Weeks 9 & 10: Stress and resistance

UNDER THE BAR: A leaner Jemma benching

THE Amazing 12 is a program designed to create transformation. At first glance it seems all about the photos and change in physical shape. But, delve deeper, and it’s about a lot more, as was the case with Reg, who recently completed an eight-week version of the program.

It boosts conditioning, optimises strength and can get people, otherwise stuck, functioning properly again. As Jemma, now at the end of week 10, will probably tell you, it can enhance the spirit, strengthen the mindset and increase confidence.

I’ve found, though, that it will work as well as you allow it to. Some people on the program are more resistant than others.

To resist is to create suffering. Take running a marathon, for example. If with every stride you are wishing the race is over, you will suffer. However, if you surrender to the process and stay in the moment, the whole experience – and your results – are likely to be considerably different and more enjoyable.

DECEIVING: Looks easy, but so many struggle with this crawling variation

Jemma had a lot of resistance to begin with – and it was hard – but I’ve watched her surrender – and flourish – as the weeks have gone by.

Fact is, if you drive with the brakes on, you can’t reach top speed.

There are now just two weeks remaining on my current wave.  Two weeks to make the best of the transformation.

STRENGTH: Jade almost down to the ground

Jade this week decided to discontinue. She felt she was becoming too muscular and it was a look she wasn’t happy with.

It’s a shame as she was making outstanding progress with her strength in particular. But I have to respect her feelings and decision.

Jemma, however, is thriving. She’s definitely moving towards top speed. She signed up for the program because she wanted to become leaner as well as achieve other goals. Getting leaner is primarily about fat loss.

In some cases, though, when it comes to fat loss, it can be difficult to shift.

RESOLVE: Jemma’s become better at digging deep

You need to get the nutrition/diet right and nail the exercise/training/movement element.

We’ve heard the expression “You can’t out-train a bad diet” and it’s largely true. There will always be the odd exceptions – the individuals who can eat garbage and still look incredible. But that’s more to do with age and genetics than it is lifestyle. It won’t last forever.

As you get older and life becomes busier and inactivity begins to triumph over activity, shifts start to happen in the body.

Beyond the nutrition and training there is also recovery and sleep, which are vital and I have talked about previously.

For the best possible results you need to have all four working for you.

However, in some cases – and I have seen this quite a few times – when the eating and training is perfect or nearly spot-on, the fat still refuses to budge.

So what is this additional fifth factor?

It’s called STRESS.

You might think the opposite – that stress burns energy. But, on a metabolic level, it doesn’t have that effect.

DEPTH: Jemma couldn’t even squat properly when she started, but has improved immensely

As Dr. Jade Teta, who has worked with thousands of clients and specialises in metabolism and hormones as well as health and fitness, explains: “If you’re eating right, training well and still not shifting fat, there’s a high possibility stress – and too much of it – is the obstacle or cause.”

Stress is generally regarded as a ‘bad’ word, but it’s not always the enemy. Stress raises cortisol and our bodies need cortisol. But too much of it becomes problematic.

In the world of lifting weights and training, for example, stress is a crucial factor in bringing about change.

The key, however – just as with food, drink, exposure to sunlight and practically anything – is in THE DOSE!

It’s when stress or food consumption or being inactive or watching TV or being glued to your phone or worrying or being negative or feeling angry and irritated becomes excessive that problems begin.

BREATHING: Learning when and how can make all the difference

The trouble with stress is when it reaches the chronic stage. And, because we are all so different, how much we can tolerate will vary.

No matter who we are, though, the human body can withstand only so much and, often without warning, decides to down tools.

It’s as if the body is saying ‘you didn’t do anything about it, so now I will’. We don’t want to wait until we get to that point.

Every time you go to the gym and train, your body is being subjected to stress. This stress, when combined with adequate recovery to follow, is what brings about an adaptation and makes us stronger and/or fitter.

There’s a fine line, though, between pushing our bodies hard or challenging ourselves in order to create an adaptation response and doing it so often and beyond what we can cope with that something eventually snaps or breaks.

VARIATION: a new tool on circuits day

Getting the measure of how hard to train or how heavy to lift is a critical part of effecting change. The poison, as they say, is in the dose, which is why more is not always better.

We need to manage the stress rather than allow the stress to manage us. In the gym environment, that’s where having a coach can be particularly useful.

Stress, though, comes under many guises. It is around us all the time, as I have explained earlier. Many of us are under stress and don’t even realise it because our world is filled with stimulation.

Any time you resist life you are effectively fighting and in stress mode. Complaining, as I’ve written about in previous blogs, is an example of resisting.

So let’s go into more detail as to how this can derail fat loss. Dr. Teta calls our metabolism a “stress barometer” in so far as it is always trying to get us back into balance. When our bodies are out of balance is when the metabolism is kicked into action.

Our bodies are wired to deal with any stress as a starvation response. If your body thinks it is starving when under stress, it will try to bring you back into balance. It does this by making you hungrier, craving foods and diminishing your motivation to exercise.

Why? Because eating more and moving less enables you to store fat around the liver, giving the body easy access to fuel for when the next stress attack arrives.

As Dr. Teta explains, “if you want to know if your metabolism is under stress look for these signs: increased hunger; unpredictable energy; mood issues; cravings; sleep disruptions.”

I’d bet that the vast majority of us can identify with these characteristics. Our lives are filled with pressure in the work place and family life and general survival (paying bills etc). And if, when feeling hungry and faced with cravings, we then add to the mix poor food choices, we are doubling the stress attack. 

When stress levels are high, we need to redress the balance.

So how do we do this?

