The Trans­form­ers



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, point­break­fit­ness­cen­

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.


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, ar­moury­box­

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.


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, roark­

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.


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, take­ 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.


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, ren­zo­gra­

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.


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, zon­e­fit­ 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.”


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.



THE STRONG­MAN Cre­ative di­rec­tor

Robert Cil­liers

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

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