Interview With Celebrity Personal Trainer Russ Howe
As well as being a fantastic trainer with some great tips and insights on training and nutrition, Russ was also a top guy and an absolute pleasure to talk to.
I hope you guys enjoy this interview and find it as interesting and useful as we did, it’s an absolute corker!
Hi Russ, thanks for chatting with us today.
To kick things off, can you tell us a little bit more about when you first start working out – and why?
I was nine years old when I first experienced training.
I had a condition with my left hip bone called Perthes disease which caused one hip to “crumble”.
The doctors at the time told me it was possible that I’d never walk again and quite frankly that scared the hell out of me.
I remember laying in a hospital bed, nine years old, watching Italia ’90 and not knowing what to do.
Thankfully, my mum and granddad helped me get through it, strengthening my leg gradually and after much work I was able to walk properly.
Back then of course I wasn’t training for anything other than healing my hip so it was all very specific.
The first time I tried training “for looks” was when I was 17 and, like most people, it was originally to pick up girls!
When did you decide to start taking it more seriously?
I trained on and off until I was in my early twenties and for a long time I was just going through the motions with it.
At that stage I picked up Joe Weider’s Ultimate Bodybuilding, and just loved the way there was explanation and science behind it.
It was the first time I started getting any results and also the first time I truly realised there were many different principles and ways to train.
Until then I’d often heard contradicting advice from big guys and wonder who was right and who was wrong.
Tell us a little bit more about your current approach/philosophy to training.
Do you favour volume training or shorter high-intensity workouts?
What is your typical number of sets per body part?
Actually, I have always loved high volume, high intensity workouts.
Not circuit training with pink, fluffy dumbbells – but rather lifting as heavy as you can and shooting for 20-30 reps on some sets.
Every workout is a war you can’t really win.
One of my pet peeves as a personal trainer is when I hear people saying, “Oh, so you should do light weights and more reps to tone up, right?”
Hell no, I’d never advise doing “light” weights!
When you reach your target number of reps you should be feeling as though your muscle is about to explode.
That’s the only way high rep training is going to work.
I train one, sometimes two, body parts per session and each workout lasts roughly an hour.
If I’m working with a client, of course, this has to be tailored to suit their ability.
But with me, and knowing what works for me, I like to go to war.
Here’s a sample arm workout:
I like to couple that approach with low rest periods to maximize fat loss.
This allows you to turn up the fat burning aspect massively and, in some respects, your weight training is your cardio.
As a trainer my core audience of clients is usually either athletes or people looking for fat loss, so this approach is highly effective for what they want.
Are there any unique exercises in your current workout regimes?
While the staples of any decent routine lie in the proven, old school basics (bench press, deadlift, squat, bent over row), I like to call on a few exercises which don’t necessarily get the attention they deserve.
Wide Grip Barbell Upright Row
Rhis allows you to get the benefits of an ultra-heavy Lateral Raise and it’s great for hitting the medial delts.
Be sure to go lighter than you would for regular Upright Row, though.
Incline Prone EZ Preacher Curl
One of the very best exercises for giving you a great “pump”.
Lying prone on an incline bench with an EZ bar hanging down under the bench, try performing curls with this angle and it’s a whole new world of pain.
You can really focus on squeezing out every last muscle fibre during the contraction at the top of each rep.
This is a great addition to any serious arm workout, and is best performed with a moderately light weight and quite high repetitions.
Neutral Grip Dumbbell Skullcrusher
Lots of guys develop elbow pain going heavy on regular skullcrushers due to the unnatural positioning of our forearms while we do this exercise.
One of the best ways to eliminate that is to use dumbbells and use a neutral (palms facing each other) grip.
Also, I like to ensure maximum resistance by switching my starting position – instead of starting over your chest, move your arms back slightly and start from over your head.
Suddenly, gravity is working against you for the entire rep instead of just 75% of it.
High Incline Treadmill Lunges
The perfect finisher to any brutal leg workout.
This acts as a great way to finish your legs off and you don’t need any weights.
Simply set a treadmill to it’s highest possible incline, keep the speed at around 1-1.5 miles per hour and lunge up it for 10 minutes.
What does a typical week’s workout schedule look like for you?
Monday is Leg Day.
I know it’s “universal chest day”- but try doing legs on a Monday and you’ll never go back.
Tuesday is Biceps/Triceps/Forearms.
Wednesday is Shoulders and Abs.
Thursday is Chest and Back.
Friday is Legs and Abs
Legs twice a week – it’s my favourite muscle group to train.
Legs are usually an afterthought or totally overlooked, but they are the muscle group which hold the most potential due to the fact they’re our biggest muscle group.
