Week 11: Why the end is only the beginning

Reaching new levels of strength, Adriano and Ben

THE greatest changes in appearance and increases in strength on the Amazing 12 program come towards the end. But here’s the catch: you need the first 10 or so weeks under your belt in order to maximise and trigger those benefits.

Everyone nowadays seems to want to take shortcuts. We want to gain in five minutes what normally requires much longer.

But many things are worth waiting for. Why? Because otherwise we miss out on the process and it’s in the process that we learn and grow the most.

Jo pushing that prowler and herself

When I look at the Amazing 12 program, I don’t just see the difference between the starting photo and the end one. That’s just the cherry on the cake – a visual display of hard work and dedication. It’s the cover on the book, so to speak. But the words on the pages tell the true story.

Having nearly guided my Amazing 12 Chichester crew through their journey at Core Results Gym, I see how they’ve grown stronger or overcome different challenges or learned from their failings or developed a different mindset or understood the importance of eating and sleeping well or noticed that it takes more than just training to reach optimal health or realised how vital it is to move well or they feel a sense of pride in having lasted the course or improved their technique in one or multiple lifting/movement skills or have proved to themselves they are stronger and more determined than they thought possible. I could go on and on. 

The real you: Ben has so much untapped strength and fitness

It’s not just a program to enhance appearances. Amazing 12 boss Paul McIlroy says it best. “If you’re looking into the mirror and who’s looking back is someone not in shape, with low self-esteem and weak, then that is NOT the real you.

“The real truth is that the transformation took place a long time before the Amazing 12 – and took years to achieve by eating tons of junk food and being doggedly determined to move as little as possible. So what you see in the mirror is NOT you.

“What the Amazing 12 program does is transform that person back into the virile human being they were in the first place!”

That’s why my motivation and desire as a coach is to instill in my clients and those who read about my work the importance of leading a healthy life and what that actually entails.

Fully extended, Stacey slamming the ball

I understand that there is genuine confusion as to what ‘healthy’ really is amidst the mass of conflicting information and advice and that the average person’s comprehension of nutrition and movement and the negatives of their lifestyle choices is as limited as their motivation to change even when awareness is increased.

The Amazing 12 is about building confidence (for self-esteem), muscles (to make us leaner and protect our joints and heart), endurance (for resilience and usefulness), discipline (to take on the jobs we have to do even if we don’t want to), knowledge (so we are equipped to continue when it’s over and make informed choices in order to improve our healthstyle) and emphasising commitment (the turning up no matter what).

The Amazing 12 Chichester is now coming into the final week, the time where the emphasis is on reaching a peak. And the challenge now is to be focused and pay attention to the little details I have given them in order to achieve the best possible results.

In the zone: Jo’s almost meditative approach to battle ropes

They have worked hard and should want to see and feel the full extent of their efforts. There’s no crash-dieting involved or use of synthetic products or dehydration.

From Day One the priority has always been to eat as cleanly as possible, drink lots of water, exercise intelligently and sleep abundantly.

Even though a few of them haven’t followed the program exactly or have struggled with sleep or have missed too many sessions to say they’ve done the Amazing 12 as prescribed, week 12 is worth experiencing. With the exception of Adriano, who graduated in 2015, none of them has been through it before.

Squat queen: Stacey getting good depth

But that’s what life should be about: new experiences. It teaches us new things about ourselves. Getting to know ourselves and evolving is, for me at least, part of life’s fascination and joy and purpose.

Some new experiences are greater than others. Some of my group dislike any change. So I purposely move things around – for example, I try not to do back squats in the same place each week or set equipment up exactly the same way or use the same bars for lifting. And I’ve encouraged them to try new foods and ways of eating and strategies for continuing with a healthy diet and challenged them to break patterns of thinking and behaviours/habits that don’t serve them well.

Recovered: Ben showing no signs of being restricted by injury

The Amazing 12 changes throughout, but often in too subtle a way for it to become a concern.

