My phone buzzes, a text from an unknown number.
"Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to turn my fat belly into a six pack in 60 days. In?"
I know it's Dan Jude, deputy editor of FHM, because a mutual friend is having drinks with him right now at an awards party. She has suggested he train with me to get in shape for a mid December holiday.
Dan, ever the blagging journalist, suggests I train him in exchange for a magazine feature. I, ever the publicity whore, bite his arm off.
I respond; " It's on. You're going to f**king hate me".
I've met Dan before at his birthday party in the summer. I recall a slim, regular looking guy. Not overly muscular but certainly not fat. No problem, I think, drop a few kilos, build up his shoulders and lats. A bit of dehydration, a tan, better posture and flattering lighting. Hey presto, instant abs.
Then I met Dan.
Now, Dan is most definitely not a fat guy. But the trappings of the media lifestyle; the drinks, the parties, the freebies,the stress, have left a stubborn looking spare tyre around his waist. He hides it well, but he's further away from a six-pack than I had estimated, at least four weeks.
I think I manage to keep my expression neutral but inside I feel a rising panic. He needs twelve weeks, we've got just under eight. Shit.
Dan having the last serving of peanut butter for 8 weeks
Tricks Of The Trade
There are tricks to creating before and after pictures. The guy on the magazine cover didn't just stroll in off the street, whip his T-shirt off and strike a pose. He probably stays in good shape year round, but in all likelihood that picture is the culmination of at least a 16 week process. He's trained and dieted and dehydrated himself specifically to peak for that photo. He's tanned and waxed, he's pumped himself up with some high rep push ups right before hitting each carefully selected pose. He's been lit in the most flattering way possible and despite the happy, relaxed expression on his face he's flexing every muscle in his body to the point of pain and cramping.
He feels like shit, and he's only going to look this good for a few days. All of this is before photo-shop, which is a line I won't cross. There are trainers who doctor their after photos. Those of us who work in the industry know who they are, and to us they're a joke. It's just not an option.
Things I'd like to do:
-Spend some time just improving Dan's mobility and posture
-Teaching him to squat and deadlift with great form, slowly increasing the weight as he masters the movement.
-Introduce new dietary and lifestyle habits in a step-by-step fashion so as not to overload him with a complete overhaul.
But we don't have time for any of that. We don't have time for a learning curve, so highly technical exercises must be ditched and replaced with effective but idiot proof ones.
We don't have time to focus on posture or injury prevention so we must simply work with what Dan can do now as long as it doesn't actively damage him. It's a big ask.
We're 20 minutes into the session and Dan is wearing an expression of fear and bewilderment. He's running through the three questions every new client asks himself in a first session- is it supposed to hurt this much? Am I really this out of shape? Is this ever going to be easy?
I remind him of the teaching points for the bench press. Shoulders pulled back, chest puffed out, feet pushed into the floor, grip the bar hard.
Dan flops back on the bench, un-racks the unloaded bar and almost drops it on his teeth. He struggles through 8 or 9 lopsided reps, his weaker left arm lagging behind by a few inches each time , til the bar grinds to a dead stop halfway between lockout and his throat . Dan’s brow is slick with sweat , his eyes and teeth clamped shut in uncomprehending exertion, he pours every ounce of effort into locking the bar out and finishing the last rep, feet kicking the air, futile gasps bursting from pursed lips. The bar remains fixed in space, trembling. A stalemate between journalist and gravity.
I grab it and put it back myself. That's enough for one day.
For a man being told he must change every aspect of his diet, lifestyle, sleep patterns and social life and remove all the things that bring him joy and comfort, Dan takes news of the diet plan pretty well.
Sadly as a vegetarian, he is even more restricted. His highly complicated and scientifically advanced diet plan can be summarised as follows-
Fish and greens.
When you need fast weight loss, simple is best. No grey area gives no room for slips of the " oh I didn't realise" variety
"Oh I didn't realise cous cous was carbs"
"Oh I didn't realise wine counted as alcohol"
Is it fish? No. Is it green veg? No. Then you can't eat it.
He can have carbs a three or four times a week on weight training days but that's it.
At the halfway point, good things are starting to happen. Dan is a stone lighter, right on track. He's feeling more energetic and positive, less stressed in general. He’s developed the beginnings of a set of guns.
His program is simple. Four days a week he does a total body session using four big exercises in a circuit. Something like-
Barbell back squat 4x12
Dumbbell push press 4x12
Walking dumbbell lunge 4x12
Band assisted chin up 4x12
Then we’ll do a shorter circuit focusing on the shoulders or arms.
On other days he does some form of less stressful activity. Low intensity cardio, sled drags or body weight circuits. Stuff that burns calories but isn't going to push him into over training.
Heading into the final two weeks he feels great, but that’s because he doesn’t know what’s coming.
The Final Stretch
In the last two weeks, carbs disappear completely and we add pre-breakfast cardio. We also begin to drastically increase Dan’s water consumption. This is done gradually, until he’s taking in 7 litres of water a day. Then finally, in the last 24 hours before the photos we flip this around. Water is dropped completely and carbs are reintroduced. Dan’s carb-starved muscles hoover up water and sugar, resulting in fuller muscles and less water under the skin. A bodybuilding trick that is not particularly healthy, but then what’s optimal for health is not always the same as what’s optimal for aesthetics.
It’s a tired, thirsty, spaced-out Dan who poses for the final photos, but he looks impressive and is rightly proud of his achievements. Here’s a quick look, pick up a copy of the current (February) issue of FHM for the other side of the story.
So major congratulations to Dan for his hard work and commitment. I’ve had a huge amount of interest since the article appeared in print, often from much farther afield than my usual Shoreditch stomping ground. So this month I’m offering an online training program if you’re too far away to come train with me in person. If you want to find out more just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.