Editor's Note Back in December, we chose a guy named Chris Bartl to participate in our first season of the Physique Clinic. Most of us thought we were setting ourselves up to fail. After all, Bartl was really heavy, and Bartl had, well, issues. Regardless, five months later, Bartl surpassed the goals we'd set for him, losing 60 pounds of fat.
But then Bartl revealed the true extent of his transformation. He'd not only gotten in great shape in record time, he'd also kicked a couple of monkeys off his back and completely changed the direction of his life. To cap off his achievements, he decided to enter a triathlon.
This is his story.
I remember sitting in the first ever D.A.R.E. class when I was in fifth grade. Man, did that ever backfire. They should have called it Drug Activities and Recreational Education. I learned from that class that I wanted to try drugs because it sounded fun.
I think it all started in 1992. This was when I tried LSD. I was 14 years old.
I took five squares at a high school dance and started tripping as my mom drove me home. I lost it, freaked out, and ended up getting sedated at the hospital at 5AM. But that was just the beginning.
The acid experience was just the opening of Pandora's Box. I started smoking pot on a daily basis. Then my friends and I decided that we'd start drinking entire bottles of Nyquil.
While all this was going on, I was actually excelling in sports. I was playing football in the fall, hockey and basketball in the winter, baseball and golf in the spring. I was constantly enrolled in a class known only as "Powerlifting." That's where my love for the iron was first born.
I fell in love with doing power cleans and snatches. The fact that I was pretty good at them right off the start helped. I could out deadlift, squat, clean, and snatch more than 95% of my freshman class. I had a weak bench but it didn't bother me. I didn't really like to bench so I didn't work on it. I wanted tree trunks for legs.
I was living a double life. About the time I got my license, I was smoking so much pot I could put Cheech and Chong to shame. This is when some friends and I discovered that we lived in one of the greatest spots on the earth for the cultivation of hallucinogenic mushrooms. So we became farmers. We'd go up into the hills and pick, eat, pick, eat, eat, eat, and pick mushrooms. Then sell them to the upper classmen. Dumbasses.
Money was pretty good but I was eating more than I was selling, so I stopped selling and ate more. Then I got bored with it and decided that I liked smoking dope more. This was also about the time I started to hang with a new member of my crew: the Marlboro Man. I became addicted to nicotine and was smoking cigs like a chimney.
Somehow I lettered in varsity football my sophomore and junior year. I say "somehow" because I don't really remember much from those two years because I was mixing mushrooms and pot like most people mix cookie dough.
Then it happened. We were getting ready to start football practice when our varsity coach pulled me aside. He looked me straight in the eye and asked if I was done screwing up my life. He asked me if I really wanted to be the athlete that he knew I could be. He told me he knew about the drugs, the cigarettes, and the alcohol. He said I could be one of the best linemen to come through our high school.
It shook me to my core. So I ditched the drug use and focused on football. I put all my effort into being bigger, faster, and stronger than everyone else. By the time I became a senior, there wasn't anyone in school who could push the weight I could. It's amazing how much better an athlete you can be when you aren't stoned.
At football camp I gave two guys concussions. I was a back alley, junk yard dog type of player according to the offensive line coach. I was motivated, and I didn't do drugs my senior year. I didn't really drink either and I'd quit smoking for football season. But once snowboard season kicked in, I picked up my old habits.
Nothing really interesting happened for the next couple years. I just drank and smoked a lot of cigarettes. I walked on to an I-AA football team and got to suit up for a couple games. Two pulled hamstrings later, I lost my motivation for football.
Things changed about my third year in college. A close friend, an old high school football coach, died of cancer. I relapsed; I just fell back into the drugs. I started smoking pot again because it took the pain of his death off my mind. I was in a fraternity so drinking was my main priority, then smoking, and then school. Somehow I ended up graduating with a good grade point average.
After college I stopped training. I spent some time in Europe backpacking around, tried to find work, and kept up the smoking and drinking without training. I started putting on weight but I couldn't really tell. I bounced around for a bit trying to find a place where I could settle down and work. Santa Barbara was the place for me.
I joined Gold's Gym and hit the weights again. I lost some pounds and was actually starting to look pretty decent. I was down to about 228 pounds and felt good. I started surfing. Just being outside made me insanely happy.
Then, at a house party, a friend busted out a little baggy, poured out some white powder onto the back of a CD case, handed me a rolled up $20 bill, and told me to go for it.
That was the first time I tried cocaine. I couldn't feel my face; everything around me sped up, my heart rate included. I was hooked. The minute I started to come down, my body and temperament changed. I wanted more. I bought my first bag of blow for $50 and got one gram.
