Before and After: Fitness Transformation


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Before and After: Fitness Transformation

Disadvantaged From Day One

In my teens, I was a skinny Asian immigrant kid. I wanted to be physically attractive, so I got into swimming as my first foray into any type of physical fitness. And learning how to swim was where I first got a taste for the concept of a what we call a growth mindset. You see, many people believe they are fixed in their current situation and their lot in life has no potential to improve. They believe they’re stuck with a limited set of abilities, intelligence, and resources. I used to think this too, but what learned completely changed the trajectory of my life.

When I first got started swimming, I noticed that all the other boys were bigger, stronger, and more athletic than I was. So I told my teacher I was going to start lifting weights as a way to build up my strength and be able to compete. She quickly told me that most Asian boys are naturally weak, and I’d be better off hitting the books because I probably wasn’t cut out for sports. You see, despite being a swim coach, she thought athletes were born (fixed mindset), not made (growth mindset).

Kenneth Play in 1999

But at 16, I was determined to prove her wrong. I decided to become a lifeguard and I quickly noticed that most of the other lifeguards were in great shape. They’re what you might call genetically gifted – naturally broad-shouldered, muscular, lean, and they looked the part of the ‘fit’ lifeguard you might see on TV.

To me, they made it all look easy. But I had to work for it. I knew that I naturally didn’t have the build or the athleticism of my peers. Thus began my first foray into what some might call biohacking. Since I wasn’t born with the best genetics, I had to get creative. If I didn’t work hard, I would be stuck with a skinny-fat body with a bit of a pot-belly.

On the rainy days, we didn’t have much to do, so I’d sit in my chair and read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding. That was my god-damn bible that summer and I read it front-to-back multiple times.

I started training hard, eating right, dialing in everything I could to build my body and change the way I looked. I didn’t want to live a life of mediocrity, with skinny arms and fat rolls, any longer.

After a few years of figuring out this training thing, I’d gone from being a skinny kid to looking like a fitness model. This led to working as a personal trainer, training high profile celebrities in Manhattan. There, I got to take everything I learned from my own transformation and help others change their body.

Kenneth Play in 2010

Life was really great for a while, but it took a turn for the worse after a bad breakup. I got depressed and my life started falling apart. I stopped training, ate everything in sight and got fatter than I’d been before. After I picked up the emotional pieces, I realized I had to take charge of my life again. I started training hard, got my diet in check, and I began to carve out my fit, strong self once more.

What this reminded me of again was that I didn’t have it easy like many others. I couldn’t just walk into the weight room and get a six pack. I had to work hard, but more importantly, I picked up some useful insights about how to get the most out of my training and diet habits along the way, things that I still use to this day.

I’m a big fan of Tim Ferriss. If you don’t know who he is, just google his name. He’s most famous for his book “The 4-Hour Workweek”, where he details his process of building a million-dollar business without having to completely sell his soul to the man. Tim is also well-known as a life-hacker. He is a bit unconventional in that he likes to try a lot of things, see what sticks and has the biggest payoff for the least amount of effort. Why follow the old, hardly-ever-questioned advice if there is a better way?

This can be applied to many things, such as fitness, finance, and all sorts of skill acquisition. I’m a big fan of his ideas and taking the shortcuts when necessary to get the results you want as quickly as possible. But I do need to make something clear before going any further: nothing worth having comes easily. Everything worth accomplishing requires hard work, patience, and persistence. However, you don’t have to struggle endlessly like I did early on when I was figuring out the whole fitness thing. And you don’t need to accept that your lot in life is fixed. Instead, you need to learn how to work around some of the things you’re struggling with, and that’s exactly why I made this guide.

So, after I got back into shape post-breakup, I decided to start experimenting. I tried all sorts of training programs and diet plans, especially the most popular ones in the online fitness publications at the time. You name it, I’ve probably tried it. Some worked. Some didn’t. Much of it was overkill and too complicated.

What I found is that human research in the health and fitness field is pretty limited. Sure, we have a lot of data on diet and exercise, but no two people are the same (unless you have an identical twin), so the results one person gets from one style of training might differ greatly from what it could do for another person. How I eat could be amazing for me, but terrible for you.

Over time and training many clients, I realized that most people don’t have the time (nor the desire) to train as much as an athlete, and 99% of us don’t have elite genetics that allow us to eat McDonalds every meal and keep ourselves in single-digit body fat.

I started to notice that with a relatively healthy diet and intense exercise 4-6 hours per week (usually strength training), it’s possible to drastically change the body. And what’s more, it’s possible to maintain results, with the training and diet hacks I’ve discovered.

But then it all hit me like a ton of bricks.



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