Try to increase or introduce the following into your lifestyle: Exercise in the right amounts; play sports and games; walk daily – this is not just critical for activating the lymphatic system (which is a whole other subject), but great for relaxation; take time out to read books; have a massage; go to a sauna; spend time with animals; take hot baths; listen to music; meditate; have sex; laugh; spend time in nature and outdoors.

The Amazing 12 Chichester is a holistic training program that maximises in a specific time period changes to physical composition, strength and fitness by applying intelligent progressions and teaching good movement techniques. It focuses also on healthy and sustainable eating practices. But I try to take it further and address the other components in life that are required to enable us to function to the best of our ability. If you are interested in uncovering your full potential, can be committed to the program and want to be a part of the next wave, starting on September 18, or a future wave, email me at Claude@intelligentstrength.co.uk


Reg (July 2017)

JUST BEGINNING: the first stage of Reg’s transformation (Photos: Sue Saunders Photography)

TO make a significant and lasting change, you have to be a willing participant in the process. If you need to lose weight or body fat or have a desire to get fitter or want to overcome some form of addiction, no-one else can do the work for you.

Screaming at and pestering and forcing someone to change doesn’t work. At least not in the long term.

So when Reg first came to see me, it was with the full understanding of what he was taking on. His wife had bumped into Stacey Satta shortly after she’d completed the Amazing 12. They’d previously worked together and chatted about Stacey’s experience. Stacey passed on my details. Reg’s wife and I then began a conversation.

It was clear from the beginning this wasn’t going to be a typical Amazing 12 transformation. Reg, at 6ft 1in, is a big man. Lifestyle had directly contributed to him piling on the pounds. He had reached a whopping 25st.

EARLY DAYS: Reg working hard

Drinking and eating the wrong stuff had taken its toll. As a dentist of 24 years, Reg admitted he didn’t move a great deal during his working day. He was consuming two litres of Pepsi Max daily, drinking wine, eating large portions of food. Combine that with a lack of movement and, before you know it, your body changes shape and composition and begins to strain under the increased load.

Reg had a problem with his heel and, periodically, his knees. He had to miss a few sessions early on because of the pain, but Reg could feel how the addition of movement, training, healthier eating and drinking water to his daily routine was making him feel much better. From 40 training sessions, Reg missed five. 

He admitted before starting: “The image I had of myself was not the true me. At home we don’t have any mirrors. They are only from the neck upwards.”

Basically, Reg thought he was slimmer than he actually was.

But one day Reg was out shopping, saw a full-length reflection of himself and was shocked. “I know I am overweight,” he conceded.

PROGRESSING: every session he gets better

When we first talked, I made it clear this was going to be a long-term project. Although Reg wanted to sign up for the eight-week program, I knew he’d need more. So did Reg.

But he had a family holiday planned and we went into the eight-week program with the mindset of it being just the beginning of a grander transformation. This was the first phase.

Reg, 49 and the father of three children, was unhappy with his physical appearance. Moving was difficult. Breathing was even challenging at times. Going up steps was taxing. Yet he was up for the job.

DETERMINED: Reg has the drive to succeed

Reversing years of neglect doesn’t happen in a few weeks, though. You take it a day at a time. Slowly, you replace unhealthy practices with healthier ones. It took a lot of courage for Reg to enter a gym from scratch, expose the truth of his condition and even take off his shirt to be photographed.

It shows, though, how committed Reg was. As someone who comes from a family five generations deep in the medical profession, he knew his health had to improve. “Getting fit [again] will allow me to do more things,” he said.

Reg hadn’t even returned to his native Ghana for years – decades –  because of his weight! The last time he saw his mother, Reg weighed 17st. “She was so aghast when she saw a picture of me recently,” he said.

When he came to England in 1990, Reg weighed about 13-14st. He was 18st when he got married in 1997.

REPETITION: perfect practice makes perfect

Prior to the Amazing 12 (8), Reg hadn’t trained for three years. He played golf regularly – and to a good standard – but hadn’t done any other kind of exercise.

He wanted to lose weight, get fitter and gain leaner muscle mass. But there were obviously concerns.

Would he be able to stick to the diet, find the time to train each day, be consistent in his training, be fit enough, handle training with other people?

BENCHING: Reg on the final day of the program

We did a week of training before we officially started. I wanted to show Reg the movements and see how well he could move his body.

Reg trained mostly evenings – at a time when he’d usually be reaching for food – although several times we started early in the morning; whatever was needed to get the job done.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Reg’s grip is wider than recommended, but as he loses weight his form will get better

Reg was obviously strong and powerful. But he was panting hard from any kind of prolonged exercise of a slightly higher intensity. He’d bide his time going from one movement to another, doing what he could to manufacture extra recovery. 

Steadily, though, we progressed. Reg was always in good spirits and great company for those he trained alongside. You couldn’t meet a more likeable man. He tried hard, always.

HIS NEMESIS: Reg’s love and hate affair with crawling

I got him doing things he hadn’t done since he was probably a baby – like crawling. This he found harder than anything else – and it was only the warm-up!

The first time we tried, I had him crawl forwards about six feet and then backwards. He just about made it forwards and couldn’t reverse at all!

Fast forward eight weeks and Reg progressed to a 30m crawl without stopping. The look of amazement on his face was priceless. He made it back about a quarter of the way before needing to stop.

He lost about 2st in weight overall, but most of it fell off his lower body which is why the comparison photos don’t look dramatically different. His trousers were all hanging loose. His legs no longer fill his jeans.

But this eight-week stint wasn’t so much about a transformation of body shape. Reg’s transformation was more about what you CANNOT see in the photos. It was about starting a man on a journey to get himself healthier, stronger, fitter and leaner.

