Health & Fitness

Seven Things I Learned From A 12-Week Weightlifting Programme

We trained at Evolve Fitness for three months, so you don’t have to… but you might want to

Unexpected things have happened to me along my 12-week journey at Evolve Fitness – firstly, I replied to an email asking if I’d like to exercise four times a week for three months with a ‘yes please!’. I’ve got a tiny gun that I proudly show off, I’ve shown people dead-lifting technique in a bar in Bath while wearing heels, and bits of my body have gone hard that I never thought I’d be able to get to go hard.

To the people at the London gym, none of this is surprising, they’ve seen it all before in their clients over 20 years of collective training expertise.

Having tried many an exercise plan and diet before, I was intrigued to see what the gym's Group Training would involve. It entailed eight of us being personal trained together, four times a week, with a dedicated diet plan each (consisting of a lot of meat and not a lot of carbs) and regular measurements, all while weightlifting and completing what seemed like umpteen circuits. I learned to deadlift, squat lift, bench lift, do bent over rows and shoulder presses.

This piece isn’t about and won’t include befores and afters, inches lost or pounds shed, because that will always be individual. But rest assured, I saw changes that I’ve never seen before – after 12 weeks I perhaps hadn’t lost as many pounds as I thought, but my body had changed in a way that I’d always hoped fitness plans and diets would before. And, even though it was really hard work, I would recommend it to others – and I would do it again. Here’s seven things I learned along the way, in case you fancy joining me in the weights section.

You’ll see results, quickly – but not in the way you think

One of the main reasons health kicks can fail so quickly, is that you feel like you’re trying your hardest and seeing no results. One of the best things about lifting weights is that results come quickly. And though there are changes to your body, that’s not what I mean. I was astounded at how quickly I could improve the weight of what I was lifting. I remember on some of my first sessions being unable to even lift certain weights when it came to help tidying up – with both hands. But very quickly, I started to see progress – sometimes I was even lifting heavier weights at the end of a week than I was at the beginning. Undoubtedly some of this was down to the confidence I was gaining to push myself, which worked in tandem with the efforts of the trainers to urge you to push you even further. In all honestly, on starting the programme I was thinking about changing my body visibly – I never anticipated I’d be boasting about my three-rep-max (the heaviest weight you can manage to lift three times in a row), but I did. And in seeing the improvements, it urged me to keep going back day after day.

A rigid programme is key

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve vowed to start a health kick, committed to certain classes, or even set myself totally achievable targets – and never made it that far. Something always gets in the way – whether it’s time or motivation. But by committing to a 12-week programme up front, one that was focused towards a certain end point, and transformed as we went, was absolute magic. I clearly remember assuming that at some point, something would happen, and I’d never make it to week 12. But I did. Three months may seem like a long time, but it flew by, and at the end I felt proud to say that I’d completed a three-month course – setting out those expectations at the beginning and tying myself into the programme was a big part of that.

And a gym buddy helps too

I was lucky enough to attend the Evolve Group Training with my friend and colleague Joe, who was very disciplined. Having someone following the same programme was key – it made me less likely to slip up on the diet and flake out on a workout (I didn’t miss a single one just because I didn’t fancy it, even though, let me assure you, I constantly didn’t fancy it). It also gives you someone to constantly talk about everything with – because if you go to the gym four times a week, you are going to become boring to everyone but each other. And it also helps when you have to partner up, so you don’t have to go with a stranger. Because even though we’re all adults, everyone just hates that, don’t they?

You can’t out-train a bad diet – or a summer of weddings

The diet programme at Evolve is intense. It changes for every person, and as the weeks go on, carbs are fluctuated. Some days were totally carb-free and involved eating four or five times a day, including a protein shake. The specificity of the meals in themselves is tough – even tougher if, like me (and most women at any given time) have a diary filled with birthdays, weddings, hen dos, mini-breaks and just general ‘We’ve not been out on a Saturday for ages, let’s go out on a Saturday night nights’. Honestly, I found the diet impossibly hard to stick to sometimes when it came to real life – and while some of it was undoubtedly weak-will, I also (for instance) didn’t want to insist that my mate had to replace the afternoon tea at her wedding with a piece of protein, some greens and half a sweet potato just for me. That is just life. It became harder as the weeks went on. The diet moved to carb-cycling, which (very over-simply) involves varying the amount of carbs each day to shock your body into certain states for weightloss. The inflexibility of this was tough, and meant that (unlike many diets I’ve tried in the past) it felt like one slip-up really was sabotaging a whole week. I still got great results and my body really changed, but I in no way saw results like some of the others in my group who had obviously cleared weekends to sit at home to ensure they had their 11am almonds. The point it two-pronged I guess – don’t punish yourself at the gym and wonder why nothing’s happening if you’re ‘treating’ yourself afterwards to food you wouldn’t necessarily have. But also, be kind to yourself, because sometimes you can’t stick to the diet, and if you’re doing the exercise, it’s certainly better than not doing either. And hey, I’m glad I didn’t put my life on hold for three whole months, it’s all about balance. That’s how I saw it anyway.

