Reshad Azizi (also known as Reshy) is one of our VPA athletes and ambassadors. Reshy is also a fitness model competitor and mental health advocate who works full time as a Relationship Manager. In this interview, he shares his insights into the role of health and physical fitness as his passion and mission to make a positive impact on people's lives.
What was life before you started on your fitness journey? And what made you start going down this path?
"Before I started my fitness journey, I was an active and competitive high school student who applied himself at the eleventh hour during my senior years. This vigour naturally stemmed from playing sport (specifically tennis in Round Robin tournaments) as well as club level cricket. However I wasn't always like this, as my junior years were marred with bullying experiences (both physical and verbal) since I had moved high schools. Being the "new kid on the block" wasn't helpful, as I lost the childhood friends made from my formative primary schooling years. I did not know how to fight back against the bullying, and my parents never understood the repercussions of it either. In the end I had to "shield" myself from these bullies with no help - despite not knowing how to do so - and continued to carry on.
After being accepted into my first preference of courses at one of Australia's top universities , I envisioned that there would be light at the end of the tunnel, that this was the start of a splendid journey. However good habits would eventually turn to bad habits, due to the brutal combination of complacency and lack of purpose. Instead of continuing the competitive sporting streak, I started a new competitive streak in online gaming; I would spend up to 15 hours per day playing Counter Strike 1.6 (That's 105 hours per week), and coupled this with poor eating choices and lack of sleep. And if this wasn't enough tribulation, I was also enduring personal family problems that were beginning to take a toll on me. I became a social recluse, neglecting both my high school and university friends. The lack of purpose became more and more detrimental - I did not know what I wanted to accomplish with this degree, and nothing in high school prepared me well enough for the various challenges of tertiary education - this led to the failure of several subjects. In short, my head was in a dark place.
Although I had sought help from two different psychologists and the university counselling services, no one was able to successfully address my declining mental health. Yet despite all of this, I started developing a sense of self awareness. It was upon further reflection that I realised I desperately needed to look after my mental and physical health. I needed to unlearn my bad habits and create good habits, otherwise things would get uglier. This is where my journey had begun in the gym.
What is your training style and how often do you train? Can you share your average week with us?
In terms of training, I was previously following a push-pull split as stipulated by my online coach. Since competitions have been cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, I have transitioned back to a 6 day bodybuilding “bro split” by focusing on each muscle group, with an allocated rest day. If I am cutting, I also do 20 minutes of fasted cardio every morning, and 40 minutes of cardio after my gym session. For example, a typical split would be:
- Monday: Chest
- Tuesday: Shoulders
- Wednesday: Back
- Thursday: Arms
- Friday: Legs
- Saturday: Shoulders
- Sunday: Rest
Note that at one point, I would train legs twice a week for 3 years straight, along with chest twice a week for 3 years straight. However my current key focus area is shoulders since I have deemed them a lagging body part.
What specific role did diet play in the process? Is there a diet you recommend to build muscle?
Diet has definitely played a significant role in this process. Funnily enough, when I started this fitness journey I was advised from a friend of mine - who had a good physique - that KFC was an adequate source of protein. So I took on his advice and ate copious amounts of junk food while going to the gym. Eat big to get big right? Unfortunately that did not turn out well and instead of swole Reshad, I became skinny fat Reshad Azizi.
In terms of major changes to my diet, I learnt how to cook healthy foods through YouTube tutorials and educated myself on the basic principles of calories and macronutrients. To build muscle, you simply have to work out your caloric maintenance (based on your age, weight, height and activity levels) and then proceed to consume calories at a surplus (in other words above your maintenance level). The opposite applies when it comes to leaning down and being in a caloric deficit. I strongly believe that there is no “one size fits all approach” when it comes to a diet (for example the cookie diet, ketogenic diet, vegan diet and so forth) as I feel that the majority of these "fad" diets are unsustainable in the long run due to their overly restrictive nature. At the end of the day, it all comes down to figuring out which healthy foods best suits your lifestyle, and then being in a caloric surplus to build muscle.
What’s your favourite VPA supplements? Which ones do you recommend?
In terms of my favourite VPA supplements, I would choose the Whey Protein Isolate Rainbow Ice cream flavour (it tastes like Streets Paddlepop Ice Cream!), BCAA 7000 peached ice tea flavour (just like the refreshing Lipton Ice Tea, without the unnecessary calories!), iced coffee Breakfast shake (perfect for a quick smoothie) and casein whey protein before bedtime. Note that I have also been using the Hyperburn FX lately on a regular basis, and this is helping with both appetite suppression and energy provision for my morning fasted cardio sessions. Altogether, these are the supplements that I am currently using at the moment and I highly recommend them too.
We all know this wasn’t an easy journey. People often sabotage themselves on their fitness journey, with laziness, pessimism, etc. What was, in your experience, the hardest obstacle to overcome? How did you stay motivated?
To put things in perspective, I was introduced to the bodybuilding forum from an online friend in 2010 and started researching workout routines. Despite the initial excitement, my journey into the gym was always inconsistent; I found myself in a vicious cycle where I would train well for a few months, give up, start again, rinse repeat. We're human after all, right? However with the repeated visits, I felt my confidence growing. I started asking questions to personal trainers at the gym, even going so far as to ask for a "spot".