POWERHOUSE: lots of raw strength in this man (Photo: Sue Saunders Photography)

Body fat will disappear over time – with commitment and consistency to training, diet and improved lifestyle. The loss of two stone from the body of a 25st man is less noticeable than on an individual half his weight or less.

But beneath the cloak of excess fat is a strong body waiting to come out. If Reg keeps going, as he says he will, his full transformation will be revealed.

SKY IS THE LIMIT: Reg keeps working towards his goal

The greatest pride I have from watching and training Reg is in how he now moves so much easier, how he recovers from prolonged bouts of more intense exercise far better and the weights that he found to be a struggle to move about four weeks into the program are significantly lighter than what he was lifting relatively effortlessly at the finish.

In the first weeks, he had trouble bench-pressing 32.5kg for multiple reps, yet finished with nearly 70kg, which was nowhere near his limit. He also had difficulty strictly shoulder-pressing 15kg for reps in the beginning, yet increased his working weight to nearly 40kg in two months.

THE PROWLER: Reg starts to move with more bounce

Fitness-wise, I had him push the prowler up and down the gym 10 times as fast he could at week 1 and then again in week 7. His time dropped from 4 mins 32 seconds to 2 mins 51 seconds and, if I’m honest, there was more in the tank. A week later he even started jogging with it!

Those are just a few examples, but Reg’s transformation was, for me, a dramatic and inspiring one for more reasons than I have already stated.

This is a story of a man with the odds stacked against him. A man who could very easily look at the task before him and be overwhelmed by the enormity of the mission, but instead chose to take it on with the mindset of ‘I’ll get it done no matter how long it takes’ and ‘I have to do this because the alternative is much worse’.  

Reg’s attitude was excellent, his spirit strong, his laugh infectious, his commitment first class and, with us both being sports nuts and Liverpool FC supporters, his company super-enjoyable.

The intention now is for Reg to resume the program in September, this time for 10 weeks, but he will have the experience of knowing the movements, recognising his abilities, understanding the diet and his body will be better conditioned.

If you are seeking results, need guidance on lifting, training and nutrition and ready to make the commitment to make that happen, send a message to Claude@intelligentstrength.co.uk for further details on the Amazing 12. The next wave begins on September 18. Places will be limited. 


Weeks 7&8: What does your vision look like?

SLAMMING: with the ball and sledgehammer

THE question of ‘what do you do when you are finished?’ to an Amazing 12 graduate is about as standard as the ‘where do you get your protein from?’ query to a non-meat-eater.

Jemma tells me that she is often asked what happens when the Amazing 12 Chichester is over for her.

It’s a question I have written about in previous blogs and continues to – and probably always will – surface. Obviously, people are curious to know what is the next step beyond the Amazing 12. It’s a valid question.

Jemma and I joke that her answer should be, “Well, I thought I’d go back to doing no exercise, drinking alcohol and eating whatever I liked.”

Clearly, Jemma has no intention of doing that.

In fact, she said to me this week: “I don’t want to stop [the A12]. I love it.”

Jemma is clear on what she doesn’t want to do, but uncertain as to how to continue moving forwards in her training.

A starting point, though, is to have a vision. That’s what is driving Jemma right now. It doesn’t have a time frame. It’s a goal and a mental impression of where and how she wants to be. The Amazing 12 is a vehicle towards that goal.

When the Amazing 12 finishes, the task is then to continue making progress towards the end goal, in whatever shape and form that may be, and that could mean enlisting the assistance or expertise of whoever can help, if need be.

Without a vision, though, you won’t know where are you heading?

Jemma’s vision is to regain her body, confidence and the strength she’s always had but just hasn’t ever realised it. The clearer and more defined her vision, the greater her chances of succeeding. If the vision she now has fades, she may lose impetus or motivation. If her vision changes, she may take a different direction.

But my point is: first find your vision. Make that your focus. Use your vision to drive you onwards and leapfrog all the bumps and obstacles that come your way. Be committed to the vision.

BIG LEAPS: Catriona started with no lifting experience

Catriona succeeded in her goal to learn how to lift weights and now she wants to maintain the physique she has built.

She and Reg have finished their eight-week stints. Jemma and Jade are now into week 9. 

Catriona continued to train with me and Reg returned to action after a 10-day break.

In just over a week of inactivity, big Reg could feel the difference. “My God, I’m glad I decided to train,” he said. “I needed that.”

But now he’s off on holiday and that can be a pivotal time. It’s good to get rest and allow your body to recover after a long training stint. Sometimes, though, too much rest can lead to laziness, a loss of motivation and deviation from healthy eating habits. Before you know it, you could be back to Square One. 

NATURAL STRENGTH: Reg deadlifts 100kg like it’s nothing

Reg, though, has a vision, which is to get himself closer to 18st from the 25st he started at. That vision is what spurs him on.

Week 8 was a particularly good one for Jemma, having missed her first session (during week 7). She was annoyed about that, because she wanted to finish the 12 weeks without skipping a single workout.

But these things happen and it’s not worth beating yourself up over. Jemma moved on and quickly.

UP AND DOWN: Jade’s gaining fitness and strength, but finding the eating a challenge

For Jade, who hasn’t missed any, it’s been an up-and-down couple of weeks. She’s been battling with the nutritional side of things and  admitted to me she’s strayed several times from the plan. Also, with the training there are clearly some days she prefers more than others.

It happens. Some people find the eating guidelines hard to follow and some do not. Catriona strolled through. Jemma had some issues to begin with but now admits, after getting into her stride, “it’s not complicated and there are loads of options. I now find it quite easy.”