Don’t compare yourself to men

A man in the group I was in lost 20 kilos. 20. I could’ve cried I was so jealous. But, as well as the problems discussed above (and I’m sure there were loads of varying factors, including the fact that he probably tried really bloody hard – I’m taking nothing away from him) Tim Walker, founder and head trainer at Evolve Fitness, says that when it comes to weightlifting and taking on the Evolve diet plan, women will (ANNOYINGLY) see different results. ‘In regards to results, men probably do get visibly slightly better results as they get bigger shoulders and muscles which make them look like they've lost more weight so their final pictures tend to look more impressive,’ he said. I also noticed that many of the men were clearly doing their first ever diets. And as well as approaching them in a more single-minded way to the way I did (perhaps because it was their first rodeo, maybe not) Tim says that sadly, the fact that most women have tried diets before coming to them, may also hamper their progress. ‘Women probably have put their bodies through more "diets" and taught their bodies to go into starvation mode more – and have done restriction diets that cause the body to yo yo back. I would even say that women do struggle to stay on the straight and narrow a little more as men don't get serotonin (feel good hormone) from certain foods such as chocolate like women do.’ And sure, that’s depressing… but there’s also comfort in it and a warning not to let anyone else’s progress affect your own, regardless of their sex. And seeing as there’s nothing I can do (and wouldn’t want) to change into a man overnight, I’m pleased that I still tried the best that I could.

You’re not going to turn into the Incredible Hulk

It’s been said on many a fitness blog before – and yet, given that I was the only woman in my class, I guess it’s worth repeating. WEIGHTLIFTING IS REALLY GOOD EXERCISE FOR WOMEN – AND YOU’RE NOT GOING TO GET A BODY LIKE A MAN. Actually, what you might get, is probably the results you’ve tried to get loads of times with diets and on a treadmill. ‘Women should lift weights and do a typical “male” workouts because they do not bulk up,’ says Tim – to add some expertise. ‘Women get stronger and achieve the toned look that we all want. Men have 10 times the testosterone, so they build muscle whereas women do not build or bulk up in general. Women will build muscle and tighten up, which boosts the metabolism, which helps drop weight more long-term, whereas just doing cardio does not increase the metabolism.’ Anecdotally, despite my arm getting one tiny little gun, overall it appeared – and was – smaller by the end of the programme. I didn’t even wobble for like a week after the end of the programme! Also contrary to being ashamed of my mini-gun (more a tiny child’s water pistol), I became a bit obsessed with it and kept shoving it in people’s faces.

You don’t know what you’re doing in the gym

Ok, you might. But working with a personal trainer really showed up how ineffective any previous gym workouts I’d done myself might have been. Did you know you can sweat from your knees? If not, then you’re probably not pushing yourself as hard as you can – personal training and someone telling you to do four sets of 12 burpies alternating with push-ups AS A WARM-UP will push you as hard as you can take and also, proved to me that my body could handle much more than I was giving it credit for. We also learnt good technique that helps you work harder and better – and picked up exercises that look simple, but will have you limping for days. The best thing is, the don’t use the Men in Black brain-wiper at the door of the gym, so I’ve now got them in my head for the future and can continue to work out at a higher standard.

Rhiannon’s training partner, Joe Stone, gives his verdict

Last year I was at a house party when a stranger prodded my pot belly and told me to 'suck it in'. After I'd disposed of his remains, I decided it was finally time to do something about my paunch. I'd always been skinny, but my allegiance to Minstrels and refusal to do any kind of exercise that wasn't slut-dropping to Little Mix had left me softer than I'd have liked.

Having read somewhere that sugar was worse than fat, I cut out all sweets and started doing daily high interval exercise at home, using Youtube tutorials. After eight months my belly was gone, but I'd started to look like Geri Halliwell during the yoga years – mostly hair and teeth. I was also increasingly concerned that my downstairs neighbour was going to murder me in my sleep, thanks to all the burpees. It was at this point that Rhiannon told me about the Warrior Workout.

While she wanted to lose weight, I wanted to add muscle, so our eating plans were very different (Here I'd like to publicly apologise to her for all the times that I complained about having to eat yet another portion of chicken and rice, while she was sitting across the desk grimacing her way through a no-carb day). In a typical day I'd eat deep breath: steak, eggs and porridge for breakfast, two rice cakes with almond butter as a snack, two portions of chicken rice and veg before the gym, a protein shake after, salmon, sweet potato and veg for dinner and then a second protein shake before bed. Not a Minstrel in sight.

Although intense, the workouts were a lot more enjoyable than expected. For someone who sits at a desk all day, it felt good to challenge myself in a way that wasn't seeing how many packets of Quavers I could eat in a single afternoon. I think we were all surprised when, by the mid-point, I was doing the heaviest three rep maxes in our group (clearly I have a lot of un-channelled rage). In the second month, I dislocated my shoulder while lifting a dumbell - the result of an old injury and my own stupidity, the trainers are extremely safety conscious - and popped it back in myself. In my own chicken breast-addled mind I was basically He-Man, minus the Anna Wintour bob.

After three months I'd learned loads – like how to safely lift double my own body weight, the disorientating sensation of eating steak for breakfast, and why boys on Instagram always post their thirst-trap topless selfies from the gym changing rooms (turns out your muscles look more pumped directly after a workout than when you've been sitting on the sofa mainlining Haribo for four hours straight – WHO KNEW).

Because it's generally harder to add muscle than lose fat, my results weren't as dramatic as some of the other men in our group – one of whom lost 20KG. However, by following the plan I managed to drop my body fat down to 7.5% while adding almost 4KG of muscle. By the end of the regime, my pot belly was a distant memory, and my shoulders and chest were significantly broader. I even had the thirst-trap changing room selfie to prove it.

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