Eric Helms Interview: Conservative Vs Aggressive Fat Loss, Achieving Long Term Results, and How to Stop Backsliding

For the past seven years, Eric Helms has been a huge role model of mine. From day one I've been impressed by his hard work, ethics, ability to distill complex information into easily understood tidbits, and more.

In addition to Eric helping me on a personal level numerous times, he's also been kind enough to help all of you with tons of great content (like this interview)

If you enjoy this interview, you'll also love the other ones I've done with Eric which can be found here, and here



As always, thanks for taking the time to do this interview Eric. Everyone greatly appreciates it! The last time we spoke was July of 2016. Can you catch everyone up on what you’ve been up to since then?

My pleasure! Man it has been a while! Well since then, most notably I finished my doctorate in Strength and Conditioning at AUT University, my research was specifically on autoregulation using the RIR-based RPE scale in powerlifting training. Also, Greg Nuckols, myself and Dr. Mike Zourdos started the MASS (Monthly Applications in Strength Sport) research review in early 2017 (we just had our 1 year anniversary), I had hip surgery back in February 2017 to finally sort out my FAI-induced torn labrums and to reshape my femurs so I can squat again, and I've been focused more on hypertrophy training since then as well as I plan to get back on stage next year in 2019.



Over your years as a coach, what have you found to be the main differences between those who make significant progress and sustain it long term, versus those who struggle to make significant progress and/or maintain any sort of cohesive protocol?

I think largely that comes down to mindset. If someone is both impatient, neurotic, and a rigid thinker, that's typically a recipe for disaster. Impatient people train too hard or too much, neurotic people tend to fear they could be doing more, or aren't on the "optimal" plan, and second guess their current system and program hop, and rigid thinkers tend to hold tightly to beliefs, take longer to learn from their mistakes, and cling to behaviors that are hurting them for longer than most. Any one, or even two of these traits in combination can be overcome and as a coach; I've helped many do so. But, the combination of all three is incredibly hard to help someone get over. On the flip side, in terms of positive traits, those who are self-aware, patient, open minded, and most importantly hard working make a lot of progress. These people tend to stick with things long enough to learn what works for them, they are more likely to try new things, but no so often it hinders their progress, they can be more objective in decision making, and when you combine that with hard work, they make great progress.



When you start someone on a fat loss diet, do you prefer to take a conservative approach, or more of an aggressive approach?

It depends on the context. If someone is really new to many of the operational logistics of a fat loss diet in the way I run it, the initial phase is more about learning the skills of tracking food and body mass, understanding basic nutrition concepts, and giving them time to familiarize with the process. If someone is say, a competitor who has done all this before, then we can get right into the diet itself in earnest, and then typically things do start more aggressive. Meaning, a higher deficit initially because at the start you are higher in body fat, so you can more easily mobilize fat and replace the imposed deficit, you're less likely to lose lean tissue, more resilient physiologically and psychologically to diet fatigue, and can maintain performance and recover while you are still in the early phases of a diet. So, typically I'm targeting closer to 1% of body weight losses per week on average for the first phase of a diet before we slow things down intentionally a bit, use a diet break, add in a refeed day(s) etc. 



What is your stance on bulking for shorter periods of time (4-6 weeks) and adding in short fat loss phases (1-2 weeks), as opposed to bulking for an extended period of time and then doing longer fat loss phases?

I don't think it's great for habit development and doesn't make sense for drug free lifters after the novice stage. For one, people tend to overdo it for the bulks due to the short term nature, which doesn't engrain very useful long term skills, these just turn into YOLO bulks. Secondly, you can only gain so much muscle mass naturally when you are closer to your genetic ceiling, so muscle gain takes time. You can't forcefeed this process much at all, so you essentially just put on unnecessary amounts of fat without much additional muscle, which then forces you to do the subsequent diet each time. It's a self fulfilling sub-optimal approach. Change that to 4-6 month gaining phases using a smaller surplus and then likely slightly longer diets, and I think you've got a better strategy for a more advanced natural.



What are the top three lessons you’ve learned that have made you a better coach?

1) Set boundaries and expectations. Both letting the client know what they can expect from you, in terms of communication, your coaching style, and logistically (response times, what they will get at the start and in check ins), and also what you want from them, how you want it, when you want it, and very importantly, why you want it. Without doing this, things can spiral quickly and you can find yourself stretched thin, over extended by clients having unrealistic expectations, and seeing your quality of work suffer on all fronts.

2) Be clear and direct in your communication, but also compassionate. Say what you mean, mean what you say, but also show that you care. This means not pulling punches when something left unsaid will hurt them in long run or if something that needs to change is not changing, but also realizing that when you bring up one of these issues, they are a punch nontheless. So, do your best to remind your client that you are bringing it up because ultimately, you care about them.

3) Create systems. Knowing things doesn't help you nearly as much as knowing how to implement what you know to reliably produce results for your clients. You should have systems for both your logistical-operational end of your business (billing, intake forms, legal forms, schedules for when clients reports, start up instructions, client resources, intuitive spreadsheets that work across platforms etc), and the coaching aspect of your business (what approaches you take to actually get people to their goals, i.e., training systems, nutrition systems, peaking systems). These systems should be based on both sound principles, and should also be proven to work in the trenches over time in the majority of the clients you work with, and be highly customizable to the individual, and should evolve and improve over time.



When someone starts backsliding on their fitness commitments, progress, etc. and feels out of control; what do you recommend they do?

There are so many reasons this can happen, that it's a very tough question to answer. The answer to this happening due to depression, or a change in life circumstances, or an injury, or a change in goal, or the loss of a goal, all need to be approached differently. But one thing I would maintain in all cases, is a basic adherence to your habits, focusing on simply getting into the gym and doing the bare minimum nutritionally. If that's a full body session twice per week with low volume on just a handful of movements, and just making sure you get 1.6g/kg of protein per day and eating around maintenance while you "figure things out", that will go a long way towards maintaining your sanity, self-efficacy, and actually making goal attainment easier once you know what that goal is. Rely on your already developed habits, even if you just move them to bare-minimum status, because they can act as your anchor in a storm. Going through something in life that makes you feel out of control, and then letting go of your established health and fitness habits on top of that is a bad one-two punch.



What’s a topic you wish was discussed more in the fitness industry?

Assessing one's biases, and updating one's beliefs regularly in more facets of fitness than just research. This is a key tenet to "doing science", but I think it can be applied, and should be applied, to a lot more than just the "best practice" knowledge-side of fitness. How people see their goals, how people obtain self worth, how you interact with clients, how one transitions their fitness as their life changes (having kids, getting old, getting injured or sick, etc) are all things we should be considering with this same mindset. We need to to be constantly checking our biases and formulating new beliefs that are consistent with our understanding of ourselves and the world in all of these areas, not just #science. 



Again, thank you for doing this interview Eric. Keep crushing it!

Thank you Jared, always a pleasure!


To see more of Eric's work, check out the links below!



Muscle & Strength Pyramid eBooks

MASS Research Review

3DMJ Website

3DMJ YouTube Channel