Ever wondered what it’s like to be a fitness model, physique competitor and a business man? Ahead of his second stage show in London this coming weekend, The WBFF Fitness & Fashion Spectacular, I caught up with good friend Mike Thurston about all things health & fitness.
Mike’s been a good friend since the University days and since then he has gone from strength to strength in pursuing a successful career in the Fitness industry. We have remained in close contact, even if the majority of the time it’s me hassling him about my macro splits or how to get better abs. I’ve always admired his passion for fitness, as well as his work ethic in the gym and life. Not only is Mike in ridiculous shape, but he is one of the most humble blokes I know. Mike also understands discipline. Last year, he co-founded his personal training company Aurora Athletic, and despite putting his business and clients first 99% of the time, his personal focus is never compromised. Most people find it challenging balancing their work and social life, let alone staying in shape and trying to run your own business, but somehow Mike stays on top of it all. Having worked with Mike, alongside his business partner Kyle on various elements of my own fitness goals last year, its safe to say that these guys are a force to be reckoned with and are some of the better, more knowledgeable and honest guys within the industry!
When it comes to health & fitness, Mike believes in simplicity. This ‘less is more’ approach is certainly reflected in the Aurora brand, and the emphasis they place on the importance of balance. It was great to chat to Mike and get an insight into his daily life. However, Mike is also just an everyday working individual like the rest of us, and illustrates perfectly how one can maintain balance and lead a healthy & sustainable lifestyle, no matter how many other commitments they have
AA: Hey brother! Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat. How’s training going for your next show? Tell me a little more about it…
MT: It’s going well! The training side of things have been going great. Over the past month or so I’ve increased my training frequency and intensity. Instead of training for pleasure, it’s now for a real purpose. Shit gets serious! On most days I’m training twice a day, focusing on my weaker body parts such as my legs and back. I love training and I always will, regardless of whether I’m training for a competition or not. The big struggle has been the nutrition side of things. I’m a big fan of food. I like to be flexible with what I eat, and when I do eat, I eat big. Obviously when it comes to cutting and comp prep you have to be more selective with what you eat, along with the quantities and timing. During the week it’s been ok, as I’ve got a good routine going on, it’s the weekends which are the biggest challenges. The last 3 weeks have been a real struggle, but the discipline has definitely paid off.
AA: This is the second time you’ll be stepping on stage, are you more excited this time and are you doing anything differently to prepare for it?
MT: I’m a lot more relaxed about the whole thing. Last year I had no idea what to expect, so it was almost like stepping into the unknown. This year I know what is required, I’ve learnt from my previous mistakes and I’m enjoying the process a whole lot more than I did last year. One of the biggest setbacks last year was my stage presence – in other words, how I carried myself on stage along with my posing. I’d never experienced anything like that before, so I was kind of taken back by the whole experience. Now I’ll embrace it, know what to expect, and play up to the crowd.
This time round I’ve also increased training volume along with keeping calories higher. I cut my calories far too drastically last year and over did the cardio, which resulted in me losing a fair bit of muscle mass. Not to mention I had no energy and was miserable for 3-4 weeks prior to the show. Last year I was also moved up from fitness model to muscle, so that threw me off a bit. This year I know for sure I’ll be heading into the muscle model category, so my goal is to maintain as much muscle mass as possible, as opposed to being the leanest guy on the stage. It’s not about how lean you are, it’s your overall look, aesthetic appearance and stage presence.
There’s always work to be done. It’s like a never-ending project. Even when you achieve your dream physique maintaining it is like looking after a new-born baby, it needs constant attention and looking after.
AA: It goes without saying that genetically you are pretty gifted, but you also have an insane work ethic. What motivates you every day to keep going and aspiring to be better
MT: I get asked this question a number of times and each time I have to pause and think about it. I guess whatever it is that motivates me is the same thing that made me pick up a dumbbell in the first place when I was 17 years old. I’m still not quite sure why I do it, I just do. When I’m in the gym I completely zone out. It’s like meditation for me. You can completely remove yourself from the outside world, all it’s stresses and problems, leaving you with your music, the iron and you. I look at myself and visualise the physique I aspire to have. I constantly scan my body and critique it, always looking to improve, setting new goals and smashing them. I guess the strange thing is that you’re rarely satisfied. I don’t think I’ve ever sat back and thought, ‘my work here is done’. There’s always work to be done. It’s like a never-ending project. Even when you achieve your dream physique maintaining it is like looking after a new-born baby, it needs constant attention and looking after.
