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.
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 was slightly apprehensive going into my first transformation workout as a) I’d never trained using weights before and b) I didn’t know how my body would react to having weights pushed through it. I hadn't trained for about five years, since injuring my hip playing football, so I was interested to see how my body would react to that injury and whether or not weight training would help or hinder my mobility. At the same time, I was really excited to take on this new challenge and see how I could improve my body shape and overall health. Having never exposed myself to weight training before I was acutely aware that the first few weeks would no doubt be the most difficult. Learning all the big compound moves was tough but I quite enjoyed it, despite how exhausting it was.
There was no need to worry though as Sean, my trainer, took his time to explain the theory behind everything we were going to do and nurtured me through the first series of workouts. These were also with fairly light weights so I could start to master the technique before moving on to the real heavy stuff. Finishing each workout with push-ups and planks was probably just as difficult as learning those new moves as my muscles kept failing me during each exercise, a feeling I learnt to appreciate as a sign of a job well done.
My first few sessions with Sean filled me with confidence that I could indeed get through these 10 weeks – as long as I listened to my body and took on board the advice Sean gave me. Fear of the unknown can bring on stress but once you actually start something you realise it can be achieved.
It's week four of my transformation and the initial excitement has well and truly worn off. Don't get me wrong, I'm still looking forward to the end, but it's only now hitting home just how hard this is going to be. There hasn’t been a drastic change in my body fat just yet – I haven't had the tests to confirm it, but let's just say my belly is still fairly prominent.
My trainer Shaun has been upping the intensity each session and we're doing drop sets of moves that concentrate on my upper and lower body separately – plus the total-body nightmare that is squatting. Overall, I’m finding the moves easier as my form has been getting better, plus I'm more familiar with them, but on the flipside that means Shaun is starting to push me to my limits. I have to go to failure, which is OK on some moves, and pretty damn painful for others. I’m finding glute bridges and single-leg presses hard, but I managed 10 squats with 70kg, which is a PB. Nice!
Shaun is making me finish with jump squats. It would be OK to start with them but as a finisher it's proving difficult. Knowing the session will be over straight after is getting me through it.
To be honest, I am a little worried about that final photoshoot in just six weeks, but as long as I put my all into every session and stick to the diet plan from Soulmatefood I should be able to stand proudly and have my photo taken. Topless. For a national magazine... Oh well, we're moving onto more interval-based work now – let's put its fat-burning claims to the test.
With only three weeks left of my transformation I'm finally starting to notice aesthetic results. I've even caught my own reflection a couple of times and wondered who the leaner guy staring back at me is. The most noticeable change has been my slimmer face and reduced love handles. My wife is particularly pleased with these recent developments! I’ve also noticed a broadening of my chest and shoulders.
But enough about how I look. Of course, that’s the driving force behind a lot of people who sweat it out at the gym, but it’s far from the be all and end all. I'm also noticeably stronger now. Remember, when I started this transformation I had never done any strength training at all. I'm now getting through supersets and drop sets, while DTP (dramatic transformation principle) workouts and ladders are becoming the norm.
I now also feel completely at home in the gym. At first, I was a bit self-conscious, assuming everyone was looking at me, judging me from,the weights I was lifting and generally thinking I was a bit of a douchebag. Now I realise how ridiculous that is. Everyone’s getting on with their own thing and doesn’t give a toss about the guy (me) huffing and puffing in the corner. Not only that, but my huffing and puffing has severely reduced.
It's not all rosy though. I had a hip operation a few years back and it's starting to get a bit painful when I do certain movements. Watch the video to see how my trainer Sean is helping me work through this.
I'm nearly at the end of my transformation training schedule. A few weeks ago I was simultaneously dreading finishing (because of the small matter of having to pose topless in a national magazine), and willing time to to fast forward so I wouldn’t have to endure the intense training. Much to my own surprise, I'm actually starting to enjoy myself, and though the sessions are hard, I now look forward to going to the gym with my trainer Sean.
I’ve graduated to sessions consisting of trios of tri-sets, mostly compound moves, going from push motions to pulling ones. The lifts aren’t getting any easier, but the fact I'm used to slogging through the pain now (and know I’ll get through the other side unscathed) means I’m actually starting to enjoy the challenge. I'm not quite at the same kind of level of appreciation of "the pump" as Arnie famously was, but I do find a certain satisfaction to getting through reps, and even in failing them because I know that's the only way I'm going to get significantly stronger.
Having said that, working to failure is never exactly fun, but Sean does a great job of encouraging me. It's also nice to see that my weight loss is continuing. Who knows? I may even have have some visible abs to show off come the final photoshoot. Perhaps most importantly, these sessions and all the stuff I've learnt during this transformation will stick with me afterwards, and while it’s unlikely I'll train quite as much and be quite as disciplined with my diet, I'm going to have the confidence to know what I'm doing when I hit the gym by myself.
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.
Get the Coach Newsletter
Sign up for workout ideas, training advice, reviews of the latest gear and more.
Between 2014 and 2015, Ped Millichamp was the art director of Men’s Fitness UK, which predated and later shared a website with Coach. Ped undertook a body transformation challenge and blogged about it, as well as reviewing spa weekends.