As a young lad, James Holliman was a jock, both wresting and throwing discus for his high school teams. When he reached college, his interest in physical fitness continued. He became certified as a personal trainer and spent more time than ever in the gym working out with weights.
But like so many others, when Holliman moved on from college, he moved on from fitness, too. Years of taking clients out to eat, lots of business travel, and long hours at his desk took a toll on his body. Before he knew it, he looked in the mirror and saw it: the dreaded dad bod.
What made you want to transform?
I had three big reasons. One was the way I looked in the mirror. Whenever I took off my shirt off at the beach or pool, I felt self-conscious. I also noticed that my energy levels were way down, which is bad news when you have three sons who want someone to get down on their knees and play with them. Overall, I felt overweight, tired, and mentally dull.
I was also having problems with high cholesterol. The doctor literally got in my face and told me I needed to get on statins and stay on them for the rest of my life. My father took statins for much of his adult life, which I don't think was good for his health. I wanted to do all I could to not let that happen to me. I wanted to get in shape and lower my cholesterol the right way, through nutrition and exercise.
The third reason is a roundabout story. I decided to start my own gym. I wanted to provide a more service-oriented model for people like me who had demanding jobs but wanted hands-on support for their own transformations.
When I started building the gym, I was working full time in technology. I put in a lot of super-long hours and ate badly. Some of the personal trainers in my own gym were talking behind my back about how I was in such bad physical shape.
It came to a head when I was trying to help a couple of trainers write programs for interval-training classes. I noticed they didn't really want to take my advice. I'm sure they looked at my size and didn't think I knew what I was talking about. I'm a trainer. I like training people. I like helping people reach their goals. But when you don't look the part, it makes it tough.
So, I had some good reasons to change, and jumped at the challenge to show people what the programs I was offering at my gym could do.
How did you start your transformation?
I started by looking at the past winners of the challenge for inspiration. When I looked at their before-and-after pictures, I thought to myself, "If these guys did it, I can do it."
I started seeing results midway through the challenge—after I had been doing it for a little over a month. Interestingly, because even though I'd been working out with weights off and on for a long time, I had so much fat on me that I didn't know what I looked like underneath it all.
Once I started losing the fat, I saw that I had a decent shape. I remember thinking to myself that if I could just focus on getting as lean as possible, I might have a good shot at doing well in the challenge. That's when I cranked it up.
What differences do you notice after transforming?
It's so rewarding to drop the fat and get in shape. I feel so much better physically and so much sharper mentally. It's a great feeling. I'm happy to walk around and go to the pool or the beach without my shirt. My cholesterol levels are the best they've ever been, thanks in part to my reduction in body fat.
I was also able to reduce my visceral fat—the fat around my organs—which is a particularly unhealthy type of body fat. Anything at a 10 or higher is considered really bad. When I got my last body scan, my body fat was at 6.1 percent and my visceral fat level was at 2. I've come a long way.
When I was the most out of shape, I weighed 256 pounds. At the end of the challenge, I was at 195 pounds with 4.5-percent body fat. It had been a long time since I'd been under 200 pounds, and probably 20 years since I'd seen my abs. It was fun to see them come back out.
What supplements helped you through your journey?
What training plan kept you on track?
I started with consistent weight training, focusing on volume training with limited rest between sets. Over time, I added high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and other forms of cardio. Gradually I increased the frequency and duration of my workouts to keep my body changing at a relatively rapid pace.
Over the 12-week challenge, I ramped up from a single one-hour weight-training workout per day to that session plus one daily one-hour HIIT class per day. By the end of the challenge I also was doing two one-hour cardio sessions per day.
I also took part in a 10,000-meter row on the Concept 2 Rower (crossfit.com challenge) and woke up every morning bright and early to shock my body with 100 straight burpees.
In the final month of the challenge, I checked my MyZone heart-rate monitor summary and discovered that I had been burning as many as 23,301 calories in a month of HIIT classes. That's in addition to the number of calories I burned in weight training and regular cardio sessions that went on Monday through Friday.
I usually treated Saturdays as active recovery days with sled work, light cardio, and bodyweight exercises. I usually rested on Sundays.
What aspect of the program challenged you the most?
My biggest challenge was finding the time to do meal prep when I was already so busy with business and family responsibilities, as well as with the workouts themselves. I had to prioritize, and I had to ask for help. I dropped a few balls and made some diet mistakes along the way, but I always made up for it in some way. I didn't beat myself up about it or let that hold me back.
I prepped food and weighed and bagged my finished meals in advance as much as possible. When I couldn't keep up, I was fortunate to have Icon Meals close by. I could always go there to pick up healthy cooked meats by the pound, and even whole pre-prepped meals. When I didn't have time to pick up meals or prep food for the day, I used whey protein to supplement my menu. But whenever I could, I focused on eating good, whole foods.
What's next now that you've transformed?
As I was going through the challenge, more than one person said to me, "You have a pretty good shape. You should compete." So now I'm planning on competing! My first event is in Fort Worth, Texas. If I do well there, I'll take my chances in the Master's Division Classic Physique at the IFPP North American Championships. I'm excited about giving competition a shot; we'll see what happens.
I feel so much better now that I'm in better shape. I think it comes out in the way that I look, the way I interact with people, and how often I smile. It's had an impact on all aspects of my life. It's a good feeling to have gone through this whole process and emerged a better person!
How did Bodybuilding.com help you reach your goals?
Looking at all the previous challenge winners inspired me! I studied their transformations, reviewed their weight-loss stats, reviewed their fat-loss stats. I poured over all their before and after pictures. I concluded that if they could do it, I could, too! I just needed to commit and work hard.
Supplements helped, too. I picked up the majority of the supplements I used during the challenge on Bodybuilding.com. There was a special Dymatize discount available at the time, so I stocked up to save time and money during the challenge.
I also read a lot of Bodybuilding.com articles related to workouts, nutrition, supplements, and transformation. I'm on the email list, so I consistently received links to transformation stories, trainer workout tips, and nutrition tips. Bodybuilding.com is also a great resource for answers to a wide variety of fitness questions. Plus, there's a bunch of articles and information available in the forum.
What advice would you offer aspiring transformers?
Don't give up! If you make a mistake, don't beat yourself up about it or let it hold you back from reaching your goals. Get back on your plan and continue to work toward your objective. It's such an amazing feeling when you reach your fitness goal!