With the training, though, I often say it’s usually the movement and training your least enjoy that you need to do the most.

TECHNIQUE: Jade and Catriona holding form

Let’s remember what the Amazing 12 is: a program designed to bring about the best possible results in a given time period.

Sometimes the training can be a hard slog or deeply challenging – mentally as well as physically – which is a necessary part of making improvement and bringing about adaptation. You just don’t want to go there too often. 

The real examination is to see how you respond in situations like that. Do you rise to it or shrink away from it?

Jade’s least favourite day happens to be the one Jemma likes best. And while the program feels like it is sailing by for Jemma, Jade feels as though it’s dragging. That’s just how it is. We’re all different. 

PROGRESS: Jade nailing those chin-ups

In spite of her moments of impatience and missing eating certain foods, Jade’s making progress. There aren’t too many people on this program – men or women – knocking out 65 chin-ups in 15 minutes at this stage. In most of her lifts, she is well ahead of the curve.

But Jade can be difficult to please (which she admits) – except for when you play Country and Western music during training! She can be quite tough on herself. I keep reminding her that results come from being patient and following the script – precisely what she finds difficult to do. 

DRIVE: Jemma’s focus and commitment is paying off

Jemma’s been on the ball and, to be honest, I’m staggered by how her fitness and strength has improved. She has also dropped more than 1 1/2st in weight.

“I want to give it everything I have,” she said. “I don’t want to finish this and be left thinking ‘what if?’ I’ve made a lot of sacrifices and don’t want to let myself or anyone else down.”

The question you want to ask yourself is ‘have I done everything possible to give myself the best chance of achieving the results I was after?’

As you can tell, attitude plays a big part in success. And on programs like the Amazing 12 – and challenging circumstances in life – your attitude is pivotal.

To spice up the training I added a little competition into the mix. At Core Results this month there has been a gym challenge that involves pulling a sled up and down the gym six times for a given time. It’s a 50k load for ladies and 70k for men. I decided to incorporate it into the program.

SPEED: Jade sprinting for a quick time

Jade, unsurprisingly, has notched up one of the best times and Jemma, incredibly, isn’t far behind!

But to give Jemma’s accomplishment some context, the first time she tried (at the end of week 7), her time was 2:18. Four days later she did it in 1:37 – a difference of 41 seconds!

In fact, everything is beginning to look easier for Jemma even though it should be tougher. Why? Because she’s getting stronger and her mental resolve has shifted. 

GRAFT: Catriona, typically, working hard

Catriona also made huge improvement with the sled time from 2:25 to 2:09 to 2:04 – which is 21 seconds in a week!

When I compare Jemma now with the girl who started two months ago, I see someone not only leaner, but more confident and positive and undoubtedly better conditioned.

What makes Jemma trainable, in spite of her propensity for complaining (which I addressed a few weeks ago and, admittedly, has reduced), is that she’s open to learning and making changes.

Jemma takes it in. She gives it a go. She doesn’t always get it first time. She doesn’t always remember. But she is willing.

As I heard someone say this week, “You’re either in or in your way”. Which are you?

The next wave of the Amazing 12 Chichester begins on September 18 at Core Results. Do you want a life-altering challenge? Have you got the commitment to see it through? Are you after results from your training?  Do you want to learn about how to eat to get leaner? You’ve seen the results the Amazing 12 can deliver. Make your application today. Places are limited. Send all messages to: Claude@intelligentstrength.co.uk

Catriona (July 2017)

THE EVIDENCE: eight weeks of graft and dedication (Photos: Sue Saunders Photography)

AS a doctor of more than 20 years, Catriona knows how the body works. She understands the importance of health. She came to me in the spring after plucking up the courage to finally sample the world of weight training.

Until then, the Scottish 50-year-old mother of two had preferred to do cardio as her chosen form of exercise – and lots of it.

Weight-lifting and weight-training seemed too intimidating. Going to a gym was a scary proposition, as was having personal training sessions.

Catriona, being someone who likes to be good at what she’s doing, knew she’d be out of her comfort zone using weights and wrestling with frustrating periods trying to learn new techniques.

She’d heard about the Amazing 12 several years ago through her husband, who I used to coach. It took her that long to decide the time was right for a change.

Catriona admitted to me she was unsure of her abilities to do the movements in the program. We were, effectively, starting from scratch.

“I avoid doing the things I can’t do,” she had told me. “I don’t want to look stupid.”

But the tipping point came when she noticed how some people who do nothing but cardio – as she was doing – took on a scrawny and skin-and-bones look, which didn’t appeal to her.

RAISING THE BAR: Catriona achieved a physique in eight weeks that years of cardio could not

So she set out to become stronger and acquire some muscles. I’m talking and about lean muscle, not big, bulky muscles.

Catriona was, admittedly, already in impressive shape. Her aim was to put on weight rather than to lose it. She wanted to become fitter and stronger. I remember looking at her when she had her ‘before’ photos taken and thinking how Catriona already had a terrific figure and what the Amazing 12 (or 8 in her case) could do for her.

“I’d like to improve my core and upper body,” she had told me. “I’d like to have some muscles and be more toned.”

It was important, too, that she didn’t get injured.

Other concerns were how she’d feel having to avoid a glass of wine or two each night with a meal. The longest she’d go without was about two-three days. It was something she enjoyed.

However, Catriona was genuinely amazed by how she had no craving at all for wine during her eight weeks on the program and, even when it was over, she didn’t feel the urge for a drink.

PRACTICE AND MORE PRACTICE: Every session is an opportunity to improve

Just as importantly, perhaps, Catriona has started to look at her training differently. She’s realised the importance of lifting weights and not overcooking the cardio.