I also like the fact that it’s one of those things in life which you have complete and total control over. You decide how much intensity you want to put into the workout, no one else can tell you what you can and can’t do, and there’s no room for excuses. You’re accountable for everything than goes on between you and the iron.
AA: You are pretty meticulous with your training and nutritional programming, but supplementation nowadays plays a crucial part in the progress of an athlete as well as their recovery. What supplements do you currently use?
MT: I’ll always prioritise unprocessed, earth grown foods over supplements. But yes supplements do play a crucial role to take things to the highest level. My supplement list includes: ZMA (Zinc & Magnesium), Vitamin D3, Omega 3 Fish Oils, BCAA (powder), creatine monohydrate and intra workout carb supplements. Unfortunately most protein shakes don’t agree with me any more, which was confirmed by a food intolerance test I did late last year. I’ve experimented with a number of different whey alternatives, but none really had a big impact. I think i’m much happier now having an extra plate of food as opposed to a shake which I down in one go. That being said I do miss the taste of them. If you chose a brand with the right flavour and texture, it’s like having a milkshake post-workout.
One of the most beneficial supplements I’ve found in recent times is the intra workout carbs. As I’m on lower calories/lower carbs, my energy levels aren’t as high as usual. The training sessions need to be just as intense, if not more intense than ever, so the intra workout carbs give me that extra push, ensuring that I can give 100% in each session. I’m a big fan of Vitargo CRX by Scitec at the moment. That stuff is really helping me through my workouts.
You can still go out, have a drink, eat your favourite foods and enjoy life, whilst still being fit, healthy and having the body you aspire to have
AA: Knowing you from the Uni days, you definitely weren’t one to shy away from the fun. As an everyday athlete, how did you manage to stay consistent with your training and diet amongst the boozy lifestyle?
MT: Well I’ll tell you one thing, there’s not a chance I’d be able to live the student life and train like I used to do! It’s either a combination of age, or living a permanent healthy lifestyle, but my hangovers these days are savage! If I went as hard as I did back then the following day would be a complete write off that’s for sure. My body punishes me for a big night on the drink, as if to say ‘thanks for all the crap you put down your throat last night, today I’m going to make you suffer’.
As a student I was still able to somehow train the day after a night out. Yes, my body was in a less than optimal state to burn fat and put on muscle, but a workout was better than no workout in my mind. I managed to stay consistent with the training just because of the sheer drive and satisfaction I got from it. If I didn’t go to the gym it felt like a void needed to be filled. Something it just didn’t feel right. Most people would give training a miss after a night out, or end up missing a number of sessions in a row whereas I’d still go out and get it. There may have been the odd days where I physically couldn’t train due to a hangover, but once that day had passed I was itching to get back into it.
One of Mikes recent photo shoots
AA: As well as being a fitness model, you’re also a business and Gym owner. How do you cope with fitting your individual training commitments in and around such a hectic business lifestyle, let alone coaching clients? This is an aspect that even a lot of day-to-day workers/fitness warriors struggle with.
MT: You can manage to fit it all in. It’s not easy but it’s possible. One of the biggest problems I’ve had this year is trying to take too much on. Week after week my days have somehow managed to get busier, right up to the point where I’m not getting things done. Every morning I used to sit down and write a list of things that I planned to complete that day, but I never got through them all. One of the things you have to do is to sit down and figure out what it is that you’re spending most of your time on and decide whether to keep spending time on it or stop doing it completely and focus your efforts elsewhere. I found that I spend a lot of my time scrolling through social media, doing unnecessary tasks, messaging girls, and spending time on things which I could simply delegate to someone else.
I’m gradually planning to make the transition of reducing my 1 on 1 personal training hours. It’s not that I don’t love it, I love training people. The problem is that when you have 5 or more clients in a day, along with your own training, you’re not left with much time to manage and grow your business, along with dedicating enough time to your online clients too. A lot of my days are 12 hours long and when that starts to add up it takes it’s toll.
My advice to people who say they struggle to fit a workout in is to stop making excuses and to make time for it. Yes there are a few individuals who genuinely don’t have much time spare, for example single parents working a full-time job and raising kids, so I do sympathise. Still, there are those single parents out there who are getting their training in, kicking ass and looking great. Like I said before it all comes down to putting a little bit of time aside. Even if it’s 30 minutes a day and done at home, it still counts!
AA: The Aurora Athletic brand is pretty unique. What makes you guys different from just being a ‘personal training’ business?
