...DO THIS PROPERLY AND YOU WON’T JUST HAVE EARNED A HARDER, STRONGER BODY. YOU’LL ALSO RESPECT YOURSELF MORE
Six MH editors took on a 12-week staff fitness challenge to change their bodies. This is their journal of hard truths and some solid results. Use their lessons and one smart workout plan to transform your body
Mainstream media is lying to you. Building muscle and losing fat doesn’t happen through retweets, regrams or by liking photos of Schwarzenegger. Selfies and good intentions do not a good body make. Sadly, neither do terms like “Eat Clean, Train Mean”. Don’t get us wrong, motivational pieces are great, but they’re just there to help. Just like all the latest tools, supplements and gear – none of it is going to lift the weights for you. There’s only one ingredient that guarantees results: real Commitment. It’s not sexy, but hard work never is. We can’t put the effort in for you, but we can give you the smartest methods...
Lift heavy and rest less to build more muscle
ROBERT’S TRAINING METHOD Functional strength training at Point Break Fitness, pointbreakfitnesscentre.com
GOALS Initially, I wanted muscle gains. But I soon realised that it’s pretty difficult to achieve that, improve my cardiofitness levels and develop some sort of a six-pack, all at the same time. So I focused on simply getting stronger and fitter.
OBSTACLES Unfortunately, I had a few. I was the oldest guy on the Challenge, and my body doesn’t respond to training as it did in my twenties – I had to make sure I recovered properly between training days. My immune system was also an issue; I went in full guns blazing in the first two weeks (from not having exercised for a few years), and my system just couldn’t handle it. The result: I had to focus on getting enough rest and establishing a vitamin-rich diet. I also can’t produce testosterone naturally anymore – I overcame testicular cancer three years ago and, as a result, I’m on a permanent prescription of medical testosterone. I made sure I focused my heavy training and food intake around this.
COACH’S NOTES (Ryan Botha) “Rob’s biggest strength for me was his willingness to train. For a guy who hadn’t trained a great deal before, he picked up great strength in his core, upper body and legs. His legs were tough to train,
as one of his legs was weaker and tougher to work – but we still saw big gains in his squats and lunges, and his mobility and stabilisation increased exponentially.”
RESULTS I had a mental block about certain exercises that I thought I couldn’t perform. Three months ago, I could hardly do a push-up… when I got to the third rep, my shoulders would lock because I believed they weren’t strong enough. Then Ryan said I needed to complete the set, even if I needed to put my knees on the ground –and now I can easily complete 100 push-ups in a session. In terms of my eating plan, it was a struggle for me – I needed to eat almost double what I was used to. But with planning, adding snacks and cooking a few meals at a time, it became routine. I ate as early as possible in the day to kick-start my metabolism, and I cut down on coffee, as caffeine suppresses appetite. After a couple of operations a few years ago, I wasn’t allowed to train, and I just never got back into it. Now that the flame has been re-ignited and I’m fitter than I’ve been in a long time, it’s time to start building strength and continue my healthier, more active lifestyle.
THE BIGGEST LESSONS:
1 / Compound training is key. You pick up strength with functional movement. Your mobility improves too.
2 / Eating clean has the biggest impact. You need to turn healthy eating into a habit. Don’t skip meals and cut down on alcohol. If you’re going to eat crap, then do it on training days, so you can burn those empty kilojoules.
Swing, spar and sweat your way to a six-pack
THOMAS’S TRAINING METHOD Boxing training and PT at The Armoury Boxing Club, armouryboxing.com
GOALS I just wanted to learn how to box, but I quickly realised that in order to do that, I had to strengthen my core and do a lot of work on the road. So my goals changed to getting physically stronger, much fitter and mentally braver, too.
OBSTACLES Running. I still hate it, but I don’t need to enjoy it to get it done, so I’m pushing myself into it as hard as I can. I’m not naturally competitive, and I lack that killer instinct, that special viciousness you need to knock a guy out. Running helps me move around in the ring. It’s about controlling the space, owning it so your opponent can’t find a way in – and it’s a constant, lifelong process of trying to do the basics well, putting mind over matter. If running helps, just do it.
COACH’S NOTES (Sanchia, personal trainer, and Clever, boxing trainer) “He’s a champ! He pushes through the pain and gives his all. The Armoury gave Tom fitness and skills and he brought a ton of heart – it’s a winning combination.”
RESULTS At the start, Steve, the owner of The Armoury, told me this would be more of an emotional journey than a physical one. I didn’t understand that then, but I can see now he was right: the physical benefits come naturally, if you’re focused on performing in the ring. In order to stay upright and awake in there, you need to be properly fit. It’s not like you’ll do some running, or some skipping, and then you’re good to go three rounds. You’ll do everything – from burpees and sprints all the way to HIIT and lifting, 5K recovery runs, everything. It feels like I’ve lost a big chunk of body fat, and gained more muscle mass, but more than anything I’ve noticed a great improvement in my stamina. When I think back to my first training session, man, I was so weak I was dizzy and nauseous afterwards. I also realised that the end goal isn’t to look better or to do more push-ups, but to change my life. What I learnt the first time I got into the ring is that I’m naturally lazy, scared of a challenge and generally weak in many ways. I had that pointed out to me in a painful way, which was great; now I can work on it. Now that the Staff Challenge is over, I’ve signed up for Fight Night on 25 June. It’s an expensive habit, but as my wife said when I told her about this, you can’t put a price on a life-change. Taking on your own flaws is not something you can learn to do effectively in three short months, or even a lifetime, but the challenge is to keep moving. The effort is its own reward.
