Phil Dixon, 38, works in risk management for Australia’s largest bank. Last year, challenging life events inspired him to reinvent himself. Here’s how he did it:
I lost my best mate, Rachel, to a very short battle with cancer less than 6 months before signing-up to do a total body strength transformation with Ultimate Performance (U.P.). The only thing we ever shared romantically was a mutual interest in hot guys (she preferred the scruffy ones), but Rachel filled the role of 'life partner' in every other meaningful way for 17 years, so losing her so quickly and cruelly completely changed my life and how I thought and felt about almost everything.
I had relocated temporarily to Sydney as a result, and I found myself living again in a familiar place but without the one constant connecting me to my life before. I think that in a way, Rachel ultimately gave me this beautiful gift in that I had to decide who I was without her, in the safety of a familiar place. I was basically facing some pretty big questions and I decided to use it as an opportunity to reinvent myself.
I ultimately made the decision to give a proper transformation a red hot go and get on with it — quickly, before I had any time to make excuses or spend any more time re-litigating a decision I’d already made. I think there was about a week between thinking about signing up and my first training session.
Where I Started
I signed-up for a 12-week programme and started training with Dom at the beginning of December 2022. I told Dom in no uncertain terms that I needed a porn star body (the massively muscular gay ones) in time for the opening of Sydney World Pride, almost exactly 12 weeks later. I was planning to take full advantage of the party atmosphere and all the hot guys my imagination had led me to believe would be descending on the city.
Prior to this, I was seriously considering performance enhancing drugs under the misguided but totally understandable assumption that the porn star, Instagram body was the goal, no matter the cost. That would land me the man of my dreams, or at least get me a look in (everyone else is doing it, right!?).
Thankfully, I was open enough to admit to myself that a purely aesthetic pursuit wasn't likely to be very fulfilling in the long term, and that perpetuating the sorts of psychologically damaging body standards that can’t be achieved naturally by choosing the fastest route possible wasn't what I wanted to be about. Sadly, I think it’s fair to say that particular sort of pressure is something most gay guys can relate to, and I don’t hold the choice to head down the fast path against anyone who makes it. But damn, it really makes you feel inadequate when they take their clothes off!
Before starting with UP, I would've said I was fit, defined even, and I think in comparison to most guys my age, that wasn't untrue. I had a good foundation, decent mobility and some definition, but really not at all anything that said 'dedication'. I had been weight training on and off since my mid 20s and have probably been a member of every major Australian fitness corporation at one point or another. I’ve also engaged more fitness professionals and followed more programmes than I could poke a stick at: ex-pro basketballers, university-trained sports scientists and exercise physiologists, ex pro-rugby players and private and corporate personal trainers. Then there are the apps.
I had been doing CrossFit (about 3-4 sessions a week) and for a few years before that I had been following a HIIT program. Meeting Dom really changed my entire approach to weight training and nutrition though.
My Ambitious Goal
At 172.4lbs and 15.4% body fat, setting a target to shed enough fat over Christmas and New Years — and with enough time to build lean muscle — was pretty ambitious, to say the least. But my trainer, Dom really took it in stride, adjusting his approach to help me reach my goal! He didn't make promises he couldn't keep, but he did make it clear that, provided I stuck to the nutrition plan, particularly over the holiday period, and was consistent with my training, he was pretty confident I had a good chance at winning U.P.'s coveted 'Client of the Month'.
The Mindset That Would Get Me There
I really had to face the reality that I was in complete control of transforming my body. The boring truth is that my transformation was really the result of many, many small choices over time. Every single step in my transformation was a choice, a decision I made and got on with (and many of them difficult to follow through on): signing up to the programme; weighing and tracking every meal; sticking to the nutrition plan; turning up to training; pushing myself through the hunger and fatigue; turning down the beers...
The good news is that over time the choices became easier, and the decisions less conscious and more habit. Many, many small steps over time, with as much consistency as I could manage.
Finding a New Way to Measure Progress
We were only doing three in-gym weight training sessions a week. I had a daily step goal to maintain cardiovascular health and to help maintain a caloric deficit. We focused on compound exercises and trained the whole body each session with a mixture of plate loaded machines, cables, and free weights.
The funny thing is, I had always been led to believe that progress isn’t possible unless you’re out there, sweating like a pig, lifting weights 4 to 5 times a week and consuming everything in sight, so this approach really blew all of that out of the water and helped me to see that progress is bigger than size. You don’t need enormous amounts of muscle to look 'muscly', you need muscle, but you also need to be lean!
