Before I broke my hip seven years ago I led an active life, playing football three or four times a week. Afterwards, my fitness level declined and I put on nearly 13kg. I needed a coach who’d understand that I’m a beginner and a programme that worked around my injuries.
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I met former Royal Marines commando and personal trainer Sean Lerwill. We agreed I’d follow his ten-week Absolute Beginner’s Transformation Programme.
To start with I was mostly learning the form and technique with low weights, as well as getting my body used to training again. ‘The programme is designed for gym newcomers,’ says Lerwill. ‘It will move them along as fast as is safely possible.’
My diet had specific guidelines. My daily protein ration was 2.5-3g per kg of bodyweight and fats made up a third of my calories, with the rest coming from carbs. ‘His calories were around 20% less than normal to encourage fat burning,’ says Lerwill. ‘The high protein was to enable muscle growth despite the calorific deficit.’
I enjoyed every minute. Lerwill nurtured me through each session. He pushed me hard but never too hard, and I felt a difference very early, which was really exciting.
A big concern was the fact that I have ME and fibromyalgia – both conditions that cause fatigue and pain all over the body. The Department of Health advises against those with ME doing heavy training because it can cause a post-stress malaise, but I generally suffered less when I was active so I wanted to see what eating and training properly would do. Before the programme, I’d typically have two or three bad days a week – a foggy head and pain from head to toe. But since starting this I haven’t had a single bad day. It made a huge difference.
By the day of the shoot I’d lost 6kg of fat and put on 1kg of muscle. I’m not going back to the way I was: my eating habits are radically different and I’ve stuck to the workouts. I’m proud of what I accomplished. It’s changed my life.
After seven months of training for the Zurich Ironman triathlon – lots of long steady-state swims, rides and runs, and next to no strength work – I was softer, smaller and weaker than I’d been for years. I wanted my manliness back and for that I needed a coach who would make me look and feel like I could tear through walls with my hands.
I went to one of the most innovative coaches in London: Pieter Vodden, founder of Vodden Unlimited and the UK’s only certified Gym Jones master trainer. Gym Jones is the team that got Henry Cavill in shape to play Superman in Man Of Steel. Vodden put me on the same programme, TH90.
‘The first part is an eight-week mass gain phase, consisting of two strength, two muscle-building and two recovery sessions,’ says Vodden. ‘It also includes short cardio challenges to build endurance and fortitude.’
During this stage I also had to get through 5,000 calories a day. The macronutrient breakdown was 50% fat, 30% carbs and 20% protein. ‘You won’t gain weight without a lot of calories,’ says Vodden. ‘Carbs are essential to maintain appetite and to fuel performance and growth, and protein is vital for building muscle and recovery. Fat triggers satiety enzymes, so although it’s high in calories you won’t get much down you – that’s why we keep it low during this stage.’
The second stage was four weeks of leaning out. ‘The aim is to strip fat without losing muscle. It’s made up of two strength, two power endurance and two recovery sessions,’ says Vodden. The food changed too. ‘Calories went down to between 3,500-3,000 a day, with protein now making up 35%, carbs 25% and fat 40%.’
It was the most challenging 12 weeks of gym work I’ve ever done and in many ways as demanding as training for an Ironman. The introductory session at CrossFit Evolving, Vodden’s north London base, was a monster and it only got harder after that.
One of the toughest workouts was Max Tin – an hour of ten-rep sets of weighted squats, bench presses, push presses and deadlifts, with sets of five pull-ups in between. The aim was to lift as much weight as possible, so rests were cut to the absolute minimum.
The food was even tougher. During the first couple of days of eating 5,000 calories, I was loving the fact that I was allowed to tear through plates of mashed potato and loaves of bread. But after three days it became a nightmare. I felt sick from having to eat such vast amounts. But it had a huge effect on my training – I quickly hit new PBs and by week 8 I was, at 95kg, 7kg heavier.
The diet was made easier by meal provider Mealtek delivering macro-specific meals every day. All the same, cutting down to 3,500 calories during the leaning phase was a blessing. The MyFitness Pal app was also a big help. Its simple interface meant I could accurately catalogue what I was eating.
At the end of the 12 weeks, after the leaning phase, I was just 2kg heavier but stronger and far more body-confident. Working with Vodden has set me on the path to discovering my true physical capabilities. It’s one I’ll stay on for the rest of my life.
Nick Hutchings worked for Men’s Fitness UK, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Nick worked as digital editor from 2008 to 2011, head of content until 2014, and finally editor-in-chief until 2015.
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