“I wanted to incorporate weights into my regular exercise regime but had never used them before and needed the confidence to do it,” she said.

Understanding that Catriona was a beginner, I handled her carefully. As she said, confidence is what she needed. Push too hard, too soon and confidence can get irreversibly damaged.

EYE OF THE TIGER: committed to getting the best results possible

That’s not to say we didn’t have some testing moments. There were many of them. But Catriona was great to work with. She understood all I was explaining. More importantly, she acted upon my advice. She didn’t complain hardly at all.

“I feel empowered as I have challenged myself to do something new and achieved it,” she said.

As you can see from the photos, Catriona achieved some outstanding results. There was a clear bounce in her step.

Not long after finishing her transformation, Catriona went to the gym in Cardiff, where she used to live. “So many people said I had changed,” she said. “I’m really happy with myself.”

PERFECTIONIST: Catriona doesn’t like to ‘fail’ at anything

I recall her saying during the final training session just before the photo shoot, “It’s unbelievable. It does make your abs look better. I’ve never had abs in my life.”

To get those results just meant following the program. Truth be told, Catriona admitted to me several times how she sneaked in extra cardio sessions when I told her not to – some habits are hard to break and temptations more difficult to avoid than others.

From a dietary perspective, though, Catriona said she had no difficulties. She told me one day, “It’s simple. You just follow the instructions.”

For some this is easier than for others. While Catriona admits she has difficulty following her own advice, she at least took mine.

“The diet reduced my weight and also body fat,” she said. “It was relatively easy for me.”

POSITIVE: Catriona realised how important a part your mindset plays

The hard bits were some of the lifts. In fact, in her first session back after the shoot, Catriona had, by her reckoning, a wobbly session, especially with deadlifts. It nearly reduced her to tears. This had more to do with feeling like she had failed than hurting herself.

Weight-training can challenge us in unexpected ways. And that’s not a bad thing.

Catriona sent me a message a few days later, admitting: “Sometimes it takes an overwhelming breakdown to have an undeniable breakthrough!”

I try to cultivate a positive mindset and Catriona took that on board, difficult as it was at times. For example, she explained: “Told to do 10 reps but only manage 7 – at the beginning of the course I would think I’d failed if I didn’t complete the 10. Now I think, fantastic, 7 is better than 2! I try to think of the positives.”

EARLY DAYS: Pushing the prowler

In previous posts I’ve highlighted some of the progress Catriona has made, like taking her time for a challenge pushing the Prowler on week 1 from 3:30 to 2:50 on week 7. For a short time trial that requires all-out effort, that’s a massive improvement.

I remember when Catriona came to see me at Core Results Gym prior to starting. We went through some of the program and she could barely squat to any depth. I had to contemplate alternatives, but instead stuck with the back squat and, steadily, she made great improvement, finishing after eight weeks at 80% bodyweight for high reps and with much-improved form.

LEAN MACHINE: Catriona discovered the benefits of lifting weights and acquiring stronger muscles

Similarly, Catriona’s bench press went from 17.5kg to 28kg, her deadlift from 40kg (using blocks) to 65kg for reps and, using a lat pulldown machine, she went from 17.5kg to being able to do a controlled chin-up, something she’d never done previously and without us ever attempting one during the program.

I couldn’t have hoped for a more committed individual. Typically, this and nutrition are the toughest challenges on the program, but commitment was never a factor with Catriona.

She was in practically every day, punctual and smiling and ready for action. She skipped a few sessions, but for reasons that were unavoidable and never because she didn’t fancy training.

HAPPY CUSTOMER: Catriona described the experience as ‘fantastic’

For her the final week was the toughest. “The weights were heavier and the diet stricter,” she said. “But I still enjoyed it.”

In terms of satisfaction, Catriona summed it up like this: “Amazing, fantastic, unbelievable!”

She added: “I think the whole experience was excellent. If you’re thinking of doing it, just do it.”

If you’re ready to take Catriona’s advice, have commitment and want to know more about the next wave of the Amazing 12 Chichester, starting September 18, drop me a line at Claude@intelligentstrength.co.uk

Reaching 50: staying healthy in a changing world

DECADES APART: less hair, but still lifting

I CAN recall quite vividly a conversation I had back in my teens at a gym where I regularly used to train. During that exchange I said to whoever it was, “my goal is still to be training when I’m 50.”

Back then 50 seemed ancient. When you reach 50, you still feel young at heart – or at least I do. So now, if asked the same question about why I train, I’d add that I hope to still be lifting weights and working out when I’m 70 – if I get that far! 

And without the lycra shorts!

Longevity has never been my aim. But for as long as I am alive, I want to be in good health. As the saying goes, “the idea is to die young as late as possible.”

Sports, athletics and training has always played a significant part in my life. Thank God I discovered it.

Growing up, I never got into excessive drinking or smoking or drugs because (a) it didn’t make sense to me (b) I took my sport (boxing at the time) seriously and (c) I valued my health enough to not want to subject my body to abuse (ironic considering the sport I chose).

It wasn that way from the beginning. As a child and young person I had a sweet tooth. I’d spoon sugar straight from the sugar bowl and spend my pocket money on chocolates and fast food. Then, over time, I realised the relationship between food and health and human performance and that to have any advantage, I needed to make the right choices.

So while many of my friends were dealing with peer pressure growing up, I was always largely excused. I was in training. That was my escape.

Amongst my peers I was always known as the one who didn’t drink. I designated myself the driver on nights out, which again gave me an ‘out’. When out on the town and, inevitably, asked why I didn’t drink alcohol as though I was someone from Mars, I always felt confident and comfortable in saying it didn’t interest me, that I didn’t ever feel the need for it and wasn’t fussed on the taste. 

