We’re continuing on with the fat loss expert interview series and this time around you’ll hear from transformation expert, John Alvino.
John starts out by revealing some mainstream mistakes that prevent people from losing fat, and then he delivers the truth about women and “bulking up”. Also, if you’re a trainer reading this, then make sure to to read what John had to say about designing workouts.
A lot to cover so let’s get into it…
Craig Ballantyne: This is Craig Ballantyne from Turbulence Training and TTmembers and I’m here today with John Alvino who is a transformation expert. John is based in New Jersey, and he has helped a lot of people, including himself, make some incredible transformations.
We’re going to talk to John today and get some secrets to help you make your best transformation ever. So John, welcome and why don’t you give us a bit of background?
John Alvino: Thanks for the intro Craig. I’ve been a professional fitness coach for over 15 years. It all started in my early teens when I was training for football, which was my first obsession.
Back then, I was getting steady results with gaining muscle and increasing my strength and performance. I attribute my early success more to raw determination and extreme effort than anything else.
Just before my senior year in high school I had shown so much desire to learn and improve that one of my best friend’s older brother (who was Mr. East Coast at the time) asked me to train with him.
I was honored and psyched to say the least.
So he kind of took me under his wing and really turned me on to body building. He would pick me up after school and take me to Diamond Gym, which was the most hard core body building gym in New Jersey at that time. Training there with his guidance was by far the highlight of my life up to that point.
After training with him for just a few short months, he said to me, “Hey kid you got some potential”. My progress and his support convinced me to compete in the teenage New Jersey competition. This gave me two years to prepare for it. He helped me for the first year and then he and his girlfriend moved away. At this point, I was kind of left to fend for myself.
It was from this day on that I just became completely obsessed with learning how to do everything on my own, while taking everything he taught me and improving upon it. My journey began at this point and I just started to acquire as much knowledge as possible, and gain as much personal experience as possible.
I was in the gym almost every day experimenting with everything that I could possibly conceive of trying. I was pretty creative back then, so I came up with some good (yet controversial) techniques.
I parlayed this experience into winning the light heavyweights in the teenage New Jersey and placed in the top six at the teenage nationals . I competed against guys like Jay Cutler, Branch Warren and Craig Richardson, who are some of the top professional bodybuilders around right now. For the listeners that don’t know, Jay Cutler is the current Mr. Olympia.
After my personal success, I had competitors come to me and ask me if I could help prepare them for their body building competitions. It’s funny because up until this point I had absolutely no desire to train anyone other than myself. But since I had such a passion for training in general, I agreed to help them. They started to do really well, and that just kind of naturally blossomed, mostly from referrals.
That’s how I got into this business.
Looking back now I feel really grateful for everything that transpired, because this has become an incredibly rewarding profession for me. I still to this day love helping competitors and non-competitors get into amazing shape.
Craig Ballantyne: Great. And we’ll get into some of your own stories because you have some great stories about training and your own transformation. Let’s start with maybe the background on the success of one of your clients, maybe someone who is not even a competitor, but just someone who has come to you and wanted to lose some body fat.
Tell us one of the best stories that you have.
John Alvino: I have a lot of really good and inspiring stories. I’d like to share the story of my client Heidi. She came to me about three years ago and she had NO TRAINING EXPERIENCE other than walking on a treadmill. She had a significant amount of cellulite. She was a career dieter, but never knew how to do it properly.
Heidi was a mother of two. Luckily she had a lot of determination, but unfortunately, she had absolutely no direction. And she was making a lot of the typical MAINSTREAM MISTAKES, such as long duration cardio and real extreme low calorie dieting. This left her with no muscle tone at all, no real shape to her body and still a relatively high body fat because she was doing nothing to support her lean muscle.
So needless to say, she came in and she was completely frustrated.
She was desperate to get on a good plan and see some results. After our initial consultation, I designed for her a custom exercise and nutritional plan. After only about three weeks she started to see results. Her plan was actually working better than either of us had expected.
