Dave Cunningham
How I Maintain an Impressive Fitness Model Physique after 17 Years of Training


We talked with Dave Cunningham in October, 2019. Follow Dave on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter
Country:
United Kingdom
Age:
33 years
Weight:
95 kg
(210 lbs)
Height:
185 cm
(6 '1)


Hi! Tell me about yourself and your training

Hey! My name is Dave Cunningham and I’m 33 years old. I’m a PT (Personal Trainer), Online Coach and Fitness Model from Medway in Kent. I have been active in fitness for nearly 20 years.

I’ve been with my wife for close to 11 years and am happy to say that we’re expecting our first child in six weeks, so very exciting times ahead in the Cunningham household.

I got into training when I was about 15/16 years old. I used to be a competitive basketball player, playing for my school team as team captain and competing in street ball tournaments, but it was my teachers that came to me and said I had the ability to go far in the sport if I could improve my physical abilities by training my body.

After seeing the changes to my physique and how great it felt being in the gym, I switched focus from basketball to just general physique training and that’s where my journey started.

I never really took my training too seriously until I was in my mid 20s as I always struggled to gain muscle. In my 20s I noticed I started to grow and retain muscle, so I wanted to see what I might be able to do with my body. I wanted this because I’ve always been quite extroverted and wanted to find an outlet that matched my personality.

I have been interested in bodybuilding since my early teens and although I massively admire the physiques that they built, that’s not the direction I wanted to take my physique.

I always felt that I could achieve a fitness model physique, like a Men’s Health/Men’s Fitness type of look and maintain flexibility, fitness and strength but still be aesthetically pleasing.

Luckily for me the fitness industry created fitness modelling shows, for people like me who wanted a chance to shine in their own right. So in 2012 I entered my first competition at the Miami Pro UK Championships and was automatically hooked.

In my years of competing, my proudest accomplishment was earning my WBFF Pro card in 2016 at the WBFF UK Championships. For years, people had told me that I wouldn’t go far with my physique or that it would be too difficult, however I knew deep down I had what it took to turn Pro and that I just needed to remain consistent.

It was such an indescribable feeling when I got announced as the newest WBFF Pro. It was a title I had been fighting for, for 2.5 years, and to finally achieve that goal was a great reward. It confirmed that I was right to back myself and believe in what I knew I was capable of.

In my spare time, I tend to keep up to date with the NBA as basketball online as it is still a passion of mine. In the past I had to watch games that were 3.5 hours long but not with online platforms like Youtube, I can watch a full game’s highlights in 10-12 minutes which is great!

I’m also a huge film buff and love watching action films, especially films from the Marvel Universe. I will also re-watch the old classics like Rocky, Conan, Bloodsport as the actors in those films were my idols who had incredible physiques which is, I guess, where my appreciation of a well-built physique started.

I travel as often as I can, there’s a huge world out there with some great sites and cultures out there to see and experience.

Bodybuilding/Fitness has given me more than just a physique and my health. It’s taken me to different countries that I probably wouldn’t have seen had it not been for the life I’ve chosen.

Bodybuilding/Fitness has also shown me that if I set my mind to something, regardless of how impossible the task may seem, I WILL achieve it in the end if I just stay focused, committed, and believe in my ability to succeed.


Instagram, @davecunningham_wbffpro - photo by joemay92

Describe a typical day of training


I normally prepare for my training the night before, mentally.

My training philosophy is the same as my approach to the game of basketball was – always have fun! Regardless of what exercise I’m doing, how many sets, reps, the weight – its irrelevant as long as I’m having fun and working on what I need to then it’ll keep me coming back.

Depending on whether I have a competition, shoot or an event coming up or if I’m in an off-season then my training will differ with cardio, but my resistance training tends to stay pretty much the same. I train five days a week for between 1-2 hours, depending on how much time I have and what I need to get done in that training sessions.

The bigger muscles like back and legs I spend a bit more time on but I normally get everything done that I need to. I tend not to follow any specific training program or protocol. Instead, I tend to train like a kid in the playground – I see what machines or pieces of equipment I fancy playing with that day and just crack on til my hearts content.

I train at Rochester Health Club here in Medway and have done for just over 10 years. Its like a second home to me as its got a great mixture of weight and cardio equipment and I’m spoilt for choice with the amount of equipment they have.

I’ve had training partners in the past but don’t have a consistent training partner. When I was honing in on my skills as a basketball player I would practice for HOURS each day by myself after school so I’ve gotten used to working alone and suffering alone.

