Sohee Lee is a nationally recognized strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist who this fall earned her Procard as a fitness competitor.
Sohee’s approach to both training and nutrition is one that many may find unconventional but the impressive results attained by herself and her clients cannot be debated. Her cerebral methods consider the long term effects of training and are geared towards attaining a healthy lifestyle. Her philosophy is one of sustainability. I recently had the pleasure to speak with Sohee about her victory in the 2015 National Figure Championships and her philosophies on training and nutrition.
SP -First off congrats on your victory OCB nationals, can you give the background to the competition?
Sohee Lee -The OCB nationals is an all natural competition (no drugs) in which all contestants are subject to a polygraph. I competed in the bikini division. I have been training hard for a year but started to really focus in and tighten up my nutrition about 6 weeks out from competition. I ended up winning my class which is divided by height. If you win your class, you win your procard, so as of October I am a pro. I am particularly proud because for this competition I decided to do a Snickers experiment in which I ate a Snickers Bar everyday for the last 10 weeks leading up to the competition. I worked it into my macros and was able to do it.
SP– What made you decide to eat a Snickers Bar everyday?
Sohee Lee –I wanted to show how effective flexible eating can be, how you don’t need to kill yourself with a diet, you can eat sensible while not making restrictions. My trainer, Bret Contreras (www.bretcontreras.com @bretcontreras1) was very reluctant to go along because Snickers are calorically dense without a lot of nutritional value. At 5’2 110 pounds I don’t have much room to spare as far as calories are concerned and they ate up a lot of my calories. But like I said I worked it into my macros, I stuck with it, and it paid off.
SP -What was the training for the competition?
Sohee Lee – He and I have similar philosophies, especially when it comes to women. We both like to train full-body 4-5 days a week, always starting off with compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, bench, or overhead press. At the end of each workout we finish off with high rep glute work. The glute work included exercises such as lateral band walks, high step-ups, body weight lunges, or band hip thrusters; anything that would give my glutes a sufficient training effect without running me into the ground. We wanted me to go into every session strong and fresh. The goal was to hit PR’s (personal records) as often as I could. We were very big on progressive overloads, we both feel this is important especially for women because it produces a lot of positive body composition changes.
SP – What about cardio training?
Sohee Lee – We did absolutely no cardio for my prep. I haven’t done intervals or anything since the previous November. I have been able to maintain my leanness even without the cardio and I think it is big step forward for the female community especially because the mindset is you have to do a lot of cardio to lose fat and you have to lift light weights with high reps to look tone. I didn’t do any of those things, in fact I did the complete opposite of that and it worked. The most important aspect of fat loss is your nutrition and I was very meticulous about that. Bret did my training, I managed my nutrition because that is my area of expertise.
SP – You said you did heavy weights with compound movements. What was the rep range like?
Sohee Lee – I used a very low rep range as well as very low volume. A typical workout routine may consist of:
- Warm-up: 4-5 dynamic movements
- 3 sets of 3 squats
- 2 sets of 8 deadlift
- 2 sets of 8 barbell hip thrusts
- 2 sets of 10 high step-ups
- 10 minutes of glute work
That would be it. I never spend more than an hour in the gym. It was a total of 4-5 hours a week max.
One day I may start with squats (a knee dominant movement) then a Hip thrust followed by a vertical pull. The next day I would do deadlifts and then a horizontal pull. There may have been some overlap as far as muscles are concerned but I would do exercises that wouldn’t fry me. An example may be a body weight exercise such as an inverted row. By keeping the volume low I was never super sore the next day so I was able to repeat muscle groups. If you are doing one to two sets of an exercise you can do it again and you don’t have to wait a week. My trainer and I like hitting body parts multiple times a week, lower volume of work per day leaving significant amount of energy to train again, this will allow you get stronger each session.
SP – Is this similar to the way you train your clients?
Sohee Lee – Yes, for the most part. The majority of my online clients are females. It is common to get resistance at first because women have an idea that lifting too much weight and resting for extended periods between sets, along with low volume is not conducive to fat loss. Women will often feel anxious if they are not exhausted at the end of a workout. I have to tell them to give it a chance and that this is the way I have been training for a long time. I tell them “It works, be patient and trust the process.” Over time the fear dissipates. When you train, you should still feel good and strong when the workout is finished and not wiped out. People have this misconception that they need to be sore and unable to move the next day in order to consider it a good workout. That is not the case. The fact is training to this extreme can be counterproductive.