It hurts like a motherfucker because it’s full of potential.
Hit them hard and hit them regularly.
Then I take Saturday and Sunday off.
Do you have a specific approach for all males who want to gain as muscle mass as quickly possible, or do you design each programme based on the individual’s personal requirements?
Each programme needs to be specific.
Although many people have similar long-term goals (build muscle, lose fat) they often have very different short-term goals or weak points they’d like to develop.
As your experience grows writing programmes for different individuals, you begin to work with a loose template and tweak certain aspects to suit the individual.
Are there any exercises you advise against?
Deadlift if it’s done incorrectly!
It’s either the best exercise in the whole gym, or your worst enemy.
Have you tried any workout/nutrition plans and later thought, “What the f**k was I thinking!?”
To be honest, doing that will teach you more than any college or qualification.
I mean, you can learn about zero carb diets all you want, but until you’ve experienced it you don’t truly know what horrors lie ahead.
Also, like most guys, I definitely went through the “every day is chest and arms day” phase at the start!
How do you get pumped up for a big workout?
I’m not a big believer in pre-workout supplements.
I’ve trained for long enough now to simply get in there and get the job done.
As a busy parent with limited time to train, I know if I don’t work hard enough I’ll feel like I wasted my time and that’ll bug me all day long.
Of course, the Rocky IV soundtrack always helps!
How much cardio do you do?
Or is it all about the weights?
These days my weights act as a form of cardio by keeping the intensity level so high, but it’s definitely a good idea to perform some dedicated cardiovascular sessions as well.
I like to throw in two 15 minute HIIT workouts throughout the course of a week.
The activity varies depending on where I am.
If I’m at work in my gym and it’s quiet I’ll jump on a stationary bike, or if I’m outside I’ll go for hill sprints.
As a personal trainer, what is the biggest mistake you encounter in those trying to get a better physique?
People neglecting their diet completely.
You are in the gym for an hour, maybe an hour and a half, per day and then you have 22 hours outside of the gym.
If you want to get in good shape, what you do in those 22 hours will make a big difference.
What do you do – and what do you advise – to break through plateaus?
As soon as I hit a plateau I like to switch everything up.
Small changes will make a big difference, so I’ll experiment with new grips on exercises, different rep ranges or even performing my standard workout routine in reverse.
Ever tried squatting last on leg day?
It’s a killer!
What is your approach to nutrition?
This is the area that holds most people back.
After a while, your training becomes fun and you start feeling bad if you miss a session.
Nutrition, on the other hand, is something which many people find really challenging.
The ironic thing is you don’t need to live super clean, super strict to get results.
Most of my clients still enjoy regular cheat meals and don’t count calories.
It just takes a bit of planning to see what works for your body.
If I’m going for a fat loss plan, I like to set protein intake at around 1.5 grams per lb of body weight, coupled with a fat intake of around 0.5 grams per lb.
Then I play with carbohydrates to see what the person’s carb tolerance is like.
Some people seem to put fat on just by looking at a cake, whereas others can eat lots and notice no negative effects.
So I have clients shoot for around 1 gram of carbs per lb of body weight and note their results.
After a few weeks I’ll reduce carbs to 0.75 grams, and finish off a few weeks later with 0.5 grams.
Usually this type of progressive diet plan will work for most individuals, and the high protein/high fat intake will ensure minimum lean muscle loss along the way too, but like I say it’s a matter of learning the individual’s tolerance to carbs.
In the past I have worked with clients where we’ve reverse dieted their way up to 300g carbs per day and, combined with HIIT, their body has adapted to it to the point where they are not adding fat on that carb intake, so decreasing it to 250g per day is like a cutting diet for them.
What is a typical daily meal plan for you?
I follow a similar macronutrient split to the one above. I aim for around 1.5g protein, 0.5g fat and 1g carbs per lb of body weight.
Plus I’m getting in plenty of water, too.
I also like to start the day with a big breakfast in order to maximize fat loss.
Any cheat meals in there?
What’s your favourite?
A cheat meal is a must in any diet plan.
It stops you from going crazy and it’s always nice to shock the body.
But my rule is “treat yourself, don’t cheat yourself”.
My favourite is definitely pizza.
What’s in your supplement cupboard right now?
In the cupboard right now I have H2N Nutrition Diet Whey, which is the best tasting whey protein I have ever used.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a PT?
The biggest challenge I face as a PT is getting people away from the idea that they need some kind of miracle pill or gimmick to get fit.
You squat, you deadlift, you workout hard and you eat right – it really is as simple as that.
Standing out as a trainer can be quite difficult when you believe in those things, because people often want to believe it’s more complex, or the idea of some kind of ‘next big thing’ gimmick/miracle pill is more sexy.
