Enjoy the process; that’s a motto US-based PT Parker Cote, 36, lives by. The Boston-based fitness fanatic forged a name for himself with tireless reps, an entrepreneurial spirit and an honest, zero-BS philosophy to build muscle that pretty much any guy can emulate.
Through his 20-plus years honing his craft, he’s been careful to sidestep the trends, viral hacks and instant fixes in favour of research-backed, thoughtful progress. And it works (Exhibit A: the pictures you see right here), not just for him but for the countless clients he’s helped navigate their way towards their fitness goals.
How to Change Your Muscle Mindset
“I consider myself to be the opposite of most trainers on a lot of levels,” says Cote. “I notice plenty of them try to impress clients by putting them through needlessly brutal workouts.” His thesis? Fitness should be fun, and you should never expect to see results overnight. It’s why his studio—opened in 2015—is still standing, even in the aftermath of that old economic wrecking ball we know as the pandemic.
Fun isn’t a word you hear thrown around often in fitness circles. There’s not much space for the noun amidst extreme verbiage like “hardcore”, “no pain, no gain” and “gains, gains, gains”. But Cote stresses that finding that fun, in whatever you do, is what will keep you coming back.
“A lot of trainers will repeat the same workout over and over again, leaving their clients feeling bored and not getting the results they desire,” he says. That’s why he’s constantly decking out his studio with new equipment—getting your sweat on should feel fresh, novel and intriguing, not like you’re clocking in at the office.
This approach is part of a broader project; namely, teaching his clients sustainable practices that’ll allow them to live long, healthy and balanced lives (and build muscle in the process). “Anyone can restrict themselves temporarily to get short-term results,” says Cote. “But I want to teach people ways to truly be fit for life. That’s why he emphasises gradual results—“It’s the only way to make lasting change,” he adds.
The 15 Percent Incline Grade of Success
Cote plots out a graph to illustrate his approach to fitness. On the “x” axis there’s time, and on the “y” axis, progress. The line snakes up and down as time marches forward (it looks just like a 10-year forecast for a unit trust fund). But, despite the “ups and downs”, just like the aforementioned investment, the net result is a steady and, ultimately, climb upwards.
“I call it the ‘15% incline grade of success’,” he says. “Everyone naturally has their ups and downs, but as long as you’re making small positive changes consistently, it can add up to a huge positive change over time.”
Overcoming Challenges in the Gym
Looking at Cote’s physique, you would assume he’s a natural-born gym rat. But his muscular frame wasn’t handed to him the moment he first stepped into a gym—it’s the product of 15 years of serious discipline. He has, however, had his fair share of challenges, and we’re not just talking about the round-the-clock juggling it takes to run a business.
“I have quite severe exercise-induced asthma,” he says. “I never leave my house without my inhaler.”
For someone in the fitness sphere, the words “exercise-induced asthma” may as well be kryptonite. But Cote has adapted to his condition, learning to manage its detrimental symptoms—such as fatigue, chest pain and shortness of breath—so that he can keep up the type of work it takes to engineer the body you see here.
“I have a hard time doing traditional cardio,” think: treadmill or notching longer mileages, “but have been able to get amazing cardio workouts with HIIT circuits, outdoor sprints and incline treadmill walking.”
They don’t aggravate his condition… much, but it’s an important lesson to the rest of us to nix the pre-session excuses from our schedules. “Instead of using it as an excuse, I have tried my best to navigate around it,” he says.
Finding Motivation to Work Out and Build Muscle
Cote has some serious motivation. Motivation can be powerful, but it’s also unpredictable. That’s why many of us find ourselves standing still, waiting for that moment of inspiration to strike, that driving force that finally kicks us into higher gear. Sometimes we feel the push, but more often than not, there’s no galvanising moment: just you on the couch skipping another workout.
If you’re stuck in a rut, Cote recommends interrogating your intentions: “Why do you want to work out in the first place? Everyone has their initial reason to go to the gym, which is usually an [aesthetic pursuit], but once you stick with it for several months or years, you will find that the reasons that keep you in the gym working out regularly are different from the reason that got you there in the first place.”
So, what does he mean? Well, if you’re only there to look good for others, your commitment to the broader cause might be limited. But stick with it, and you may find that your “reasons” change. What was once a sweat-fuelled campaign to prop up your vanity and build muscle has now become your place to mentally unwind, bust stress and steel yourself for the workday ahead. However, you might also not be the gym type, admits Cote. “Motivation is going to ebb and flow for everyone. For guys who can’t get excited about the gym, or don’t naturally find it fun, I’d recommend doing something to dramatically switch things up.”
Your Instant Motivation Fix
Cote’s prescription: Join a new gym for a change of scenery, try different equipment or add a few new moves into your (rep)ertoire. Not working? Head outside for a yoga session or trail run. Even simple fixes like making
a new playlist or downloading a fresh podcast can inject a bit of novelty into your stale routines, says Cote. After all, the definition of gym-sanity is doing the same moves over and over again and expecting different results.
“To get results, you have to be disciplined, dedicated and work hard,” he adds. “But it should be fun. I know some fitness people who take it way too seriously and it seems to take away from their life enjoyment when a healthy lifestyle should do the opposite.”
Hack Your Meals: How to Eat Yourself Strong to Build Muscle
Muscle isn’t just a one-sided formula. Sure, those reps are crucial, but the way you eat, and recover, will also ensure that gradual progress sticks. Unsurprisingly, for Cote, “sustainability” isn’t just a mantra for the gym, it’s the basis of his meal plan, too.
“I only do things that I know I can maintain long-term,” he says. While he’s a proponent of eating clean, he knows that platefuls of dry chicken and wilted veggies will only tank his motivation. So he keeps it varied, rotating out proteins and starches so that his daily fare always feels fresh. He also believes in weekly cheat meals—a hard-earned reward for his discipline at the dinner table: “But for the cheat meal to be effective, the rest of the week needs to be clean.”
His diet is based on lean protein sources like fish, eggs, chicken and steak. Fruits and veggies step in to make up the majority of his carbs, but he likes to include grains and low-glycemic variants like wholewheat bread, brown rice and black beans. He’s never counted calories, by the way: “It’s stressful,” he says. “I tell clients and friends often, if you can’t agree to do it for the rest of your life, it probably won’t be a lasting part of your routine.”
“After workouts, I opt for high-glycemic, fast-digesting carbs for enhanced muscle recovery, paired with a fast-acting protein like a whey shake,” he says. “I’d say I aim to eat around three to four meals per day, varying in size and maybe a snack or two in between.” His go-to snacks? Cashews and protein bars or eggs and avocado for an instant dose of those fabled—and oh-so-necessary—healthy fats.
Do Cheat Meals Work?
All this is solid, but Cote credits the longevity of his diet to his cheat meals, a moment to break his fast and really indulge. “A cheat meal can help boost your metabolism and give you a much-needed break from eating clean,” says Cote. His advice? While a cheat meal can help, a cheat “day” is going to derail your fitness campaign to build muscle.
“Also, aim to eat it earlier in the day as it’s more likely to get used as energy as you go about your day,” he adds. While you might be eager to adopt his approach immediately, Cote is quick to caution on the perils of “trying to do too much at once.”
“Getting on a clean eating plan that you can maintain takes a while,” he says. “The body hates rapid change, so I’d recommend gradually integrating positive changes.” In a world of extreme makeovers, a “gradual” approach is refreshing. If you take anything away from Cote’s story, it’s that making just a few small changes and sticking to them will yield the type of long-term outcomes that no trend can touch.
“If you build your body slowly, you keep the results you earn,” says Cote.