We talked with Azad Singh in November, 2019.
👋 Hi! Tell us about yourself and your training
Hi to all the readers here at Bulk Hackers. I’m Azad Singh, a personal trainer from Birmingham, UK. I turned vegetarian in 2011 and further went vegan at the end of 2015. I’m not protein deficient. 😀
I have been into training for over a decade and was put into physical exercise by my father. I started out doing home workouts primarily around pushups, running shuttles up stairs and squats, now I love the lifting game.
Some of my PB’s:
- 180kg Squat
- 230kg Deadlift
- 125kg Bench Press
- 112.5kg Clean and Jerk
- 26 Pullups
- 200kg Farmers walk over 40m
Despite having visible abs for most of my life, I’ve never really been interested in competing in physique related competitions. For those of you wondering I started off at 50kg in year 9 on high school with a high metabolic rate and a gifted mid section.
I have dabbed into strength sports at the local level and have a small trophy collection, which satisfied my intrigue and efforts in my earlier years. This is probably something I will get more serious about as it’s nice to know years of applied effort have been for something other than an Instagram picture.
Being lean and athletic ever since I was in school meant I would find myself being asked fitness questions all the time. Simultaneously, I developed a passion for fitness, completing my fitness instructor and personal trainer certifications during my pursuit to be an architect at university. I graduated from Architecture school but decided to follow up with my fitness passion and help others get gains full time.
I have since run fitness social media pages with 100k followers, been an ambassador for MyProtein, I’ve been featured on Men’s Fitness magazine as well as others and I run my own blog over at AzadSinghFitness.com/blog
I’m able to separate myself from the pack in the fitness world by speaking multiple languages, being evidence based and reaching a quickly growing meat-free movement directly.
Other than fitness I love to read books. Mainly fitness ones. Right, I know that doesn’t count. I enjoy listening to Indian classical music, I enjoy playing any sport I can grasp the ruleset of and follow the UFC quite religiously.
⏱ Describe a typical day of training
Right now, I am transitioning between training routines with a focus shift to a more powerlifting based goal. I will, however, train for around 10 hours a week regardless of goal split over four or five sessions.
My training philosophy is simple, basics first. As someone who was highly active and weighed 50kg when they began exercising, I’ve had a massively difficult times gaining muscle. What I realized very quickly is progressive overload is key for someone with my body type. Focusing on compound exercises and improving my numbers seemed to get me the best results for muscle and strength.
So naturally my favourite movements and where I spend 75% of my efforts are with the big compound moves: Squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, pendlay rows, cleans, jerks, snatches, overhead pressing, bench pressing and sled work. The other 25% can be seen as the more isolated work to reach metabolic fatigue. This combination helps max out hypertrophy potential.
In many ways I feel like this way of training has been forgotten. I encourage everybody to get their best bang for the buck in the time they invest into the gym weekly by keeping reps between five and 12. By doing this you’re probably going to build some good muscle and strength.
Research does show even going up to 30 reps per set is equally as effective for hypertrophy just as eight to twelve is, however, it’s nowhere near as good for strength.
So if you stick with five to 12 reps, you’re making sure the sets don’t drag too long as well as getting two huge benefits instead of just one.
After all many, if not all of the benefits of resistance training come with strength, not just gaining an inch on the arms.
When I first began in the gym, I would just draft and copy what everyone else was doing. This meant I was doing a bodypart split without correct balance.
Of course, it meant my shoulders were wrecked within a few years. It’s from that point on I started to work the chest and upper back equally, and started to understand more about training balance.
Ever since, I’ve not had any serious injuries and I intend on keeping it that way. Longevity is a huge motivator (as well as the increased lifts and physique).
Right now, I train alone and I enjoy it. I will get the workout I’m doing to the exact percentages up on my phone and blindly follow it in the morning first thing (around 5.am.) whilst listening to podcasts.
I’m a huge fan of Joe Rogan Experience. When I’m lifting super heavy I might switch up to some music that creates that fire we need at certain times, otherwise I thoroughly enjoy learning and being entertained during my workouts.
My guilty admission is that I barely do cardio. This is something that’s now limiting my strength training so I’m addressing it as I write this. Addressing this is as simple as 3 x 30 min sessions at a slow and steady pace weekly. How I’ll know I’ve made progress is seeing my resting heart rate come down.