But having a training partner definitely makes the workouts easier as they can pass you the heavy weights when there’s no-one around for a spot.

I normally prepare for my training the night before, mentally. I tend to visualize what I want from that training session and what I want to work on, still maintaining that fun element.

What specific muscles I want to target and what angles I might want to attack them from. I heard a story of Serge Nubret squatting 60kgs for 20 minutes consistently. That sounds like a lot of fun but I haven’t felt brave enough to try it yet lol.

I’ve taken my gym bag all around the world and its got everything I could need in there – resistance bands, wrist/knee wraps, knee sleeves, massage balls, three different weight belts, Vibram training shoes (I bought specifically for calf training), squatting shoes and other bits and bobs that I’ve accumulated over the years.

I tend not to have a specific cardio regime that I follow, I tend to go off of how I’m feeling that day. So if I’m planning on doing an hour’s cardio and don’t feel like doing the full hour there, I’ll split it up to either 30/40 minutes in the morning and the other 30/20 minutes in the evening or do half of it before my workout and the other half at the end.

When I have a show coming up I do tend to increase the cardio intensity as the show draws closer, but that could be implementing a HIIT protocol if needed or increasing the pace or duration of my cardio session.

My favourite exercises are probably Lying Leg Curls for hamstrings, Leg Press for quads as I have been battling back issues for years so although Squats are fun, they have caused issues with my back in the past for I feel safe in the Leg Press as I can push myself further without risking injury.

My favourite upper body movement is a seated dumbbell press for shoulders as its such a great feeling to have that power and to build a wider frame with better capped delts.


Instagram, @davecunningham_wbffpro - photo by Max Ellis

How do you keep going and push harder?


Going to the gym is just like brushing my teeth in the morning

Going to the gym is just like brushing my teeth in the morning – it’s such a natural part of my day that I don’t have to think twice about going to the gym.

It’s like another home for me so all I do is work going to the gym around family and work commitments, find out what I’ve got going on that day/week and then when I know what’s happening I just simply say to myself ‘ok so I’m going to the gym at this time’.

I’ve managed to stay motivated for nearly 20 years as I’ve kept progressing year on year so I’m excited to see what I can achieve this time next year, in two years, five years, 10 years!

I’m going to keep progressing if I stay in the same path, considering I started my journey around 120 lbs (54 kg) and am now weighing in at a lean 210 lbs (95 kg), I’m only getting better as I’m getting older so who wouldn’t be excited about that?!

My best advice for improving in the gym is just to simply stay consistent – if you keep pushing more and more, little by little each day then of course eventually you are going to improve, you’ve just gotta remain patient and remember that diet and training go hand in hand.

The biggest challenge that I have faced is when I injured my back. Funnily enough just shopping for honeymoon options with my wife in a shopping centre and my back blew out and I almost dropped to the floor in excruciating pain.

I had been diagnosed with an intervertebral disc disease and was told I would never be able to train the same again.

At the time really hit me hard. But I had been told in the past about things that I’d never be able to do and remembered that as long as I focus and dedicate myself to getting better, then I will get back to where I was, or as close as possible, I just knew that I had to be patient.

Granted it has taken me better part of a year to 18 months to do this, but I’m now fitter and stronger than I ever have been.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

My training at the moment is going great! I’m stronger in almost all my lifts that I used to do except my squats. My back is still adjusting to the heavier loads but I’m getting there. My goals going forward are to try and maintain a leaner physique year round rather than going through the typical bulking/cutting cycle that competitors go through.

My wife and I are expecting our first child soon so my priorities will be family life and the gym WILL come second, however like I said, its such a natural part of who I am and what I do that it won’t falter much if any at all.

If I could start my whole journey all over again, there isn’t much that I would change as I’ve always felt that learning the hard way is the best way as you can always see first hand how and how NOT to do things.

But with hindsight, I probably would’ve learned more about better nutrition in my teens. I feel you tend to build your structure as an adult easier if the foundation is built in your teens. If you are at a good starting point it’s less of an adaptation for the body to have to make.


Instagram, @davecunningham_wbffpro - photo by Max Ellis

How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?


Sleep for me is such a HUGE component in recovery.

Now that I’m a little older I tend to listen to my body a lot more, so if I feel something when training that doesn’t feel right, I stop and re-assess. In my younger years, I would push through until the objective was met and then assess what had happened after.

So now I train smarter rather than harder. I’ve made the greatest gains and progressions in my physique within the last year by just listening to what my body is telling me and taking a step back when I feel my body needs it.