However, what they can do now is vastly different from what they could do when they started in January. They’ve taken micro steps. It’s one reason why the Amazing 12 works so well. It encourages you to allow yourself to become stronger, because while strength is a skill – and therefore must be practiced and honed – ultimately it comes down to whether the body feels a given task is too great a threat or not. Confidence is key and confidence can be destroyed by being overly ambitious or impatient.

When I look back through my records of what Stacey, Ben, Jo and Adriano have achieved, it’s quite astounding.

Jo knows she’s become much stronger – in spite of skipping sessions and falling off the wagon with the diet for several weeks. So has Ben, who was set back through injury briefly, and Adriano, who has already surpassed what he achieved two years ago. And Stacey, who at the beginning said she was “shocked” by how much strength she had lost after becoming a mum, is now doing for reps more than what used to be her maximum when she was in full training.

Making steady progress deadlifting

However, irrespective of the physical successes and changes, it’s going to be easy after the Amazing 12 has finished to slip back into making the choices and living the lifestyle that prompted the need for change in the first place.

There will be a sense of now-it’s-over-and-I-can-do-whatever-I-want. But I can’t stress enough the importance of resisting those urges, for obvious reasons.

Lifestyle matters – GREATLY.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about it because it is such an critical factor in how healthily we evolve and perform and how we look and, most importantly, our susceptibility to disease and illness which dramatically impacts our quality of life.

Getting harder: it’s more challenging in week 11, but everyone is fitter

Some of us may be at a genetic disadvantage but Dr. Sara Gottfried, who I’ve written about previously and has studied over 2,500 research papers on our genes, says that “90 per cent of the time” our illnesses and sicknesses and demise is caused by poor lifestyle choices.

If that isn’t a clear warning to take more seriously how you choose to live and take care of yourself I don’t know what is.

It means we’re mostly not genetically predisposed to certain illnesses or being overweight. We have the power, through choice, to determine what path we take.

And, in my opinion, a massive and integral part of any plan to stay well should include exercise/movement and resistance training in addition to resting and eating healthily.

So if you’re interested in my next Amazing 12 wave (over eight weeks, starting in May) or want to learn to lift and join one of my ladies weight-lifting groups on a Sunday morning or are interested in an upcoming course on using kettlebells or would like personal training sessions, send a message to Claude@intelligentstrength.co.uk

Week 10: Are you giving away your greatest power?

Jo and Stacey on the bench press, one spotting and one lifting

YOU spend years in the gym and don’t get results. You ask yourself why and reach a conclusion: exercise doesn’t work.

You go on a diet, fail to lose weight and determine that diets aren’t effective.

Or you take up weight-lifting, pull a muscle and decide that weight-lifting causes injuries.

Those are real life situations and common reactions. But there’s some missing data. How many people regularly visit the gym and don’t actually follow or stick to a progressive resistance program?

Or how many people go on diets, but either adopt a diet that is fundamentally flawed (in the long term) or cheat on the details?

Pressed for time, Adriano working hard to make the most of the final weeks

And when it comes to getting injured lifting weights, how many of us have failed to listen to instructions or ‘switched off’ at that all-important moment? To then say weight-lifting is dangerous is as illogical as a parent who hurts their back picking up their children saying they will never lift their children again.

In each of these real examples – and there are thousands more – I’m highlighting how we, as people, outsource responsibility for our mishaps or lack of success. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. 

There is an often uncomfortable truth we are trying to avoid: we are where we are largely because of choices WE have made.

Unleashing strength through deadlifts

The day when we start to reverse this trend is when we take ownership of the problem. It means to admit the only way to achieve lasting results is to recognise fully we are the ones in charge.

One of the greatest powers we have as human beings is knowing we can change things and that we have choice, because in the absence of choice we have hopelessness. The moment we blame others or circumstances we relinquish our power.

An artistic (10 and 5-year-old) impression of transformation

If you keep blaming and looking outwards instead of inwards, you are developing a practice – the practice of becoming better at blaming and squandering your powers.

“The body becomes what you teach it.”

Simply put, if you don’t own the problem, you can’t change the problem.

Who is in control when you pick up your phone at bedtime and start scrolling through messages or social media? Does the phone control you?

Who buys the food that goes into your fridge and cupboards that, when consumed, cause your health issues?

