Men’s Health Transformations Are an Institution, but Do the Gains Last for Life? – Men’s Health

As a brand that promises results, MH transformations are where we deliver. The tradition dates back to 2005, when one dissenting writer said he didnt think the magazines cover lines were realistic and was tasked with disproving his point. The before-and-after has remained popular with readers while becoming a rite of passage for male staff in the years since.

While realistic in the sense that these challenges did, indeed, take place, our MH transformations were arguably less so in other areas. Yes, we did get free supplements, gym memberships and personal training that might otherwise have been prohibitively expensive. No, we didnt get time off work to train (we wish). Yes, we did use well-known physique trade secrets that, in all honesty, shouldnt be so widely accepted: flattering lighting, fake tan and mild dehydration pre-shoot. No, we didnt use Photoshop, steroids or diuretics.

The most unrealistic aspect of our transformations? They are not designed for the long haul. No one can live like that forever and no one who has ever done one would suggest trying. They are temporary challenges to show how much you can achieve with limited time and total dedication. The cycle of train, eat, sleep and repeat can be punishing, evena little dismal. But, at the same time, it can be enormously satisfying and enjoyable and not just when its over, either.

Ultimately, a body is for life, not just a photo shoot, and the changes you make in the long term are what matter. So MH canvassed three of our most dramatic transformers to find out what recollections and results have stayed with them.

Then a recent journalism grad still living like a student, MHs former deputy digital editor Ted Lane now content manager for Lululemon got an education when he signed up for a complete fitness overhaul back in 2015. Today, hes a father of two with less spare time than ever. Do the lessons he learned then still help him today?

DAVID VENNI

When I left university, the owner of the chip shop shook my hand because we were on such good terms. I was in terrible shape. When I did my starting measurements, I had a metabolic age of 40. I was 25. It was eye-opening because Id been living the same lifestyle as all my friends: drinking 10 pints in the pub on Saturday, then spending Sunday eating pizza. I suppose that made me feel like, What the hell am I doing working at Mens Health?

Id joined MH to be a journalist, but I was yet to get a deep knowledge of the subject matter. I knew Id be given 12 weeks to look as good as possible but that Id also get to spend five hours a week with a personal trainer and ask all the questions I wished. I didnt want to miss the opportunity.

Soho Fitness Lab, where I trained, was really close to the office. Because I was going five days a week before work, that made it a hell of a lot easier. I remember doing my first superset: bench press into press-ups. My upper body went to jelly. It took me until lunch to stop sweating.

My trainers Brett Durney and Sandra Calva wanted me to build muscle but keep the calorie burn high, because the main thing that was going to make me look better was losing fat. I did three four-week phases. I went from supersets to trisets then, by the end, giant sets, going round and round; Id also finish every session with a Tabata. It was minging. Id never done lifting before, and so they gave me all of the grounding: how to do a good bench press, deadlift, back squat and pull-up.

The diet was tough, mainly because of the lack of variety. Id have salmon, eggs, rye bread and salad for breakfast every day. And then an iteration of chicken breast or steak with brown rice or sweet potato and broccoli or green beans for lunch. Second lunch was the same, minus the carbs; dinner was the same again, with carbs.

Today, when I train, I do two half-hour sessions. All being well, Ill try to wake up before the kids and do some rope flow outside. I put on a podcast and work up the lightest sweat. Then, at lunch, itll be short and sharp, aimed at burning calories but also weaving in a bit of mobility. We chopped our garage in half and put some rubber flooring down. Ill do some mobility, then sign myself over to some digital trainer. Or Ill do sprints on the Air Bike and dumbbell exercises, but theyll be more total-body moves: snatches and swings rather than benches and rows.

For me, the biggest shift has been exercising not because I need to control the way I look, but because I understand the benefits and want to add to my life, rather than take something away. Having kids has played into that, but its not the sole motivator. I want to feel healthy. I dont get drunk as much. I eat more vegetables and less meat. Im not interested in boom-and-bust. And altogether that means Im happier.

Id do another transformation although I dont know how Id make. it fit. It was a great experience. And I got so much out of it beyond the 12 weeks. I have a really healthy relationship with health and fitness now that I didnt have before.

After fighting fat and winning with an early KO, one-time Mens Health workflow director Kris Pace was so struck by his boxing-based transformation that he applied for a job with the studio where he did his training. Five years on, hes the chief brand officer at United Fitness Brands and has found a fitness rhythm that works for him.

DAVID VENNI

In my late teens and twenties, I lifted quite a bit. I was more into the bodybuilding side of things: Monday is chest, Tuesday is back Then, in my mid-twenties, I did my first triathlon. After that, I was just going through the motions lifting weights, doing cardio.

Like most guys in their twenties, I was drinking a lot on Friday and Saturday and feeling a bit jaded by Monday. The transformation came at a good time, following December with all the Christmas parties. I was told, Right, youve got three weeks to eat and drink whatever you want, but on 3 January youre starting this A discipline-specific transformation learning a skill such as boxing appealed to me.