BACK IN THE DAY: feeling invincible in my 20s

Without thinking about it too deeply, I cherished being well far more than I did the experience of getting drunk or intoxicated or out of my mind. It wasn’t that I was ever a sick child and scared of being ill again. Quite the contrary. But maybe I saw enough sickness and drunkenness and hangovers around me to make me decide ‘I don’t ever want that’. And the occasions when I was unwell or injured, I remember the feeling as being less than enjoyable.

Let’s face it, being unwell is pretty miserable. Why would I choose that?

As you get older, it becomes more important to stay ‘fit’. The odds begin to stack against you.

We only have one body, which has to serve us for a lifetime. It’s senseless to destroy or weaken or abuse it.

It’s difficult enough as it is, with the best intentions in the world, to remain impregnable against the cascade of attacks on our health. There’s no way to fully avoid all the pitfalls of living in a modern world. But we can limit the damage. 

Life can throw curve balls at you at any moment. You have to be ready. I know that the stronger and healthier I am, the better I can respond and the greater my chances of survival. 

We have an epidemic in western and First World culture of people crumbling and dying from over-consumption of food and, more precisely,  foods deficient in nutrients and laced with toxins and substances we’d often prefer not to know existed. This epidemic is made worse by a consumer culture driven to make life as comfortable and convenient as possible which, consequently, has resulted in populations of individuals becoming ridiculously inactive, physically.

REASONS TO BE HEALTHY: playing with my children

The advent of the technological age now threatens our children and younger generations, many of whom no longer aspire to play freely in the fresh air, but instead would prefer to be fixated, with limited movement, looking at devices that provide all their entertainment. 

Additionally, we walk mostly on concrete, wake up to alarm clocks, work in artificial light, live in heated and air-conditioned buildings, wear our feet in tight shoes, over-use prescriptive drugs for illnesses which, largely, can be avoided, find ourselves continually filling the space of every spare second of the day (thus increasing stress levels), all the while no longer really needing to employ much energy or guile to locate, collect and prepare our food in the way we were originally designed to.

It’s not a mystery why many of us are ageing well ahead of time. And so many people look and seem helpless to protect themselves.

It’s easy to fall into the trap. Although I have always been active and gone to the gym or trained at least four-five times a week since I hit puberty, I was for much of my adult life – without even realising it – what they call “active sedentary”. 

WRITING DAYS: travelling the world, meeting elite athletes

If I knew at 18 what I now know, I’d have possibly made some different choices in life and career. For instance, I worked as a journalist for more than 20 years in the heart of London. My job required that I commute by train practically every day. I sat at a desk for hours in an office and on a train and in my car. Now the idea of being pinned to a desk all day doesn’t appeal at all. Back then, though, I never gave it a second thought.

I believed, as many of us still do, the one hour or so of exercise each day could offset the endless hours perched on and hunched in a chair in a soul-less building and away from the elements we were supposed to be in contact with. It can’t.

I travelled the world, meaning I spent hours glued to a seat on aeroplanes, breathing cabin air, going across time zones, disrupting my internal body clock, all of which steadily takes a massive toll. The experiences I had may have seemed priceless, but they most likely came at some cost. 

It’s all a trade-off. But is it a fair exchange if you don’t know all the risks – if you’re not made aware, for instance, that sitting at a desk for years, as our children do in schools, is likely to wreak havoc on your posture and body later in the life? We still don’t know – because it is a relatively new invention – the full impact of how our addictive mobile devices are affecting us.

Trying to uncover the truth within the war of information isn’t easy. Those that feed us the ‘facts’ have ulterior motives or a strong bias. Sometimes you have to dig and we’re all too busy to do any digging, so we listen to conflicting opinions and messages, wind up confused and, consequently, do nothing.

However, doing something is better than doing nothing, even if it’s the wrong thing. Why? Because if you recognise you’re going the wrong way, you can always change course. It’s never too late.

For instance, about 12 years or so ago I made the choice to stop eating animal products. It was controversial in my inner circles. I’ve never regretted it for a second, though. I feel better for it. I’m not advocating it for everyone. But it was right for me and it still remains so

I didn’t exactly go about it in the right way, however. But making mistakes is how we learn. Initially, being the only non-meat-eater in my family and amongst my friends, I was defensive of my choices, sometimes fiercely so. I think I offended some people. 

I’m a lot more now of the thinking that everyone is entitled to make their own choice. But, armed with the information and feelings I now have, I’d have probably changed my eating much sooner.

TYPICAL MEAL: vegetables and greens

Overnight, I went from being a meat-eater to raw plant-based. That was a shock for my body. I lost a lot of weight and fast (not that I wanted or needed to). I tried to say I felt good, but I didn’t – at least not always. I knew the food choices I was making were healthier, but not the healthiest. How I transitioned wasn’t the best.

After I heard people discussing and being concerned for my health because of the weight loss, I made a U-turn and then, in a more sensible manner after educating myself some more, eliminated the foods I no longer wanted to consume.

I’ve found more balance now with how and what I eat. It takes time. I know a lot more about it. I became informed. I’m not obsessed. I just realise it’s important because it affects everything. Much of our immune system begins in the gut. What we eat is therefore critical. For that reason it gets my attention and is a priority.

I feel healthier, stronger, fitter and more nourished and energetic than in a long time. I’m more flexible and mobile even if I am still lacking in flexibility and mobility. I’ve always got work to do, because the work is never over.

As gymnastics coach Chris Sommer says, “You’re not responsible for the hands of cards you were dealt. You’re responsible for maxing out what you were given.”

