The bodybuilder and fitness influencer shares some of his best training advice.
Simeon Panda is one of the most recognisable faces – and physiques – in the bodybuilding world.
With a social media following in excess of 13 million, he was voted as one of the top ten fitness influencers in the world by Forbes.
Building a body like Panda’s requires a fair amount of heavy lifting, clearly, but since the coronavirus pandemic he’s also been proving that weights aren’t the only way to get in shape – by way of hundreds of minimal-kit and bodyweight workouts on his YouTube channel.
Panda regularly judges physique and bodybuilding competitions around the world, and he recently teamed up with boohooMAN to launch a new activewear collection.
Although he grew up in London, the 34-year-old has lived in Los Angeles for the last few years – and that’s where, in the midst of the UK’s lockdown 3.0, Panda jumped on a Zoom call bright and early to talk to MF about his new partnership, his journey into fitness, and some of the best training and nutrition tips that have served him so well over the years.
MF: Why did you decide to team up with boohooMAN?
SP: When I’m training, I want to be comfortable, but I want to look good as well. boohooMAN’s clothing ticks every box for me. It’s a huge brand that’s growing every day, too, so it was an easy decision for me.
MF: What are your stand-out pieces from the collection?
SP: Right now I’m loving the seamless tee, which I’m wearing right now. I love things like this because the fit is amazing and it’s great to train in.
MF: Do you struggle to find stuff that fits you?
SP: Yes I do! Which is another good thing about boohooMAN: they have the Big and Tall sizes, so people like me can find something that fits them.
MF: The last year has forced everyone to adapt and improvise new ways to keep fit – has your regular routine been affected by the pandemic?
SP: Initially, I was affected by it when gyms closed. When I got the news that everything was shutting, I went out and got myself some equipment so I was ready to go back to the way I trained when I first started out.
I trained at home for five or six years to begin with, and while it’s been a long time since then it’s still something I’m used to. I also know that you can build and make progress from home, so I wasn’t too worried about that.
One thing I wanted to make sure was that my followers had that same knowledge, so I was posting workouts and training advice to help people follow along at home.
You don’t need much equipment: two dumbbells, or even just bodyweight, and you can have a proper full-body workout.
MF: How did you first get into fitness?
SP: I started around the age of 14 or 15, and at the age you’re always willing to try anything: you try different sports and different activities, just to see what fits.
When I tried weightlifting, I fell in love with it. The feeling of a pump was something that I became addicted to, and I knew after that first session I wanted to experience that same feeling again and again.
I wasn’t following a training plan or anything; I literally just did it for the enjoyment, and even today I train because I love it.
It’s been 20 years now since I started training, and the reason is still the same: I just enjoy lifting weights.
MF: When did you realise you might be able to make a career as a bodybuilder?
SP: I had been training for ten years, and been a PT for a few years. I enjoyed that, but I didn’t like the restriction of having to be in one gym the whole time, and I also wanted to use my head a bit more.
So I completely changed career and I started working in finance. While I was crunching numbers I realised I had all this knowledge from a decade of training, and I just started writing fitness blogs.
The response to those was great, so the blogs turned into e-books, and then everything just sky-rocketed.
It got to a point where I found myself in a financial position where I could leave my nine to five and pursue this thing full-time.
Luckily everything fell into place when I made that decision. I left my office job and was immediately doing bodybuilding seminars all over the world.
MF: How has your training changed since you first started taking it seriously?
SP: I’ve always liked progression – getting stronger. So since the early days my training has been based around lifting more and chasing that strength progress.
The physique side of things has been a bonus, but it’s never actually been a goal of mine to look a certain way. The progression is what I thrive on: getting stronger and learning new techniques.
MF: What does your weekly routine look like?
SP: People look down on the so-called ‘bro split’, but it’s what’s worked for me over the years.
I concentrate on one muscle group each day, but where I might differ from other people is that every single session is intense enough that I’m going to need a lot of recovery before I attack that muscle group again.
So where someone else might to three to four sets, I’m doing eight on each exercise.
I do that in a pyramid format – or more like a pyramid with a flat top. So I start with lighter weight and higher reps, and add weight each set, while gradually decreasing the reps. But once I reach my heaviest weight, I will repeat that set at least two to three times. Then I reverse the pattern by upping the reps and decreasing the weight for the final few sets.
Obviously if you’ve got a muscle group that’s lagging behind, you’re going to need to pay it extra attention, so legs I train twice a week – calves about four to five times. But it’s one muscle group each day, I hone in on that and I smash it to bits.
MF: Eight sets is quite advanced; what would you recommend for beginners?
SP: I would say four to five. The reason is that with three sets, you’re just warming up. You’re only just getting the muscle warm and ready, and to me it doesn’t make sense to stop when the muscle is primed and ready to lift some formidable weight.
MF: Bodybuilding is as much about strict nutrition as it is working out – what’s your general advice for a healthier relationship with food?
SP: I’m not a fan of any diet, because it sets up the wrong mindset. I’m a fan of eating healthy most of the time.
Obviously you’re going to want a bit of a surplus if you’re trying to build muscle, but you’re still eating healthy, nutritious food.
I don’t follow a typical bodybuilder’s diet, because there aren’t really any foods that I can’t include – I just make them in a healthy way. So I’ll make a lasagne, for example, in a healthy way; or I’ll make a pizza in a healthy way. But I don’t believe you should restrict yourself massively.
I’ve been doing this for 20 years and the key for me is longevity. If you’re going to do this for a long time, you need to enjoy it. I don’t want to be eating three spears of asparagus and a tiny piece of chicken every day!
It has to be something you can continue for life, which is why I stick to a balanced diet all year round, rather than bulking and cutting, which is extreme eating that can’t be healthy for your body.
MF: Do you allow yourself any indulgences?
SP: One-hundred per cent, yes, of course. And when you eat healthy 99% of the time, when you do have the odd ‘cheat meal’ it’s negligible: it makes no difference to your physique or fitness.
It’s even good for you to relax every now and then. This Friday, for example, I might get a Five Guys tonight, or pizza, or ice cream, and I’m not going to feel any guilt around that.
MF: Most people have been forced to work out from home, with minimal equipment, during the pandemic – do you have any advice for maintaining or building muscle with limited weights?
SP: There’s an infinite number of workouts online, so when it comes to people training at home I don’t think it’s about what they can do; it’s more about motivation. It’s the motivation to actually work out at home.
So I say to people, these are the testing times. These are the times when you find out what you’re made of, and whether you’re serious about getting in shape.
You need to train even when it’s not the most enjoyable. I said that I enjoy training, but even on the days when I don’t want to, that’s when I know I have to do it.
The key to reaching your goals is consistency, and that includes training when it’s not fun.
In terms of making it fun, put some music on: good music will put anyone in the mood.
Also, when you’re training at home, don’t just think you can do it in your pyjamas or casual clothes: put your gym kit on and be ready for the session. Have a set time as well, and remove any distractions.
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MF: What’s your favourite exercise?
It’s got to be squats. Nothing gives me a better feeling, especially when it gets heavier.
It’s the only exercise where you cannot bail out, because once you’re at the bottom of the squat you simply have to stand back up!
MF: Finally, if you could only use one bit of fitness equipment, what would that be?
For one piece of kit that you can do anything with, it’s dumbbells. If you have a set of dumbbells, or even just one dumbbell, you can do every single exercise and work every muscle.
Shop boohooMAN’s active wear collection featuring Simeon Panda at boohooman.com/mens/activewear