Six Weeks To Strong: Week 1 Of, Er, The Rest Of My Life?
Having signed up for a six-week training extravaganza (with strict diet, of course), has deputy editor Rosemary Mac Cabe bitten off more than she can bench?
In case you didn’t guess from the radio silence, my last foray into weightloss and health improvement – Slimming World – ended, rather predictably, with me putting off class after class before I had to officially admit that I was a bona fide quitter. Since then, I’ve been battling some mental health demons (documented previously on my own blog, so mosey on over there if you’re the curious type) that meant I was 100 percent justified in falling royally off the wagon. For months.
But things began to look a bit brighter and, around about the same time, Lift Training Studios in Smithfield, in Dublin, got in touch with an intriguing offer: a six-week programme of personal training sessions, fitness classes and nutritional advice, all to take place in their very convenient gym, 30 seconds from the office. I was sold pretty much immediately.
This is what I hope will be the ‘before’ pic. Or else I’m just gonna be really embarrassed.
I didn’t even ask what was involved, although a quick prep meeting with Niamh Fitzgerald, co-owner and personal trainer extraordinaire, filled me in. We’d be doing two personal training sessions a week and I could go along to two classes at Lift – classes with terrifying names like Strong (Wo)Man, Total Body Burn and Power Pilates (more on which later). Then, the hard part; Niamh filled me in on what we’d do with food.
First things first: this is not a diet. It’s a lifestyle change. Although “sorry, I can’t eat that – I’m on a lifestyle change” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. My ordinary diet would be pretty bad – and by bad, I don’t mean “high carb” or “loads of bread” or any of those modern things we now think are “bad”. I mean, it’s not unusual for me to eat two Eddie Rocket’s meals in a week, and I can’t remember the last seven-day period when I didn’t order dinner from Bombay Pantry (chicken tikka masala, pilau rice, Peshwari naan and a Diet Coke, plsthx*).
I am not one of these semi-healthy people who is just “a big foodie”; I essentially love, most of all, things that are deep fried and/or cooked in full-fat cream. And I let myself eat them, all of the time.
So it would make sense for me to be totally, utterly 100 percent shitting it for this diet change, but y’know what? In for a penny, in for a pound; I’m ready to embrace what Niamh tells me. Which is this:
We’re gonna go for a Paleo hybrid and, for the first fortnight, I have to cut out fruit, too – trying to eliminate all sugars from my diet. Niamh wants me to be eating loads of good protein and veg and, if I’m having fat, it’s to be full fat – so eat the fat off the rashers, in other words (music to my ears).
My mealtimes are about to get very, very green…
The tough stuff? Because we’re talking Paleo, that means nothing from a packet, jar, tin or bottle – so no bread, no peanut butter, no chocolate (wah!). As I have IBS-y symptoms, I’m also cutting out all dairy (although to be honest, the dairy in my diet, when I’m not in Eddie’s, is pretty minimal). As for carbs, they’re only allowed with dinner – and, oh yeah, no snacking. We’re talking three solid meals a day, no grazing. Which is gonna be hard, because I am a grazer (or, in other words, I am kind of a non-stop eater).
The good news is that I can have a cheat meal – just one, and Niamh recommends succumbing at the weekend, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out too much and can have a little Saturday or Sunday indulgence. (Needless to say, alcohol is out – but due to mental health issues and related medication, I don’t drink as it is.)
Let’s get this out of the way early: Niamh is a hard-ass. She talks about her own body in terms of function; she plays rugby, and her number one concern is what her body can do. Is she fast on the pitch? Is she strong? Can she hold her own in a tackle? So her aims for me are, yes, fat loss – but mostly, it seems, increasing fitness and building healthy muscle.
She starts off by taking my body fat, which is at 31.47 percent. To put that into context, Niamh wants me to get down to 20 percent body fat. I’m not getting weighed, but she also takes measurements so that (hopefully) we can see a big difference, a fortnight on.
Our PT sessions are, in a nutshell, focused on lifting heavy, and threats. We start out, day one, with deadlifts – which are actually my faves, making me feel deadly and super strong – and, when I feel like I can’t finish out the reps, Niamh says things like, “that’s fine – if you have to stop, we can do 20 push-ups instead.” So I keep going. Day one is deadlifting, chest press, shoulder press and, oh yeah, the evil battle ropes. When she says it’s over, I almost cry with relief – then comes the sweetener.
