The above is from May, before I began this journey and several weeks removed from my previous life, not doing much exercise beyond the weekly 7-a-side football match, drinking alcohol to excess and paying scant attention to the nutrients in my diet. I wasn’t unhappy with my appearance and my estimation of my own fitness levels were probably greater than reality, but I knew I wanted to:
- Elevate cardiovascular endurance
- Improve my flexibility
- Boost strength levels and muscle tone
- Improve muscle power
I was confident that undertaking this training program for six weeks, and eating the food provided, would result in some noticeable improvements but to what extent I really did not know. I’ve made some progress, despite a minor setback in the middle of training, and below is a little snapshot of my approach to training and nutrition, along with pictures of the progress made.
What I did
The training schedule called for 5-15km runs and two training sessions, 6 days a week. Morning training was 60-90 minutes long and the afternoon period would entail over 2 hours of work in the gym. When I first saw this program I took it as a physical and mental challenge that would push me past my perceived limits and build a new Stephen. The reality is that following the above is incredibly gruelling for a seasoned athlete, let alone someone trying to regain a decent level of fitness, after an extended period. It took some time to reach a point where I was comfortable with training and recovery so I noted the main tenets of my approach, that helped me achieve my goals:
- I drank A LOT of water, I know this is always advised but I’m going to be a broken record and stress that hydration was a key part of recovery between training sessions. I almost exclusively drank water, as I had been doing for a few weeks prior to attending the camp, with the occasional iced coffee or green tea, to mix things up.
- I ate two full meals a day after each training session (as provided by the camp), snacking as and when the mood took me. I’ll do a more detailed post on nutrition later but the food at the camp was very healthy so I only supplemented those two meals with snacking on fruit or some of the street food that was being sold nearby.
- Speaking of supplements, Creatine monohydrate was the only product I used whilst training. Some of the other guys had electrolyte drinks after training, protein shakes, different vitamin and mineral tablets, but I personally preferred the approach of sticking to food and took creatine on the advice of someone who had been to camp and thought it would help with the anaerobic periods of training.
- I did not attend every training session or run 5-15km everyday. I listened to my body and if I was too sore or tired from previous exertions, I took a day off. Remember we get stronger when we are at rest and recovery periods will differ for everyone, especially if you take into account variations in age, fitness levels and diet. Out of my 33 training days, I ran on about a third of them and the most I ever ran was 11km. Furthermore I developed a sebaceous cyst, in the third week, and could not train for a 9 days so I missed 6 days of gym training. Add to that the odd session I missed due to rest or running errands and I end up with a total of 22 full training days, equal to 44 gym sessions.
- Three times a week, I would do my own strength and conditioning program instead of the morning training session. This would typically involve 2 barbell exercises (front squats and deadlifts), along with an assortment of calisthenics. I began doing this after I missed a week of training, as I felt I needed some workouts to focus particularly on building strength.
What I didn’t do
- I swore off drinking alcohol, as I knew this would be a source of empty calories, dehydration and disrupt sleeping patterns. This wasn’t hard as I removed from my normal drinking environment and most people at the camp were of the same volition. Having said that there were times when I was in the company of people drinking, and managed to remain on water, still having a good time but remembering my goals and retaining my conviction.
- I didn’t restrict myself from indulging in junk food completely. Personally, there are many foods that I love to enjoy, which are not particularly good for you at all. I didn’t see the harm in having these, on occasion, if I was training hard and eating well 95% of the time. This wasn’t a daily occurrence but kept me sane and going on any serious binges. N.B. I only swore off doughnuts (a big fave of mine) for the entirety of my stay at the camp.
- I didn’t ‘play through the pain’ and that was generally the attitude of those around me. If anyone had an injury, training was avoided on that body part or entirely, depending on the issue. Developing the cyst was almost a blessing in disguise as I was developing small niggles that healed whilst I had a week off and I returned to the gym fresh, brimming with energy and enthusiasm.
Keep reading the blog for a more detailed description of training and nutrition!