The only thing I didn't like was the next day. Alcohol hangovers are horrible, but cocaine hangovers are even worse. Your sinuses hurt, you've got massive amounts of crusted-on coke in your nose hairs, and the headaches... The headaches are like no other. Imagine the worst migraine ever and amplify it by ten. It's that bad, and there's nothing you can do to make it better. You just lie around and take one for the team.
Everyone I was hanging out with was doing coke. It was one giant party that lasted for almost four years. That's four years of eating like shit, all sorts of drug use, alcohol and cigarettes, and no training. The only activities I was doing were surfing and snowboarding, unless you count 12-ounce curls as an exercise. I could tell I was putting on weight, but I didn't really care.
The drop-off point came in August of 2007. Life was okay but it was missing something. There was something that just didn't feel right. I tried to get back into training, but I'd train hard for a few weeks, not see any improvements, then give up. It was my typical method of operation.
I had no idea how to eat and I was eating everything. Yet there was something that just kept nagging at the back of my head telling me to change my life, to get in shape and get some frickin' abs!
I was a constant presence on Testosterone but the info was just so damn technical that I couldn't really understand 90% of the stuff. What would work for me? I'm no bodybuilder; I just want to look good naked. I'm not an athlete anymore; I just want to have fun in the gym again.
Then I saw it: a banner for a new project called the Physique Clinic. Fill out this online form, type up an essay and submit. Pictures were also required and I was flat-out shocked when I took mine.
I knew I was fatter than normal. Hell, every time I bent over to tie my shoes, the blood circulation to my brain got cut off. I couldn't breathe because there was too much pressure on my lungs. When I'd stand up I'd get a head rush. It was the lowest point I had ever been in my life. I just kept thinking, "Nobody is ever going to want to be with a fat ass. You're pathetic."
Those pictures motivated me to write something incredible. I wasn't quite sure how to make myself stand out though, but I knew it had to be good. I decided to go after the coaches: I challenged them to pick me. If I didn't get picked, oh well, just another version of the same story: Everyone line up, time to pick teams. Fatty, you go to the back. You're not getting picked anytime soon.
I heard nothing. No reply, only "We got your submission and we'll let you know." Weeks went by and still nothing. I'd check this damn site 500 times a day just to see if they updated it. Nothing' Fuckers.
Meanwhile, the partying was still going on. From the minute my friends and I started drinking on Friday, we were shoveling blow up our nose. I was firing through cigarettes like crazy.
Then it happens. I check my email for some dumb reason at 9:45 at night before the third straight night of partying. I was drunk and high. There was a note from Chris Shugart:
"If you're still interested, you've been picked as one of the first participants in the Physique Clinic."
I started to delete it. Then I thought, "Wait, you get free Biotest supplements and a free coach – a world class coach. If you hate it, just slack off until it's over. Nobody will know; it's all online."
I hit reply and have no idea what I wrote. I just knew I'd be starting something, sometime in the near future. I needed a drink.
Couple days later I received a big box from Biotest and it started.
Christian Thibaudeau was going to be my training and diet coach. Chris Shugart was going to be my shrink. I read some past articles by Thibaudeau and thought, "Wow, this sucks. This guy is going to be my coach? I'm screwed."
The Physique Clinic starts and I'm given an intro routine to help get me ready for some super program designed to turn me from a fatty into a shredded sex machine. It started off simple enough, but I had to learn real quickly what it meant to train through pain. I knew I was finally in a program that could push me and get me to where I wanted to be: shredded.
I started with this attitude: "The time has come. There are no more excuses. I now start a journey of amazing challenges, some of which I've never experienced, but I'm ready to take on full steam. I will not fail. There is nothing that I won't do to change my body. I'll push my body and my mind to all physical and psychological limits. When I come out the other side, I will be someone different."
The coaches had different philosophies. I know they didn't have any faith in me whatsoever and it showed in their words: "Words are cheap! Let's see you stick to the diet for at least a week before predicting success!" Thibaudeau said.
What he didn't know was that I was truly driven to make this a success. He didn't know me from a hole in the ground, and I was hell-bent to make sure he never forgot who I was or what I could do.
My first program consisted of functional hypertrophy sessions divided into phases: torso, lower body, arms, and a circuit. Rules were simple: Rotate through those sessions until I was told to do something different. The sessions were brutally intense on my body. I'd never trained like that before.
I couldn't extend either of my legs all the way. I had to wear slip-on shoes to work because I couldn't reach down to tie my other ones. And to top it all off, I had to use the handicap restroom in the mornings and lower myself down. And that was only my first lower body session within the first week!