But it wasn't until that fateful 17th December 2011, when I decided to consult a famous fitness model - he created for me a meal plan and training program at a one-off price. I was 77kg and 20 years old, with a skinny fat physique.
I also discovered Aziz Shavershian (also known as the urban legend Zyzz, may he rest in peace) - he was so influential that I would Google his Simply Shredded meal plan and training routine and follow it religiously. His story and transformation was so inspiring and so relatable, and this was enough to make me take bodybuilding seriously. From that point on, my old habits started to dissipate. I started to formulate my own meal plans and training routines, fueled by my insatiable learning curiosity on macronutrients, dieting principles and fitness knowledge. Armed with newfound knowledge and through trial and error, my physique slowly started to transform. Seeing the results was more than enough to keep me motivated.
Does your fitness transformation inspire and motivate you in other areas of your life? Did you learn any lessons throughout your fitness journey that can be applied outside of fitness as well?
Definitely. Let’s shift the clock back once again: on the academic side, I transferred to another university in 2012 as I decided that it was a time for a fresh start. I made new friends, went cold turkey on gaming, and took my sleep seriously. I also invested heavily into my self-development, soaking up the wisdom of influencers such as Eric Thomas, Stefan Pylarinos and Tony Robbins. Lastly, I had entered a party phase which saw me doing various festival preparations and getting the "rig" out for attention. This was all fun and games, but I knew deep down that it wasn't meaningful at all - it was vain and self-serving. But in spite of all this, my friends encouraged me to compete as they saw potential, and I in turn was inspired by the few of them who have stood on stage. I eventually graduated from university with a Bachelors and Masters with high honours, along with concurrently completing a Certificate III and IV in Fitness in order to become a qualified Personal Trainer.
Although this was good news, I still had my share of personal problems so in order to distract myself, I decided to ask my friend for competition preparation coaching in 2017. I competed in the WBFF Gold Coast show and although my intention was to "tick it off the bucket list", I did not place due to my poor conditioning. Despite the setback I was not disheartened and thanks to my naturally competitive disposition, I was motivated to come back stronger and better than before. I decided to train harder and smarter in preparation for another show, the ICN in 2018. And as fate would have it, I was able to really enjoy the fruits of my labours as I placed 3rd!
As the successes started to roll in, my ambition continued to grow. I even had a dream where I envisioned myself being sponsored by a supplement company. With the intention to bring this to reality, I acted on it and and behold, the dream became reality when I successfully gained sponsorship from VPA Australia. I competed in another show - this time it was the PCA show in South Korea 2018. I placed 3rd again, but arguably had the best conditioning against all competitors on that day. After this experience, I suddenly had an epiphany and set my sights on a new goal - rather than continuing to adopt the "tick off the bucket list" approach, what if I aimed for the pro card?
In terms of my career, as my confidence and self esteem grew significantly, so did my ability to secure jobs in Accounting, Personal Training, Sales and Education. Initially I found it incredibly difficult overcoming dozens of job rejections in an oversaturated market. But the gym gave me an escape to continue persevering. I had my first break in 2017 as a Business Development Executive, and the positive energy that I exuded to my clients, along with the results that I achieved, paved the way for a promotion as a Business Development Manager. This role allowed me to travel interstate across QLD, ACT and VIC to build relationships with clients and deliver top value.
Where are you going from here? What’s the next step?
To continue to enjoy the process of creating a healthy and fit body, while helping others out on their fitness journey. I also endeavour to help those who are living with mental health issues. The next step is to secure a pro card and become a WBFF fitness model pro.
What is your biggest advice for those who are aspiring to reach their fitness goals?
My biggest advice for those aspiring to reach their fitness goals is that achieving an aesthetically pleasing physique takes time, with plenty of trial and error. The process will allow you to develop an impeccable mindset of discipline and self-motivation, which can be graciously rolled into other facets of your life. It will teach you to respect yourself and enjoy the process in order to become happier, healthier and stronger, while translating this energy to your career, family and friends. My transformative journey could not have been possible without the strong friendships formed, the immense amount of positive feedback received, and more importantly my family, who do not understand my obsession continue to love me unconditionally. Now I'm not saying that I have the best body in the world, nor do I have all of the answers. But bodybuilding uplifts you in so many ways - the desire to develop and change yourself for the better, to be relentless in an enjoyable pursuit, to not worry what others think, and to achieve your own greatness.
It is not easy being vulnerable and going through old photos in order to reflect on my progress and tell my story to the public. I have experienced numerous rejections, failures, pains and setbacks in the last decade. Even the COVID-19 pandemic has been quite challenging in itself. However, to put things in perspective, I am grateful for all of these trials and tribulations, because it has made me who I am. I am proud of who I am and how far I have come in this journey. In addition to this, while there were various people who doubted me and my lifestyle, I never doubted myself not even for one second. I knew what I had to do once I found my purpose and passion in life.
So have faith and always back yourself. I hope that people can use my story as a form of inspiration to transform not only their physique, but their own lives. No matter who you are, you can achieve anything, and pursuing a healthy lifestyle can get you one step closer to fulfilling your dreams.
Be the superhero of your own movie. As cheesy as it sounds, live a life of no regrets and find your passion.
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