Name: Christian Neal
Weight: 184 lbs
Education: Studying health science at Boise State University
Years bodybuilding: 5
When Bodybuilding.com consolidated its Boise departments into one campus in 2013, the building came with a state-of-the-art gym, locker rooms, and ample outdoor space for sprints and sports. All team members can use the facility, but believe it or not, we don't all know how—and we're not all models.
That's where Christian Neal comes in. This health science student and physique competitor is the transformation coach at Bodybuilding.com. He gives support and guidance to team members looking to transform their bodies and lead healthier lives.
Depending on the day—and where we are in the annual 12-week employee transformation challenge—that might include body-fat testing, lifting lessons, diet tracking, and of course, motivation.
We boast that Bodybuilding.com aims to change lives. Christian's job is to make sure that statement starts within our own walls.Q
What did you learn from your first
More than anything, I realized how big of an impact dieting plays on your overall physique. Before, I was consistent about working out, and I was aware of nutrition, but it wasn't something I focused on. I'd still hang out with my friends and not really watch my diet. Once I started preparing for a show, I realized just how big of a difference it makes on the stage.
Before I knew much about nutrition, I used to think that peanut butter was a protein! It has protein in it, but have no doubt; it's a fat. I was eating peanut butter sandwiches nonstop when I was 16 and 17 years old. I put on size, but it was probably more fat than I wanted. It was a big eye-opening moment when I read the label for myself instead of just listening to people!
You've been at Bodybuilding.com for 6 months. What have you learned so far from the culture in this building?
I quickly realized how everybody here is involved in the culture. They don't just speak it; they live it. The majority of people here are really into fitness. It's not just this front that the website puts up. The people here are truly in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. It's an amazing company. I've never met such a collection of nice, genuine people.
Still, just like everywhere else in the world, everyone here is starting from a different point. I work with people who are just getting into it, as well as people who are more advanced. It's awesome to see people take those initial baby steps and then to watch the process of their transformations. There were some people who were working with me before the transformation prepping meals, getting set up, and other things. We do this year-round.
I like it when they have that "aha" moment and realize, "This is my body; it is what I make of it." I teach them the basics of nutrition and how to use the equipment in the gym. The excitement I see in them as they make progress is just awesome.
Have you noticed anything in particular that helps lead them to that "aha" moment?
It's different for each person and what their overall goal is. Realistically, they get there when they start seeing all their hard work and dedication slowly pay off. They lift more weight or lose body fat.
Of course, it takes weeks just to see slight changes. If they stay consistent and realize that every detail matters, they will see their body fat go down, change how they look in a swimsuit, or get stronger. That's when they see it pay off. They say, "OK, this is worth it."
Statistically speaking, three weeks is the threshold when the majority of people either begin to quit or become committed. If you make it past 21-25 days of fitness training, then usually you are committed for a while. From that point on, you start to see the good results.
It can be discouraging for the first few weeks. You put in the work and don't see much change. But if people are able to commit, they last longer, stick with it, and eventually check off their big goals.
Do Bodybuilding.com employees seem to have more commitment than regular gym folks?
Maybe, just because of the whole culture here. Your friends and coworkers know whether you're in the transformation or not. They see you. If they see you slack off or stray from the plan, they're more likely to approach you and offer help, whereas outside of here, you may not have a committed partner to help bring you on track if you happen to fall off.
What sort of things do you do as our transformation coach to keep employees from falling off?
I like to talk about where they began. That's the biggest thing. People see themselves every day, and that makes it hard to see a change. If your goal is weight loss and you look in the mirror every day, you're not going to see a change. But, if you bring up a month-old photo and compare it to a current picture, people visualize the change. We compare beginning and current lifting numbers.
Fitness is a compilation of weeks, months, and years, not days. You have to get them to see the bigger picture. That keeps people going and motivated.
What keeps you motivated?
I like watching videos. Progress photos help. Like everyone else, I get discouraged. I am working hard every day, and if I don't see the results I think I should be seeing or don't feel like I am seeing any results, it helps me to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, look at how far I've come and what my goals are.
Also, I re-evaluate my goals. Sometimes I set too big of a goal for too short of a period. Short-term goals are important. Don't focus on four months down the road. Focus on two weeks from today, and the pound or two you lost in those two weeks.
The short-term goals can give you some excitement too. With long-term goals, you don't get a lot of energy from it, because you haven't achieved anything regularly. If you have a two-week goal and reach it, then you get excited, you get energy, and you set a new goal.
Slowly those short periods of excitement build up and build into the long-term success you really wanted in the first place.
What has the classroom taught you that you can apply to helping people change their lives?
I'm finishing my last semester in health science at Boise State University this spring. Dedication is one of the biggest things there, because I really have to apply myself. It takes dedication to memorize facts, learn methods, and develop consistency. College, like fitness, is something you have to work at every day. It doesn't happen overnight. You have to work at it. Be consistent and dedicated to whatever you are doing. You have to pass your classes, do all the work, and work hard.
I've also been a trainer for years now. My previous positions definitely helped me develop the skills and mindset I need for this position. I just need this last step, to get my diploma and combine that official success with my firsthand experience. For now, I'm just trying to finish school and focus on my position here.
What is your "fitness personality" in the gym?
I take as few short breaks as possible, usually around 30-45 seconds between sets. It's fast-paced. I'm a volume person, so it's a lot of high reps. I've had some injuries, which prevents me from lifting heavy. That sucks, but I am a physique competitor, so I'm not too worried about the weight I'm pushing.
I've always been focused on the physical appearance of my body. Even if I am not preparing for a show or a transformation, I'm still conscious of what I'm eating and putting into my body. It's not just the look, though. It's the health. I want to live a long, healthy life. I want to be capable of activities as I age.
I've seen people who didn't stay active and you can see how it plays a role in their lives when they have children and age. I want to be a good role model for my future children.
What's your message to someone who has fallen behind, is overweight, and needs a hand?
It's never too late. Whoever you are, you can always strive for a better, healthier life. Just take the baby steps. Don't look at that "50-pounds overweight" number. Eat out less. Cut out an unhealthy meal and replace it with one healthy meal. Evolve and progress slowly. Losing 50 pounds is a lot, but it is possible. Live and work week by week, day by day.
What are your long-term bodybuilding goals?
I would like to go pro, but with work and school full time, it's hard to focus. Competing becomes a full-time job. You live it, breathe, it, sleep it. To have three full-time jobs would be overwhelming. Once I graduate, I plan on moving my eye more on that route, to attain my IFBB pro card.
It's exciting, but it's nerve-racking. Right now, all I know is school. It's going to be different, to be graduated, to have done it. But I see endless opportunities presenting themselves.
We're in the middle of what we sometimes call "transformation season." Do contests like this work? After 12 weeks, the contest ends.
The pro is that it gets people into the mindset, and gets them into that community feeling. It keeps people accountable and thinking about what they want to do to better their lives.
The con is that people get so caught up in a 12-week transformation that once April 6 hits, they sometimes take their progress pictures, have a major relapse, and the weight just comes right back on.
It's hard on your body to bounce back, and it's hard to see it go mentally. You gain weight back so much faster than you lose it. It needs to be a lifestyle change. Sudden weight drops are not maintainable. You can't keep yourself in that extreme deficit forever. Find the balance. Make it a lifestyle.