From scrawny to brawny

    20 October 2016

    Years ago if you wanted to get on in the City, you had to prove your stamina by showing how much you could drink and how late you could stay out. Stories abound of heavy nights entertaining clients, drinking, eating excessively and even taking drugs. How things have changed. Now, you’re far more likely to find bankers bragging about how much they can bench-press or how they just beat their personal best in a half-marathon than how many-bottles of Chablis they downed last night.

    Certainly, gaining a physique we are happy with is something that’s bound to make us feel better. But a strong male physique is increasingly associated with success. It’s a clear message to your peers that you’ve made it. As more and more turn to fitness, the-Victorian proverb Mens sana in corpore sano is back. In the corporate world, it’s everything.

    This is a global phenomena. Just last month, the Economist observed that geeks in Silicon Valley, men who — like me — spent years studying intensely and working for large corporations, are now becoming alpha males not just by virtue of their earning power but also because of their tremendous physiques.-Apparently they are beating the jocks, who focused entirely on exercise and socialising at school and-college, at their own game. Geeks are no longer the pale weedy ones in the class. But what if, like me, you’re not naturally inclined towards being buff?

    Much of the fitness industry is focused on losing weight. Everyone seems to think that everyone wants to get thin. Open any health supplement or turn on the television, and it won’t be long before a writer or host discusses trimming down. However, I’m one of the 65 per cent of men who believe that their chest, arms and stomachs are not muscular enough. My body doesn’t conform to the perfect one depicted by Daniel Craig as he emerged, god-like, from the sea, or those on the Action Man toys my parents bought me. So while I don’t need to slim down, I do want to bulk up. It’s a problem that tends to increase with age. Regardless of middle-aged spread, as people get older their-levels of growth hormone — necessary for building muscle — start to decrease, meaning that we lose 3-5 per cent of muscle mass every decade after the age of 30.

    Feel the burn: trainer Andy puts Nick through his paces in an intensive 12-week transformation course

    I had tried and failed to get the body of an Olympian. Periods of going to the gym regularly were interspersed with longer periods where I was simply too busy studying and working to prioritise it. Even when I did go, it’s fair to say that I didn’t achieve the results I wanted because I just did the exercises I liked, sometimes with the aid of a cut-out from a men’s fitness magazine. My arms remained like pipe cleaners and my stomach, while trim, was nobody’s washboard.

    So how could I go from scrawny to brawny? I sought the help of Andy Pilides, a fitness instructor who specialises in ‘transformations’ and works from the City and in Guildford. These are,-typically, 12-week intense programmes where a personal trainer works in the gym and with your lifestyle to kick-start you into a fitness routine. They have-traditionally been weight-loss programmes before weddings or summer holidays, but are increasingly used by cash-rich, time-poor professionals to get the body they want in just a few months. Surprisingly, as I found out, with relatively little time commitment (three hours a week and some thinking about food) it is possible to achieve astonishing results.

    I committed to three sessions of an hour per week, before work. It was the only time I could fit in as I can never be sure when I’ll be home in the evening. As my goal was to increase my weight and gain muscle, Andy built a 12-week programme focused on resistance and weight-training. This used free weights, such as dumbbells, and my own body resistance, such as performing chest-presses and chin-ups.

    For the first few sessions we focused on improving posture and building coordination as well stretching the muscles we’d later be putting to work. Andy focused on developing good technique and explained which muscle group we were building during each exercise. Initially it was slow. After the first couple of sessions I felt exhausted but when I looked in the mirror nothing had happened. It was foolish to expect any changes so quickly, but the advantage of a trainer is that he or she can help you get over such slumps in motivation. Then, after about a month, there was a change. It was subtle at first — my T-shirts seemed to fit better and were tighter in the arms, while the size of weights I could lift increased rapidly. By the end, I found myself comfortably lifting more than six times what I started with, and thanks to the groundwork I never found myself aching or unable to move.

    It’s not all about exercise, though. A transformation like this is also an opportunity to have a long, hard look at your nutrition. I thought I came into the programme eating really well. I’d gone through university cooking for myself and mostly hit my five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. For the first week, Andy made me record my diet using an app on my phone called MyFitnessPal. You enter everything you eat or drink to the database, and it calculates handy tables of total intake by nutrient type and calories. It transpired that I had far too many calories from fat and carbohydrates, so we gradually rebalanced this over the first few weeks. My protein intake trebled, though through natural sources rather than supplements. Andy encouraged me to adjust my calorie intake to the right time periods, such as using sugar-rich drinks during my workouts. In fact, as my body grew and my exercises became more strenuous, I all but doubled my carbohydrate intake, but so gradually I hardly noticed.

    So, did it work? Over the programme I put on 3.6kg (8lb) of pure muscle. My bodyweight increased by 2kg, to 67.4kg (10st 8lbs) over the programme. My body-fat percentage decreased from a pretty lean 8 per cent to a beach-worthy 5.6 per cent. My arms, chest, calves and thighs all increased in width due to increased muscle mass and my waist got slimmer, -giving me that V-shaped silhouette I had longed for.

    Just 12 weeks of tailored exercise and eating led to countless compliments from work colleagues and friends. I’m now able to join the gym-fit people at the office, and what’s more, I feel more confident and assertive — which is really important in finance.

    And the benefits didn’t end at work. My new-found brawniness meant that when a thug on a bicycle grabbed my mobile phone as I walked home late one night, I found the courage to chase after him and threw him to the ground. I demanded he return my phone, which he did, and rode off. A result.

    Andy’s transformation tips

    Set aside 12 weeks when you’re not on holiday and have no other interruptions. This is a commitment and you should be prepared to give it your all. What you need is a clear run of time where this goal is your first priority.

    Be honest with the trainer about what you eat, how much you drink and what you want to achieve. You need to have realistic goals that are achiev-able in 12 weeks. Keeping a food diary a week before you meet your trainer for the first time lets them see the current picture and what you will need to change to reach your goal.

    Find someone who specialises in transformations and has solid results on their websites. The industry is -saturated, so finding someone with a proven track record is vital.

    Part of the programme will teach you correct posture and technique — this is vital groundwork and not a waste of time. Without it you are at more risk of injuries that will set you back.

    Transformations are more about resistance work and weightlifting than -cardio because cardio on its own isn’t very good for improving your physique. Yes, you can drop down in weight, but getting that ‘chiselled’ look you are after needs progressive -resistance work.

    Be prepared to change your diet and be open-minded about what you’re told to do. Many of the changes will be temporary to help get you get kick-started. Remember it’s a 12-week course so fast results are essential. It’s common for people have far too little protein in their diets while consuming too many fats and carbohydrates. Most of the time it’s about getting the balance right and consistent rather than any long-term dramatic changes.

    Make sure you start planning for when the transformation is over to make sure you don’t backslide — either make plans to have a regular trainer or get them to build you a plan, or consider online training.

    Andy Pilides offers transformation packages, group classes and online training. Details of his latest book More Than Physique plus contact info at