Week 3/1: Choose wisely

ALL SMILES: a sweaty night for Jade, Reg and Jemma

YOU have a choice. In every instant and every moment, you have a choice. Hopelessness is the feeling you get when you believe there is an absence of choice. The reality is that a choice, however limited, always exists.

You choose what goes into your mouth to feed your body. You choose how little or how much to move your body each day. You choose in what form you move your body. You choose how to fill your day and what to prioritise. You choose who to listen to and believe and who not to.

Yes, you choose practically everything, even when it seems like you do not.

ON THE PROWL: Jemma’s finding her feet in the first week

Recognising, accepting and understanding you have a choice can often make a significant difference and in many cases, become a breakthrough moment.

It gives you ownership of your circumstances, be it good or bad. Some of us, of course, don’t want that ownership, so we will fight to hold on to the belief that we don’t have a choice. It’s easier, because we can blame something or someone else.

But once you have ownership, you can do many things and begin to create change.

If your beliefs are too rigid then it’s harder to allow change to happen. Some of our beliefs are so ingrained that they’ve become patterns of behaviour – default actions – and we don’t even realise it.

To have an inflexible mind, though, can create an inflexible body. I should know. My mind may be more flexible now than ever before (as an adult), but I spent years on the other side, thinking something was a certain way and adamantly defending it.

You cannot learn with a closed mind. As late martial arts legend Bruce Lee once said, “The usefulness of a cup is in its emptiness.”

How does all this relate to the Amazing 12? I shall explain.

HARD WORK: the best lessons often come from the hardest challenges

Every situation, especially the challenging ones, are opportunities for learning and growth. In the Amazing 12 those opportunities are plenty. But we have to choose whether to use them to help us rise or let them leave us defeated and deflated.

We also choose:

•What’s most important in your life.

•To give up or continue.

•To give your best or worst.

•To be positive or negative.

•To be open-minded or closed-minded.

•To learn new things or stick with what you know.

•To do what you are good at or work on what is your weakest link or makes you most uncomfortable.

•To fix a problem or let it continue.

•To go to bed early and be rested or stay up late.

•To tell the truth or lie.

•To be honest with yourself or to lie to yourself.

•To investigate what you are told or just believe everything.

•To trust or not to trust.

•To step out of your comfort zone or remain within it.

•To be committed or not be committed.

I could go on. Most, if not all, the above choices relate to the Amazing 12  Chichester and the journey my foursome are on at the Core Results Gym.

LEAP OF FAITH: Catriona’s challenged herself by taking on a program like this

I’m now at the end of week 3 of the Amazing 8 for Catriona and Reg, while Jemma and Jade have completed week 1 of the Amazing 12.

I see progress in them all the time. But do they recognise their own progress? Do they prefer to reflect on what they did not achieve rather than what they did achieve? It, again, comes down to choice.

CHUFFED: Jemma’s confidence is rising

“I can’t believe how much stronger I have become in just five days,” said Jemma following the final session of her opening week.

“I can really see my progress,” said Catriona after one workout.

It’s certainly been a fun and interesting week. The groups have become larger. The personalities are so different. The strengths, weaknesses and levels of experience and expertise are varied. How they choose to respond to my instructions varies. How they choose to react to their own efforts and results is fascinatingly contrasting. 

They all made a choice when signing up for the program, taking a decision, for whatever motive, to create change.

Some will resist the training and nutrition protocols more than others.

MOTIVATED: working together has spurred them on

Jemma, 29, a combination of enthusiasm and anxiety, is often concerned about if she has done a movement properly or projects difficulty before she has attempted a task. She doesn’t want to let anyone down. Her lack of confidence at times affects her concentration. But I look forward to witnessing the change as her confidence improves. 

Already I’ve noticed it. Even after one week she’s stepping up to the bar and getting on with a movement without giving me those am-I-doing-it-right? glances.

Jemma wants to be good and, like Catriona, is impatient about it. Jemma, almost excitedly, is already thinking ahead to the end of the 12 weeks and the results she may achieve, but I try to bring her back into the present. That’s where everyone’s focus needs to be for the best results and the most satisfaction.