Taking a walk, farmer’s carry-style

The Amazing 12 is a unique program that offers the opportunity for change and, as you will know if you have been following my blogs, food and sleep should play an integral part of any healthy physical transformation.

You have to follow the program. That’s not a catch. It’s a requirement for it to work.

A reason people come to me or have personal training is because they want/need to be held accountable. They pay me to take them through the program, show and instruct them how to perform the movements, organise what weights to lift, how long to recover, watch their form etc.

Paying for my services and having me pull the strings helps motivate them to turn up when they don’t feel like it and do the exercise even if they dislike it.

So here we are, 10 weeks into the Amazing 12 Chichester at the Core Results Gym. The ‘end’ is in sight and some will be satisfied and some will not. 

Whether the group are content or not at the end largely comes down to three things: mindset, expectations and honesty.

Are they a glass-is-half-empty or half-full type of person? How honest are they with themselves about what they have put into the program? How realistic were their expectations?

Adriano putting everything into the heavy battle ropes

Irrespective of the results, here’s the truth as I see it: this is just the beginning. Here’s another truth: what they do next and how successful they are going to be moving forwards is ALL down to them. We need to own that reality.

Stacey told me, “I don’t think I’d have got back into shape had I not done this [the Amazing 12].” She’s lost over a stone in weight and returned to her pre-pregnancy bodyweight.

I’d like to think, however, that Stacey is also much better equipped and informed now than when she started.

Still, Stacey feels disappointed whenever her scale weight hasn’t budged even if her strength and fitness has increased, which raises the question of what means of testing we are attached to for determining how well we are doing. Again, this is something we need to take ownership of by understanding it is a choice. 

Finishing the week strongly with the prowler and kettlebells

Jo’s admitted she hasn’t been following the diet for weeks and that she’s really been struggling at times. But she was committed this week and, when she puts the work in and eats correctly, I’ve noticed big changes.

I can’t fault Adriano for commitment. Some days he gets stranded in London coming back from work yet busts a gut to make it to the gym on time. Occasionally, we’ve had to reschedule his sessions and started super-early.

The bottom line is he’s made his training a priority. If we can do the same with sleep and diet we have the winning ticket!

Ben, who is almost back to full fitness after a recent injury, has been working practically two jobs in recent weeks and after training in the evening has had to then do a night shift. Therefore his sleep has been massively disrupted and, as I’ve written about previously, it’s through quality sleep that the body does its restorative work, growth and majority of fat-burning. That’s a biological process that can’t be short-circuited.

At least Ben’s been following more rigidly the diet I gave him last week and has noticed almost immediately the difference (and I’ve seen it) which has made him – and me – wonder just what his results would have been had he nailed it from the beginning.

However, what these past 10 weeks has taught me (and I’m always learning from the people I coach) is that motivation only goes so far for some and that over the longer duration you need to have a plan for when the wheels come off.

Plans are systems or frameworks that help keep you on track with your goals. “Fail to plan, plan to fail” is how the saying goes.

Upping the stakes, Adriano, Ben and Jo going through a conditioning workout

Plans don’t magically appear. You have to create them. You have to foresee where you have gone wrong previously and determine what is necessary or helpful to avoid that bump if it comes up again.

If you don’t plan, you’ll wind up repeating the same actions and you know what Albert Einstein said about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome?

Stacey showing her deep back squat

So the big lesson for this week is to recognise you – and no-one else – are in charge. Stop blaming anyone or anything. Take command. Make a plan. Stick with it. If you don’t like it, know that you can change it. 

It requires discipline and discipline can be learned and practiced. As Aristotle once wrote, “Through discipline we find freedom.”

My next wave – an eight-week version – starts on May 8. If you’d like to be considered and think you have what it takes to commit to training, following a healthy nutritional plan, want to dramatically improve your strength and fitness, change your physical composition and learn how to lift and train efficiently and effectively, contact me at Claude@intelligentstrength.co.uk

Week 9: Adversity is our teacher

Sometimes – but not always – an all-out effort is required

HOW many times have you wanted to try something but decided not to because you are afraid to fail?

