Coach Matt McKenna Talks Neuroscience and Fitness Goals

Matt McKenna Bio:

As an aspiring entrepreneur and healthcare market researcher, I do my best to embody empathy and compassion to make a positive impact on the world around me. My passion for health and fitness has played an integral role in shaping the person I am today. My experience as an obese adolescent, high school football player, UNC cheerleader, pre-med student, NPC bodybuilder, and NASM personal trainer has only fostered my appreciation and fascination with the inner workings of the human body. I have acquired a wealth of knowledge and expertise throughout my own lifelong fitness journey and 4 years of coaching.

McKenna Fitness Summary:

My combined background in neuroscience and exercise physiology come together to create a unique, results-oriented process when it comes to achieving one’s goals. Reaching one’s goal is about consistently making small changes over time for significant, long term results. Small changes to one's lifestyle overtime can result in replacing “bad” habits with “good” ones. I not only provide my clients with the necessary tools to efficiently reach their goals but also ensure they understand the reasoning behind our training, eating, and behavior choices for achieving specific results.

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Coach Matt McKenna Talks Neuroscience and Fitness Goals

Matt, we’re lucky to have you in the coaching community because you’re an awesome guy, obviously, but also because you have an interesting background.

After graduating from UNC, you’ve used your background in Neurology to build surveys for pharmaceutical companies.

You take that same statistics-based approach to your coaching, with a heavy emphasis on the brain chemistry side of achieving fitness goals.

You also seek to cycle your clients through as you help them build healthy habits and then become self-sufficient, which is perhaps a bit atypical. We’re excited to hear about that as well.

Now let’s get to the good stuff:

Q: You were kind enough to share that your childhood was challenging due to obesity and that was motivational. Can you tell us a little bit about that? At peak weight, what was life like?

At peak weight, I was beginning to experience some of the expected side effects associated with obesity in adolescents - specifically joint and back pain. However, what was most stressful for me was the self-consciousness, social anxiety, and embarrassment that came with standing as someone who was overweight. 

I grew up on the Outer Banks where everyone spent a lot of time outside in a bathing suit. I missed out on a good amount of experiences and friendships due to my anxiety concerning the way that I looked. I always "wished" that I could fit in and be more like the athletic kids. However, it didn't take me long to realize that change wasn't going to happen overnight, and I understood it was up to me to make that change happen.

Q: What steps did you take to get down to a healthy weight? How long did it take?

My weight-loss journey really took off when I noticed my younger brother had started to lose weight after joining our high school wrestling team. I began by doing my own research on the nutrition side of things because, at that point, I was too nervous to get my own gym membership.

I did my best to track my calories each day and, over time, ensure I was consuming fewer calories than I was burning. For the first year or two, it was challenging to find the right amount of calories to consume each day without eating too little. This sometimes resulted in a "weight rebound," where I would lose a lot of weight in a short period of time and then become so hungry that I couldn't control my appetite. In such instances, I would usually rebound back to a heavier weight than I was at the beginning of the episode.

Overall, it took me a little over a year of consistent training and learning about my own metabolism to reach a "healthy" weight. However, I am still constantly experimenting with my diet and eating habits to better understand how to more efficiently reach my health and fitness goals.

Q: Did you ever backslide or feel your motivation waning? How did you get back on track?

In one of the backsliding events discussed in the previous question, I’d usually end up getting caught up in my own internal thoughts, "Do I keep going? I’m finally losing weight… but I’m so hungry?? What should I do?" 

I got better at minimizing these events by implementing a more balanced diet of protein, fat, and carbs, while at the same time keeping my caloric deficit small enough that I didn't even notice I was restricting my calories. This worked best for me because it was sustainable and easy to maintain over time, which in my opinion is the key to losing weight and keeping it off. 

However, I do believe it takes a certain amount of willpower to stay consistent over time, and this can be especially challenging for some people and takes practice.

Q: Beyond your own personal transformation, what else would you cite as motivation for building a coaching business?

The majority of my motivation in building a coaching business comes from my experience helping some of my earliest clients. I wish that I had someone to explain to me what I know now. I could have saved a lot of time and energy and even avoided a very unhappy part of my life. 

I started training people to make sure that they didn't have to go through the same strenuous process that I did. Once I helped my first client completely change their life for the better, after thinking it was impossible, it became addicting. Knowing that I made a lasting impact on someone else’s life gets me excited. Not only am I proud of those clients, but they are proud of themselves. They become living proof that anyone can reach their goal if they have the correct personal training tools, support, and internal motivation to do so.

Q: You mentioned you’re usually working with 5-10 clients at a time. Do you recall how you got your first client? Any tips for someone who wants to get into the business but hasn’t found their first client yet?

My first client happened to be a high school friend of mine who trusted me, knew my work ethic, and saw my process. Building your network is very important in order to build rapport. To consistently bring clients, you need to make sure that those within your network understand that you are trustworthy, have a proven method, and are willing to go above and beyond to satisfy your clients. 

The more people who are in your corner, enjoy working with you, and can vouch for you as an exceptional person, the better chance you will have to engage with quality clients.

Q: You mentioned you used Tiktok to reach new clients but found it taxing over a period of time. How did using social media help? What aspects of it did you find challenging or tiring?

I used social media at the beginning to prove my expertise and attract clients. It was great at first in building a base of interested clients and interacting with other professionals in the industry, but at the end of the day, I didn't have time to keep up with trends and make consistent posts to keep views high. Once the views started to taper off, I started to see less of a return on the time it took to make new posts.

