Having a coach – is it worth it?

A CONVERSATION I had recently with Sue Saunders, who is about to begin the Amazing 12 Transformation program with me next week, got me thinking.

We were discussing coaching. And Sue’s not what I would call inexperienced, seeing as she’s been going to the gym since she was 19 and is now 43 and has been a member of around 10 gyms.

But Sue still admits: “I’ve got a basic grasp of what to do, but I still feel like I need someone there. I don’t trust my form enough.”

Not everyone is as honest as Sue or even bothered about form. And I must admit that when it came to getting coaching, I used to be a sceptic (I’m talking 20 years ago).

I learned to play tennis and most sports just by watching television, getting the necessary equipment and going out and copying. But it’s hard to do yourself much harm making mistakes on a tennis court. In the gym, moving heavy objects, it is a different story.

My thinking used to be ‘why pay for help when you can learn to do it by yourself?’ But then I became a coach and, one by one, I received pupils who had done exactly that – trained on their own or learned from others in the gym. What did I notice? Lots of injuries and some horrible technique.

I can’t recall the amount of times it was said to me, “So I’ve been doing it wrong all this time?”

Yep. I’m afraid so.

And the amount of times I’ve stressed the importance of being mindful of technique when putting down a weight or picking it up only for it to be forgotten instantly!

That’s not the only reason a coach is needed. People switch off when they shouldn’t, forget to breathe when they should, breathe when they shouldn’t, don’t know where to look or put their hands, can’t feel what position their body is in, don’t know which muscles to engage…


Yet, despite the potential for injury, which can be costly if it leads to treatment from a professional or (worse case scenario) surgery, the inclination is still to ‘wing it’ or learn from a video or read a book.

That’s okay for some who have a good eye or are experienced or visual learners or if the movements are straightforward, but not so for a lot of others or raw beginners. And, if you ask me – and I may seem biased, I admit – it’s often not worth the risk.

But even taking injury out of the equation, good coaching should accelerate learning and, consequently, improve standards. I took lessons in boxing, tennis, swimming, fencing and karate to name a few sports. I can honestly say I learned something from EVERY session. But not until I took up CrossFit did I get any tuition in Olympic lifting or gymnastics.

A lot of these lifts are complex and take a lot of time and practice to develop. So while watching videos on Youtube of individuals doing amazing things can be inspiring, it also creates an urge to leapfrog the natural order of progression to attain a particular goal. And this is where a good coach would be useful or even crucial for safely monitoring or overseeing any advancements.

On the Amazing 12, often because I work with small groups or individuals, I try to watch everything. I reiterate that the goal is to do the best you can with good form. Always.

I’ve worked with Sue previously and, thankfully, she trusts the way I operate. “I found normal gyms to be rubbish for getting results,” she said. “You need to be working with people who know what they are talking about. It is important for me to have a personal trainer and guidance, especially if you want to get anywhere.”


For Ross Smith (above), who’s also on the Amazing 12 next month and experienced in so far as he’s been in the armed forces and training since he was 16 (he’s now 47), personal training has also become a priority.

He’d never had personal training before we worked together when I was teaching CrossFit.

“That was a shock,” he admitted. “It was more intense and I liked that. I wanted to go to another level. Knowledge and credibility in a coach is important and so, too, is trust.”

A coach’s job, though, goes beyond offering just technical guidance. You need to assess the individual, physically and mentally. Once it’s clear they are safe to train (by that I mean they can perform the basic movement patterns devoid of pain), some may need encouragement, while others need to be watched closely or slowed down even. On the Amazing 12 the job extends to dietary advice, program application and assessment almost on a daily basis.

The bottom line: want great results? Get a coach you can work with and believe in, know your goal, follow a program and stick it out.





Early birds


MY current couple, Jon and Jo, are into week 9. Often big changes occur around now.

Usually, I have my clients train at a set time. But Jon and Jo have been training out of their home. Our times, therefore, have been variable to say the least, often because Jon gets called away on business. Today, for example, we kicked off at 6.30am.


