by Kaetlin Zink
At first glance, you’d find it hard to believe that HAC staff member Ian Harding, triathlete and HAC triathlon coach, dropped 100 pounds in just one year.
In 2014, Ian came to HAC as a lifeguard and later became an aquatics instructor. He came to the club looking for a fresh start. He wasn’t happy at his old job, and he wanted a change in his career and his life overall.
What sparked Ian’s transformation was the access he’d been granted to the state-of-the-art fitness facility as a HAC staff member. He decided to text a buddy of his, an athletic trainer, for the best-recommended training program, and he’s been fully immersed in healthy living ever since.
The Transformation Process
Ian admitted that making changes to his dietary plan was difficult when first getting started. Before deciding to lose the weight, he enjoyed eating pizza, fries, and cheeseburgers. But early on, Ian realized he needed to be willing to make sacrifices if he was going to be successful — which meant eating those tasty fried foods less, and eating whole, natural foods more.
Ian began doing things like routinely tracking his caloric intake for the day, and making simple swaps, like replacing fried chicken and fries with grilled chicken, brown rice, and veggies. He even stopped having sweet teas and sodas altogether. As a coffee lover, making the decision to drink his coffee black by cutting out all creamers and sweeteners cold turkey was especially hard.
This also meant sometimes having to sacrifice going out with friends or going out to dinner. “I believe that balance is important, but in order to have balance,” Ian says, “you do need to sacrifice things from time to time in order to achieve your larger goals.”
Another challenge Ian faced was having to deal with people who would pass judgment about the different food choices, or substitutions, he would make to stay on a healthy track.
“It can be difficult to explain to people why you’re making the choices you are at first,” he says. “There can be people who laugh or even downplay what you’re trying to do. I had a long road ahead of me when I first started, and people were quick to remind me how far I had to go. Some would say that making ‘silly little changes’ wouldn’t work, but they did.”
While we can sometimes let other people’s opinions get in the way, Ian says the key is to always have the bigger goal in mind and to remember that the people who support you will continue to support you no matter what.
Keeping his trainer friend up-to-date with progress (or lack thereof) afforded Ian a sense of accountability. When he encountered stunted progress, he knew he could rely on his friend to recommend new exercises and others changes to ensure advancement.
To lose weight and build strength toward the beginning, Ian stuck to utilizing different kinds of workout machines at HAC — which worked for a while.
After using the machines for a few months, however, his body started to adapt to the usual routine. While the machines were successful in building Ian’s strength, the weight stopped coming off after a certain point. “I would weigh in about once a week or so, and when I saw the scale stay still for the first time, I was destroyed,” he recalls. “I felt like I was working and working but it wasn’t paying off. Now looking back, it was just a sign that I needed to switch up what I was doing and make a few changes.”
To change things up, he asked his friend if he could start implementing some free weight exercises for more advanced lifts. When he got the okay from his training buddy, that’s when he found a new exercise program on BodyBuilding.com to start following.
In addition to diversifying his workout plan, he also made dietary changes which really helped shed the last few pounds. For Ian, this meant cutting out all processed foods or eliminating pretty much everything that came from a box or bag. Even though he experienced a few more plateaus along the way, each time he had the knowledge and willpower to make the changes and keep going. As Ian says, “This is something you gain along the way, and although the first time around is a tough pill to swallow, you get better as time goes on, as with anything.”
Training for Races
Enrolling in races is a great way for Ian to stay motivated. “Not only does it force me to properly prepare and train, but it also shows what I’m capable of,” he explains.
In preparation for upcoming races, Ian spends anywhere between six to eight hours per week training depending on the race’s duration; usually an hour each day from Monday through Thursday, and three hours on Saturday.
In the peak of Ian’s training season, workouts during the week are centered on building speed and power. This is when you’ll find Ian in what he calls the “pain cave” (spare room in his house), with the music blaring, doing runs on repeat, or exerting maximal effort on the bike. These workouts are usually shorter, lasting between five and twelve minutes, at a high-intensity level. Swim workouts are generally the same, ranging anywhere from 100 to 400 yards, requiring high effort.
The weekends are all about low and slow exertion. These days are long, typically consisting of two and a half to three hours of biking and an hour and a half of running while focusing on keeping a low heart rate and increasing stamina.
This specific training routine, Ian notes, usually spans the course of just a few months prior to the date of an important upcoming race. All other months are focused on building endurance, as doing so is helpful in preventing injury and maintaining food form. Ian cautions against training for too long at those high, race-like intensities because it can increase the likelihood of injury, and even lead to burnout.
Ian’s diet plan while training is fairly lean. For breakfast, he typically has either a protein shake or yogurt; for lunch, either a salad or chicken with brown rice; and for dinner, zucchini noodles with spaghetti sauce, salad, beans, veggies, or sweet potatoes. If he has a lighter option for lunch, he will usually choose a carb-based dinner, and vice versa.
On weeks where he is in heavy training mode, working out for five to six hours over two consecutive days and burning off tons of calories, he will allow himself a few well-deserved cheat days. It’s all about moderation!
Ian recently took part in the USA Triathlon National Championship. While he did not place, he still had a ton of fun and plans on signing up for another race soon.
Looking Back & Moving Forward
Though he encountered some obstacles along his path to weight loss, he emphasized that the most challenging part surprisingly came after the fact, when he had to keep the weight off on his own: “It’s easy to stay on track when you have someone holding you accountable for the choices you make, but when you continue the journey on your own, it can quickly turn into a slippery slope; it’s easy to slip out of ordinary routine, lose control, and lose that sense of accountability.”
As for advice he would give to those facing a similar struggle to health, Ian stresses the importance of keeping goals in mind as motivation and training with someone on a consistent basis who has vast experience and knowledge in the field.
Today, Ian is a full-time Account Executive at a pharmacy and part-time coaches triathletes here at HAC. Although he’s already lost a commendable amount of weight, his fitness journey is nowhere near the finish line. Having fallen in love with this new lifestyle, he is continuously setting and attaining new goals for himself.