“Everyone who trains with me gets a protein shake after a session,” she says, handing me, essentially, a liquid orgasm: a protein shake by Kinetica. It tastes like mint aero and is made by the same folks who make Dubliner – cos, y’know, whey comes from cheese production. Clever clogs.
Me, before I realised what Pilates really was.
Wednesday’s class is Power Pilates, which is a blessed relief; I’m really achey and need some gentle stretching. Huuuuuge facepalm when I realise: Pilates is in no way like yoga. Pilates is a gruelling 45-minute class that focuses on your core and feels like what I’d imagine doing 1,500 sit-ups without stopping would feel like. There are four of us in the class, though, and there’s a good camaraderie – so the time goes fast. And the upside? Afterwards, my stomach is so sore I kind of forget about my arse.
Until Thursday morning, when we have PT session #2. We do something Niamh explains is a German system, where you alternate exercises – and the German link makes sense, because it feels like what you’d do in the military, if the military were in hell. More deadlifts, bent-over rows, walking lunges and weighted squats. If you don’t know what those things are, lucky you but also, Google away.
I have a tiny break, during which I take two long, hot baths with Epsom salts and feel a bit like crying, and then it’s on to Saturday’s Strong (Wo)Man class, about which I feel very apprehensive. There are always those classes in your gym that only the really, super-fit people go to, and Strong (Wo)Man class feels like that class. So it’s a blessed relief to find a group of mixed abilities.
The Strong (Wo)Man WOD (that’s Workout Of the Day to you).
Now, let’s be honest; they were all better than me. But they were all, also, really good craic, so the endless circuits we were made do – including a horrific two years (or at least that’s how it felt) pushing the prowler across the room and then, backwards, back again – didn’t feel so bad. We divided into pairs, and my circuit looked like: deadlifts (not my faves at this point); then arm raises in front of, then behind, the head; weighted squats; and finally kettlebell clean & press, with 8kg kettlebells.
In between each exercise, we did horrific things including taking turns on the battle ropes, wall sits (ugh vom), the aforementioned prowler and push-ups. The things I do for strength, right?
After week one…
We should probably get this out of the way early: I feel so incredibly proud of myself. (My boyfriend, the other day, remarked, “Jesus there’s some bang of smug off you.”) That’s exactly how I feel.
I stuck to the diet 100 percent. Most days looked a little like: scrambled eggs for breakfast, with either rashers, green beans, chicken (which is weird for brekkie, I’ll admit) or steak (which is delish any time of day); lunch was things like chicken and veg, prawn stir-fry or a kind of chilli beef hybrid – and one day I even went to Jo Burger, and had a burger and a salad; and dinners were meat, veg and either brown rice or sweet potato.
Colour-wise, it’s a bit off – but doesn’t this look delish?
The things I missed most were bananas and their related smoothies, and snacks. And, y’know, it’s not easy being hungry all the time – although, as Niamh said to me, “being hungry means your metabolism is working – and it’s not a bad thing. It’s not like you’re going to starve.” I think it was the feeling of smugness that got me through, in all honesty.
So, so good…
As for the workouts, yes, they were hard – but, as a great motivational quote I read last week said, “Working out is hard, but being fat is hard too. Pick your battles.” I sweated, I grunted (like Maria Sharapova – now I know why she does it!) and, once, while pulling that evil prowler, I almost hurled. I felt strong, and then, when I couldn’t do any more chest presses, I felt weak.
The hardest part, actually, has been knowing that, no matter how deadly I’ve been on my diet – and how hard I’ve worked at my sessions – this is not going to be an overnight process. Every time I walk past a mirror, I get a bit of a fright that I’m not a total ride yet, but I just have to trust that I’ll get there. Maybe not in six weeks’ time but, like I said, this is a lifestyle change.
Oh, and my cheat meal? That came courtesy of the lovely folks at 147 Deli and the amazing Dublin Doughnut Company. From the former, I had a meatball sub and, from the latter, a blackberry ripple doughnut. And for the first time in about six months, I didn’t feel remotely guilty about either.
Tune in next week for dispatches from week two, the results of my first “measure-in” and to find out just how heavy, heavy is.
Questions? Hit me up on Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat all @rosemarymaccabe – or ask the folks at Lift themselves, on Twitter and Instagram @LiftDublin7.