I have spent a little over 12 months going to the gym to see if i could hack my body. The purpose of this post is to share some of my learnings, but in no way should this be taken as any sort of advice or guide [disclaimer complete!]
I naturally have a very lean body, but had managed to balloon to 72kg (just over 11 stone) by the end of 2014 as a result of an issue with my pituitary gland; which went undiagnosed for a very long time, and the usual “dubai stone” phenomenon. At this point, the expense of buying a new wardrobe was unsustainable. I also had some sort of knee problem which was not related to any trauma, sport injury or otherwise. This meant it kept getting “stuck” and was painful for no reason. My goals were to lose the fat and build a lot of muscle…
I didn’t join a boot camp or cross fit club or try and do my own gym routines. I knew that my mental discipline had dropped, so on the advice of a friend I signed up with his personal trainer (contacts at end of article). The first few weeks were spent realigning my posture, very deep pressing of my muscles and trying to balance in preparation for weight training.
My workouts were almost exclusively weight lifting. I did very little cardio at the beginning, and as I got stronger or wanted to tweak some effects, I would add 15 – 20 minutes at the end of an hour long weights session to increase fat burning.
I used a machine at the gym to regularly weigh myself and give a reading of muscle to fat in order to plot change over time. There is no such thing as an absolute accurate reading, but recording these measurements especially over the course of a year, generated a good starting point to be able to plan future growth.
Here are some graphs to show the change:
Total weight kg
71.2 –> 67.4
27 –> 30.1
22.3 –> 13.6
31.4 –> 20.1
Identify your natural body shape and work around that
It might surprise some people to know that the ideal body shape in my view is a more voluptuous curvaceous figure. But i’m simply not built like that. At my fattest, i didn’t look curvy, I just looked wrong because the fat was not distributed in the right way. It was as if you could see I was a thin person who had got fat.
In my opinion, knowing your body type is key to being successful in whatever goals you wish to achieve. There is simply no point in trying to look like something that your body was not built to be. If you have a particularly short mid section then no matter how much you work out, it’s not going to get longer. If you have very long thin legs, it will take you a lot longer to bulk them up, if that’s your goal. And some people just don’t look good when they are really thin. Based on your goals you can decide what activity is right for you.
You can also decide to target specific areas of your body. The current trend for women is to build a large behind without necessarily the corresponding development in arms or chest. This is usually done by light resistance training all over the body, intense resistance training for the glutes and legs and plenty of HIIT or cardio to keep fat down.
After my year of working out i have built considerable upper body and core strength. My lower half is not quite as strong because I took a long time to start squatting and deadlifting due to my knee injury which is now fixed. What I also noticed was that the general flexibility of my lower half is terrible, which also affects the amount of weight I can handle, particularly on squats. I need to spend a lot more time stretching, and possibly doing yoga.
As at time of writing I am currently deciding whether I continue to build mass, or I cut down the weights and switch to boxing to give me an all round leaner look.
Don’t stress about diet
Everybody’s body is different. As the graphs show I can easily lose fat, but i struggle to gain muscle at the same rate. The result of this was not quite reaching my muscle or strength goals at the end of 2015. This is because I need to eat a huge amount of calories per day consistently. In particular, the timing of those calories is key. More on my meal prep at the end.
In my experience, the body is pretty good at self regulating in different environments. Rather than focus on overhauling your food at the same time as starting a new training plan, focus on building the training routine first and then make dietary changes.
The reason for this is:
a) you will have a better chance of success by not employing too many changes at once and
b) it’s easier to measure the effect of variables if you alter them one by one rather than all at once.
Having said that, since most people’s goals are to lose weight (fat), simple math dictates that expending more calories than you ingest will achieve this goal.
Lifting weights is a very efficient way of losing fat because your body changes to a “constant burn” state, compared to cardio. However, this might not be suitable for a lot of people. For women, there is a tendency to think that a few lifting sessions and they’ll turn into a beefcake but this simply isn’t true. You would have to be training twice a day and eating upwards of 2500 calories with an extremely high protein and carb intake to really worry about that.
Another factor to consider is any associated health or medical issues. When you train, it has an impact on your diet and hormones. I need to eat 150 grams of protein or more a day and at least 200 grams of carbs, however someone else who suffers from high uric acid, or diabetes may not be able to follow the same diet. Understanding what types of fuel you need for what type of workout will really help in reaching your goals.
If you can’t eat a lot of protein, you may want to focus on more cardio intensive activities, which will in turn require a lot of carbs to give you the energy to complete your 30 minute – 1 hour workouts.
Those who have Type 2 diabetes would probably do better on diets rich in foods with a low glycaemic index, which may mean there is less energy available for intensive cardio workouts. These people may need to focus on resistance training which will encourage the body to start burning fat for fuel.
Again, the important factor here is to try and see how your body feels and collect data.
Preparation and budgeting
Losing weight doesn’t have to be expensive, but building muscle is, due to the amount and quality of food you have to eat. Whilst my motivation to go to the gym was high and i definitely saw results, I knew I could do better during 2016 by planning and preparing my eating.
First I had to work out just how much food i should be eating. There are many ways to calculate this but I used an online tool that helped calculate my macros and had a link to a meal planner. If you have money falling out of your ears, then finding a sports nutritionist would be the ideal route, but to start with and to keep in line with data collection I used whatever free tools were available, as well as doing a lot of reading around the topic.
The second part of this was to then workout how much this would all cost. I went to two supermarkets at the lower and upper end of the spectrum and made notes of prices for different quality of goods. This resulted in a clearer picture of what I could expect to spend on average per month.
I had attempted this before and my mistake was to buy the entire month’s requirements in bulk to make it cheaper and to save time. However, this was not the optimum strategy. A weekly shop and meal prep is better.
Here are some snapshots of those calculations: ( if on desktop, right click to open larger image in new tab)
Continuous effort with continual tweaking based on feedback is key to seeing results. There is no quick fix here. Understanding the reward response mechanism of the brain will also help in identifying your weak areas. Is it motivation? Is it eating too much / too little? Is it amount of effort you put in whilst training? You don’t need to shell out on fancy gadgets or equipment. Most gym clubs have machines that can give you the necessary body readings, you just need to put it into your excel sheet.
Personal Training by Paul Guillermo at Platform 3 Fitness, Dubai Marina (next to Moms Food, under the Park Island buildings)
Source: New feed
Data not Diet – how i worked out