique is a category that has come along in the last few years, and focuses mainly on the “beach body” look for competitors. Not so much huge muscles and tiny speedos, but rather overall fitness, leanness, shape, and balance, plus stage presence.

Over the next few months, I’ll concentrate on building more of my “wings” on my back, adding some more shoulder mass to keep those “caps,” and continuing to shape my abs and obliques. This will be my building phase, and then I’ll revisit a cutting phase, dropping body fat again to stage-ready levels (somewhere around 4-6% I’d guess.) To get there, my nutrition will basically have to be perfect, down to the gram of my macro-nutrients (protein, fat, carbs.) At this point, I’m more than a little nervous about it all, and realize it’ll take a huge amount of mental fortitude to make it all happen. I’m up for the challenge.

Okay, so enough about all of this bodybuilding stuff. What’s the takeaway for my readers? If you’re a 19-year old male, you can pretty much get ripped abs by eating decent and a few strong sneezes! If you’re not, then let me give you the no-bs answer. Anyone that says getting fit is easy, and you just need this dvd, this supplement, or this program is absolutely full of crap! Getting fit requires guidance, a huge commitment, tons of hard work, and lots of planning. It doesn’t come by cutting out a few junk foods and taking a walk around the block a couple of times a week.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s all good stuff, and will help you be healthier. I’m talking about really being fit. To be really fit, it requires meal planning, knowing what you’re eating for every meal of the day, packing a cooler with you, lifting lots of weights 5-6 days a week, measuring your food, doing HIIT training, stretching, and cardio. As I’ve heard said, “this ain’t no beauty parlor, get your ass to work!”

BUT….do the work, and get the rewards. I’ve never felt better. I’m fitter at 40 than I was at 30, and plan to be fitter at 41 than I am right now. Success comes through perseverance and hard work. So, let’s get our sweat on…we’re all in this together!