Coming back to the basics first. As a qualified personal trainer, I see many people in the gym who can’t do pushups, yet are attempting bench presses, people who can’t deadlift with proper technique but are trying cleans.
I believe everything should be treated seriously and everyone should have the ability to do a deep bodyweight squat, pushups with proper technique and a deadlift from the ground without pulling or hurting anything.
From there you can layer up other movement patters and exercises and get as creative as one wishes. There’s literally thousands of exercises out there.
👊 How do you keep going and push harder?
Goals. Whenever I reflect on why training has become monotonous or why I’m feeling low, it’s usually because my progress has halted or that my goals aren’t defined enough. I think it’s important to have different phases of training with different goals in mind.
Trying to go a decade of purely hypertrophy training probably would have bored me to the point of not entering a gym again. By switching in strength training, strongman, Olympic lifts, kettlebell workouts and very very limited grappling I’ve managed to always enjoy the process of improvement for over a decade so far.
A good recent example is focusing on improving my Olympic lifts for 30 weeks straight on a dedicated program. It’s not that I’m now bored, it’s just that I want to focus exclusively on my big three lifts again, which are squat, bench and deadlift. With a backbone of hypertrophy of course.
The key in my opinion is switching things up. If you have a phase where you’re focused on increasing your squat and your overhead press great. Maybe next phase you can focus on bringing up a lagging deadlift and bench press.
All within the framework of a properly designed program which works everything anyway. You just focus with slightly more attention to certain areas.
Bodybuilders do the same thing. I could look at myself and see I need more calves, delts and mid traps. Unless I prioritise these areas, they’ll stay weak links. Especially calves. #TeamNoCalves
My best tip is to treat the gym as what it is – an improvement centre. It’s literally a building or space with equipment set up to help you improve. Sometimes this means we need to admit there’s something that needs improving in the first place.
Whether we need to lose some weight, gain some muscle in the arms, get a bigger deadlift, prepare for a marathon or rehab an injury, it can all happen in the gym, once we address there’s a need and then plan to make a change.
I don’t really align myself with the #beastmode crew. I think we’re incredibly lucky we get to spend time doing what we enjoy in the gym and I’ll probably be doing some form of exercise forever, but it isn’t hardwork.
I don’t need to continually push myself. It’s voluntary self improvement. I just have goals and I do what’s necessary to reach them, reps and reps. I also happen to really enjoy putting reps on the board, the physique gains are a bonus too. 😀
🏆 How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Right now, I’m getting back into proper training after around two months on and off. My goals are to continue to get stronger across the powerlifts and Olympic lifts whilst staying injury free and enjoying lifting.
If I could start over I would focus on strength training from day one. I spent three or four years worrying about pumps and trying every supplement under the sun without understanding proper programming and the value of the compound lifts. I probably would have got properly into weightlifting. That sport breeds beasts.
I follow Hybrid performance method’s routines. The one I followed for the previous six months was targeted at increasing my squat, bench, deadlift, snatch and clean and jerk.
A hybrid program, which also has plenty of accessory lifts for bodybuilding. This has relieved me of the stress of designing my own programs which I’ve done for the better part of a decade.
Plus it’s nice to go in blind and be coached. I trust the program and I get it done with a layer of my own autoregulation on top. Plus I get to understand the experience my clients go through.
I plan to continue on my way to my natural potential both for muscle mass and strength. I’m probably close, but I would love to hit a 200kg squat, 250kg deadlift, 150kg bench.
I’ll probably have to move up a weight class or two in order to do so but I’m ready to do that. The abs won’t be missed.
🤕 How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?
I take my ability to stay injury-free very seriously. From the little stuff like getting a full nights sleep, to the necessary prehab and accessory work to deloads. It’s all very important.
The biggest issue I’ve had is rotator cuff issues and clicky knees. Barely anything really. Both of which I attacked head on. Tons and tons of external shoulder rotation work later and a better understanding of muscle balance and proper training I have healthy joints.
I try to be mindful of micronutrient intake, especially as a vegan and eat plenty of fruits, veg, nuts, seeds and pulses. I also happen to think a good sleeping routine and correctly adjusted training volume is far more valuable than most supplements marketed as recovery aids.
Most of recovery is not pushing too hard in the weights room, sleeping enough, eating sensibly and meeting protein requirements. Once this is done a recovery 5000 supplement is nothing more than an expensive placebo.