I was nervous because Id never boxed before. But, for someone who looks quite scary and is incredible at fighting, my trainer Ian Streetz was one of the nicest guys Id met. Were friends to this day.

We trained in his own time at 6am weekday mornings, then I did one day of cardio at the weekend. The first part of our sessions was pad work, foot drills, head movement; the second part was conditioning. If he felt I was getting too comfortable, hed swap it round.

The worst thing we did was [a drill called] in the corner. Ian would stand in the middle of the ring and walk me into each corner, and Id have to sidestep out. After three minutes, your lungs are burning. Wed spar, but he wouldnt hit me, just move. I was like, But what if I hit you in the face? Turns out I could get nowhere near him anyway.

I did a little bit of lifting, but light weight and high reps. Id punch 3kg or 4kg dumbbells overhead as many times as I could for two or three minutes. Everything we did was as if I was actually fighting even though I never did.

I ate five or six small portions of chicken or fish and veg a day, little and often, to maintain energy. Sweet potato was one of the few carbs I had. Rice was almost like a cheat meal. The week before the shoot, I was having steak and spinach for breakfast. It sounds nice, but first thing in the morning, its really not.

For six months after I finished the transformation, Id pop down to Kobox every couple of weeks and do some pad work or a morning class. I wanted to maintain that clarity I felt throughout my day after intense endurance training. Sometimes, the founder of Kobox, Shane Collins, would jump into the sessions. One time, he said, Weve just opened a second studio, and I need to hire a number two with media experience It was a lightbulb moment. Id been thinking about a career change.

My training is more sustainable now. I like to mix it up. If I have a few heavy weeks coming up, Ill do more cardio for mental stimulation. If work isnt too hectic, I lift weights, get a bit of a pump on. I drink less than I used to, for sure. Im getting a little bit older now.

As much as I loved the transformation challenge, you cant do that year-round. But it set me up well to understand my limitations and not let training burn me out for work or vice versa. Ill also pull elements from it to keep myself going, or to dig a little deeper when I feel like I cant be bothered.

Id 100% do the same thing again, as long as it has a start and a finish! Id approach it differently as well: be less hard on myself and enjoy it more.

With almost 15 years at MH and three transformations (at least that he can remember) under his ever-tightening belt, executive editor David Mortons change has been constant. But it was 2014s weight-loss challenge that had the biggest impact on his long-term outlook and it still fuels his motivation today.

DAVID VENNI

My second transformation, in 2014, came at a good time. I was getting married that summer Id turned 30, so I couldnt get away with not training or eating correctly. Id also stopped playing rugby due to concussions and I had no real drive. Ive always needed a structure to my training. I need a goal.

Id see my trainer Bobby Rich, David Hayes strength and conditioning coach, once or twice a week, often on a Saturday for a mega sesh. Hed WhatsApp me my sessions for the other days. He put the onus on me to look after my own training.

I spent a lot of time training on the Versaclimber. After the first month, I started doing half an hour of fasted cardio five days a week before work. The movements werent particularly advanced. The key was consistency and lifting progressively heavier. The first three or four sessions with Bobby in Hayes gym (which is now closed), under the arches in Vauxhall, south London, were hard. At the end, I had to lie on my back with my feet up on a box because I felt so sick.

We didnt set too many dietary rules. Bobby just said, Dont eat too late, dont eat too much red meat, dont eat too much dairy. My then soon-to-be wife is an extremely good cook and at that point was a pescatarian, so we ate a lot of fish. Once I started doing the fasted cardio, I wasnt eating until 9am, so I was having a proper 12-hour fast before it was cool.

I was pleased with the result. I got accused of being a different person in the Daily Mail comments. A little while after that, I spent a few months at 3 Aces CrossFit in Kennington, south London, for a story and I loved it. It combined my love of training with the community element of rugby. That helped shape how I trained on my own.

For my third transformation, in 2018, I didnt have a coach. I used the movements from Mens Healths Primal 9 training programme. Id had two kids, moved out of London to West Sussex and lost all my hair, so I looked more like Jason Statham and I wanted the body to match. That transformation was the easiest. I got the train to and from the office, and went to the gym at lunch.

I feel better when I exercise. Im better at work, Im better at home to the extent that if I dont train for a few days, my wife will send me out to do it. During lockdown, I followed one of our fitness editor Andrew Traceys free plans, OB-30: 30 workouts to be done with one bell. I had a 16kg kettlebell and I trained in the sun as a break from work. I now have a pair of 22.5kg dumbbells, a bench, a sandbag, a pull-up bar on the side of the house with rings and a rope that my kids use. Ive also been vegan for two years, although I recently started eating eggs again. So Im veggan.

Id take on another challenge, but not a body transformation. Ive been fitter, but Im fitter now than I was at 29. Ive got some abs. And I can do a lot more movements: clean and jerks, snatches, pull-ups, double-unders, handstand press-ups, very bad handstand walks, pistols. Im more into skill acquisition than lifting for the sake of it. Im 40 next year and I have a quiet ambition to compete in local-ish competitions as a master. That could be fun.

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Men's Health Transformations Are an Institution, but Do the Gains Last for Life? - Men's Health

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