Changing My Eating Eating Made a Big Difference
The focus on nutrition really made the biggest difference for me, and it totally took me by surprise! Prior to this programme, I thought I had healthy eating nailed. I think I probably just decided that my genetics were the reason I wasn't looking like the boys on Instagram. In my mind, I ate relatively well – I made deliberate decisions to avoid heavily processed foods as much as I could, I didn't really eat a lot of fried or fast foods, I didn't overindulge, and I generally did what I thought was a decent job at balancing my meals across the week with all the right things. I probably had around three solid meals each day with protein shakes, granola bars, fruit, and the occasional bag of chips in between. Overall, I was consuming about 3,000 calories with the share of macros weighted toward protein, then carbs, then fat.
It wasn't until my trainer, Dom explained and set my macro and caloric targets that the reality of nutrition and clean eating, and its role in body building really hit home (spoiler: turns out I was consuming way more energy than I needed).
All of that changed pretty dramatically during my transformation:
• My portion sizes decreased considerably, my total caloric allowance dropped by about a third, and my macros shifted to a more balanced spread.
• I shifted my carbohydrate consumption to pure whole grains (brown rice and seeded, low-carb bread) and non-starchy vegetables.
• I ate more regularly—about 6 times a day—to help manage hunger and energy levels.
• I chose to completely eliminate protein supplements and any other foods that didn’t include a range of micro or macronutrients. They weren’t filling enough for long enough and it made it harder to balance macros. That isn’t an approach most people take, but I find it helps with hunger and overall nutrition, and the reality is that you don’t need to supplement (and not everyone can afford to!).
Learning about the types and combinations of foods to eat and finding ways to make sticking to my targets more successful (like meal planning and prep) really took as much time, effort and determination as the weight training did. They were both initially really exhausting but the only way was through it! These days I'm far more practiced at selecting and preparing meals and I find there's a lot less planning and prep as a result.
Where I Ended Up
In early December 2022, I weighed in at 172.4 pounds and 15.4 percent body fat and managed to hit 155.2 pounds and 8.2 percent body fat in early January 2023, slightly ahead of target for the cut.
It’s fair to say that the whole process is really as much of a mental and psychological challenge as it is physically. I think that these days I have a much healthier and more realistic body image. I certainly eat very clean now and don’t drink at all (which I’m not at all against; I’m definitely not sanctimonious about it!). I guess you could also say I’m a little calmer mentally and psychologically, although that’s probably because most of my energy still gets spent at the gym so there isn’t really much left to spend on sweating the small stuff.
Having been through quite an ambitious cut at a really challenging time of the year (i.e. the holidays), I’ve proven to myself and my family and friends that I’m absolutely capable of exercising extreme self-control and dedicating myself to achieving goals I set for myself, no matter how ambitious.
My experience has also taught me to be more forgiving with myself when I suffer small setbacks, whether at work or in life generally, because I appreciate that progress generally is a bit of a long game and that not every day or attempt will be a success. What matters more is making the choice again, and again, and again to turn up, or try again, or get back on track, or to stick to the plan.
Other than gaining a solid understanding of what achieving and maintaining a rock-solid physique means in terms of lifestyle and dedication, what I really took away from my experience was a more realistic perspective on the hot Instagram underwear models I’d been so determined to match in size and definition. (And yes, they still fill my feed, and no, I’m not mad at it). I know now that the images I’m constantly bombarded with on social media and the boys I see at parties are the point-in-time product of months of sacrifice and hard work and that, for me at least, looking like that all year round isn’t sustainable. In a funny kind of way, that really helped me to appreciate my body a lot more and to free me a little from this sense of inadequacy I’d always felt when comparing myself to other guys. I now see Dom three times a week virtually, with a fourth day up my sleeve to train when I’m feeling it.
The reality is that not everyone has the money for personal trainers or heavily guided programmes, or the ability to devote as much time and energy to their pursuits as I did, and I think that’s where the realistic bit comes into it. I’m very conscious of my upper-middle class white privilege and the fact that means I have the resources to help speed things along. But it isn’t necessary. In my experience, it was ultimately a much healthier and more rewarding experience to take the time to understand the process (whether its fat loss, muscle or strength gains, endurance etc.) and to become comfortable with the sort of timeframe of I was looking at based on the time, money and effort I could afford to devote, which really helped to set expectations.
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