The nine-week mark of the Amazing 12 Chichester is the point at which I notice most drop-outs on this transformation program occur (although it is a very small percentage). I can’t really imagine why you’d go this far and not finish, but one reason is the fear of failing.

Sometimes that fear of failure can be a tremendous motivator, but often it can also provide crippling pressure.

But let me say this – failure is a state of mind. And in the right state of mind, failure does not exist.

Stacey continues to surprise herself

That my group of four training at the Core Results Gym have advanced to the three-quarter mark in tact speaks volumes for their sticking power and physical resilience. 

I must admit one or two have wavered at various times. The Amazing 12 asks searching questions. But they can all be proud for getting this far. They should recognise in themselves the fortitude that’s required to be this dedicated.

Untapped potential, Ben just needs to sort out his diet

Ben has had a few shaky days and Jo’s faced her demons. But they have come through the other side. They are still in contention. They are still working hard and giving everything I ask of them when in the gym.

This week was a tough one and has left them all flat out a few times. But, from my experience, these are the weeks when the greatest changes happen.

Ben showing his hand speed on the battle ropes

Now, with only three weeks to go, it’s about buckling down and maximising what can be achieved. Tunnel vision is needed.

It’s much easier to hold that focus for three weeks instead of 12. But those who are able to stay organised, disciplined and mentally strong for the full three months get the best results. It’s a simple fact.

As I’ve said before, you get from the Amazing 12 what you put in. The magic is in the detail. Progress, like change, is so incremental the participant sometimes doesn’t notice. Often they will say they don’t feel as if they have changed much, but when they get to the finish they are blown away by the results. It’s easy to forget how they were at the starting point.

Even if visually there isn’t much to shout about, I can assure them all that the gains in strength and physical performance are already quite staggering and that’s what is worth reflecting on.

Ben may be rueing the fact he’s not got his head around the diet and Jo’s been brilliant when she’s been consistent, but overall has missed a lot of sessions.

Jo’s a good lifter who just needs to be consistent

Then, just when she was on a roll this week, Jo dropped her purse getting out of her car and pulled a muscle in her back, causing her to miss one session and move a little uneasily in the others. The positive outcome is that Jo didn’t allow it to set her back. Similarly, Ben, after his chest injury, appears to be where he was before he suffered the freak damage a few weeks ago.

I’ve written out a diet plan for Ben for the final three weeks which, if he follows it to the letter, may help him shed some excess pounds that haven’t yet come off. There’s no question he’s become stronger and fitter and everyone has noticed. For someone who hasn’t ever been in a gym or taken much care of himself, Ben’s displayed impressive potential.

“I’m quite shocked, really, at what I’ve been able to do,” he said on reflection.

The Amazing 12 experience has shown him that when it comes to getting into shape, the diet has to be addressed first and foremost. That’s his weakest link.

Highlighting areas that need attention the most is also what the Amazing 12 is about. It’s easy for us to stick to what we are good at, because it makes us feel good and we’re not intimidated by it. But to neglect what we don’t find so easy not only can cause physical imbalances, but also be the result of us being fearful of not looking or being good at something.

If Ben – or any of the others – gets to the end of 12 weeks and isn’t in great shape it doesn’t mean he has failed, however.

As martial arts supremo Bruce Lee used to say, “Defeat [or failure] is an education”.

Pushing hard, Stacey can still smile her way through it

When we falter or fall or fail or struggle, we have a choice – to be upset and resigned OR take from it important information to enable us to become stronger, wiser and better. It’s YOUR decision. You have to listen to the experience and by that I mean open your mind to what you have learned about yourself. The information is valuable only if we use it and are completely honest with ourselves.

That’s why the ‘don’t be afraid to fail’ mantra is so important. We need to progress without an ego. Fear keeps us from moving forwards, from doing, from challenging ourselves.

It’s in the adversity that we make the most progress. It’s in the process of practicing over and over with sufficient resistance and without harsh judgement that the body adapts and develops and becomes resilient and refined.

That’s not to say I push my group to their limitations. The idea is to challenge them in a safe way – to lift their confidence and to empower them, physically and mentally, to see what they are capable of.