BATTLE: Jade has no love affair with cardio

For Jade, who’s a PT, good athlete and footballer, I see how she fights with herself to do her absolute best. She sets high standards. Maybe even unreasonably so and often feels disappointed if she doesn’t reach the target she has set for herself.

Catriona is similar. It makes me chuckle to see Catriona get annoyed with herself. I don’t mean that in a nasty way. I just know it’s self-inflicted and, eventually, Catriona will be at peace with it.

Jade, the youngest of the group at 22, dislikes cardio. Catriona loves cardio. Jemma hates to sweat. Catriona loves to sweat. Jade’s a sprinter-type, so doesn’t relish multiple reps (which is why it will be good for her to do them).

Big Reg, who is already talking about doing the 12-week program in September, doesn’t complain. “No matter what we’re doing, I know I just have to get on with it,” he said.

EARNING THEIR STRIPES: progress comes from putting in the time and practice

“The program is phenomenal. It’s incredible how your muscles are able to quickly adapt.”

Reg has already lost the best part of a stone in weight. Even if something’s a struggle, he gives his best effort. He is moving so much better, even though this week, working in pairs or small groups, Reg found it tougher going. The girls are driving him on. Having a training partner has a way of providing extra motivation.

Sometimes, though, if someone doesn’t achieve the number of reps I ask them to shoot for, they might label themselves (in their thoughts) ‘a failure’. Or they may think they are not doing well enough.

So I find myself a lot of the time trying to keep the boat steady, so to speak – to manage all those self-depreciating thoughts and stop them from spreading.

GOOD FORM: Catriona’s been working on her deadlift

They are all very encouraging of each other, but often not enough to themselves.

For me to get results – both immediate and lasting – I try to help identify the areas which are holding someone back. Often, though, it’s in our heads. Our bodies will respond to the training – if our heads/thoughts don’t get in the way. 

Training doesn’t just apply to the body. “One can’t build physical strength without mental strength.”

WARM-UP: nothing better than some crawling

Therefore, choose what serves you best, not what works against you. That requires training, too.

Bruce Lee also said: “The mind is a fertile garden – it will grow anything you wish to plant – beautiful flowers or weeds. And it is with successful, healthy thoughts or negative ones that will, like weeds, strangle and crowd the others.

“Don’t allow negative thoughts to enter your mind, for they are the weeds that strangle confidence.”

Choose wisely.


Week 2: Rome wasn’t built in a day

RETURN: It’s been a while since Reg has deadlifted

WHEN things seem impossible or insurmountable, what do you do? How do you respond?

For some the reaction is to dig in deeper and fight. For others it’s to abandon ship.

It’s easy to quit or not get started. The only guaranteed way to fail at anything is to give up. And the best way to not achieve anything is to not attempt it in the first place.

If you stay in or enter the race, you always have a chance, so to speak. When people quit at something, quite often it’s at a critical time – when they are about to reach an important turning point. They just don’t know it. So always hang in there. 

The next time things feel or get hard, ask yourself why you started in the first place.

A great example is David Goggins, an ultra distance runner I have mentioned in previous blogs. He posted a story on his Instagram feed this week that made me think about Reg and Catriona, now at the end of week 2 of an 8-week Amazing 12 Chichester program at Core Results.

FOCUSED: Catriona slamming it

Goggins used to be a huge, heavy guy and was recalling the day when he decided he was going to become a Navy Seal. But first he had to lose the extra weight he was carrying (106lbs in two months).  

With all the will in the world, he stepped out of his house to go for a three-mile run at 6am. He made it a quarter of a mile down the road and then, with his head hung low, lungs aching and feeling like a failure, walked back home.

If you know anything about Goggins, he’s a man who embraces every challenge in life and uses it to create a stronger version of himself. He’s one of the greatest competitors on the planet. He doesn’t quit at anything. But he wasn’t born that way. 