My program was designed for a specific purpose: to lose fat. A lot of people in my situation – people who want to drop a lot of fat and gain a lot of muscle – often try to do both at the same time (it doesn't work) or are at a loss regarding where to start. In my case (a guy who's fat but wants to add a lot of muscle) I was told it was best to get lean first.
Before I entered the Physique Clinic, I didn't really realize how much shit I really ate. I think the hardest part mentally was trying to deal with the cravings of certain foods and not being able to drink. I wasn't a binge drinker per se, but I did like to drink wine and vodka sodas.
One of the major turning points for me in the program came with the revelation of Coach Shugart's Phoenix Theory. I printed the article out and stuck it on my mirror along with my "before" pics.
I was going through the life cycle of a phoenix. I was in the middle of dying, only hoping to find myself reborn on the other end.
Shugart describes Phase I as a "traumatic event leading to a sudden realization and awakening." I didn't really experience a traumatic event, more of an awakening. I just wanted to change.
That led me into Phase 2 of Phoenix Theory: "Anger and a firm decision to change." I didn't like the way I looked, the way I felt, or the way I was leading my life. I was fat and it pissed me off.
Phase 3 is: "The physical transformation itself." Or as I put it: killing my former self, only to find myself reborn at the end.
Finally, Phase 4 is: "Continued progress fueled by fear of regression." After experiencing the transformation, all I need to do is look at my "before" pictures. Looking like that is scary, and I never really realized how bad I was until I saw those pics. I never want to look like that again.
These are the thoughts that helped me push through what Coach Shugart called "The Grind." The Grind is the middle of Hell with only one way out: to train your ass off.
Shugart describes it as: "The part where you just have to dig in and do it. This is the tough part because some of that initial excitement might begin to fade, and the permanent changes haven't solidified yet. This time in the middle is the real test, and it's day to day. Only thing to do is lower your head and keep on keepin' on. This is where the real test is; this is where the winners and losers are decided."
To get my way through the grind of training and a diet that was finally starting to grow on me, I had to remain active. I walked. I walked a lot. Kind of like Cane in Kung Fu. You know, walk the earth and solve my problems one step at a time. Thibaudeau always said that the more active I could be, the better my results would be. So besides walking, I surfed.
I used those times to really reflect on what I was doing and what I was going through. It was my time to recharge my psychological batteries while doing some sort of activity. This was also the time I started to see the pounds starting to peel off.
Besides the fact that I really wanted to change, the other motivating factor was to not be "that guy" – the one who failed. I wanted to ramp it up.
This was about the time that burpees got added into my training. I hate burpees. Actually, I don't think "hate" truly describes how I feel about them. See, in high school we had to do them a lot. The problem with being fat and doing burpees is that your man-boobs and belly fat get going in a million different directions and you look like Chunk from the movie Goonies on crack.
I wasn't stoked to be doing them, but I knew I needed them. They are one hell of a good cardio addition to a heavy weight training session. In total, I think I did 280 burpees in my first session. For the first time in a long time, I actually thought I was going to blow chunks.
Then, a setback: a bad landing while snowboarding. The next morning I couldn't bend my knee or put any pressure on my left leg: sprained MCL.
I wanted to continue to participate in the Clinic and wasn't sure if the coaches would allow me to. I was at a real low point because I needed the program. I knew I could succeed and I knew I could prove all my naysayers wrong. I was at the mercy of the coaches.
They took a chance and kept me in the program. I was dedicated to start this program, but they were willing to take the chance on me and I was planning on repaying them back in spades.
The training was supremely tough for the next couple weeks doing a German Accumulation Program. It was nothing like I'd ever done before. Pure upper body focus, with super heavy weight and not a lot of rest. It definitely got my upper half going in the right direction.
By not focusing on my legs, my knee was able to rest up. Then I got the bright idea to do a triathlon.
From that point on, it was all about getting my knee ready to start training for what could arguably be one of the greatest tests of mental and physical endurance there is. It turns out that I had a lot more problems with that left leg than we would've ever thought possible.
I was chugging along in my program. I was in a routine and comfortable with what happened during my days. We started to add pictures into our posts to hold ourselves accountable for the entire world to see. I was also dissatisfied... but only a little, just enough to keep me motivated.
I guess when I started the program, I figured that the biggest changes would happen right away. The pictures didn't dictate how I felt. I seemed lighter, I felt more comfortable with my body, and I could feel my confidence growing.
This was also the time people started to tell me that I was an "inspiration" to them or that I was motivating them to start making changes of their own. I've never had anyone say that I motivate them as much as I had since I started this program.
