I met Brian Hunter at the Progressive Calisthenics Clinic in NYC in October 2019. While most of us were quite challenged by this rigorous two-day instructor certification course, Brian was one of a select few “standout students”, for whom the whole thing seemed like a casual weekend retreat. At the clinic I learned that Brian was graduate of the Primal Health Coach Certification program, which I was finishing up at the time. We’ve kept in touch and when I recently learned that Brian was on a fat-shedding mission, I knew I wanted to interview him for this series. I hope you enjoy the fascinating information to follow.
Steve: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Your name, age, where you live, and what health and fitness activities you currently participate in. Have you won any awards or set any records? If so, please tell us about those.
Brian Hunter: Brian Hunter, 51, live on gulf coast (Biloxi, MS) – PHC, PCC BA, RRT. Former obsessive weight lifter. Bench pressed double my body-weight, squatted and deadlifted triple. All in my 40’s. Gym records.
Currently follow (Mark) Sisson’s plan fairly closely, not intentionally, just keep progressing toward ‘natural’ and ‘useful’ and this is where I currently am. I use bodyweight and weights/bands/vests/monkey bars, etc for progressive resistance, sprint twice a week, walk a LOT, stand a LOT, and spend a lot of time in the sun (some of my workouts are done on the beach). Nothing I do requires a gym, although random equipment is a plus and creativity is required. I can also function perfectly well in a commercial gym. I find movement entertaining.
Steve: Can you tell us a bit about how you got from 40ish 220 lb gym-record-setting obsessive weightlifter to the current 166 lb ripped instinctive trainer?
Brian Hunter: Being a conscientious person with no historical health challenges, I simply thought— ‘experience a health problem, go to doc, do as told, problem solved’. The early to mid 40’s were tough and I learned, first hand, we have a ‘sick care’ or ‘symptom management’ approach to ‘health care’ (and this was BEFORE I became a clinician). I lost my career, my title, my house, my zip code, my savings, and my marriage. At 38, I was Director level for a development firm, living in one of the wealthiest counties in the US, at 41 I was living in my parents’ basement, going through a divorce and commuting 154 miles, round trip, to school. My health suffered and I lacked the knowledge to untangle the emotional from the physiologic. Docs prescribed pills for sleep, anxiety, depression, acid reflux, etc etc. I honestly can’t list everything I was on. As I asked questions about side effects and how long I would need to medicate all these challenges, all docs in my network of experts fumbled the answers. I started to contemplate educating myself a bit more. Around this time also: Tore my pec bench pressing:
Discovered ‘Mark’s Daily Apple’ (thank you to my sweet, hyper intelligent bride 🥰), Discovered Al Kavadlo. I have always been curious and coachable so Mark’s blog just blew me away. As I rehabbed my injury, Al’s ‘enjoy the journey’ approach to fitness (the injury prevented my former training modalities for probably 18 mos), really slotted in well with Sisson’s philosophy. open minded but critical, allowing for ‘updated’ information to change methodologies, non dogmatic. I think many people miss Sisson’s true message and it’s slowly turning into an ideology but I don’t think it’s his fault and perhaps its the price of such large scale success. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I think I ‘get it’. It’s been life changing for me. As I realized I could modify my diet and lifestyle to treat root causes (rather than manage symptoms), I started to fire my meds and docs. I also started to consider all the ‘little things’ I had never considered—sleep (I now use a cpap and am meticulous about my sleep hygiene), parasympathetic stimulation, meditation, philosophic re-calibration, the profound importance of micro nutrients (not just macros, bro), sunshine, being outside, walking, standing (who knew!?!). I also firmly believe that the science and studies are a small part of the process, you MUST stop listening at some point and start doing, with yourself as the ultimate N = 1. What works for you WILL be somewhat custom and it’s okay to go against expert recommendations (and not even bother arguing with them online). Do. YOU, with some backbone. Program and philosophy-hopping will result in mediocre results and frustration. Do your homework, trust your process, be compliant, be patient. It works! I have been through many permutations (with Al and Mark as the foundation) and continue to pivot as life presents me with new opportunities. I simply love to move, love to be in the sun, and feel good when I eat real food, with an emphasis on protein. I don’t take any medications currently but will consider all options as situations evolve. Docs are fine, but my health is my responsibility; I’ll own the failures and the successes. Hoping I can do it a little better today. Every day.
Steve: Tell us about your current workouts or fitness routines. What does a typical day or week look like for you in terms of fitness and exercise?
Brian Hunter: None of my training is explicitly written or programmed. I work 12 hour shifts — on shift I do 100 squats, 100 push ups and 10 min. walks post meal. On days off I keep a loose journal to track activities/times, with a goal of 60 to 90 min of activity overall. I simply try to vary my activities day to day, alternating between progressive resistance, skill training, sprints and walking (walking happens everyday) Any time possible, I train/move/play outdoors. I also strive to be inefficient (e.g., take the stairs instead of the elevator or park far away from the store) and drive up my NEAT; I think this is much more critical than ‘athletes’ realize.
Steve: Can you tell us a little more about what you mean by NEAT and why it is important to be inefficient?
Brian Hunter: NEAT is important for two main reasons:1) modern life is super convenient and efficient—you are moving and burning way less calories than you think
2) As you lower your calories and put yourself in a caloric deficit (we all must obey the law of thermodynamics to lose weight), the body will adjust down movement incrementally to offset the deficit. This can be unconscious and insidious (such as moving more slowly or even blinking less).
You just aren’t moving as much as you think and, when you do move, often it is in ways in which you are practiced and efficient (minimizing metabolic demand). NEAT can be (is?) the crucial difference maker in weight loss/revealing muscle but also in improving overall health—movement is medicine!