Had I known sooner about the philosophies of people like Sommer, I probably would have changed my approach to training a long time ago. I didn’t grow up in a world where, unlike today, information was at my fingertips or Youtube existed (technology does have its advantages!).

I did a lot of fumbling around to find a system and methodology that made sense and worked. I made a ton of mistakes. I did a lot of experimenting to figure out a way of eating that also worked and was sustainable.

SHARING: coaching enables me to help others to grow

Doing the Amazing 12 program and learning from Paul McIlroy about training and food has revolutionised how I approach strength and conditioning.

I read a lot and I’m considered in what I read. I listen for hours to podcasts on inspirational and from informative people. I’m a sponge for learning more from the many incredible individuals out there leading the way in that market of the world today.

DISCOVERY: kettlebells and smarter ways of training came late, after much experimentation

I’m older now and don’t have the drive to compete like I used to. I’m happy with that, though. I wasn’t a world-beater as an athlete, even though I had aspirations to be. I’ve let go of that. I’ll leave it to the youngsters.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter to me greatly whether I’m first or last in something. It matters if I try my hardest and if I’ve executed a task with the standards I have set for myself and if I’ve made progress. I’m more at peace with any need to attract recognition for my achievements and exploits.

Of course, it’s nice to be applauded or revered, but it’s not essential or, for me, even required. What’s more important is how we feel about ourselves. 

The real challenge is how to find equilibrium in our world with all the demands and distractions it places upon me and my well-being.

We are being bombarded by stressors from every direction. That’s why now the simpler things bring me the most pleasure.

I’m determined to be conscientious for the future of mankind and healthy, to serve and support my family, to be active and fully able to participate and play and interact with my young children for as long as possible. I strive to share what I know with others who feel there is something to learn from me and to help them to help themselves discover the promise that each and everyone of us has the right to.

MY TRIBE: women’s weight-lifting on Sunday mornings

The emphasis has shifted from what I can do for myself – as it does when you are younger – to how much of a positive impact I can have on other people.

And while I feel more selfless now, I still make myself a priority. That may be a paradox, but I’m of no use to anyone – in fact, I become a burden – if I’m not fighting fit for life and operating from a place where my essential needs have been met.

Life is, indeed, a journey of twists and turns and falls and delights and anguish and ecstasy and heartache. But it’s also an amazing place and with so much to explore and learn and experience. Sometimes I feel as if I will run out of time to fully appreciate and discover all I want to.

Many years ago my best friend, Bob Lesson, and I were in France on a beautiful sunny day and he said to me, “I’ve probably only got another 25-30 summers left.”

I’d never thought about my life in terms of summers. But, being a summer person, that’s one way of viewing how, potentially, little time remains and how precious each moment is.

I don’t know how, but I’ve been fortunate from when I was very young to be able to seek, find and go after what it is that really brings me to life. I almost have an inability to settle for less. I hope I don’t lose that. 

AMAZING 12: a way of training and eating that I wished I’d have discovered years ago

Sure, I’ve had some jobs and periods where I felt listless, frustrated and as if I was heading nowhere, but the reality is that those moments served a valuable and essential purpose in getting me to and preparing me for where I did want to be. It nearly always does.

I’m far from perfect. But I try to work on my many imperfections. I’m patient because I have to be and because I know and have learned and understood that’s often how a process works.

If there’s one thing getting older gives you that should be really valued and cannot be ordered on Amazon, it’s experience.

Life should be a long and enjoyable journey. But, even when it’s not, I remind myself that change is constant and the most arduous paths eventually lead to some type of promised land. 


Week 8/6: Where has complaining ever got you?

HARD AT IT: Catriona is all business here

THE Amazing 12 Chichester is now at the halfway stage for Jemma and Jade, whereas Catriona and Reg have come to the end of their eight-week version.

This weekend, when they have their photos taken, I’ll see, visually at least, how much progress Catriona and Reg have made. It’s already quite apparent, though.

A few moments stuck out for me this week during training at Core Results Gym. One was when Catriona deadlifted 65kg for multiple reps and sets with good form and stayed strong throughout. She weighs only 51kg (having lost 4kgs since beginning the program – that’s the lightest she can remember being).

But considering she had zero lifting experience when she started and a few weeks back had struggled with a weight that was significantly lighter, it was quite a proud moment to see that sort of progress.

STEP AHEAD: Reg is moving faster and better

The second was during a warm-up when I had Reg push the prowler. Instead, though, he started jogging with it. So to have seen Reg go from a hobble to struggling to crawl to walking quickly to a light run was quite a staggering transition given that at a starting weight of 25st-plus, he had issues with his knees and heel that caused him to miss a few sessions.

Those were the highs. But there were some lows. This week more than any other I noticed the level of complaining reach a new level.

Complaining is nothing new to a gym environment or my waves of the Amazing 12 Chichester for that matter. This program isn’t exactly a walk in the park – and it can’t be to get the results that are achieved. I’m used to listening to grumbling.

It’s also quite a British thing to moan, especially about the weather and traffic and whatever else. 

But it made me think about how self-defeating complaining really is.

I understand some people complain to let off steam or to deal with fear or to get attention or without even realising how much they do it. But I can only reach one conclusion.

Complaining is simply a waste of energy.

Here is my question: how does complaining enable or help you to become the best version of yourself?

UP THEY GO: But Jemma frequently faces her doubts

I hope that if you try to answer it sincerely, it stops you in your tracks and makes you take stock of how pointless complaining is. At the very least it should make you assess for a moment how much you might be complaining about things and how much you are selling yourself short by doing so. 