She was performing relatively high intensity resistance training for a beginner. She picked everything up quickly, so I didn’t have to treat her like a beginner for long. For her nutritional plan, I actually increased her calories. If I recall correctly, I think she was eating 1,050 calories per day prior to working with me and I brought her up to 1,350 calories per day.
After just a couple of weeks she started to have better shape to her body and she was building muscle, and her energy improved dramatically. Three weeks into her training she said to me, “I never had this goal in my life, but I think that I would love to do a fitness competition.”
So that immediately got me fired up because I knew she was really getting into it. So we put a new plan together. We searched the Internet for some local fitness and body building shows for natural competitors and we found one that was 14 weeks away. With just 14 weeks to prepare we had to step it up a notch. We tightened up the diet even further, picked up the training a bit and in 14 weeks her body fat percentage had dropped from 22% to 8%.
Craig Ballantyne: Wow.
John Alvino: Well, she was very determined and we got her on a plan right away. Sometimes I will break beginners in a little more slowly, as I don’t feel like they need to go pedal to the medal from day one. But she was ready to do it psychologically, and I was with her personally, so I felt confident giving her a plan like that.
Being on stage at 8% she took second place in a master’s competition against experienced competitors. The woman that took first place had competed nine times prior. And most of the women that my client had beaten were also seasoned competitors.
Of course, she lost all of her cellulite. In fact, her legs looked so good that some of the judges came up to me and said “I can’t believe this is her first show, she looks unbelievable!” This is someone who never really picked up a weight and the only dieting she did was drinking coffee for breakfast and eating a salad for dinner.
Since then she’s caught the bug, and she still looks great. Her body fat is up only a couple percent, but that was done by design so she could have a more normal lifestyle and still look awesome.
That was probably one of the most dramatic stories in a short period of time. I have a couple of success stories that are similar to that, but that one sticks in my mind because of her incredible results in such a short period of time.
Craig Ballantyne: So you would say that she came in kind of SKINNY FAT and then she was almost kind of starving herself during the day and not training at all, and you switched her to eating a little bit more and training pretty hard. How were you training with her?
John Alvino: Well, when she came in the only thing she was doing was cardiovascular work. I didn’t want to cut that out completely, although I wanted to cut it down rather significantly.
What I did was increase the intensity of her cardiovascular work. Prior to coming to me, she was performing her cardio at 60% to 65% of her maximum heart rate in a steady state cardio workout for an hour twice a day. I had her start doing only 20 minutes and had her increase the intensity to approximately 80% of her maximum heart rate. That was the change I made with her cardio workouts. She was doing that five days a week.
For her weight training, we were training three days a week. We were initially doing full body workouts for the first month and then we switched to a split routine, so she would alternate between upper and lower body workouts.
Initially I started her with higher reps, and that was designed to accomplish two things.
For one, I wanted her technique to be near perfect before I started increasing the weight, and two, I knew that coming from her background, she wanted to get a cardiovascular workout and get a good sweat going. Thus, if I gave her rep ranges of eight to ten or even six to eight, I knew she would not feel psychologically satisfied with the workout. So I had to take that into consideration. You see, although it’s not true, it is usually perceived by many that performing high rep workouts burns more fat.
After she started seeing the results, we were doing relatively intense weight training. She was doing anywhere between six and ten reps. For smaller body parts such as abs and calves we were doing higher reps. I also increased her reps on certain lower body exercises.
But for the most part she was training pretty heavy at this point. Three days a week of weight training and five days a week of cardio. 20 minutes of cardio initially and as we got closer to competition, I increased the duration of the cardio. We finished doing 30 minute sessions.
Craig Ballantyne: And what types of exercises was she using?
John Alvino: We stuck with predominately free weight exercises, some body weight exercises.
For example, for her leg routines, I would always start with a compound movement such as a barbell squat, and we would perform multiple sets. We would then move on to exercises like split squats, lunges, step ups and leg press. I don’t think we did a leg extension throughout the whole duration of her contest prep.
For those of you who don’t know, the leg extension is a common exercise done by competitors. For hamstrings we were hitting exercises like dead lifts, Romanian dead lifts, and back extensions. A lot of hip extension work.
