You know those 12-week transformations in GQ and Men's Health - the ones where some ripped, naturally sporty guy has put on weight in order to lose it in 12 weeks and show off to everybody how much weight he can lose? We thought we’d give it a go...but with a twist.
We wanted to take somebody who has never had a sporting bone in their body, whose shoulders resemble a nimble bird, whose chest is flatter than a pancake and beer belly present to see if they could actually transform themselves in 12 weeks. It’s the ultimate challenge - an everyman's transformation.
I'm Charlie, 26, and COO of The Idle Man. I have never had a sporting ability - at school, I was 'non-squad' and pretty much didn't break a sweat from the age of eighteen to twenty-two at Uni. Working in the City for a couple of years, things took a nosedive as the inactive lifestyle joined boozy brunches and dinners to present a rather grim package.
Working at The Idle Man, events would crop up fairly regularly and were usually pretty boozy and pretty late. Hours are fairly long with regular trips up to our Warehouse in Manchester and our second office in Nottingham. In order to commit to this challenge, I needed to drastically overhaul every aspect of my life.
Enter BLOK - an award-winning, boutique gym in Shoreditch that specialises in small classes across multiple disciplines. I was also going to need to reign in my car crash diet as well which is where Equals Health stepped in with daily meals sent to my desk. What happened over the next 12 weeks? Read on to find out...
I sat down with Lotti, Blok’s Head of Fitness, on Friday before the programme began. She took me through all the classes and created me a foolproof plan. And so, on Monday morning, it began...
I would call this week a baptism of fire, to put it very lightly. My mornings suddenly began with a jolt with classes starting as early as 6:30 am. Monday morning began with BLOKfit, BLOK’s signature HIIT class which involves a circuit with weights. Day 2 was BLOKstrength which is a heavyweight bodybuilding class - my feeble arms were already dead from day 1 so when I feigned a pain to stretch out my arms in one of the classes, I realised it was going to be much harder than I expected.
The core class made me realise that I didn’t actually have a core or any ab strength, and when I had to do a pull-up I felt a part of me twinge that had never twinged before.
My meals consisted of three regular meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have a penchant for walking and eating and I haven’t eaten breakfast since I was at school. But... no more. Equals Health provided me with a varied enough spread (think protein pancakes with blueberry compote, Thai chicken for lunch and a steak for dinner) that I initially thought the food part was going to be a breeze.
The meals were all tailored around Macro’s - each day I had a certain level of protein, carbs and fats provided for me in order to reach the overall goal.
Enter week 2. Holy shit I was craving chocolate and pasta.
I must admit this was my hardest week. The shiny gleam of the classes and food had rubbed off somewhat as reality stuck in. My usual chirpy demeanour was looking down the barrel of what seemed like another 11 and a half long weeks of early mornings and healthy eating. I’d also accidentally gone out on Valentine's day and sloshed back 3 bottles of wine over dinner. The 3-day hangover hampered progress somewhat - right, no more booze I thought.
Which in principle was fine.
The hunger at the office proved less so - suddenly I was getting irritated at fairly minor things, and trying to suppress the anger led me to texting abuse at one of my colleagues telling him he’s not being funny he’s just being a see you next Tuesday.
It got to Saturday afternoon and I had had enough so ate a very guilty cheese sandwich on my way to Pret A Manger where I gorged on their snack bars.
Office meltdowns: 2
Cheat meals: 1
WEEK 3 -6:
The focus for these weeks was on fat burn - this meant HIIT and cardio. In order to burn fat, you need to eat less than you burn for a consistent amount of time (no shit, you might think, but actually doing this is much harder than you would think).
To burn 1lb of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you consume. That's a huge amount - you’d have to run at 8mph for 3 hours a day to burn that and then eat your recommended calories every day for a week to lose that 1lb. Simple you think, but the reality of doing that much exercise makes you starving and craving carbs.
HIIT is your number one fan for fat-burn. These high-intensity workouts give you high bursts of functional movement followed by a couple of seconds to get your breath back. This keeps your heart right high for a full session and means you smash through the calorie burning (around 1000 calories can be burnt in an hour).
It’s not as daunting as it sounds - HIIT can be sprinting on the spot for 45 seconds, or jumping for 45 seconds (again and again). You don’t actually need any weights. Ali, one of BLOKs superstar trainers has created this plan for you to follow along with at home. You can follow her on Instagram here. You can follow along at home here
What’s important is that you go at your own pace during HIIT - you’ll notice an improvement week on week.