SLOWLY DOES IT: Reg back under the bar squatting

When I see Reg walk into the gym each day, he’s practically shuffling. Part of the reason for that this week was down to the soreness in his legs from our first squat and deadlift workout (pretty common response when you’ve not worked a particular body part for a while).

But it’s also because Reg is carrying a lot of baggage he needs to lose. The extra bodyweight tires him out quickly, especially with any kind of aerobic activity. Even walking upstairs. But it will get better. 

What’s great to see in Reg is that he shows up every day (well, nearly, as he had to skip a session this week to play in a golf tournament), gives his best and, little by little, is making improvements in a very short time. 

It’s when you see someone perform an action or movement more easily, with better form and a greater load that you know they are making progress.

CARDIO QUEEN: Catriona’s strength is endurance

I’m seeing the changes in Catriona, too. She’s someone who once never believed she’d be able to run far. Until she was 30, she did no training at all. And when she first started running, she, like Goggins, only made it halfway down the road before being out of puff.

In eight weeks, she lost 2st.

She went from a deconditioned starter to someone who (before the Amazing 12) was training every day and sometimes twice daily. She has energy to burn.

Taking that step into the world of lifting weights, though, was also a scary proposition, particularly for someone who generally avoided what she’s not good at.

ALL OUT: working hard with the battle ropes

“I’m loving the training,” she told me. “I can’t believe we’re already at the end of two weeks. I still get frustrated with myself [Catriona is impatient and a perfectionist], but I’m seeing and feeling the progress, which is nice.”

When working with Catriona, I’m often reminded of a film clip of a guy I once saw who used to be a paratrooper and badly damaged his legs following a jump. He was told he’d never walk again because he was wheelchair-bound.

BUILDING: one rep at a time

But he refused to accept defeat. Every day, mostly through yoga to begin with, he tried to get moving. Every day, he would fail and fall flat on his face, literally. But he kept going. And then, as he began to lose the weight he had gained through inactivity, he regained strength and defied what all the experts had said.

His mantra was: “Just because you can’t do it today doesn’t mean you can’t do it tomorrow.”

That phrase has always stuck with me and I’m reminded of it when I see Catriona getting frustrated at her inability to nail a particular movement first time and Reg gasping for breath or straining to bend down to pick something off the ground.

I know the breakthrough is down the road. It’s a matter of time. Experience gives you patience.

LOOKING UP: Reg is improving with every workout

I know if Reg keeps showing up, working hard and following the eating advice I have given him, he will see results.

Reg and Catriona are already getting stronger and fitter. They are both determined and successful people. Next week they will be joined by two new starters doing a 12-week program.

What was hard for Reg in the first week is less difficult now. But they are at opposite ends of the spectrum: Catriona is aerobically super-charged and Reg isn’t…yet; Catriona is discovering her strength, while Reg, who used to play lots of sports when he was younger, is uncovering his. 

The message for the week is…give it time and cultivate patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a strong, healthy body. 


Week 1: Laying the foundations

CONTRAST: The lean runner and the golfing powerhouse

I’VE been coaching the Amazing 12 Chichester now for several years. You get all types on the program. Their starting condition and shape are different. Their goals are different. How they adapt and cope with the training is different. Their mindsets are different. What they find easy and struggle with is always different. That’s part of what makes my job interesting.

This week at Core Results I kicked off another wave, over eight weeks. I couldn’t have two more contrasting starters.

Reg, with his George Foremanesque stature, hasn’t done any form of physical training in three years and has a lot of weight and body fat to shift. Catriona is slender, a runner and no stranger to cardio classes, but has never done any weight-training before.

While Reg is naturally strong, he’s huffed and puffed his way through the first week when dealing with any kind of aerobic activity whereas Catriona is looking to increase her strength to go with the staying power (aerobic capacity) she already has. She likes the long, steady-type workouts.

Sometimes, when I tell her to rest/recover between sets, Catriona gives me that look of ‘really? What am I supposed to do?’

Runners, typically, just keep going. They’re not used to the weight-lifting and strength-building protocol. So it’s all going to be a learning experience.

