Blake Beckford’s unique transformation
After battling a bowel disease for over a decade, Beckford set out to get into shape. His inspirational story is one of a kind
Despite having the odds – and serious illness – against him, Blake Beckford managed to adapt and get himself into incredible shape. He’d always wanted to compete in physique competitions, but his plans received an almost insurmountable setback when he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis early in life. But after struggling through the debilitative disease, Beckford decided to go back and focus on his original dream.
At 17, Beckford decided he wanted to get into the fitness industry, so he started to take his training and nutrition more seriously. ‘I adapted my diet to achieve those goals, and completed a personal training and nutrition diploma to learn more about diet and training,’ he says. It wasn’t long after this, however, that Beckford was diagnosed with a chronic bowel disease that left the lining of his colon covered in ulcers, cutting short any chance of his getting into the fitness industry just when he’d started working towards it. ‘I was diagnosed at about 19, so I was still very much learning the ropes,’ he says.
Beckford didn’t know what was wrong at the time, but he’d started to notice that he was losing weight and seemed unable to put on muscle. His condition deteriorated for around five months before he was diagnosed. ‘I was trying to go to the gym, but I couldn’t eat afterwards because I felt sick, or I was so fatigued that I couldn’t get there in the first place,’ he explains.
He also became very limited in what he could eat, and certain foods made his condition worse. For 10 years, Beckford endured the chronic pain that was just one of the many symptoms of ulcerative colitis. Despite being dosed up on serious amounts of medication, his condition continued to flare up from time to time. In 2013, he was admitted to hospital after a particularly extreme flare up, and with no other viable option he had to undergo surgery.
On a knife edge
Beckford underwent an ileostomy – a procedure where the large bowel is removed and the small intestine brought through the abdominal wall to form a stoma, which allows waste products to leave the body. He was bed-ridden for six weeks and lost nearly 19 kilos. After the surgery, he was told that he would never be able to train heavy again. This was a real blow for a man who’d always dreamed of entering fitness competitions. Beckford also had problems with nutritional absorption, and this combination meant it would be very difficult for him to gain muscle, so the odds were stacked against him getting into fitness-model shape.
Feeling weak and unable even to walk after his surgery, Beckford scoured the internet to find out how others in his position had managed to regain their fitness, but he came up with nothing. ‘I felt there was no hope,’ he says. But despite being told he would never achieve the kind of physique he wanted, he went after it anyway.
It was a slow process, and his weakened abdominal muscles meant that even walking was a struggle at first. So Beckford decided to set small goals every day, such as walking to the end of the road or walking around the block. ‘I had to regain my fitness before I could even think about getting into the gym and starting to work on building muscle,’ he says.
Beckford started doing pilates and yoga to develop his core strength and give him a little strength and robustness before going back to the gym. Conscious of the fact that he could damage his intestine very easily, he bought a hernia belt and a mouldable cup to place over his stoma for protection. ‘The problem is that with any kind of big movement, such as a deadlift or squat, everything goes into the core, and that pressure needs to go somewhere. So it will try to push out the abdominal muscle where the weakness is, and the bowel will herniate’, he explains. His advice for those coming back from similar surgery is to take the same slow and steady route he did. Start easy, and if something hurts, stop doing it. ‘You have to be really in tune with your body,’ he says.
From this gentle start, Beckford’s fitness went from strength to strength, and his body started to take shape. It’s virtually unheard of for someone who has undergone an ileostomy to get into the kind of shape Beckford wanted, but that didn’t deter him. Finally, after a year of hard work in the gym and true dedication in the kitchen, Beckford is in the shape of his life and has left the days of constant pain and suffering behind him.
Divide and rule
In the gym, Beckford keeps to a detailed split workout routine, working two muscle groups a session. Because he doesn’t want to use too much weight, he performs slightly more repetitions and sets with a lower weight to bring about muscle growth. He sticks to 12-15 reps, with around six sets per exercise, often pre-exhausting a muscle group the day before his main training day so that he can be even more effective in his workout. Explaining his method, Beckford says, ‘if I was going to do back and biceps tomorrow, I might pre-exhaust my back today so that when I go the gym tomorrow I can really hit it. Effectively, you are just trying to break muscle down to be rebuilt again. There are lots of ways of doing this. You could overload it with weight, but I use a volume-based training.’
To stay lean, Beckford includes varied cardio days in his weekly workouts. Living in a hilly area means he can easily get outside for hill walking or cycling – his preferred method of transport. As well as slower, steady-state cardio, Beckford incorporates high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in his regime. He likes to do sprint drills, such as 30 seconds sprinting with 30 seconds rest. ‘Slow and steady can get very boring, and there is definite evidence behind HIIT as an effective method for fat burning and fitness,’ he says, ‘so I think that if I do a bit of both I’m not missing out.’
Beckford also follows a strict diet, taking the attitude that ‘nutrition is key’. Since his surgery he is nowhere near as limited in what he can eat, which makes life a lot easier for him. While there are a few items he avoids, he can now eat the food he loves and tailor his nutrition to achieve his fitness goals. His fixed diet means he doesn’t consume alcohol or junk food, but although he’s very regimented he doesn’t resent it. ‘I actually like being like that,’ he says. Beckford firmly believes that training and nutrition are both as essential as each other. ‘This is going to sound cheesy, but they are both 100% important. You can’t just give training 50% and your nutrition 50%. You have to give them both 100%’ he says.
Beckford’s motivation to train and better himself comes from a desire to inspire others. When he left hospital, he felt there were no role models he could relate to. Now he wants provide that role model for others. ‘I want to show those who’ve been through a similar process to me that there is actually light at the end of tunnel.’ In a further bid to promote his cause and give others inspiration, Beckford recently set up his own website, which details his story for others to read.
After battling his bowel disease for over 10 years, Beckford has revived his aspirations to enter competitions. ‘The bag has given me a second chance,’ he says. To achieve Beckford’s physique is difficult by anybody’s standards, but to do it with a condition like his is a great deal harder. He’s had to adapt his whole approach to training and fitness. ‘I can’t always do the typical exercise movements because the bag may be in the way. I have to adapt some of the movements to suit me having a bag’. Adaptation is very much a part of his philosophy. ‘You never stop learning about training – you are always evolving and adapting,’ he says.
Most of all, Beckford just wants ‘to show that you can achieve anything’. He has achieved something that isn’t normally attainable for someone in his position. But if he can fight through adversity to achieve his dream, there isn’t much excuse for the rest of us.
For more information about Blake Beckford’s inspiring story, visit www.blakebeckford.co.uk or follow him on Twitter: