A year ago, Jonathan Montgomery, a 37-year-old firefighter with the Hillsborough County Florida Fire Rescue, was overworked, overweight, and sluggish. “I was strong, but slow and fat,” he said.
Fast-forward to today, and Montgomery is a physical specimen. See the photo above as evidence. He lost 30 pounds, now weighing in at 201, and is more muscular, stronger, and faster than he’s ever been in his life.
How’d Montgomery do it? He put together the dream team.
The trainer: Alex Viada, a mutant of fitness hailing from North Carolina. He deadlifts more than 700 pounds, runs ultra-marathons, and has finished a mile in 4:15.
The nutritionist: Trevor Kashey, Ph.D., a strongman and Arizona-based nutritionist who works with everyone from bodybuilders to Olympians.
Now, you can steal their secrets and apply them to your own routine. Keep reading to find out what worked for Montgomery, and then start your own transformation today. (Want even more ways to banish your spare tire? Read 61 Easy Ways to Lose Weight.)
A common training method is periodization, or progressing through different “phases.” For example, one month you might work on building strength, the next month on upping your endurance.
Scrap that way of thinking, Viada said. It’s not necessary for the average person. Do “hybrid training” instead.
“I like to have people work on everything concurrently,” he explains. “That allows the average guy to improve across the board—in strength, power, and endurance—without interruption.” (If you want to build the body of an athlete, try The Anarchy Workout. One guy lost 18 pounds of fat in just 6 weeks.)
In an average week, Montgomery would focus on long-distance cardio one day, weights and high-intensity cardio another day, and then lifting with an easy cardio cooldown on another day.
This type of training allowed Montgomery to improve in every facet of his fitness. He hit personal records on powerlifts and decreased his 5K time from 30 to 22 minutes. “The fact that I look a lot better is just a nice side effect,” Montogmery said.
Related: How to Get Single-Digit Body Fat
Hybrid training has other benefits besides just making you a well-rounded, sculpted athlete. “If you only have one thing you’re training for, it’s much easier to get derailed psychologically if something goes wrong,” Viada said. But if you’re working toward improving a variety of skills, then a small setback in one area—like an injury that affects your running—won’t sideline you, he said.
Do Long, Slow Cardio
Lots of trainers say that relaxed runs impede your strength and muscle gains. But it’s actually quite the opposite, Viada said.
Spending time doing long, slow cardio—where your heart rate sits between 120 and 140 beats per minute—was one of the cornerstones of Montgomery’s program (as it is for nearly all of the programs Viada writes).
Viada said that when most lifters delve into cardio, they go too hard. “That just wipes you out,” he said. “Less intense work builds your endurance, gives you adaptations that help improve your heart, nervous system, and circulatory system function, and allows you to recover from intense workouts. It’s much more sustainable than intense work.”
One of the biggest benefits of easy aerobic exercise—which includes jogging, cycling, and rucking, the #1 Fitness Trend of 2015—is that Montgomery can now perform his job better as a firefighter. “I can put 75 pounds of gear on and go fight a fire and it’s so much easier now,” he said.
Don’t Fear Food
Getting ripped doesn’t mean you have to cut a ton of calories and carbs. In fact, Kashey increased Montgomery’s intake of both.
“Jonathan was lifting and running, working out five to six days a week,” Kashey said. “He was eating about 3,000 calories, and that just wasn’t enough for all that work.”
Your body needs fuel so you can get stronger and faster. So Kashey had Montgomery eat about 400 more calories from carbs each day—and it was then that Montgomery saw his body begin to morph.
“I’ve noticed favorable body composition changes when I have athletes who are under eating take in more calories,” Kashey said, who isn’t sure of the exact mechanism behind it, but thinks it might cause a spike in metabolism.
If you eat healthy and train hard but can’t seem to run faster, lift heavier, or improve your body composition, add more calories. How many? It takes a bit of experimenting to figure that out.
First, determine how many calories you currently eat on a daily basis by entering your food in an app like MyFitnessPal.com. Then use a calculator—like this one—that estimates your calorie needs based on your age, weight, and activity level.
If the amount you’re burning is higher than the amount of calories you’re eating, add the difference to your diet in the form of carbs. “These online calculators aren’t perfect,” Kashey said, “but they’re far better than a shot in the dark.”
Time Your Meals
Montgomery ate 5 meals a day, each containing about 600 to 700 calories. He consumed breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the usual times, and then stacked his other two meals as close to before and after his workout as possible.
The reason: It gave him fuel during his workout, and then further increased muscle protein synthesis afterward, according to Kashey. Timing his meals led to bigger long-term gains in strength and lean body mass.
Related: How Much Post-Workout Protein Do You Really Need?
But Montgomery wasn’t just putting anything in his body to reach his allocated calorie intake. He typically ate foods high in protein, carbs, and fiber. His go-to plate: chicken, rice, and vegetables.
“It may not be the most exciting meal,” Kashey said. “But it won’t upset your stomach while training; it gives you quality carbs and protein; and it’s so easy to make a bunch of meals at once, put them in individual containers, and take them around with you. My clients who make the best progress all do this.”
In any training program, you’re going to have a bad day, week, or month. When this happens, a lot of guys jump ship, adding “extra” stuff to their program, like metabolic finishers, or they go find a new program altogether.
“Progression isn’t always linear,” Viada said. “You might not get better for a period, but just trust your program and stay consistent.”
Montgomery agrees, admitting he had a few bad weeks along the way. But look at him now. “Just listen, commit, and work hard,” he said. “That’s how you make progress.”
It’s not about a quick fix. It’s about sticking to “the plan.” When you do that, not just for 30 days or 60 days or 90 days, but for 12 months, you can see serious, lasting results. The key is that you need a plan that fits your lifestyle and goals and that allows you to follow through. The world’s greatest plan won’t work if it’s not right for you. But Montgomery is proof of what happens when you fit the right plan to the right man. So remember: It only looks like magic.