SP– Did you suffer from a negative rebound after the show? (weight gain, burnout from training and dieting)
Sohee Lee – Rebounding after a show has been the norm for so long but fortunately it is starting to change. People are realizing that there doesn’t have to be a rebound and they don’t need to get into some sort of a bulking phase following competition. Especially with the popularity of flexible dieting in recent years, people are recognizing that rebounding should not be happening. Rebounding after a show occurs when athletes are too strict on nutrition and they over train in the gym. If a person’s calories are too low for too long, than by the time your show roles around their will power is shot resulting in a breakdown of self control. When the person steps off stage they have no more restrictions and the flood gates have opened, and they go hog wild.
SP – Do you follow a flexible diet?
Sohee Lee – Yes I really believe in it. The competition stage cannot be your end goal. It is important to have a goal after stepping off the stage and to know how you are going to approach both training and nutrition in the long term. Years ago I made the mistake of following a meal plan prior to a competition; I really restricted and deprived myself of many things throughout the training, as result after the show I gained about 20 pounds.
SP – Do you encourage your clients who compete to follow a flexible diet approach? How has that worked out?
Sohee Lee –Absolutely, a lot of my clients compete but never rebound, they follow this approach to nutrition and they understand that the stage is not the be-all end-all. It is a 100 percent psychological approach. That is why I love psychology so much, with health and fitness (psychology) is the most over looked and underrated aspect. Everyone wants to talk about training and nutrition but what people often fail to understand is that if you can’t apply certain principles to your life on a consistent basis then it is completely irrelevant.
SP –What about your clients who don’t compete, do you encourage a flexible diet approach for them as well?
Sohee Lee – Definitely. When working with clients I try to explain that it all comes down to mindset. People often want a meal plan and to be told what and when to eat as well as what to avoid. The problem is this is not sustainable. What happens in a situation where it is too rigid is that when a person goes out to a restaurant or social situation it is difficult for them to enjoy themselves. It can terrify people because all of a sudden there are all these unknown variables. The fear we have with foods is largely in our heads and we need to expose ourselves to different situations.
SP – I am sure you have clients who contact you after a night out or a day when they feel they ate poorly. What do you tell them?
Sohee Lee – It happens all the time. If a person eats poorly they will often not think long term and become impulsive. That is when I tell them to just be patient and tomorrow just get back to what you were doing. I tell them not to overdo the cardio or do an extra workout. This can become a horrible cycle. They just need to get back to normal and realize feeling guilty is not going to help. That’s why I love this approach, there is no shame and no guilt involved.
SP – Looking at your website I read an interesting article about body image and “Fitsperation.” Can you tell me more about it and the negative aspects of it?
Sohee Lee – Absolutely, fitsperation which is intended to inspire and motivate others often leaves people feeling bad about frustrated. Social media has done a lot of good for society but at the same time it can be so misleading because everyone puts a positive spin on everything. The posts put out there by people in the fitness industry (trainers or athletes) are of when they look their best. As a result others think that is what these individuals look like year around. They look at themselves and think “why can’t I look like this all the time?” Not realizing that the person they are following is not perfect and may be 20 pounds heavier than when they posted the photo.
SP – Do you think the fitness industry is doing a disservice to people?
I think in a lot of ways it is doing good, it is getting people to move because the large majority of people are sedentary. At the same time we are moving people in the wrong direction. People are not doing what they should be doing. People like intensity, but that is not necessarily the best thing for them. People like to say that they had to kill themselves to get to where they are. No one wants to say that it was through consistency and moderation that they got to where they are. But that is often the best way. It is better to be 80%, 100% of the time then it is to be 100%, 20% of the time.
SP – Do you have any advice for someone who is looking to start training but may be nervous?
Sohee Lee – The great thing about this journey is that it is lifelong. You may make mistakes along the way but there is always room and time to keep getting better.
Sohee Lee offers customized online personal training and nutrition consulting. Her clients are offered unlimited access and have weekly checkins with her. She can be contacted through her website www.soheefit.com and can be followed on Instagram at @soheefit. Checkout her ebook at www.beginnersmacros.com.