Digging deeper on squat day

I can’t recall precisely the number of times Stacey has said to me “I don’t feel very strong today” and then had an outstanding session. She did it to me again at the start of this week when she turned up with a stuffy nose and having had little sleep after her son kept her awake all night and I then revealed to her after she had finished that she was lifting comfortably a weight she had struggled with on the previous session.

Adriano, her husband, has been consistent also. The experience of having done it before (2015) has held him in good stead. He’s much more in command of the diet and understands the process of the training. All being well, I’m hoping to take him further than he was able to go two years ago.

Working on his form, Adriano has had a shift in focus

What’s particularly satisfying about Adriano is how he has shifted his attention to why training needs to be a continual process and quality of movement trumps work capacity.

Ben’s much newer to the business of training and was a little gung-ho in the beginning, eager to see what he could do, but has learned this lesson through the injury he sustained.

So the message from this week is to soldier on and understand, as the saying goes, “we either win or we learn”. The only way to lose, I suppose, is to fail to learn anything. 

The process of strength and fitness training, done correctly and with the right mindset, should promote health, confidence and physical ability. That’s why I’m passionate about what I do. If you want to experience the Amazing 12, but in a shorter version – over eight weeks – send me a message. I am taking applications for a two-month journey beginning in May. Contact me at Claude@intelligentstrength.co.uk 

Week 8: What’s your driving force?

Goggins running through Death Valley to cover 135 miles. Photo by Mass Communications Specialist Seaman Brandon Rogers

MAYBE you have never heard of David Goggins, but he has an incredible story.

He may seem like a superhuman, because he’s the only man ever in United States armed service history to complete training for the Navy Seals, Army Ranger school and Air Force tactical air controller. If that were not enough, he set about taking on the challenge of completing the 10 toughest endurance events known to man, often placing highly. And if that’s not impressive enough, he set a world record in 2013 for the most pull-ups (4,030) in 24 hours.

Doesn’t sound like an ordinary man, does he?

But he built himself up from practically nothing. Consider this. Goggins was abused as a child, obese, a self-confessed coward with no self-esteem, subjected to racism, full of insecurity, has a hole in his heart, suffers from sickle-cell anemia, is scared of heights and deep water and hates running!

So how on earth did he do it?

His answer is plain and simple: he wanted it badly enough.

Usually, when I have people sign up for the Amazing 12 Chichester, it’s because they want change or to discover how far they can go. They are like Goggins. The desire is strong. There’s a driving force.

But can they – Jo, Stacey, Adriano and Ben – stay the course? Can they keep the driving force alive with only four weeks to go? The Amazing 12 will challenge them. It’s not just the training, but also the discipline, commitment and change to their normal routines.

Some of my current group have had to answer and deal with searching questions. This week in particular was tough for Ben and Jo.

Ben is all smiles here, but it’s been a frustrating week

Jo missed most of the week and Ben has been nursing an injury that has left him feeling frustrated. But he admits, “it was a wake-up call.” He understands better now the need for good technique and breathing.

It is all a part of the journey as far as I am concerned. The value of any experience is what you want to take from it.

And if you adhere to Goggins’ philosophy, “failure is information on how to succeed”. There is no downside – as long as you keep going and learning.  

What really separates Goggins from most others, though, is his mindset. While many of us don’t pay attention to how we think, Goggins has trained himself to think his way out of any sticky situation that comes his way. And anyone can do it.

Stacey staying strong during her back squat routine

Where many will say “I quit”, Goggins says “I’m not stopping”. Where some say “this hurts”, he says “it’s making me stronger”.  

Goggins converted himself – over many years – from that shy, meek, overweight, frightened boy into a man of steel who now proclaims with confidence that there is nothing he cannot achieve.

I believe most of us would like a piece of that, but how many of us want it badly enough? And where Goggins says we need to focus our energy (and I’ve touched on this in previous blogs) is in our thinking.

“We change everything in our lives from our cars to our underwear to our shoes to what we decide to eat,” he says. “But the one thing many of us never change is our thinking.”

