The Subject: Ben O’Toole (@mrbenotoole) is 6’0 and 180 pounds from Brisbane, Australia. Ben has had roles in films such as Hacksaw Ridge (2016), Detroit (2017), and 12 Strong (2018)
Abstract: Ben had a film project which was to begin shooting in April, 2019. For the particular character he would be playing he needed to completely transform his physique by building and maintaining significantly more muscle mass while shedding large amounts of body fat. He had approximately 3 months to do it.
- A workout plan broken down into a series of training phases ranging from 2 – 6 weeks. Each phase was strategically designed with a specific purposes such as muscular size, muscular strength, and metabolic conditioning.
- A carefully crafted eating protocol that would provide the right amount of nutrition to energize workouts, facilitate muscular growth and recovery while also accelerating fat loss. The primary focus of the eating plan was on the macronutrient breakdown (protein, carbs, and fats) and meal timing. Similar to the workout plan phases, the eating protocol would be adjusted based the goals of training phases, the results he was experiencing, and how he was physically and mentally.
- Weekly check in calls or video chats were used to analyze progress and discuss any questions or concerns.
- Weekly photos were taken to document visual body composition changes. Weight scales and body fat measurement tools were considered unnecessary.
The first discussion with Ben was to learn about his experience and familiarity with exercise and nutrition. We also discussed what his expectations were going to be over the course of 3 months.
Ben was then sent a questionnaire to get a much deeper understanding of his level of knowledge, both on a training and a nutrition front. Additionally, the questionnaire obtained information about his lifestyle habits and motivations, plus how much time he’d be able to allocate and what type of facility he’d be working out in.
After the questionnaire was returned, a follow up call was held to discuss his answers and begin mapping out a preliminary action plan for his training and nutrition.
During the follow up call, it was mutually agreed upon that given his current body composition, his exercise familiarity, and his ability to train and eat with no restriction, his goal of seeing incremental body composition improvements was very possible.
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The Workout Programming:
Starting out with straight sets and the rest-pause method
Considering Ben’s timeline of 3 months, the approach was to break his training into 3 training phases with an additional phase after the transformation to maintain. The first phase was focused on building strength and size. We used straight sets, meaning he would perform an exercise for a prescribed number of reps, rest, then repeat for the total number of prescribed sets. We integrated some specialized techniques such as rest pauses in the later weeks. Rest pauses are an intense method to force him beyond fatigue or failure, resulting in boosts of strength. This first phase lasted 6 weeks.
After 6 weeks, we moved into a new phase of training. While the focus remained on strength and size, we took a slightly different approach so his results wouldn’t stagnate by adapting to the work. During this phase, for some of the exercises we focused heavily on the eccentric portion of the lift. When focusing on the eccentric, Ben would very slowly fight the resistance while lowering the weight or his body back to the start position. For example, during a bench press, he’d explosively press the barbell, then slowly bring it back down to his chest. This subtle change in the tempo is enough to provide variety to what he was doing in his first phase. For eccentric-focused exercises, Ben used lighter weights than in his first phase because of the increased amount of time his muscles would be under tension. Ben followed this second phase of training for 2 weeks.
After 2 weeks of phase two, we moved onto phase three. In this third phase, our focus was to really crank up the intensity by integrating supersets (completing one exercise right after the other). The purpose of the supersets was to provide another form of variety that his body and muscles weren’t used to. This works two ways: it excites muscles to grow, but the real play here was to start improve his metabolic conditioning—in other words, get him incredibly lean. As he moves faster from one exercise to the other his heart rate elevates, burning more calories, burning more fat. At this point in his programming, the start of shooting for his film was getting closer and closer. To get him as optimally camera-ready, this phase really accelerated his fat loss while keeping his muscles rock solid. Phase three lasted 4 weeks. His primary transformation is complete.
Running on the rest days
Supplemental cardio note: While various forms of cardio training was built into all phases of his program, Ben did include some low intensity short runs on occasion, more specifically on “rest” or “active recovery days”. However, we watched his recovery to ensure he did not experience any muscle wasting (catabolism) or experience any signs of overtraining.