There were people out there who are trying to accomplish the same goals that I was and were doing just as well. They inspired me to want to do better. People who had been through this process became my inspiration. Knowing what I'd look like when I was done was the fuel that kept my fire burning.
By this point I'd been training and dieting for almost six weeks, which was six weeks longer than I'd ever done in my life. Things were picking up speed with my training. Thibaudeau had re-installed leg training into my sessions as my knee was feeling up to the challenge.
I also started to notice something new: veins. They were popping out all over my forearms during the sessions. I never had veins before, so it was kind of neat.
At this point in the program, I knew I was a little over halfway to my goal, but it felt like I had already reached something amazing. I hadn't weighed 219 pounds since I was 16 years old, and even then I didn't look or feel that good.
The triathlon training was starting to pick up speed. I was doing HIIT for my run training and it was kicking my ass. All the while, I had to train in the gym, bike ride, and swim at the same time. I could feel myself starting to get fatigued and mentally drained. I knew that a triathlon was tough, but the training was brutal. The good part of all this was that I was creeping closer and closer to the 200 pound mark.
When I was fat, I used to think that 225 would be my fighting weight. When I started getting close to that, I realized I was wrong. Now that I was under 215, I had no idea what my fighting weight would be or even how I would look, but I knew what it felt like and that it could only get better. I had a vision in my head of my "ideal" body, and the funny thing is, I had no idea how much I'd weigh.
I was not afraid of 200 at all; I actually just wanted it to happen and get it over with. There was a big anticipation for me to reach 200 because not only would it have eclipsed my original goal for when I started this program, but I also thought that it would have surpassed Shugart and Thibaudeau's expectations of me.
Then it happened. On the morning of March 26th I jumped on the scale just like I'd done for the past three months, expecting to see the same digit at the beginning of those three numbers, but this time it was different. It was a number I hadn't seen in God knows how long.
198.6 pounds. I'd started at about 259! Holy cow! It was just a huge weight off my shoulders, no pun intended, to be under 200. Felt like it took forever to get there, so I was stoked to have it finally happen. Now I could really focus on one thing: the triathlon.
I wanted to be consumed by it. I started thinking about every aspect of that race, from pre-race preparation to my transition area. I took my training to another level, to a level that I'd never taken myself. I'd always been good at pushing myself, but what I was doing was nothing like I'd ever done.
Then, another roadblock. One day I go out for the longest running session of my life and I feel a twinge in my left knee. At one point, I stopped and walked. I couldn't even really walk without a limp. That happened about one hour and twelve minutes in. I was still miles away from my car and wanted to finish out the run. I just had to grind my teeth and suck it up.
It was a crushing blow. I honestly didn't think I was going to be able to make my race. I started to think like a fatty again, trying to come up with some lame ass internal excuse to quit, but I wasn't about to let that happen. I made the decision to push myself past the pain, past people's advice, and do what my heart told me to, which was race.
Race day came a lot quicker than I'd anticipated. The blast of the air horn echoed off the hills and it was time.
- Official swim time: 26 minutes, 43 seconds, a new PR for a 1.5 km swim
- Official bike time: 1 hour, 30 minutes, 59 seconds
- Official run time: 1 hour, 5 minutes, 4 seconds
- Official overall time: 3 hours, 9 minutes, 33 seconds.
I'd just finished something that was only a pipe dream just six months before. I was a changed person, not only mentally but physically. Not only had I lost over 60 pounds, but I could hold my head up high and say I completed a triathlon.
I felt a sense of pride in myself that I'd never felt before. A sense that there's no hurdle in life that is too high to jump, that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to.
And I plan on putting my mind to work.
I wasn't sure what to expect at the end of this ride, but man, I'm happy. I don't think I've ever been happier in my life.
I'm on a path to lead a better, healthier life. I'm addicted to triathlons and plan on doing them as long as my body allows. All of this happened as a result of the Physique Clinic. You can't put a price on that.
We all have a desire to achieve greatness. Some people decide to do something about it. We are the minority. Every person reading this is striving for something; if we weren't, we wouldn't be coming back for more. We have an internal drive that pushes us to the edge of what other people think is crazy. To us, it's not crazy, it's just how we want to live our lives.
Some people are asking me for advice regarding their lives and their situations. Here's some advice I'm stealing from Nike: Just do it. It really is that simple.
You don't want to be fat anymore? Change your diet. Just do it. Train your ass off. Just do it. You want a new PR in the deadlift? Just fucking do it! There's no magic potion anyone can give you. It takes blood, sweat, and a lot of tears. You just have to be willing to go beyond.
Note II: Bartl did a great job outlining his diet, training, and supplementation program.