Therein lies the secret. Really, it’s no secret. It’s common sense. But it doesn’t happen by accident. It took Goggins years of failure and setbacks and trying and persevering. He is not afraid to fail and never gives up!

The more you focus, the more you benefit

When people think of training in the gym, though, they often think of just lifting weights and doing exercises. Some turn up and merely go through the motions, as though they just want to get it done and then move on with life.

They are not getting the full package. They don’t realise how training allows for so much more. We’re not just training movement patterns or developing strength or increasing mobility and stability or working our cardiovascular system. Every training session and challenging situation affords the opportunity to work on our thinking and breathing as well. You just need to think of it as practice.

Deadlift day is not just about picking up a weight, but also practicing the technique

You have probably heard the expression “practice makes perfect”, which is not really spot-on in my opinion, because if you practice something poorly, it is unlikely you will become perfect.

A better version is “perfect practice makes perfect”, which shifts the onus of practicing to doing it properly, mindfully and with patience instead of just doing it for the sake of it or with our focus elsewhere.  

Perfection may not even be attainable in most circumstances, especially when it comes to movement and weight-lifting, because there’s always something that can be improved upon. This is what makes it challenging and enjoyable, yet also frustrating. Perfection is the distant – and perhaps impossible – goal that keeps us going.

But the only way to make progress is to put the time in. Show up (see week 3 blog). Make the effort. Keep going – no matter what.

Ben’s new to training, so was entitled to question one evening why the training was “repetitive”.

The answer is that good, purposeful and beneficial training is repetitive. It has to be. You don’t get good at something by doing it only once.

Adriano’s squat has improved in leaps and bounds from when he first did the Amazing 12

It’s all about the practice and I express this daily to my two young children – probably much to their dismay – in the hope they, too, get the message one day.

To create change, we have to do movements over and over to hardwire the patterns until it becomes easier and our bodies adapt faster and better. Initially, it may be difficult. But don’t give up.

When my children achieve something they had earlier said was impossible or too hard, I try to make them see how the magic of practice and perseverance made the difference.

They are growing in a world where everyone seems so impatient for results. Because of this, we struggle more with the art of practice.

So much is available to us at the click of a button and life is generally more comfortable that I suspect we’ve lost the ability to be ‘up’ for the fight when success doesn’t arrive easily.

One of my favourite boxers, former world middleweight champion Marvin Hagler, once famously said: “It’s hard to get up to run at 5am when you wear silk pyjamas.”

Quality of movement should always reign supreme

It was when I started to look at training more as practice than exercise or a workout (ie changed my thinking) that I saw changes, both physically and mentally. That’s when training stopped being about how gassed or fatigued I could get and shifted towards quality of movement.

When it comes to longevity, well-being, injury prevention and quality of life, how well I move wins every time.

I also stopped seeing training as a short-term fix and took a long-term and lifelong approach, because, as I’ve touched upon in previous weeks, the older we get the greater we need to consider how we move and live and what we eat in order to apply the brakes to the process of ageing and deterioration.

The Amazing 12 lasts only for three months, but I can only take my A12 Chichester group as far as they allow me to. I do my bit and turn up every day (unless, like next week, when I have to attend a funeral). But my students must still put in all the leg work. This is why I’ve never offered a guarantee on this program, even though I know it works.

I supervise and guide the training and manage the process of the Amazing 12. But I can’t know for certain if my candidates are doing EVERYTHING I ask them to do when not in the gym.

It again comes down to what Goggins says – wanting it badly enough. Develop a strong mindset. Surround yourself with positivity. 

Focus on what motivates you, not what demotivates you.

Is it better to focus on how tough it is or what’s to be gained from completing the task?

Here’s a simple example of that: each week I put my group through a short but intense workout (they know what it is). Some dread it (demotivating), while others may instead choose to think of the benefits of doing it (motivating).

Master your thoughts and your world will change. Isn’t that worth working hard for? The Amazing 12 gives you an opportunity every day to practice it.

Think you have what it takes to complete the Amazing 12? Do you have that driving force to achieve your goals and transform yourself through intelligent training and eating? Contact me at Claude@intelligentstrength.co.uk