Upper body, I started her off with mostly dumbbell work. I find that with beginners if you start with dumbbell work, the transition to go to either a barbell or a machine is very simple. So I limit the frustration to the first one or two workouts as a learning curve.
I don’t believe that machines are as effective as free weights.
But in addition to that, there’s always a constant learning curve when you go from a very stable machine to a less stable bar. And then we have to go through that frustration again when you switch to an even less stable dumbbell. So I just started her off with exercises that were a little bit more difficult to perform, but then after that, every variation of the same exercise were very easy to learn.
Craig Ballantyne: That’s really great John. That’s a pretty incredible story. You brought up a couple important points there. One, avoiding the frustrations in the LEARNING CURVES for new trainees. But also, you MATCHED HER MINDSET to the training technique so she got what she wanted, but you still got what you wanted. And then you eventually moved into the training methods that you wanted to get to. That’s a pretty good tip there for trainers who are reading or listening to this call.
The last thing I want to ask about that is how much muscle did she gain? A lot of women reading this are going to be worried, and thinking things like, “Oh, she must have gained a lot of muscle using that type of training, and especially training with such low reps.” Did she really gain a lot of muscle, or did she just change her body by losing body fat?
John Alvino: That’s a great question. A lot of women have misconceptions about this type of exercise, so it’s really important to set the record straight. When I’m putting people on a fat loss phase, or if I’m writing about a fat loss phase in an article, I will often talk about the importance of weight training, which I hold in higher regard than even cardio training.
The resistance training is intended to build lean muscle or at the very least maintain lean muscle. Now, women have two things working AGAINST them to build muscle. One, they don’t have the same hormonal profile as men, and two, they can’t access the higher threshold muscle fibers that men can. It is these muscle fibers that are most likely to grow.
Even with all of the intense weight training, Heidi only gained two pounds of muscle. That’s all! So obviously she maintained a very feminine and lean physique.
When you’re on a fat loss phase there is going to be a slight reduction in your calories so you’re not going to build a significant amount of muscle. It’s simply impossible. You need extra calories to lay down additional muscle tissue. And when you’re calories are reduced that’s not going to happen. Women are always afraid to look like that “butch girl” in the gym. Well, that just can’t happen when you combine this type of weight training with a diet that is geared towards fat loss. Remember, the DIET IS A HUGE COMPONENT here.
The weight training during a fat loss phase, even if it’s very intense and is perceived as relatively heavy, is really part of the protocol to just maintain muscle. If you don’t do that while dieting, I find that you can lose a ratio of one to one. In other words, every two pounds you lose, one of those pounds is actually lean muscle. This will now slow your metabolism down and will prevent further fat loss from happening. It also makes you look terrible, whether you are a man or a woman.
This whole “BULKING UP” issue is a question I get asked by women all the time.
I tell them, “If you’re afraid your thighs are going to get big, here is what we’re going to do.” And I actually get a tape measure out before we start any of the resistance training. I measure their thighs.
If they’re concerned about their arms getting too big, we measure their arms too. Then we have a measurement of everything, so if at any point that they feel panicked that they’re building muscle, I just get the tape measure out, and ten out of ten times, the tape measurement actually goes down. This puts their mind at ease.
So it’s a great point you bring up and it’s one that I do deal with quite frequently. I can honestly say that I have never had a woman get too masculine while training with me. When women look at fitness magazines, they generally see female competitors who are probably taking male hormones. When a woman is not taking these hormones, she will never look like that, especially with the calorie deficit that I prescribe in a fat loss diet.
Craig Ballantyne: Yeah, that’s a great point, and a great psychological technique that any woman can do at home. When she’s using any type of weight training program, she can just take those measurements. If the measurement goes up, it’s really the diet that has to be checked, rather than the exercise routine.
You made another good point there and it’s obvious. I mean this woman, if she’s eating 1,300 calories a day, she is just not going to bulk up, no matter how many weights she lifts!
Read part 2 of the interview where John shares beginner transformation tips and discover how you can increase your fat loss results.