When I got up the birds were still tweeting and it was dark. But I do what I have to do to ensure my clients get the best possible results.

It was chilly to begin with in the gym (no heating), especially for me, as I don’t get to move around as much. But Jon and Jo soon warmed up.

I had Jon doing chin-ups. Halfway through the routine, he says: “I can’t believe how much stronger my back is. Before we started I was struggling to do one!”

Let’s just say Jon did in excess of 75 good ones and in good time.


Sue’s story


SUE SAUNDERS’ last conversation with her father, who sadly passed away last November, was about doing the Amazing 12.

Sue’s dad was her rock. She trusted him implicitly and ran everything by him so, understandably, she wanted to discuss the Amazing 12 with him.

While her father never really understood her passion for exercise and training and used to think she was crazy when she told him what she’d been doing during her CrossFit days, he did understand the value of being challenged.

“He knew what it meant to try to achieve something you think is out of your reach,” Sue told me. “That conversation we had was the final time he was coherent. He loved the mountains. He had aspirations to climb something big. I told him, ‘the Amazing 12 was my Everest’. It was a challenge to myself.”


In that moment, Sue’s dad turned to her and said, “You should do it.”

He smiled and laughed. “He understood my reference,” said Sue. “This way one of us gets to climb a mountain.”

A few days later, he passed away.

Sue will be on the April wave. This is something she has contemplated for nearly two years. She’s come a long way, because last May she had keyhole surgery on her left shoulder following a build up of calcium. Initially, the surgery didn’t seem to do much. But, slowly, her shoulder has returned to working order. Credit the guys at Core Results for helping to design a program that has effectively brought Sue to ‘Amazing 12 Base Camp’. Now begins the climb.

We’ve discussed doing the Amazing 12 for a long time. It means a lot for Sue. She still feels a sense of guilt that she’s being too self-indulgent. But her family is supporting her. A mother of two (aged 7 and 5) and professional photographer, Sue, 43, said: “I was never good at sports or sporty. No-one encouraged me to do sports. I didn’t begin using weights until I was 19. I never picked up a barbell until I started CrossFit [3 years ago].

“But I know I have the physique to have been good at something – given the opportunity. This [the Amazing 12] is like I’ve been given a second chance.”

My job is to guide her safely to that mountain peak and, as with anyone who has suffered an injury or undergone surgery, there are risks. But it’s one Sue feels ready and willing for.


“Being healthy and fit means everything to me,” she said. “Without good health everything is difficult. Being fit and healthy opens the doors to a full life. You need to be fit for purpose – to pick up your kids, run around with them…That’s your responsibility.”

Five years ago, when she took up running, Sue couldn’t make it to the bottom of the road (not far) without getting out of breath. Now she runs 6km three times a week. So she comes into the Amazing 12 in decent shape.

Alhough she’s excited, Sue’s feeling nervous, too. “This is all out of my comfort zone. I’m scared. I’m worried about not letting others down and being in the right head space. But it’s really important for me and probably something I’ll never do again.”

Never say never!

Into week 7


HALFWAY through week 7 of the Amazing 12. Things are starting to crank up now. This couple are feeling the changes in strength and fitness more, but there is a lot more to come.


Jon is on his second round of the Amazing 12 (you can see what he achieved first time by looking in the ‘graduates’ section).

It’s exactly a year since Jon first went through the program, but we’ve been operating out of a more makeshift gym. Jo came from a no-exercise-ever background. She’s doing remarkably well and it’s not uncommon to go from zero experience to the Amazing 12. The program is designed in such a way that it suits almost anyone.

Kari’s story


KARIEN GLADMAN, from Waterlooville, though originally from South Africa, told me: “I know where I want to be, but don’t know how to get there.”

Kari wants a change of lifestyle and to get into eating cleanly. Her desire is to discover her athletic potential. She’s a life-long fitness enthusiast and (23 years ago) a former aerobics instructor. One of her dreams is to climb to base camp Everest.