Q: Your academic background and then lab work are pretty unique. How many people can say they passed organic chemistry? You mentored your peers…How do you use your knowledge of chemistry in your practice?

I consistently apply that knowledge in generating my clients' exercise and nutrition plans, but I try to explain it only if it makes sense for a specific client. 

I use biochemistry as a means to explain metabolic processes behind energy consumption, storage, and use (among many other things) and biomechanics to help explain the anatomy/physiology behind different exercises to make them more efficient.

That being said, I do my best to understand not only my clients' needs but also their wants. If they are interested in learning why I have them doing a certain exercise, I will go into as much detail as desired to help educate them on the nuances behind the plan I set out for them. However, I completely understand my clients who have no interest in those sorts of things and would rather just work hard and get through their training plan.

Q: You also have great experience in testing and documenting the results in various professional settings. How does that play into your coaching practice?

This works out well for me because I can stay adaptable for each client I take on. I strive to make the gym and the fitness industry as understandable as possible.

I understand that everyone is different and may have their own preferences. Being able to video coach remotely in varying settings allows my clients to have a more cost-effective training experience compared to hiring a conventional in-person trainer at a commercial gym. 

This same implementation can be applied to home workouts with no equipment or non-conventional at-home setups where clients may have limited access to equipment.

Q: So tell us about the role of neuroscience in getting healthy. What is neuroscience in the first place?

Neuroscience combines knowledge and methods from various fields such as biology, psychology, chemistry, physics, and computer science. Furthermore, it is a multidisciplinary branch of science that focuses on the study of the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. It seeks to understand the "big picture" structure, function, development, and diseases of the nervous system and how it interacts with the rest of the body.

In short, I opt to apply this process of understanding how the brain interacts with the rest of our body to fitness. I employ this across multiple variables, including habit coaching, nutrition/metabolism, strength, power, and recovery, to ensure efficiency.

In more simple terms, I try my best to uncover the WHY behind individual clients’ results derived from certain inputs and adjust accordingly.

Q: From a client’s perspective, what’s different about working with a coach who has that neuroscience perspective in mind versus someone who doesn’t have that area of expertise?

When you work with a trainer who doesn't have the mentality to look at you, the client, with a "big picture" mentality to fully grasp all of the different variables that can go into a training plan, you might as well just go on YouTube or download a free workout and try to reach your goals yourself via trial and error.

Someone who has studied neuroscience has every tool to embody this "big picture" perspective. As a trainer, someone who has studied neuroscience is more knowledgeable and empathetic, which allows for much more efficient progress tracking and comprehensive client interactions.

Q: Fitness clients/students are usually looking for a transformation. What type of transformation are your students looking to achieve?

I appreciate the use of the word student in this case as they should strive to learn along the way in order to maximize results. I work with people with many different goals, including those who are looking to lose weight for numerous reasons, lead healthier lives in general, train for an event, stay in shape in the off-season, build mass, build strength, and increase mobility.

Q: You mentioned that getting your clients to the point where they are self-sufficient is your goal. You’re not necessarily looking for relationships with clients over a period of years. What are the benefits of working that way?

Though this is my personal goal, it has not stopped me from taking and retaining long-term clients. My true goal in self-sufficiency is in reference to the fact that after training with me, they shouldn’t need to find another trainer for the rest of their lives. 

Most "short-term" clients work with me for about six months. This thought process is most beneficial for the client; my teaching and educating over the course of their plan put some of the responsibility on them as individuals to take the reins. 

I’ve found that a majority of people just assume that by hiring a trainer, they will lose weight (or reach their other desired goals). However, in my experience, these clients rarely see progress and go through numerous trainers over a number of years without showing much long-term, concrete progress. 

By putting some responsibility on the client (increasing intrinsic motivation), I have found that teaching them about how their body works in response to certain stimuli in reference to a training plan results in true lifestyle change that can now be maintained for the long term.

Q: Your practice includes exercise and nutrition coaching. Tell us more about the nutrition coaching side…What are some common public perceptions about nutrition that might not actually be true?

The biggest misconception that first comes to mind is that of these "fad" diets for weight loss. I won't name any specific diets since some people swear by the one they chose, claiming it worked for them. It is crucial to remember that what works effectively for one individual may not yield the same results for someone else. 

I cannot stress this enough - weight loss occurs when you consistently burn more calories than you consume each day. 

I believe the reason why some people believe that being keto, fasting, or being a vegetarian is THE WAY to go is because most of these diets stress the avoidance of packaged processed foods (which are usually very calorie-dense).

Q: What has got you excited about using MevoLife?

I am most excited about MevoLife because I am able to keep all of the moving parts of my business in one place. As someone who also works a 9-5, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is a huge challenge. Therefore, keeping everything regarding my fitness business online in one app will help take a large weight off my shoulders in that regard.

Q: For clients that are browsing the coaching community, who is a good fit for Coach Matt and what should they expect from working with you?

Honestly, anyone who is looking to make a change in their lives, whether they want to lose weight, gain muscle, or lead a healthier lifestyle. As long as they have a concrete goal in mind, I will map out the path and help them to get there to the best of my abilities. 

When a client works with me, I want them to understand that I am here to make reaching their goals less of a burden and am always open and willing to adapt my training regimens to best fit their day-to-day needs and schedule.

Q: For all the other fitness entrepreneurs out there, any advice you want to share that we haven’t already covered?

Two principles that I try to live by:

1) Become comfortable with the uncomfortable (then you'll never stop growing and learning).

2) Respect others as you would want to be respected (remember we are all on this same planet - and at the end of the day, on the same team!

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