THE BIGGEST LESSONS:
1 / Life’s too short to stay lazy forever. I got annihilated in my first couple of classes and quickly realised that my problems, my weaknesses and blind spots, aren’t going away on their own; I need to know that they’re there, to move towards them and hit back. Sparring is a great way to keep your ego in check; each time you think you’re getting somewhere, you get knocked down. But then you get up again.
2 / You have to commit. It doesn’t matter what your goals are – to lose weight, get stronger, whatever – to achieve anything, you have to dedicate your life to it. If that means getting up and getting in the car at 5am, or being in bed each night no later than 9pm, or drinking so much water you feel you need to vomit, just do it. Sometimes I have to force myself to go to training, and each time I walk out afterwards feeling like the king of the world.
Outwork your mind for better body results
JASON’S TRAINING METHOD Strength training and functional HIIT at Roark Gyms, roarkgyms.com
GOALS To get back into shape. I wanted to lower my body fat, build strength and get fit.
OBSTACLES The lure of unscheduled drinks and eating out with friends far too often. I love beer on the weekend and wine with dinner, but I consciously cut down but didn’t cut it out completely. I didn’t count kilojoules, but in the back of my mind, I kept thinking about the balance sheet.
COACH’S NOTES (James White) “The physical challenge: Jason’s upper body lacked strength. He’s always had excellent squat form, but his chest and shoulder strength needed to improve, and through a lot of hard work, they have. Mentally, like all of us, he battled to push into that really uncomfortable place, especially where breathing is involved. It’s hard to put yourself into a deep hole, especially for someone like Jason who gives a lot of thought to everything he does – sometimes you just need to let go. He considers the reasons for everything we do in the programme, which is incredibly refreshing as a coach.He genuinely tried to learn something each day, abouthis own mind, body or a new movement.”
RESULTS I know we often say it on the cover, but I literally saw results in weeks! Most noticeably, I lost weight around the middle and had to pull in my belt a notch or two. But on a more meaningful level, I got stronger and was able to complete the workouts and feel good afterwards, rather than being too exhausted to move. At work, I also felt less frantic and more focused; taking control of my body gave me an indescribable feeling of control in other aspects of my life. It really has a knock-on affect. I’m fortunate that my body responds well to this kind of training, so it was reassuring to see physical changes, but I’ve also grown mentally. The training hasn’t got any easier and I still suffer through the workouts, but now it comes with a strange satisfaction.
THE BIGGEST LESSONS:
1 / Have a goal, find the right trainer, stick to it. Selecting the right trainer is probably the most vital decision. James quickly identified my weaknesses and would often check in on those challenges and my progress. Also, instilling the value of perfect form and a tough work ethic helped me realise my goals quickly. Encouragement and positive reinforcement are a big part of Roark Gym’s value system.
2 / Your body will last longer than your mind. It took a few big physical challenges to realise this, but I realised I could push my body further and control the panic, which so often stopped me before. The training slowly gives you the confidence to take on more. If you’re not raising your heart rate, don’t expect results. 3 / Team up with a better athlete. Each time I trained with someone better, fitter and stronger, I felt myself pushing harder and improving.
Compound moves and perfect form beats all
FRANK’S TRAINING METHOD Functional training at Takedown Mixed Martial Arts, takedown.co.za GOALS To get fit, get cut and build lean muscle.
OBSTACLES I’m a hard gainer, and I had a previous lower back issue. It was a rude awakening to start with, but with regular icing (10 minutes, morning and night), stretching and concentrating on my form, I managed to build muscle and confidence in my lower back. And I’ve learnt that with the right diet and training programme, even slender guys can put on good weight.
COACH’S NOTES (Ross Church) “Progress was better than expected, he picked up movements incredibly fast, so his progression in weights was impressive. I’d noticed (and measured) some great results in overall lean muscle gain and a decrease in fat percentage. Frank worked incredibly hard, and as a complete beginner to periodised cycles he did phenomenally well.”
RESULTS The benefit of my training routine is the functionality of it. It’s not about concentrating a load on one muscle, it’s about loading on a group of muscles with complex exercises so as to strengthen the entire movement. The worry I had was damaging my back, taking me out of the Staff Challenge and back in the nurse’s room. Sticking to the diet was tricky, as I’m a creature of habit. I rejected some items of the diet such as “50g of biltong” or “¾ can of tuna” (what am I supposed to do with the other quarter?). But I did take some of it on board: I cut down on alcohol and increased my protein intake, in the form of eggs, chicken, cottage cheese, lentils, tuna and beef. I added a handful of cashews and almonds during the day. I also discovered, via our dietician, that for a slender guy with a fast metabolism and an active lifestyle, carbs are my friends. The training was hard – I had to damn near cut my shirt off after each session – but I’m loving it and I’ll stick with it. When a lady friend is walking behind you and she casually says “I can see the squats are working out”, you’ve got all the validation you need to keep going.