Tall and lean Kari has done some CrossFit and Tough Mudder races, but lost her way after being at her fittest in 2015. She is motivated to be healthy and fit and admits in the past she may have over-trained in her desire to get conditioned.

I’m excited to work with her. She was knocking on my door to be a part of this wave. That told me one thing: she has the necessary commitment and enthusiasm. She also understands this is going to be a process.

Simple & Sinister

I CAN’T speak highly enough about Pavel Tsatsouline’s Simple & Sinister program.
It is simple – by design! It’s sinister in its execution and how it challenges you. Single-arm kettlebell swings and Turkish Get-ups – every day. That’s it.
Doesn’t sound like much. But I love it. Why? Because (a) it doesn’t take up much time (b) it doesn’t leave you feeling sore and (c) I love to practice.
These two movements epitomise for me what is great about using this cannonball with a handle otherwise known as a kettlebell.
The swing is the foundation of all kettlebell work and the one-arm swing forces you to use your hips, glutes, hamstrings and core the way you are supposed to.
And then there is the Get-up which, when I first tried it, I could hardly manage with only a modest weight. Now, after several months of Simple & Sinister, I am genuinely staggered by the progress I have made and without stepping out of my comfort zone.
Get-ups teach you to respect the kettlebell and expose your weaknesses. I like that.
So in between doing the Amazing 12, I practice and follow programs like Simple & Sinister, because it keeps me honest and reminds me about understanding the process of getting stronger and making progress. The goal isn’t to wear yourself out or work up a sweat, but rather to refine the efficiency of your movement and when it becomes effortless and nearly flawless, where you can do it slowly and with your breath under control, is the time to move up to the next kettlebell.
Tsatsouline’s book is a priceless slice of his knowledge. Like all good teachers, he communicates clearly and directly.
So if you are stuck between programs or just want to challenge yourself in a different way, grab yourself Pavel’s book and dedicate yourself to these two movements. It’s an investment you won’t regret.

Ross’ story


I’M pleased to welcome Ross Smith, from Emsworth, to the Amazing 12 Chichester. He has signed up for the April wave and is absolutely buzzing about it.

I’ve trained Ross previously. He’s done CrossFit, Tough Mudders and distance running. He’s a hard worker. I have no doubts he has what it takes.

Having spent time in the army and air force (as a firefighter), he knows about discipline and routine. I’m confident he is going to get the results the A12 promises to those who follow the program.

It’s come at an important time for this genuine man of many talents (most notably when it comes to art using a pencil and paper).

That’s because the last year has been a rough and tough one for Ross, who is in his mid-forties. He has lost his focus a little and the demands of being a long-serving paramedic officer in the ambulance service took a toll.

But Ross sees the Amazing 12 as a way to transform himself on many levels. He comes into this with his head in the right space. It’s great to see a smile back on his face.

I look forward to sharing his journey in the weeks to come.

How to restore a rusty kettlebell


I JUST finished my restoration project on a rusty 32kgs kettlebell that was badly in need of repair. It had rusted and that’s when it can start tearing the flesh on your hands.

With a couple of willing helpers and using some fine emery cloth for sanding, a car dent and scratch repair kit, wet and dry paper and some spray paint, the kettlebell came out nearly as good as new.

Try to avoid going to thick with the dent repair paste as it then takes longer to sand down. Keep sanding until it’s nice and smooth, wipe off with a cloth and then apply a couple of layers of paint.

Kathy (Sept 2015)


KATHY GREEN is no ordinary 61-year-old woman. A native of Vancouver, Canada, she represented and captained her country at the 1976 Montreal Olympics as a volleyball player. She was on the rowing team to go to Moscow four years later until her country (amongst many) staged a boycott.

She reckons she peaked as a player around 1986, but by then had been competing at top level a long time and decided to retire.

Even today, she still regularly plays (and coaches) volleyball and tennis and had been doing CrossFit with me for 18 months before signing up for the Amazing 12.

When I first met her she couldn’t – and wouldn’t – squat below parallel for fear of it hurting her knees. And then she discovered that not only could she squat deep, but that it was, in fact, good for her.