Whenever it comes to injuries these days (which are few and far between) I just rest and allow my body to recover. Then the next step is to start getting my body going through the motions lightly and slowly and gradually progress back to where I was when the body can handle it again.

Sleep for me is such a HUGE component in recovery. I try to get a good 8 hours of sleep a night. Occasionally its as little as 6 hours if I have to be up at 4 am to hit the gym if that’s what my day requires but I’ve always said that your body makes the greatest gains whilst at rest, and sleep is the ultimate rest.

Whenever it comes to travel or changes to my day/schedule, I’m normally ok if I plan ahead, but if anything gets in the way of my training, I will probably be in a bad mood.

I’m a creature of habit so I will always endeavour to hit the gym when I’ve planned to, rain, sleet or snow, unless it’s something that I’m truly needed for like a family emergency or something more pressing like that then I’m fine. Sure the gym is a BIG deal to me, but I like to think I’ve got my priorities in order.

How is your diet and what supplements do you use?


I am known for having a big sweet tooth

My diet stays the same pretty much year round. It just depends on the portions sizes that I have and my caloric intake fluctuates depending on my goals so I tend to normally track my calories and macronutrients and adjust them accordingly.

I tend to usually float around 3,000 calories but can go much lower than that depending on if I have a show or photoshoot coming up. I try not to go too high on my calories as I do have a tendency to store fat easily now I’m in my early/mid 30’s, so I do have to be a bit stricter when it comes to my nutrition.

It’s not often I have cheat meals/days as I do tend to prefer tracking my carbs, protein and fats for my desired goals. I tend to prefer a high carb day as I love my carbs and I’ve found carbohydrates to be very beneficial to my training.

However, I am known for having a big sweet tooth, so I will allow myself the occasional chocolate bar or tub of ice cream of an evening, but if I find I’m having a particular craving I tend to listen to my body and try to figure out if its just something I think I want or something my body is telling me I need.

For example, if my sugar levels are low and I feel a crash coming then I’ll cater to that. But if I’m just craving a load of junk food, I try and ignore it as I always remind myself that food is fuel, my body is what I’m fueling. So how do I want to fuel my body for the next day’s training ahead, as I know that if I eat bad then I will feel bad and probably perform bad.

I have been known in the past to do the typical bro diet cycle – bulk/cut/bulk/cut etc. But now I tend to try and stay a little leaner, I will have higher calories when I’m trying to improve on my physique but only a slight surplus rather than being in such a surplus that I just replace the fat I spent months trying to shift.

I’m a huge coffee fan as it’s now become a part of my morning routine and I normally tend to take a pre-workout strong coffee to help with my training, especially cardio. There’s been some great research done and there’s some great literature out there around how caffeine in the right measurements can aid performance.

Plus, I’m not gonna lie – I like the taste of a good strong black coffee.

When it comes to alcohol and social drinking, I don’t really drink much anymore. I might have one or two nights out a year where I’ll drink but I can’t handle the hangovers like I used to.

Alcohol destroys my training and diet for a few days after as I feel dreadful so I just avoid it and just enjoy the company I’m in. My social circle is full of great people and I don’t need to drink to enjoy myself.

I keep my supplement intake pretty basic these days as I don’t currently have a sports supplement sponsor. I just take a Whey Isolate, normally with my oats in the morning, a creatine monohydrate, vitamin C tablets and the occasional joint care supplement if my joints are feeling to effects of heavier training in my improvement season.

I’ve used different brands in the past but I’m finding Bulk Powders at the moment to be of great benefit. They seem to have the best value for money with the supplements and the serving sizes. There are cheaper brands on the market but I always see it as – you get what you pay for.


Instagram, @davecunningham_wbffpro - photo by Max Ellis

What has inspired and motivated you?


You don’t need to suffer to get into shape.

My inspiration comes from so many different sources. I tend not to have much negative energy around me as I don’t need to use ‘haters’ or anything like that to drive me.

I’m quite a positive person so I tend to look at the people that have gone before me and use them as an example so people that have overcome serious illness, injuries, obstacles in their life.

I look at those stories and situations and although I have had my setbacks and problems, other people have had it worse than I have and if they can push through their challenges then there’s no reason why I can’t push through mine.

I grew up watching the 80’s action films and those guys were my heroes. Seeing the physiques of those guys, I thought they looked so cool and wanted to look just like them and although as time has gone on, a muscular physique is not as desirable as it used to be years back, I still have a huge appreciation for a well-structured physique and its something I will still strive for.