THE BIGGEST LESSONS:
1 / Discover what your fitness goals are. Then find the best training routine that’ll get you to them.
2 / Push yourself, intelligently, and recover like a pro athlete. Foam rollers, ice packs, arnica oil, epsom salt baths – anything that helps.
3 / Form before load. Your technique must be sound. If your form starts waning, don’t be ashamed to go lighter.
Use grappling to forge fitness and an iron core
CHARLIE’S TRAINING METHOD Brazilian Jiu-jitsu at Renzo Gracie Cape Town, renzogracie.co.za
GOALS Initially I just wanted to get fitter. But after training for a few weeks, I became more interested in the specific aspects that would be useful for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: explosive power, endurance and body conditioning.
OBSTACLES I got injured. Two bruised ribs, a sprained hand, bruises all over my arms, a bloody nose from contact with an elbow. Plus, you’re getting choked out on a daily basis. Overcoming the injuries was really about staying within the training loop. Even when I couldn’t really train properly because of my ribs, I worked on my technique because I knew taking time off would kill my motivation.
COACH’S NOTES (Richard Lowe) “Charlie’s greatest asset was his perseverance. Jiu-jitsu can be brutal on the body and a lot of guys flake out. Charlie kept on coming to class, even when he was injured.”
RESULTS BJJ is a total body workout. Because of the unpredictable nature of grappling against an actively resisting opponent (who sometimes outweighs you by as much as 40kg) you use everything that you have to stop getting choked out every time you’re on the mat. I feel leaner and stronger, and my cardio fitness has improved dramatically. Mentally I think it has helped me to focus more – because pretty much everything is better than having a 90kg guy slam you to the ground. I’ve realised that I’m more tenacious than I thought. I may not be a quick learner or have much natural ability, but like a Staffie with a stick, I keep coming back. In terms of diet, I’ve just had to succumb to the idea of giving my body what it feels like. I’ve learnt that eating too little is as bad as eating too much and that protein does really help with recovery.
THE BIGGEST LESSONS:
1 / Make it as easy as possible to make it to training. Find something that fits naturally into your schedule. It’s getting there that’s the challenge. Once you’re there you have to train. I could watch a thousand YouTube videos showing me techniques but the only thing that really counts is time on the mat. The only secret is putting in the work.
2 / Don’t obsess about progress. Rather focus on getting the most out of what you’re doing.
3 / Set your own pace. I tapped out if I felt I was in danger of being hurt and refused to get macho about things I was genuinely worried would hurt me. Nobody except you knows how far you can push yourself. Gradually I started to understand which fears should be pushed through and which should be respected.
Supersize your gains with the right food
BUNTU’S TRAINING METHOD Personal training at Zone Fitness, zonefitness.co.za GOALS I wanted to add lean muscle so clothes would fit me better. I wanted a healthier diet plan and to develop a more consistent gym routine. But over the 12 weeks, I found I wasn’t making the progress I’d hoped for. Around the halfway mark my main goal was to have a healthier lifestyle by way of my diet and exercising regularly and, most importantly, to just stick to the plan. This became a 12week crash course in motivation, dedication, healthy eating and just how overpowering the snooze button can be.
OBSTACLES Training on my own. In future, I’d definitely use a gym buddy. I didn’t train with Mkhanyisi (the trainer who created my programme) all the time, and there were days where I really needed someone there to push me out of my comfort zone.
COACH’S NOTES (Mkhanyisi Phillips) “The main benefit of weight-lifting is that you can gain more muscle and strength than with most forms of exercise. While other forms have flexibility or cardio as a priority, weight-lifting is a good, all-round form of exercise. I found the technique for most moves easy to learn, and it can help build endurance.”
RESULTS The programme laid out the sets and reps I needed to aim for, with the goal of increasing them every week. But the main benefit of weight-lifting was how flexible the schedule was. I could choose to go when I wanted to and I could exercise and exert myself at a reasonable pace.”
THE BIGGEST LESSONS
1 / Make daily training goals. I’ve found that I’m more amped when I have a clear end goal in mind, and when I’m completely dedicated to training that particular day. On the other hand, if I’m not feeling it or pre-occupied with work, I’m not entirely present. Those were the hardest days.
2 / Good food doesn’t have to taste like cardboard. It doesn’t have to be all salads and smoothies either. It was a challenge to stand over a stove after an eight-hour day, but I worked out ways around that. I cooked in bulk, giving myself an allowance for one night a week for takeaways, and I made meals with at least one main ingredient that I love.
SPORTS SCIENCE INSTITUTE OF SA
THE STRONGMAN Creative director
THE SAVVY SLUGGER Chief copy editor Thomas Okes
LIFTING LIKE A BOSS Editor Jason Brown
THE RING GIRL’S FAVOURITE Junior designer Frank Hermus ROLLING THUNDER Online editor Charlie Human
THE PLATE SPECIALIST Associate editor Buntu Ngcuka