When she started the A12 program, Kathy was coming off a period of inactivity after illness. Her personal bests before the layoff were as follows: shoulder press 35k for three reps; deadlift 100k for one rep; back squat 75k for three reps (but not deep). She couldn’t do a single pull-up or come even remotely close.

During her time doing CrossFit, Kathy’s body shape never changed much even though she moved better and her capacity for work increased.

I worked her hard on the A12, but always in accordance with the principles of Paul McIlroy’s program. Kathy, despite holding down a job as a solicitor, not being a great sleeper and often finishing her workouts at 10pm, didn’t miss a day of training. On some days she was plain exhausted. That’s commitment for you.

By the end, not only had Kathy shed 35lbs of bodyweight and was at her lightest in more than 13 years, but her strength had soared. I’m not a big fan of assisted pull-ups with a band, but for the sake of demonstrating her strength gains, I had Kathy retest it – and FOLLOWING a workout!

Kathy had never before managed a pull-up with anything less than a thick green and thin red band combined. She was astonished when she then proceeded to complete a STRICT chin-up using just a thin red band (for those who use bands this will be of more significant understanding, but take it from me that it is a BIG leap and one that many people struggle to achieve in years!)

Her shoulder press improved to the point that she was hitting close to 40 reps in a short period with her 3rm weight. Kathy was doing multiple reps with nearly 90% of her best deadlift weight and her back squat also improved to the point that she could hit high reps – and I mean HIGH – with 80% of what was her 3rm.

Kathy’s become a bit of an inspiration at the CrossFit gym where I trained her. She was back doing CrossFit and the week after finishing the A12 completed her first CrossFit workout at the RX (prescribed) weight.

She’s got a drive to win (that she has never lost from her competition days) and a zest for life. She is the proverbial energiser bunny and it was a pleasure to work with her – and listen to her compilation of eighties music every night – and unbelievably satisfying to see her achieve such great results.

Adriano (May 2015)


READING testimonials from other Amazing 12 graduates, it’s apparent how everyone has their own reasons for embarking on what is a unique and often intense, testing and enriching journey.

For me, as a coach, the pleasure isn’t just about seeing the transformation taking place and delivering the results my clients have paid and trusted in me to bring about.

I am only a part of the process – the guide, motivator and coach. But the client has to do all the graft. They have to find the discipline, focus and motivation to keep striving and working to achieve their goal, which is to become the best version of themselves from the stimulus the program provides.

I had my doubts before starting about whether Adriano could apply himself with the dedication required.

His attendance in CrossFit classes had been erratic, he worked in London and therefore had a long daily commute there and back and to say he was fond of Italian food was putting it mildly.

But, thankfully, he proved those reservations were totally misplaced. His discipline was extraordinary. It’s deeply rewarding for me to see how the A12 has provided a platform for him to continue his physical development.

But he has grown beyond the improved physique and strength gains. Mentally, this has given Adriano the confidence he was before lacking.

What many don’t know is that several years ago he had a serious fight with cancer, which he overcame, and, quite understandably, has shaped his attitude to life, which is to make the most of all the opportunities that come his way.

Adriano, 40, does a great job of it.

“Doing the Amazing 12 has been a very emotional journey to say the least,” he told me. “It clearly exposed my physical weaknesses and it has been a huge challenge to overcome the idea I had of myself.

“Mental toughness – that was the biggest challenge. I had to apply to myself a very tough discipline as I’m the sort of person that can get easily distracted.

“Doing CrossFit, I was struggling with feeling like I was mentally weak. Since I started last year [2014], I saw all these amazing people around me that during the hardest of workouts would go through and overcome pain and fatigue!

“In these 12 weeks doing the Amazing 12 I’ve learned so much about myself and my body. After my illness [non-Hodgkin Lymphoma], I become a bit self-conscious about it [my body].

“I must say I could never thank you enough for pushing me and giving me an opportunity even though you had your doubts!”