It’s taken Catriona years, literally, to step into a weights gym. But she’s here now. She overcame one hurdle to begin this program. She will overcome many more before she is finished.

Learning that more isn’t necessarily better and that recovery is where the growth and change happens is another important lesson.

CHANGE: Reg going from no exercise to constructive training

For Reg it’s a case of getting moving again. He’s a dentist, works hard and, aside from being a fairly low handicap golfer, doesn’t do much in the form of exercise. His diet hasn’t been great. Up to two litres a day of Pepsi Max has taken its toll.

Reg, who turned 49 this week, knew he had to take action. This is the first step. He’s eating cleanly, drinking water instead of the fizzy stuff and now lifting weights. The process will take time. You don’t spend years getting out of shape and reverse the process overnight.

It’s about changing habits – living habits, training habits, thinking habits.

When these habits work against us, they begin to weigh us down. But it’s not always instantly noticeable. That’s why we continue…until we can’t.

As Samuel Johnson once wrote, “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”

But Reg is determined. He has accomplished a lot in life. So I have faith in him. He’s a big, hearty man with a personality to match. He weighs around 25st, but the immediate goal is to get down to 20st.

Reg is under no illusions that’s going to take patience, perseverance and, perhaps most importantly, adherence to healthy eating choices. He’s only doing eight weeks, but admits it’s going to take much longer. This is just the beginning. I hope he can last the distance. I keep reminding him that it’s a long process.

STRUGGLE: even fully extending his arms is proving difficult in the beginning

This first week calls for some readjustment to lifestyle and eating habits. It’s about laying the foundations. Reg has his family behind him for support. He gets up early (before 6am) to do some extra cardio I have assigned him. He’s working on getting his meals for the week prepared in advance.

But the extra pounds in bodyweight come at a cost. Reg’s already-suspect Achilles tendons and a knee started to ache and he had to sit out one workout this week. I thought it better he take a rest than push through with a sensitive injury of that type (I ruptured my Achilles many years ago).

In fairness to Reg, instead of crying off hurt, he still came into the gym to see if we could find a way around it.

Reg knows the weight doesn’t help him. He also knows that when the bulk comes off he’s going to probably feel and move much better. Plus his golf will probably improve.

Already there have been signs of progress. Put it this way: I had him crawl a short distance when we started. He could barely go forwards and not at all backwards. It left him exasperated.

“I’m going to beat this thing,” he said with determination as the sweat dripped off his head. By the last day this week he was going back and forth far easier. I could see the amazement on his face.

Catriona is all too knowledgeable about the effects of poor lifestyle choices. She’s been a doctor for over 20 years. Most of it [the illness] is self-inflicted.

CO-ORDINATED: coming to the top of the deadlift and dressed to match

Being a doctor who knows what’s best for her is partly what shoved Catriona into finally opting to lift weights. She runs a lot, but doesn’t want to be scrawny.

At 50, she’s already in great shape. But she wants the strength to go with it and to learn how to lift properly and safely.  

Prior to starting the program, I gave Catriona a few taster sessions. When we did the squat and deadlift, she could barely do either very effectively. In a short time, she has already made progress. Her deadlift technique is 100% better.

She’s a quick learner, maybe because she dislikes not being good at something.

If you listened to Reg training, though, you’d think he was in a torture chamber, but that’s just how he is. The extra size gets in the way of him being able to move how he should. But I’m already noticing positive changes. We’re taking small steps towards a big goal.

It did make me laugh seeing him pick up the slam ball from the floor with one hand as though it were just a tennis ball. And I thought the ball was going to explode when he drove it into the ground. No wonder he can belt a golf ball!

The first week is now under their belts. It’s the primer before we apply the paint. Remember, the Amazing 12 is progressive. It’s an intelligent program design. No-one gets thrown in at the deep end.

Stay tuned to see how this pair continue. And in two weeks I have another pair starting on a 12-week program to join Catriona and Reg.

I’m now taking applications for my September wave of the Amazing 12. For more details send an email to Claude@intelligentstrength.co.uk.