I’m a fan of all types of music but when I’m in the gym I normally have my Spotify playlist full of heavy metal, rap-metal, gangster rap etc so that I can zone into what I’m doing and how I’m training, although my cardio playlist is normally full of r&b and hip-hop.

I have been very fortunate the have associated myself with very well educated trainers, bodybuilders and physique athletes who have always given sound advice. I tend to lean on them for advice or what their opinions on certain subjects are like training, diet etc., so I can bounce ideas off of and see their views and if they agree or what their view on it would be.

The best advice I have ever received is that you don’t need to suffer to get into shape. Unfortunately, it’s something I was told late into my training as I used to push myself in the gym no end, especially when I had a competition coming up.

There wasn’t any length I wouldn’t push my body to in the gym, which I now know has its place from time to time. But it’s perfectly fine and still extremely effective to take a step back from time to time and train at 80-85%.

Otherwise, you’ll burn out and crash, which I’ve done and have now learned first hand that I don’t always need to push myself as hard as I can still get the same/similar results from taking a slightly less intense approach.

Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?


This industry is more of a marathon than a sprint

My advice for others getting involved in the fitness industry depends on how they want to establish themselves in the industry.

Whether you want to compete as a physique athlete (bodybuilding, fitness, men’s physique, bikini, etc.) or whether they are looking to go down the fitness/commercial modelling route.

I’ve done both and now we have social media it s easier to get yourself out there, but the first step is deciding how you plan to establish yourself.

If you want to go the competitor route then I would advise you to go to the shows of the competitions you want to enter as a spectator. Do this so you can see first hand what the stand is so you’re not going into it blindly and you’ll have an idea of the standard of athletes that turn up.

Then set a plan of action, whether it be in 1-2 years time (yes, I said years as this industry is more of a marathon than a sprint), pick the show you want to, then work backwards from there and set a game plan of what you need to work on. Hiring a coach is always a good start if you’re understanding of training and nutrition is lacking.

If you’re looking to get into the actual modelling industry then there’s a few things you’ll need to do first. First of all, you’ll need to be in shape! This is a given but you’ll be surprised with the amount of people that will try to run before they can crawl. Greg Plitt said it best – “A fitness model without abs is an out of work fitness model”.

Secondly, you’ll need to build a diverse portfolio with different photographers in the fitness industry. Do this so that agencies can see a range of your work and that you can work with different photographers. Modelling is a business, so if people struggle to work with you then you won’t be getting much work.

Then once you’re in shape and you’ve got a broad port folio then you will need to start contacting agencies and companies introducing yourself.

This could be a lengthy process as its quite a cut-throat and over-saturated market, so be ready for some rejections and non-responders – all models have experienced this at some point in their career.


Instagram, @davecunningham_wbffpro - photo by Thomas Mone

Are you taking on clients right now?

I still have some room to take on clients at the moment, but I only take on a select few as I tend to not spread myself too far and thin trying to juggle too many clients at once. People always want to get in shape and having a coach will definitely help with that, but it’s hard to determine the right coach for you.

Some coaches that prep their clients do so solely from having been prepped for a show by someone else, placing top five and then THEY claim to be an online coach to get other people in shape without ever having done it before.

I myself have numerous qualifications in nutrition and weight management and turned pro with a training and diet plan prep that I devised myself. I had a coach once but felt that I was too much of a maverick to be told what to do and feel that listening to my body and responding works best for me.

So I’ve been in the trenches as an athlete and as a fitness competitor and can communicate from an educated background but also from a personable standpoint as I know what my clients are going through. So I tell my clients, if you want to be where I am, I got myself there and I can get you there too, but only if you’re willing to work for it.

I love taking on new clients as every body responds differently. Some people’s physiques are challenging (not the clients themselves, just how their body responds) and some are just incredible.

I love the super responders and the ‘outliers’ as sometimes I’ll have a client that will lose weight the more food I give them without doing cardio and they end up in phenomenal shape with a great amount of calories and not having to suffer a great deal.

They’re few and far between but always great fun to work with. People respond at different paces so for anyone looking to take on a PT or online coach, just remember that this is not an overnight thing, this is gonna take some time so get ready to grow roots lol.

Where can we learn more about you?

I took a break from all social media platforms in 2017, but have only recently just got back involved. So you can find me on:
Instagram: @davecunningham_wbffpro
Facebook: @DaveCunninghamFit
Twitter: @dave_c_wbffpro

My main platform is Instagram.1 I have my Twitter and Facebook page linked to it so I post there and it filters out across the rest too.


Ready to get really fit and inspired?

I’m Mads Phikamphon, founder of Bulk Hackers.

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