Eight years before he had the chiseled physique you see now, Andre Crews was like most guys: an average Joe who wanted more out of life and his body.
By day he was a banker poring over financials at PNC’s Pittsburgh headquarters, and by night he was a party animal with a taste for Jameson Irish whiskey. Here and there he’d squeeze in a workout or a run, but his body — at 200 pounds, the same weight he is now — was more flab than muscle.
That all changed in 2010, when Crews decided to ditch the desk job. “I wasn’t happy doing banking,” he says. After a stint of bartending, he found his true calling as a trainer. Now he’s in the best shape of his life and co-owns a New Jersey CrossFit box called 150 Bay. Plus, at 31, Crews is the reigning champion of the Men’s Health Open fitness challenge. Here’s his advice for other average Joes.
1. Make S.M.A.R.T. Goals
This acronym — a vestige of Crews’s business days — stands for “specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and timely.” Focus on small goals you can quantify. Crews started his fitness journey with the directionless goal of “getting ripped” as he followed a friend into endurance runs. But it wasn’t until he chased 1-rep max goals in the weight room that his body started changing. Set goals that keep you accountable to your mission. Don’t make vague promises to yourself like “I’m going to work out more.” Instead, says Crews, “try, ‘I’ll go to the gym Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:30 a.m. every week for the next 12 weeks.’ ” Plug a workout schedule into your planner. Then stick to it.
2. Kill Bad Habits Slowly
You’ll likely need to upgrade your diet and exercise routine to get the body you want. Just don’t rush it. In his banking days, Crews threw back brews at the bar six nights a week. He knew he couldn’t keep doing that, so he first nixed drinking Sunday through Wednesday and partied the other days. Two full years later, he was down to drinking on Friday and Saturday. By 2014, it was only on special occasions. “After a while, it feels good to not wake up hung over every Saturday and Sunday,” he says.
3. Get Certified
Even if you don’t want to work as a personal trainer, taking a certification course can yield huge benefits. “To have people who live and breathe fitness explain it to you will help you connect the dots physically and mentally,” says Crews. It’ll challenge you too. In his CrossFit Level 1 course, Crews remembers his reaction to “Fran” (21 reps of 95-pound thrusters followed by 21 pullups, then 15 of each exercise, then nine of each) in 10 minutes: Holy shit. “It got me out of the leisurely gym attitude,” he says. He now does Fran in 2:37. Hone your skills with CrossFit, StrongFirst kettlebell, and Westside Barbell certifications.
4. Give Yourself Five
Learn Crews’s favorite rep scheme, 5×5, which will help you build strength on exercises like the bench press, deadlift, and squat. Pick a weight and do 5 sets of 5 reps each, resting for at least a minute between sets. The following week, increase the weight you’re using by 5 pounds.
5. Let Twice Be Nice
Crews loves Olympic lifts like the clean and jerk because they challenge his entire body during every moment of every rep. But they’re not easy to learn, so follow his two-miss rule. “If you fail more than twice at a weight, you’re done for the day,” he says. Live to fight another day.
6. Be Your Own Video Star
Bring your phone whenever you lift–and not just for Instagram. For as long as Crews has been training, he’s been recording complicated lifts from a side profile angle. He studies both slow-mo and regular-speed video of his form to make sure his technique on his heaviest reps is as solid as that of his warmup reps.
BONUS: Park It!
Andre Crews mixes dashes of parkour in with his CrossFit moves. Want to try? These moves are a good (but daring) start.
Before you run and jump, you should learn this basic but important walk. Start on your hands and feet, shins off the floor. Keep your back parallel to the floor and “walk” forward, moving your right arm and left leg in unison, and your left arm and right leg in unison. Go for 30 seconds. Expect your core to burn.
Start by jogging directly toward a box that’s lower than waist height. As you get close, jump toward it. Reach your right hand toward the box; place it on the box as you swing your legs and torso up and over it. “You’ll build coordination with this one,” says Crews.