When I look at successful people or high-achievers or people we generally aspire to be like, I don’t see complainers. I see doers. I see people who take action. I see people who are effective and, more importantly, decisive at making changes.

I see people who get on with things. I see individuals who refuse to join in the drama and are focused on what they want to achieve. I see people who use their energy to inspire, motivate and encourage rather than blame or complain. I see people who find solutions rather than moan about the problems.

Most importantly, I see people who have the antidote to complaining: gratitude.

FEELING IT: Jade’s getting stronger

That’s to say that if you complain, you generally see things negatively and if you are grateful, you see things positively.

This isn’t something you are born with. This is learned and practiced behaviour, which means it can be reversed or changed – if you want it to be.

However, I still catch myself complaining. We all complain. But the degree to which we complain and the time we spend complaining is significant and varies.

The key to my statement is that I ‘catch myself’ complaining, meaning I realise it’s something I do from time to time almost unconsciously or habitually. But I’d rather not and I try not to.

TRIUMPH: That moment in the deadlift for Catriona

Some of us, though, are chronic complainers. You don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to figure out that if you complain a lot you can’t be very satisfied.

If you’re not satisfied, it’s not the complaining that will change your circumstances. It’s taking action that makes the difference.

A friend of mine and former British boxing champion from the 1980s, Gary De’Roux, once said to me when I was complaining to him about something during conversation many years ago, “don’t complain. Do something about it.”

His words packed a punch. Gary’s a no-nonsense sort of guy. Sounding off doesn’t do anything but produce hot air. Your situation remains the same and you run the risk of creating negative energy around you.

DOUBLE TROUBLE: Jemma taking on the weight and how it makes her hands feel

On a neurological level, though, there’s good reason to take complaining seriously. There’s a direct link between complaining and negativity. And there’s a strong connection between negativity and depression as there is between negativity and worry and, consequently, stress.

Stress affects all aspects of our health and well-being. In its most negative form, it is draining and weakening and life-threatening. Stress also raises our cortisol levels, which makes it harder for us to sleep soundly. This, amongst other things, limits our ability to grow and recover. It can also lead to weight and fat gain.

Yet research shows that most people complain at least once every minute during a typical conversation.

REFLECTION: Do we see things as they are or as we want them to be?

Complaining, though, can feel good to some of us, because sometimes you feel as if you are sharing an experience that’s bothering you and getting a worry off your chest. But every time you complain, you wire your brain to do more complaining.

Studies out of Stanford University in America have shown that complaining shrinks the part of the brain responsible for intelligence and problem-solving. This is the same part of the brain that deteriorates in patients who have Alzheimer’s.

In my world of training people to get stronger and fitter and move better, I hear complaints all the time that range from “do we have to?” to “I can’t do that” to “this hurts” to “that’s too hard” to “I’m bored with this food”  to “can’t we do this instead?” etc. The list is endless.

DR. DREAD: Reg finds crawling more daunting than anything else

Complaining is a disease as well as a form of resistance – not accepting things as they are. Resistance is going against the flow of life and thus makes what you may be complaining about even worse.

Let’s not confuse complaining with speaking out. One is negative and the other positive. As author Eckhart Tolle wrote, “When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power.”

Getting and achieving results more often than not doesn’t involve a process that is enjoyable or easy. You have to make a sacrifice. But you can either fight it or accept and get on with it or find a solution. I know which options make the most sense.

GETTING ON WITH IT: Catriona in work mode

Essentially, complaining is wasting valuable time. As Randy Pausch wrote in The Last Lecture, “if you took one tenth of the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you’d be surprised how well things can work out.”

However, if you are locked into a pattern of complaining, you’re going to have to work hard to change it.

Training the body is a process of change through repetition and adaptation. So when we complain there’s a process of practice and repetition taking place in our brains. We’re hard-wiring ourselves to get better…at complaining!

Complaining, from my experience, weakens my attitude, makes my thinking more fragile and leaves me more likely to fail in a given task. It takes away any pleasure, too.  

MIND GAMES: Once Jemma tames her thinking she will go to another level

As they say, “Complaining is a zero return investment.”

If you are aware you complain a lot and don’t mindfully try to fix it, you’ll simply get better at it and the issues or problems taxing you will remain or escalate. However, if you are aware you complain and want to change, you can try to tackle it the same way you would if your aim was to change your fitness levels or lose weight or gain weight or get stronger.

You show up every day with the intention and commitment to do better than the day before. And like learning any new skill, initially, you have to think hard about and work hard at it – until it becomes your default response.

Complaining is verbalising a negative thought. Your thoughts determine your actions. It’s impossible to think negatively, act negatively and yet produce positivity.

Here’s the challenge.

  1. Each time you complain, catch yourself and try to either think of a positive alternative or solution instead.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up if you struggle or else you’ll just be complaining again. It’s a process and will take time.
  3. Try going 24 hours without complaining and see what happens.
HURT: This week left Reg’s legs feeling a bit sore

The Amazing 12 Chichester isn’t just about the physical. Often our bodies are an expression of what and how we are thinking. So to make a complete transformation and get the optimum results, we sometimes have to start with the mind and our attitude. 

We can only be as strong as our weakest link and often that is in the way we are thinking.

Progress requires patience, time, effort and consistency. Complaining just means you don’t enjoy the experience.  

Think you have what it takes to do the Amazing 12 Chichester like Catriona, Reg, Jade and Jemma? Catriona is continuing for another two weeks before she goes on holiday and Reg is going to do the same before he takes a summer break and then embarks on another round of the program in September.

I’m taking applications for the September wave that begins on the 18th and ends in mid-December. Contact me at Claude@intelligentstrength.co.uk for more details or if you have any questions.