WEEK 7 - 10:
The focus shifted to building lean muscle mass. Whilst HIIT is great for toning, lean muscle mass needs to be built in order to give you that extra definition. I had always done bicep curls or arm extensions and resented every second of them.
With BLOKs expert instructors, these strength classes were nothing like that.
Focussing on compound moves, these sessions involved slow repetitions - press ups, pull ups, snatches, and weighted squats all in supersets. This means squishing exercises together so you’re not stood around between sets. With no Instagram to check, it means you can get a lot more out of your sessions and cram lots into 45 minutes. It also means you continue to burn calories as your pace is a little quicker.
It was here that a sense of clarity began to settle in - everything was going pretty well. I leapt out of bed before my 5:30 am alarm, I felt energised, was going to social events and not drinking and not diving at the free food. I began to understand my own personal motivations better and my clearer head allowed me to better compartmentalise everything that was going on at work. That focus really helped me understand what I needed to achieve for the final stretch, and gave me time to reflect on the challenge (see conclusions below).
WEEK 10 - 12:
These two weeks were all about piecing everything together. Not only was I physically changing, but my level of fitness had become insane - I went on a 15km run at a pace of 5minutes a km and barely flinched. It was starting to get immensely satisfying. I’d made sure that I didn’t base this challenge all around looks so I hadn’t really paid much attention to looking in the mirror...but it was during these weeks that I began to take notice and update my Hinge.
The end was in sight. And then, just like that, it was over.
Holy fuck. I had actually done it and with only a few minor meltdowns. No booze, a heavily restricted food programme, and a heavy ass gym schedule and I had actually managed to complete it.
So here it is. 12 weeks and the results are in.
Bodyweight: 84 kg vs 78 kg
Fat %: 13.7% vs 7.8%
Muscle %: 73% vs 89%
When I started this programme 12 weeks ago, the goal had been simple - try and lose as much fat as possible whilst toning up.
What was important for us was to craft a challenge that anybody could do - no personal training sessions, an accessible gym that you don’t need to be an athlete to attend (or have a bank account with two zeroes in - certain classes are available on ClassPass) and food deliveries that were affordable and nutritious. We wanted to show that you can start from zero and go to hero with sheer hard work and determination. We wanted to show that anybody could do it. And I think we have. Well, I hope we have.
For me, this challenge has proven a lot which was outside of the project brief. It’s proved that I can commit to something and see it through. It’s proved to me that anybody can get fit. It’s proved that exercise and fitness aren’t just for the elite and play a huge part in mental health and clarity. It’s shown me that you shouldn’t go to the gym just to show up - you should go because you love it and want to see yourself improve. And frankly, if you don’t want to see yourself improve, you’re not ready to make the commitment.
Whilst I have finished the programme now and gorged myself on pizza, pasta, and beer for the first 24 hours, I’ve now committed to myself that I’m going to continue on this journey. Whilst I’ve seen a huge difference in my body, I don’t feel that exercise is ever a quick fix - and the problem is that the media treat it as such. You shouldn’t expect quick results - you should work hard and methodically to achieve sustainable and achievable milestones.
The rise of Instagram has shone a nasty light on these trends - influencers edit their photos to show off surgically enhanced bodies all the while promoting diet shakes as their quick fix. It puts pressure on the young to look a certain way, and behave a certain way.
We’ve seen it a lot in the fashion world - there’s pressure to buy a new outfit for every occasion. The effects of this are well known with fast fashion hugely damaging to the environment. But the effect of ‘fast fitness’ is less known because they have unmeasurable effects on mental health and wellbeing. By being told we need to look a certain way, there is huge pressure on how people feel they should look. This type of societal pressure has never existed before, but surely it’s effects cannot go unregulated for much longer.
When I began the 12-week transformation I started like most with a clear aesthetic in mind. What I actually realised was that fitness shouldn’t be used for aesthetics or to adhere to any imaginary guidelines on what you should look like or how you should feel. Fitness should be used to challenge yourself and grow. It should be used for meditation, it should be used for clarity. And, as I realised, it can be used for socialising.
We’re bombarded with images all around us of people committing to these 12-week transformation plans - but the reality is that they’re simply not a fair reality. The advertisements you see are of people who have always been muscley and just put on weight for the goal of losing it. They commit you to spend thousands of pounds to get those instant results. That’s why I’m glad we’ve shown you something that is attainable by your everyman. I'm not the size of Adonis, my shoulders are not those of Arnold. But I look great. I feel great. And I’ve pushed myself and challenged myself like never before.
I want to thank BLOK and Equals Health for their support an encouragement during these 12 weeks. More info can be found here:
Equals Health: equalshealth.com