MT: We like to employ a holistic approach to health and fitness. We practise what we preach, and try to show people how you can be fit, healthy and still live a normal lifestyle. You can still go out, have a drink, eat your favourite foods and enjoy life, whilst still being fit, healthy and having the body you aspire to have. Take me for example. If you don’t know me well you’d probably look at me and think, yea but I bet he has no life. Well, believe me you should see the food that I put away, the places I visit, the enjoyment I get from my job along with the holidays and nights out where I let my hair down. Life is good.
We aim to teach and educate our clients as much as possible, so that if they decide part and to continue the journey alone, they can feel confident in doing so from everything they have learnt with from us. Many people see the whole health and fitness as a temporary thing, not a permanent one. For example, many people will look to shed a few pounds for a holiday, new years, or whatever the reason might be. The problem is that their approach if often extreme, rushed and almost always temporary. Once that goal has been achieved they sit back and resort to their old habits, inevitably returning to where they were at the start, or worse! I see it all the time, everyone goes through phases like this:
1. Break up from a relationship or look at themselves in the mirror and think damn, I’ve let myself go, I need to get in shape (I need to get laid).
2. They begin to sort out their diet and start hitting the gym. Good habits replace bad ones.
3. After a few weeks/months body composition improves or they achieve their goal.
4. They become content with their achievement (or they find a new partner) and they stop exercising and stray away from their diet. Bad habits replace good ones.
5. They get fat again (or break up with their new partner), look at themselves in the mirror and think damn… (Back to phase 1).
No great physique was built upon cycles such as this. Like I say to everyone, the key is consistency.
AA: There is of course a difference between training for performance and training for looks. Whilst it is your job to look great, you’re also incredibly athletic. How do you find that balance and what advice would you give to someone else when training?
MT: I might be athletic but I’m about as flexible as a plank of wood! That’s definitely something I need to work on. As far as my beliefs go, I believe you should train to look good, to feel good, and to be able to do what a fully functional human being is capable of. An athlete is defined as a person trained to compete in sports or exercises involving physical strength, speed, or endurance. I train myself and my clients to become athletes. It’s all well and good being strong, but if you’re slow, unfit and not agile, and train like pussy, then what are you? I believe everyone should have the ability to do what the human body is designed to do. They should be able to jump, sprint, perform compound movements, press ups, dips, pull ups, hold stationary positions, do these things one after another and have the ability to run long distances if necessary.
AA: What does fitness mean to you?
There’s the generic definition which states fitness is being in good physical or mental health. I’d agree with that. The term itself can be defined in a number of different ways, but I wouldn’t want to over complicate it.
To me it means being able to physically do anything that I want to do. To eat what I want, when I want and not suffer dire consequences It means being happy, enjoying and making the most out of life. It means being aware of my current limitations and working to step outside my comfort zone to break through them. It means being feel and contract my muscles. It means looking in the mirror and being completely happy with what stands in front of you.
Frankly, it means being a better, happier, stronger me.
AA: There are of course a lot of fads within the industry, combined with the fact that people too often look for short-term fixes rather than focusing on creating a lifestyle. So, what is the best advice you would give to someone who is looking to achieve that lifestyle, from a training, nutritional and overall wellbeing perspective?
MT: My advice to people when training is to decide first of all what it is you’re setting out to do. Write down your goals, plan how you’re going to achieve them and go out there and smash it! Don’t set yourself too many goals as you’re more than likely to fail, and be realistic with them. It’s good to dream big but stay in the realms of reality. Track your workouts, your progress and be incredibly aware of how your body reacts to certain foods and exercises. Master the mind muscle connection i.e. learn to engage every single muscle in the body and contract them appropriately during each exercise. Form, tempo, posture, placement of tension, suitable choice of resistance and breathing are all crucially important. If you’re a beginner, read, learn and seriously think about hiring a professional to help coach you at the start. What you learn from a respectable coach might save you years of shitty technique, inefficient workouts and potential injury. Always be searching to learn more, to push yourself beyond what you think you are capable of and don’t listen to what others say you can or can’t achieve. Don’t listen to everything you hear or read. Do your own research and come to your own conclusions. Just because something works for one person doesn’t mean it works for everyone. There is no quick fix, no magic formula which will get you the results you’re after. It takes time, effort, discipline, consistency, along with the use of appropriate approaches to your own individual training and nutrition.
Talking to Mike certainly motivated me in knowing I can always give more, be better, stay focused and work harder. I hope you enjoyed reading it as I did doing it!
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