Some NEAT tips: 1) frequent, shorter training sessions throughout the day. I keep an informal log to track total time. 2) along with your fave movement patterns, slot in new stuff. Your lack of expertise and inefficiencies will create a higher metabolic demand. 3) make your life inefficient as possible. Stand (aim for at least 3 hours a day), skip elevators for stairs, walk anywhere you can. This requires a little thought and creativity, as it flies in the face of modern life. Approached correctly, this can become something of a game—‘x amount of pushups at every bathroom break’ etc. 4) back to walking—convinced this is king. Establish a base of walking throughout the week, with a priority of 10 minute walks post meal. These mitigate blood sugar, control blood pressure and partition nutrients to the muscles being used, making the calories less likely to be stored as fat. Another benefit—improved sleep. Post meal walks are almost a magic pill; I cannot promote this concept strongly enough. Hat tip to Stan Efferding—the guy is a meathead version of Mark Sisson. His ‘rhino rants’, which are 10 minute videos on youtube, are life changing, no hyperbole. 5) as your weight drops and your metabolism drops, consider adding the weight/metabolic load back with a weighted vest as you do your ADL’s (raking or vacuuming with a 40 lb vest is no joke). Also, of course, consider doing some of your walking with a weighted vest. 6) train (and move) with focused intensity. Lowering calories and upping NEAT often results in reduced intensity (the body is very clever in its attempts to reduce caloric expenditure and the brain is complicit— ‘I’m too tired and hungry to move intensely’). Don’t listen; move with bad intentions! I like to imagine what I’m doing is acutely crucial to my survival—if I’m sprinting, I’m chasing dinner, etc.
So, NEAT means moving frequently, with focused intensity, standing a lot, walking a lot (always 10 min. post meals), doing things you suck at, and, put simply, adopting the mantra of being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Steve: What is your diet like? Have you discovered any important rules in the area of diet that pertain specifically to people over 40 that have helped you succeed or make progress?
Brian Hunter: Not sure how different the rules are for my age group but I prioritize protein. 1 g per lb of bodyweight, minimum. I seem to perform better with lower carbs and generally keep them between 40 and 60g net per day. Fat fluctuates but I generally keep it moderate and rarely eat over 1800 calories, total, spread out over 8 hours and 3 ‘meals’. Lunch is kinda big and the other two are much more modest. Nutrient dense whole foods will make you feel good, but no magic food/ratio/fatty acid/pill will cut weight and reveal muscle if you are over eating. I still go through periods of tracking calories/macros in order to monitor myself. Every time I do it, I’m surprised to find out I’m eating more than I need. I think people over 50 need to be more comfortable being uncomfortable*—it’s okay to continue to challenge yourself and continue to push yourself. Comfort wants you dead!
Steve: What do you think are some of the key guidelines or rules that are necessary for someone over 40 to be successful in fitness and health? What things do you do differently now compared to what you would have done when you were in your 20s and 30s?
Brian Hunter: I preface this with the confession that I have no original thoughts; I am imitating others who seem to be getting results I want (regardless of age) and then titrating based on my N = 1. The biggest shift for me has been mindset; I now look at my lifestyle through the lens of ‘will this improve my movement and/or cognition?’ If you can think and move, you have all you need to happily navigate life and people seem to surrender these qualities too easily as they age (I clearly see this pattern in people much younger than myself). *
I no longer lift heavy weights (although I see others older than myself do so very successfully) but I sprint, do weighted muscle ups and engage in other activities considered ‘risky’ for my demographic. Oh well; if you never challenge your limitations,
you are incrementally diminishing. Strength, power, speed, mobility, balance and coordination are all considered as I choose movement patterns. I also pursue creative outlets and challenge my brain to stay young. Music is my primary outlet but, as with movement, choices are endless.
Steve: Fitness-wise, where do you see yourself and what do you see yourself doing 10 years from now? 20 years from now?
Brian Hunter: My goal is always incremental improvement. ‘Future me’ is leaner, more balanced, more efficient and continuously challenged mentally and physically. Thinking I will do ‘it’ better gets me out of bed every morning so I can’t imagine not having that mindset, simply based on age.
Steve: What are your current fitness goals?
Brian Hunter: currently working to lose all baby fat. Once I’m satisfied with my body-fat %, I plan to add 5 to 8 lbs of muscle, simply as an “FU” to sarcopenia. Also working to straighten up “banana back” on my hand stand, nailing a 15 second front lever, and various weighted muscle up permutations. Really enjoying sprints more and more. Becoming fascinated with carrying, tossing heavy stuff.
Steve: What are your biggest challenges presently in terms of health and fitness? Any plans in place to overcome those challenges?
Brian Hunter: My biggest challenge is mindset; I have to constantly remind myself to not ‘act my age!’ The niggles I have at this age seem suspiciously similar to random impediments I’ve had at any decade of my life. I am certainly more mindful of volume and regulating intensity***. I’m also very happy to avoid injuries so I try to pay attention to the feedback my body is giving me.
Steve: Who are some athletes or role models who inspire you? Why?
Brian Hunter: Mark Sisson, Al and Danny Kavadlo, Wim Hoff, Yuri Marmerstein, Stan Efferding, Paul Carter, Alex Honold, Shawn Baker, Robb Wolf, Kyle Weiger, David Goggins, Mark Bell. I simply find these people fascinating and inspiring in one way or another. I particularly like the fact that they do not necessarily agree with one another.
Steve: Where can we find you? Web site, email, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter?
Brian Hunter: IG @coastalcalisthenics*