I completed a 12-week weightlifting programme – this is how it changed my body

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  • Niamh McCollum pushed herself to the limit with Evolve’s intense Warrior Woman Workout challenge – and the results were incredible

    I’ve always been a quitter. As a kid, I quit guitar because the power chords were ‘too sore’ on my fingers, I shoved sax lessons to the side because I couldn’t be bothered lugging it on the school bus with me, and after years of training, I gave up horse riding because I couldn’t face my fear of inevitably falling off a horse one day.

    So when it came to physical exercise, same story. Not exactly a fan of team (or any) sports, I’ve never really had a regular fitness routine, with my teenage and university years spent eternally falling in and out of a cycle of running instead.

    I’ve always been keen to branch out, having heard from friends about the benefits of weight training. But truthfully, that area of fitness intimidated me to the point that I was too scared to try it out in the gym on my own. Besides, my track record suggested that I’d never be able to keep it up long enough to see actual results.

    This was until I was offered the chance to do the 12-week Warrior Woman Workout Challenge at Evolve. Curious to learn about the elusive (to me, anyway) world of weights and test whether or not I had it in me to keep up a three-month training programme, I (reluctantly) said yes. Fast-forward 12 weeks and not only is my training completed, but I saw results I could never have imagined. Here’s what I learned… 

    Goal-setting is key

    On my first day of training I met Tim Walker, Evolve’s founder. Together we talked through what my goals for the programme were, and I did an in-body scan which calculated my weight, as well as my overall muscle mass and body fat percentage. I told Tim that rather than lose weight, I wanted to tone up and get stronger, and he created a fitness and diet plan specifically tailored to my desired results.

    Tim explained that to achieve the results I was looking for, it would be a case of changing up my body composition by lowering my body fat percentage and building up muscle. With a specific goal in mind, my fitness journey at Evolve began and I was paired with one of Evolve’s trainers, Ian. Every four weeks I had a scan where we could track my results. Being able to actually see my body composition gradually change kept me super motivated to keep working towards exactly what I set out to achieve.

    I started seeing results faster than expected

    Being a total weight training rookie, my first two weeks at Evolve passed quite slowly as Ian turned my focus first to technique, rather than smashing out high-intensity sets from the get-go. Once I felt comfortable with exercises like deadlifting, we gradually levelled up the intensity and the results came way faster than I anticipated.

    Not only did I notice significant changes to my body by week four (having already lost 5% body fat), but I was also shocked at how quickly my strength was going up. In the space of just two sessions, I went from barely being able to complete a set of lying leg raises to confidently smashing out three sets as I felt my core strengthen. Consistently seeing these improvements made it easy to keep coming back for more.

    Routine is everything

    It goes without saying, the Warrior Woman Workout Challenge is intense – I’m talking four sessions a week (before work!!!) intense. Having never been much of an early riser, (for years I was convinced that doing any type of physical exercise before 10am would make me legitimately puke), I was certain that I would miss more than just a few morning workouts.

    Although it was tricky getting out of bed the first two weeks, once I got into a routine I actually began to quite enjoy it(!?). Not only did I get to start each day with a sunrise as I made my way to the gym, but I also learned to love the feeling of setting a physical goal and smashing it before my working day had even begun – whether it be adding an extra 5 kg to the bar I was deadlifting or finishing three sets of P-A-I-N-F-U-L split squats.

    Having four designated training days also made it a lot easier for me to stay consistent throughout the 12 weeks, as I knew that once I got my four sessions out of the way, I was free to reward myself with a Saturday sleep in and enjoy my weekend (within reason).

    It gave me a healthier relationship with food

    For me personally, the diet plan was the most difficult part of the whole programme. It’s designed to give your body exactly the right amount of protein to help you gain muscle, but it’s not exactly fun. I did, however, like the fact that although I was on a calorie deficit, I rarely felt hungry – as it was so protein heavy it kept me feeling full all day. It also changed my relationship with food, helping me see it as a source of fuel for the body rather than something to be obsessed over.

    Warrior Woman Workout

    You cant out-train a bad diet

    If I’m being totally honest, I didn’t stick to the diet as stringently as I should have –having probably said yes to one too many dinner/drink invites in the run-up to Christmas. Although I achieved my desired results, I would’ve seen much more of a physical change had I been just a little bit stricter.

    Explaining the importance of the diet plan, Tim told me ‘the training only takes up a small percentage of your week, if you don’t also focus on sleeping and eating well, which make up the rest of the 80%, then the training is pointless’. 80% diet, 20% gym guys – it doesn’t seem fair, but if you want to see results, it’s the only way.

    Training’s a lot easier when someone else is motivating you

    For everyone out there fortunate enough to afford it, I couldn’t recommend getting a personal trainer enough. Having someone holding me to account went a long way in keeping me motivated, as I didn’t want to let Ian down or waste his time by not putting in the effort. He was also always on hand to answer any questions I had about the diet plan, and consistently sent encouraging messages to help keep my spirits up when I doubted my own ability.

    If you can’t afford a PT, then I recommend training with a pal – there will be times where you want to give up, and sometimes simply having another person there to spur you on will be enough to keep motivation levels high.

    My body changed in pretty surprising ways

    By the end of the programme, I’d lost 5 kg and 10% body-fat. Not only did I get a buzz off looking leaner, it was also fascinating to track exactly how my body composition was changing with each in-body scan. My metabolism went up significantly, which made me appreciate the benefits of weight training beyond the aesthetic changes.

    As well as this, tension held in my shoulders meant they were at an angle – which I wouldn’t have even realised had Ian not pointed it out. After a few weeks of training, the alignment of my shoulders had completely straightened and I felt less tightness in my neck, which even improved my sleep.

    Shoulder alignment during my first week of training (R) vs after six weeks of training (L)

    I also couldn’t believe how much stronger I felt despite looking leaner. Small changes, like feeling the muscles in my legs as I walked up the stairs at work, and finding it easier to carry shopping bags home from Lidl, felt truly empowering and boosted my confidence massively.

    Weight-training is just as stimulating as cardio workouts (if not more)

    I used to think weight training was more slow-paced than cardio-based exercise like running – but man, was I wrong. There will be times where you’re pushing a 200 kg sled across the gym, profusely sweating and in so much pain that you might cry, but you will be smiling ear to ear and feeling like a total champ once its done –it is incredibly rewarding.

    Despite having never been able to keep up a three-month routine of cardio-based exercise, with weight training it felt easy. Rather than eventually becoming bored and tired like I used to with running, I was bursting with energy during my time spent training at Evolve – and as a result the 12 weeks, very sadly, flew by.

    For further information on Evolve’s Warrior Woman Workout, please visit www.evolvefitness.co.uk

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