But you should never sell out.
After a while when you’ve built up a reputation and a base of client results, you’ll get the success you deserve on your own terms.
Who would you love to have as a client?
An absolute animal in the gym.
What’s the funniest/most embarrassing thing you’ve seen happen to someone in the gym?
If someone falls off a treadmill or something like that I’ll usually run over to help and you kinda help the person get through it ’cause I know it’s embarrassing.
But there was one instance where I didn’t feel sorry for the person.
This guy was a real ego-trainer and was telling his friend how he could outlift anybody in the gym.
No matter how big you think you are, there is always someone out there bigger or stronger and it definitely pays to be humble.
He interrupted a stranger’s session to challenge him to any lift in the gym, not knowing the stranger was actually a powerlifter.
The powerlifter set up a bar for some squats.
The guy’s ego was too big to admit defeat, so he went for it and promptly visited the bathroom in his shorts, mid-rep.
You kinda want to step in and stop those situations, but in another way the guy’s ego was a little out of control and it probably did him good.
What kind of myths/broscience do you hear banded around the gym that really make you cringe?
The main one I hear in the gym is, “Women shouldn’t lift weights because they will get big and bulky muscles!”
Of course, if that were actually true, every guy would look like Rambo!
After the London Olympics last year, I had many girls wanting to get the type of lean, athletic shape of Jessica Ennis.
But when I saw them training they were often peddling aimlessly on a bike for 60 minutes while reading a celebrity magazine.
That’s because they’ve been fed this outdated myth that “cardio is for girls, weights are for boys” for years.
The look of shock on a lady’s face is priceless when she asks for a fat loss routine and sees me set up a heavy barbell for some squats.
In order to look like an athlete you need to train like one.
Who inspires you?
My kids inspire me more than anybody.
I also drew a lot of inspiration from my grandfather, Jimmy McKie, growing up.
He taught me a lot of lessons on how to behave and conduct yourself as a man, how to stay humble, how to see the good in people, that type of thing.
Training-wise, I admire anyone who sticks to their guns and backs up their approach.
People like Jim Stoppani, Layne Norton, Dave Stidolph, and Gunnar Peterson.
Any words of advice for people just starting out?
Yeah, my number one tip – don’t let yourself be bullied by “that guy”.
You know, “that guy” in almost every gym who goes around telling people that they’re “doing it all wrong” and need to follow his way.
“That guy” is a douche.
Mainly because of the closed mind he promotes to people.
Try not to take every piece of advice with the stone cold belief that it’s the “right way”.
There are thousands of different approaches to training.
That’s one of the reasons I love doing this for a living, and the human body is so complex that there are various “right ways” to get a certain result.
So when people interrupt your workout and give you unrequested contradicting advice, which will happen almost on a daily basis, it can confuse the hell out of you if you’re just starting out in the gym, and it may even make you start falsely believing that fitness is some kind of rocket science.
There are certain principles which are highly effective, yes, but ultimately it’s a game of experimentation to see what works for your own body.
“That guy” should know better, but he likes the attention.
What are you opinions on the use of steroids in bodybuilding?
It’s not something I have a real problem with, to be honest.
Although I don’t personally use them, I always ask clients whether they do, as it means you can tailor their routine better, but it’s not something which bothers me as I can definitely see why people do it.
It’s at a stage now where you’ll find it very hard to compete without using them and many bodybuilders simply see it as levelling the playing field.
There is also this false belief that using steroids means you don’t need to work hard.
Non-gym users often dismiss the achievements of bodybuilding personalities like Schwarzenegger because they used steroids, but these individuals often believe steroids to be some kind of magic pill.
Growing up I knew many guys taking steroids and none of them achieved those results.
Bottom line, you still need to put the work in.
What are your future goals?
I’ve just taken on a lot of new clients at my gym in January and online through my fitness blog so this year is going to be a busy one!
And I’ll also be releasing a series of four-week training guides via the site which focus on weak point training, the first of which (Biceps Boom) focuses on arms and is released January 27.
Well, that just about wraps it up Russ.
Thanks again for taking the time to do the interview.
It was fun, really enjoyed doing it.
Hopefully it’s been a good read!
I’d like to thank you for the opportunity, thanks to my sponsors at H2N Nutrition, truly an awesome supplement company, and thanks to those who have followed my fitness blog.
It means a lot that you guys read and enjoy my stuff, and I’ll continue putting out new content throughout the coming year!
More from Russ
If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to follow Russ on his social media profiles for more great tips on training and nutrition.
And stay tuned for more great GymTalk interviews coming soon!