Quick and dirty circuits
After 4 weeks of phase three, an additional fourth phase was put in place to continue the transformations progress, but more importantly, work around a new roadblock—his tightening schedule. At this point Ben has started shooting for the film. While he still has access to a facility to train in, his time is much more limited. In this phase he’s following a series of circuit workouts that require him to work hard and move quickly in a very short period of time. It’s designed to keep fat off (maybe even help loss a little more) while maintaining muscle. Typically these circuits are to be completed with all-out in intensity, however, given that Ben now needs to really concentrate on his work, he’ll train at a submaximal level. Instead of going all-out, he pulls back just enough to stimulate the muscles and get his heart going, but not too much to overly exhaust himself for the work. This phase is on-going and will last for approximately 2 – 4 weeks.
Ben’s programming was essentially a modified and customized version of the Size, Strength, and Shred Cycle template.
Once filming has concluded and his extremely low body fat levels are no longer necessary as a part of his character, Ben’s training while shift into a “Recession” or taper to give his body and mind a much needed break. He won’t stop working out, but volume, load, and intensity will be dramatically reduced. Here’s an example of a Recession workout plan.
Special Training Notes:
- Ben was a bit exhausted from a couple leg workouts in week 5, we had him pull back resistance around 20% or drop his intensity level from a 10 down to a 6 or so for some additional recovery. In week 6, he went back to his original amount of resistance and level of intensity.
The Nutrition Programming:
Ben’s eating plan was designed to be smart and strategic, but as simple and as easy to follow as possible. First was to use very basic foods in their most basic forms that covered all of his needs: proteins, carbs, and fats. His protein sources primarily came from chicken, eggs, and protein powder. His carbohydrate sources were low glycemic index, high-fiber foods such as oatmeal (with exception of maltodextrin for post-workout recovery). He also used a variety of different steamed vegetables and salads to increase his fiber intake. His sources of fat came primarily from very minimal extra virgin olive oil and mixed nuts.
Next, we calculated his total calorie needs based on his age, height, bodyweight, and activity levels. From there we had him following approximately a 50/30/20 protein:carb:fat macronutrient ratio to allow him to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. He ate between 4 and 6 times per day. We strategically timed his meals to some extent. For example, a large chunk of his carbohydrate consumption would be after a workout along with protein. After consuming his post-workout meal, he would limit his carbohydrate intake until it was time to ramp up for a workout again.
Maltodextrin, which is a carbohydrate that is somewhat quickly absorbed (to help rebuild/recover muscles) was used, but only after a workout. It’s a sticky powder substance that can be added to protein shakes. The purpose of this strategy was to get his body and muscles the right nutrients it needs at that time which were protein and carbs. During post-workout meals, fibers and fats were avoided as they tend to slow digestion and not be as optimal as the protein and carb combination.
As Ben progressed along from phase to phase of the program, he slowly pulled back a little more carbs with each week, more specifically, around week 8. While the workout phases got a bit more intense, this really accelerated the fat loss. However, the main reason why Ben continued to build muscle and kept up his endurance and stamina was because he did not completely eliminate carbs or modify his post-workout nutrition. His carbohydrate consumption always remained the same after workouts.
An example of what Ben’s diet structure can be found here.
Special Nutrition Notes:
– Whenever Ben would get cravings to eat he’d have a little extra chicken or a small serving of sausage—keeping it to protein and fats.
– For the very occasional alcoholic drink, he went with carb-free vodka and lime soda.
– Early in process of configuring Ben’s diet, the discussion of “keto” came up which was completely avoided. While weight loss and fat loss would have occurred on such a diet, his carbohydrate consumption was critical for building muscle, aiding recovery, and maintaining energy levels — especially given his training intensity.
As you can see, Ben got completely shredded. And from what you can’t see, he got stronger too. While the amount of resistance he used for all of his lifts increased across the board, most notably, his front squat went from 40kg (88 pounds) to 60kg (132 pounds) and his dumbbell bench press from 32.5kg (72 pounds) per side to 37.5kg (83 pounds) per side.
And he got more efficient as well. One of the circuit workouts took him 31 minutes to complete at week 1, but by week 6, he completed it in 24 minutes.
Ben also reportedly had greatly improved his range of motion on all exercises.
He only lost a total of 5 pounds, going from 180 to 175, however, the body composition changes are night and day. No measurements or testing was done for his body fat percentage as visuals speak for themselves.
Ben was very successful with his body composition transformation because he was completely committed to his programming, both the training and his food. He was consistent and focused on working harder and harder each week. He was in a positive state of mind and trusted the process. Due to the intensity and volume of his training, Ben will follow a “Recession” training plan to give his body some extra recovery while still keeping his muscles stimulated. With this block of time as history for Ben, he now has the know-how and experience to tweak and modify his training and diet based on what he wants to do with his body.
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