I’m a huge fan of yoga, the sauna and foam rolling although I don’t do enough of any of them.
🍎 How is your diet and what supplements do you use?
I’m a vegan. I will typically eat between 3 and 4k calories daily and try to keep my protein intake above 100g even on an off day. During proper tracked periods or when I’m training I will usually be 140g – 180g protein daily.
Vegan protein powders help here (I like Reflex Vegan Protein, Sci-Mx V-Gain Protein, and Myprotein Vegan Blend), but living in the UK there’s no shortage of vegan brands out there aiding my protein intake.
Beans, lentils, soya milk, tofu, nuts, meat alternatives and protein powders probably make up the majority of my daily protein intake. Bean based spaghetti, lentil based pastas, grains, seeds, seitan, nutritional yeast and cocoa all help too.
The only supplements I take all the time are creatine monohydrate, caffeine, vitamin D3 and vitamin B12. I will take Myprotein beta alanine on and off around training. I usually just go to Myprotein and pick up the raw ingredients and blend on my own for pre workouts.
I think macro tracking is overrated and even with my clients will tend to recommend calorie and protein targets only. If the client is ready to take this one step further then a fibre goal is a great idea too.
Fats and carbs can be adjusted for preference and taste but for me personally it can be difficult to make up so many calories when bulking so I will usually go quite high with fat (100g+) and that allows me to keep carbs around 300-500g which is easier to manage than 600g carbs and all the fiber that comes along with that. Trust me, that isn’t fun.
I tend to enjoy intuitive eating and flexible dieting. It works well for me. I’d like to think the typical meals I eat are high in protein and healthy and I don’t restrict myself from ‘junk’ foods at all.
You can’t afford to when vegan and a hardgainer with a high metabolic rate. I just ensure I’ve met my protein target and had a decent amount of fruits and vegetables at the very least.
I don’t encourage cheat days for myself and even with my clients. I encourage the 80:20 approach. Eating 80% well and enjoying 20% of calories daily. It works much better for adherence. I don’t feel I crave anything as I don’t restrict myself from anything.
👍 What has inspired and motivated you?
I love Dan John, he’s an incredible author and famous strength coach. His books are just some of many many books and fitness magazines I have at home. My personal favourite of his so far is Never Let Go: A Philosophy of Lifting, Living and Learning.
I would say I’m reading something on fitness daily, whether from scientific journals, books, magazines, blogs or my idols social media profiles. I think it’s important to absorb knowledge from wherever possible and enjoy staying up to date with fitness science.
In honesty I’ve never really searched for motivation. I’ve just been lucky to understand from an early age it’s important to by physically active and I just happened to grow into loving lifting. I know it’s cliché but habits over motivation everyday.
For me it’s just become the norm to wake up in the morning and get ready for the gym before I tackle my day. I thoroughly enjoy it, plus I don’t feel the same when I miss it.
I was heavily encouraged from my father who used to love exercise and wrestilng from his youth. I was also inspired by my cousin, a natural bodybuilder and some college friends who helped me get into strength.
I love listening to podcasts with high level athletes and understanding their mindsets for training. It’s just something that needs to be done. Like going to work daily.
✏️ Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?
My first tip would be to have an open mind. When I began training, I was so closed minded and ignored what some personal trainers in my gym would suggest just out of ego that I lift more than them or look better. Now years on I can understand the wisdom in their advice. We all grow out of that phase.
Advice for beginners – spend equal time learning the big movements as you do getting a pump.
Advice for experienced lifters – glutes are the secret powerhouse for the lower body, strong and stable shoulders are the powerhouse for the upper body. They both also are key to longevity and pain free lifting.
🤝 Are you taking on clients right now?
I’m currently taking on clients. I provide highly personalized plans to anyone worldwide and the vast majority of the people I work with are vegetarians (although not exclusively).
I pride myself on being evidence based and ensuring I’m up to date with the scientific literature so I can get people the gains they’re after.
I’ve helped hundreds of people worldwide lose fat, get stronger, gain muscle and improve their chosen sporting performance too.
I’ve got five years of experience with online coaching and even longer with personal training.
You can find out more on my website azadsinghfitness.com/coaching where you can see my clients testimonials too.
📝 Where can we learn more about you?
My website: azadsinghfitness.com
My Instagram: @azads1ngh
My Youtube channel: @s1ngho