This is a guest post by Sam Barnes a trans coach and trainer.
I started working out at the age of 14. At this point in my life, I wasn’t even out as Transgender and the gym was a seriously daunting place to me, as it is to so many people like me. Which is why I wanted to write this series and take away some of that anxiety.
There are some things you pick up pretty quickly in a gym and other things that take time for you to learn. Here’s my guide to the top 5 mistakes I and other trans/non-binary people have made when trying to build a physique and how to correct them.
1. 80% Nutrition, 20% Working Out
You’ve probably heard this quote before and it’s something I hear myself saying a lot (probably too much!). People seriously underestimate the power of nutrition. You can get away with having a poor workout plan if you have a good understanding of nutrition. But you can’t get away with having a good workout plan and a bad understanding of nutrition. The workout is important, but the nutrition is vital.
Not eating correctly was probably my biggest mistake when I first started out. I thought being consistent in the gym would be enough. Take the time to learn about calories and macros. Macros are the building blocks of the body and shouldn’t be overlooked.
To put it simply, if you want to lose weight you need to be in a calorie deficit and if you want to gain weight and build muscle you need to be in a calorie surplus. This is pretty easy to work out.
Take your bodyweight in lbs. and times it by 15. This is known as your maintenance level. If you eat this number of calories everyday you will stay at the exact same weight as you are now.
Want to gain weight and build muscle? Add on an extra 300 calories. Want to lose weight? Take off 300 calories. Depending on how much you gain/ lose you might need to keep on adjusting the number. A good way to tell if you’re losing or gaining weight at the correct rate is to use this basic formula –
Try and aim for a loss of 1-2 lbs. per week when cutting
Try to gain 1-2 lbs. per month when bulking
After you’re used to counting calories you can move into the world of macros…
2. Should I Bulk Or Cut?
As a personal trainer this is a question I find myself answering most days. If you’re not sure what these two things are, “bulking” means to build muscle and a “cut” is when you lose weight and drop body fat. For me, the answer to this mainly comes down to your current body fat level. If you have a body fat level that is higher than 20-25%, you should look at cutting. If you have a body fat level of below that, look at beginning a bulk. Figuring out your body fat level is easy if you know how. If you go to a gym, the chances are there is a body analysis machine tucked away somewhere. If you have one of these, it should give you the answer.
Another way to find out your body fat level is to hire a personal trainer to take the measurements for you using a set of callipers. If that sounds a bit much right now, look at buying a set of weighing scales that have a body fat function. They’re not always the most accurate but it’s better than nothing.
People (particularly pre-t trans people) seem to fear the thought of bulking. I’ve dealt with a lot of clients now who have spent time cutting down, only to feel helpless when they’re still “skinny”. If you’re in a calorie deficit the only thing you’re going to do is lose body fat. To build muscle you have to be in a calorie surplus. Cutting down when you don’t have much muscle mass is only going to leave you looking smaller. You need to look at bulking.
If you’re pre-t your first thought is probably “I’m going to gain a ton of weight on my hips”. Yes, when you bulk you will add on some body fat. This is impossible to avoid. However, how much body fat you gain all comes down to how carefully you bulk. If you start eating 10 doughnuts a day and call it bulking, you’ll probably add on more fat than necessary. Keep within your planned calorie limit and you should see some muscle gain with a small helping of extra body fat (on the plus side it keeps you warmer in the winter!).
3.Turn The Volume Up
Don’t start training arms once a week and wonder why you’re not looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. You need to add in volume! I’m talking about a bare minimum of two gym sessions per week, ideally 4 and if you can do 6 then you’re on to a winner (yeah, it is a lot, so build up to it slowly!).
Its important to be working out every muscle group in your body. This isn’t just arms and chest. Make sure you’re training your shoulders, back and legs. Do not skip leg day! Keep the rep ranges no lower than ten. Ideally do everything for 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps.
Cramming in plenty of volume is going to contribute heavily to muscle growth. Keep a good focus on your form and make sure you’re focusing on that mind to muscle connection. Feel the stretch and focus on working the muscle. Only add on more weight when you’ve got the form nailed.
4.You Can’t Be Me And I Can’t Be You
Having inspirations is a really important aspect to getting fit. Whether it’s your favourite bodybuilder or social media influencer, watching what they do and aspiring to create healthy changes like them is a really positive thing that I encourage my clients to find. However, trying to attain their exact physique is not only unrealistic, it’s also unhealthy. There is a reason nobody else’s physique is exactly like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Why? Because there’s only one Arnold. There is only one me and there is only one you. I can’t gain your physique and you can’t gain mine. This all comes down to genetics and even though I could go out and build 18” arms like my favourite bodybuilders, my arms will never look exactly like theirs, because their arms will never look exactly like mine. Have inspirations but never try to become someone else. You are you.
I’ve saved the most important point until last. Patience. If you come to me expecting to build a solid physique in 10 weeks, I’ll tell you straight, it’s not going to happen. It takes years and years to build a muscular physique.
My favourite quote ever is “if it was easy, everyone would be doing it”. You can have the best intentions but if you’re not prepared to put in the work, you aren’t going to reach your goals. This goes for anything in life, not just the gym.
Learn to enjoy the process. Going to the gym is fun for me. It’s not the physique side of things that motivates me; it’s my pure love of working out. Find what motivates you and use it to push you. Keep the patience and consistency up and you’ll see small changes within a few months.
So those are my top 5 mistakes trans people make when trying to build their physique. Making mistakes when working out and dieting isn’t necessarily a bad thing. By making mistakes we learn how to not make them again. Find what works for you and get to work!