I have spent the last 12 weeks 'eating clean, lifting mean', in the style of our cavemen ancestors.
Three months ago, I was itching for a new fitness challenge. Having just completed my certification to become a Les Mills Body Combat instructor, I was feeling restless. My usual weekly routine of three cardio classes, two weight based classes and one short-ish run was getting a bit same-y, and my body was yawning with boredom.
A gym friend I'd not seen in ages posted a Facebook status from a personal training page, showing her 'before and after' pics. She looked A-MAY-ZING. Curiosity made me gawp for hours at the remarkable transformations of dozens of men and women who looked like their faces had been photoshopped onto two ludicrously different bodies (one hot, one not). I had to know more about 'Frank Gorman's Online Training Plan', and the only way to find out more was to sign up and cough up £49 for the privilege.
Frank Gorman's Plan is comprised of two key components and spans the duration of 12 weeks.
1. Eating: it basically promotes a paleo diet (essentially eating only what our caveman ancestors ate). No dairy, no refined sugar, no gluten, no alcohol, no legumes — the list is exhausting to digest (no pun intended). Three square meals a day with each meal defined as 'big', and 50/50 meat/veg ratio — yes, including breakfast. Snacking is discouraged. Fruit is limited to one piece a day (two on workout days). Root veg likewise is restricted to one portion on workout days only. Partway through my time on the plan, Frank introduced the option of a weekly gluten-free treat e.g. a small glass of wine to help with motivation. Oh, and did I mention, no excuses.
2. Workouts: weight-based rather than cardio, which encourages growth hormone and fat burn for more hours post exercise. Minimum of four workouts a week (two days workout, one day rest, two day workout, one day rest and so on). The rule is to lift as heavy as you can (without compromising form, obviously). Fairly low rep. A small cardio blast at the end of each session. Workouts change every three weeks and each workout is surprisingly quick, being completed easily in under 40 minutes.
Other elements of the plan include being added to Facebook secret group forums for moral support from fellow female 'Frankettes' (the boys have their own page, 'Spartans') and a page for sharing recipes and posting food related questions.
Every Saturday is photo upload day — like a cyber version of a weekly Weight Watchers weigh-in. Members post semi naked photos of themselves in their undies, side by side with Day 1 pictures, plus vital stats measurements, for group appraisal. The boss, Frank, who arguably has the dream job of most straight men, spends the weekend examining semi-naked ladies in their pants casting judgement, praise, or a kick up the backside as needed. (I could see him featuring in a Carlsberg advert: If Carlsberg made jobs...) I am too shy, and manage to pose in gym sports bra top plus running shorts for my Day 1 pictures, and deliberately leave out my face for anonymity. The idea of a photo of me in sartorial scantiness floating in the ethernet for public consumption is terrifying. In hindsight, I regret the shorts and the out-of-focus Day 1 pictures, as it makes them useless for the purposes of comparison. Stepping on scales is not allowed at any point — muscle weighs more than fat so weight is of zero importance.
Finally, the plan dictates drinking lots of water (calculated by body weight) to flush out the fat, and plenty of sleep to decrease cortisol-induced belly fat as well as the consumption of specific supplements — fish oil and a green drink (wheatgrasss, dried broccoli, kale, spinach-type concoction) that bears a revolting resemblance to algae-like pond water. And tastes almost as bad as it looks.
I have to confess that I started this plan purely out of curiosity. I'm a total fitness fanatic; I've dabbled with high intensity interval training, running, cardio classes, spin, Zumba, boxing, yoga, all of it. I was intrigued to see what effect Frank's training plan would have on my body. And here are the results 12 weeks in.
I maintained exactly the same weight from start to finish (55kg), and all my measurements likewise saw a negligible change. I can't see much difference in my start vs. finish photos, but I'm probably a bit overcritical.
- Training is so efficient! In and out the gym in 40mins at most.
- Some serious definition in my back and shoulders (not sure how ladylike I now look but it's impressive nonetheless!)
- The eating plan has made me more conscious of listening to my body and its sensitivity to blood sugar crashes; I clearly used to eat far too much fruit (sugar) and not enough protein.
- I read 'It Starts With Food' by Melissa Hartwig (in fact I read it twice) and it has opened my eyes to the science behind Paleo eating.
- The support from fellow Frankettes is very uplifting. There are some amazing women here who have made such incredible transformations.
- I've developed a new guilty secret: food porn - I literally salivate over episodes of Great British Bakeoff and all the gluten-stuffed cakes I can no longer indulge in.
- I spend far too much money on supplements.
- I don't get the endorphin buzz from weights that I get from a full-on cardio workout. I sweat, but it's not the same euphoric feeling I get from doing Body Combat or Body Attack.
- I'm pretty certain I've lost a lot of cardiovascular fitness from substituting four weekly cardio workouts with this weights program.
- The area which I wanted to lose a centimeter from (my tummy) has disappointingly not shrunk. I think the only solution may be a tummy tuck?
- It's very solitary. I could get a training partner, but it's tough enough coordinating my own kids' schedules to squeeze my workouts in, let alone syncing them with someone else's.
- The eating plan was contentious at breakfast times. Hubby hated the smell of any cooked meals at 7am, so I resorted to salads with cold meat which didn't cause olfactory offence. I felt like an awkward party pooper on social eating occasions, and found this mentally draining.
- I eat far too many nuts. I physically cannot last from lunch at 1pm to dinner at 9pm without eating, regardless of the mammoth sized lunch consumed.
- There has not been a single night of uninterrupted sleep as a result of a desperate need to empty my bladder from the copious amounts of water dictated by the plan.
Weight training in this workout plan makes me feel strong, and is definitely more effective than the high rep/lower weight version I used to do. Eating restrictively like this doesn't actually make much difference to my body shape and weight. (Note, I already ate very limited dairy, gluten and sugar.) I know that if I stop the workouts, I will rapidly lose the strong muscle definition. Clearly, if I were not to continue with this plan, I'd just do some other form of exercise six days a week, so I'd still maintain some tone though less aesthetically dramatic.