Josh Hewett is an incredibly accomplished personal trainer, coach and the author of Get Lean, Get Strong and Get Mental. Josh is also the founder of Team Barbarian Strength Athletics. Josh’s training methods focus strongly on providing knowledge on how to train and how to use nutrition to achieve your fitness goals. He is able to take this sort of approach thanks to his degree in Kinesiology and a plethora of personal training certifications. Through his work, Josh has had the opportunity to train members of the National Ballet of Canada, Shooting Stars Soccer and the Ontario Powerlifting Federation.
When did your start working out?
Let’s begin at the beginning!
As a teenager I was a little insecure about how skinny I was, so at 16 years old I started lifting weights to put some meat on my bones. I was obsessed with the muscular physiques of the superheroes in the comics I read, and I was a huge fan of action movie stars like Arnold and Stallone. That was a big part of my motivation when I first started working out. I had one of those old Weider gym sets in the basement of my parent’s house, with the plastic covered concrete weights, the one inch diameter bar, and a flimsy adjustable bench, but that was all I needed to get addicted to lifting weights!
I would rip out the latest mass building program from a copy of Muscle Mag, Flex, or Muscle & Fitness magazines, take my shirt off and hit the weights, taking time to flex in front of my mirror between sets of course. Later I gained enough confidence to join a local Gold’s Gym and really started going after those gains. When I started lifting at 16 years old I barely weighed 150 lbs soaking wet, at 6 feet tall. By the time I was 18 years old I weighed over 185 lbs, and today I remain fairly lean at around 200 lbs body weight.
Over the years my reasons for working out have changed and it has become an integral part of my lifestyle.
How has working out impacted your life?
Working out has impacted my life in so many ways. It has had a major influence on improving my self-confidence. It’s given me more energy, strength and stamina. It has enabled me to participate in any physical activity I choose and connect with so many amazing people who share similar interests and lifestyles.
Strength training has also helped me successfully compete in powerlifting, strongman, and physique competitions over the years, with several wins and top three finishes. Today strength training is my fountain of youth… it helps me look and feel younger so that I can continue to be a strong role model for my daughter and for my clients.
Most importantly I’m incredibly fortunate to have been able to transform my passion for the strength and fitness lifestyle into a career that I love.
The car swerved onto the shoulder and rolled over three times before landing in the ditch, I was thrown from the vehicle
What adversity have you had to overcome as an athlete?
This lifestyle has given me many amazing experiences, but it hasn’t always been a smooth ride. There have also been some heavy obstacles to conquer along the way.
One of the biggest adversities I’ve had a to overcome as an athlete occurred at 17 years old when I was involved in a serious rollover car accident. On the way to Montreal for what was meant to be a fantastic weekend with friends, the tire blew in my friend’s car that we were traveling in. I was in the back seat without my seat belt on. The car swerved onto the shoulder and rolled over three times before landing in the ditch, I was thrown from the vehicle. When I hit the ground (thankfully in the ditch, not in traffic!) I suffered 3 compression fractures of my lumbar vertebrae (lower back).
To this day I credit the strength training I was doing for saving my life… even the doctor agreed that it was my muscular conditioning that prevented a more serious injury and nerve damage.
In the years that followed there were other obstacles I had to overcome, such as a torn ACL from Judo training and a torn bicep tendon from tire flipping in a strongman competition, but I’ve been fortunate enough to fully recover from everything that the iron game has thrown at me. It has taken me a long time but I recently came to the realization that I needed to change my style of training and competitive activities if I wanted to remain injury free.
How often do you train and for how long?
In the past my training was focused primarily on building strength, whereas in the last few years I’ve changed my training to focus more on physique transformation. My current goal is to optimize aesthetics by building muscle (hypertrophy) and improving body composition. My programs are higher frequency and volume, and my workouts involve slower controlled repetitions with strict form and attention to strongly contracting the target muscle groups. I train 3 to 5 days per week and my workouts typically last just over an hour each. I usually use some form of supersets, alternating from an antagonist (push-pull) superset program for 4 to 6 weeks, to an agonist (ie: pre-exhaust) superset program for a month or so. One of the benefits of my current style of training is that I have less joint discomfort and I look and feel better than ever.
Avoid Passive Stretching
What are some keys to working out intensely and avoiding injury?
Don’t get me wrong, I still train with as much intensity as ever. But as my focus and goals have changed so has my style of training. I realized I could still train hard while avoiding injuries. I found that one of the keys to avoiding injury was to slow the hell down. Speed kills. By using strict, controlled repetitions with a slower tempo I could focus on the FEEL of each rep, establish a better mind-muscle connection, and get a strong muscle contraction with less risk of injury. Another huge factor for avoiding injury is to adopt a proper warm up routine. I suggest using a progressive dynamic warm up (such as high knees, butt kicks, arm circles, leg swings, etc) as well as isometric “activation” exercises such as planks, glute bridge, prone thoracic extension (upper back ‘arch’), and “supermans”. I also strongly recommend avoiding passive stretching, which can lead to increased joint instability and risk of injury. Think “stability” rather than just “flexibility”; mobility is better improved actively NOT passively. For more info on this check out my article on stretching here.
I started choosing exercises that allowed me to really feel the target muscle group and resulted in less joint discomfort. While there’s no doubt that big basic exercises like the squat, deadlift, bench press, and push press are effective movements, if you find these cause you back, knee, or shoulder pain, there’s nothing wrong with choosing alternative exercises or angles. For example, you might be better off using dumbbells vs barbells for certain exercises. Or perhaps you get a better muscular contraction and less joint pain using machines instead of free weights for some movements. Or maybe changing the angle of an exercise to a slight incline or decline makes the exercise more effective for you.
There are no universally perfect exercises for every individual. You need to assess each exercise you choose based on risk versus reward depending on your goals. Ask yourself if your program design and exercise selection is aligned with your specific training objective, and assess whether there are safer, more effective strategies for reaching those goals.
Train your brain as well as your body
What is your number #1 fitness tip?
Looking back on my journey into the world of fitness and training it’s been an awesome adventure full of fun, self-improvement, experimentation and discovery. It would be tough to select just one main piece of advice from everything I’ve learned. While I stand by my suggestion to avoid injury by focusing on slow, controlled training and using active vs passive mobility work, that would still place a distant second on my list of “top tips”.
I’d have to say my NUMBER ONE fitness tip is to remember to train your brain as well as your body. Don’t neglect your mental conditioning, which includes attention to motivation, attitude, drive, willpower, focus, goal-setting, determination, dreams, and beliefs. I’ve discovered that your body will follow where your mind leads. Even the best diet and training plan in the world will do you little good if your mindset isn’t right.
Lorne’s Take – Josh has so many great points its hard to choose one. I really like his points about slowing down your rep speed “use strict, controlled repetitions with a slower tempo … focus on the FEEL of each rep, establish a better mind-muscle connection, and get a strong muscle contraction with less risk of injury.”