Summer time is shape-up time, but what if you feel you’ve left it too late to get results in time for your holiday? I have to admit, that’s been my excuse before. I know that being over 40 and a mum is no bar to a six pack – as the likes of Davina McCall and Melanie Sykes prove – but I’ve eyed those celebrity abs and decided they look like a lot of time and hard work.
When there’s only a month to go until you hit the beach, is it worth even trying?
My answer might have been a shrug and another choccy biscuit, had I not happened to try on my favourite dress and discovered it no longer zipped up. No, it hadn’t shrunk; I had simply expanded. A long winter of stodgy food had turned to a puddle of pudge around my midriff.
Worse, I was due to oversee a swimwear shoot to Cyprus with a bunch of Love Island-worthy models in just four weeks’ time. The prospect of feeling like a middle-aged mum hurtling down the slide to Frumptown was enough to get me off my backside. Was there any way of turning this around in a month?
Asking the professionals
To find out, I enlisted the help of Vikki Axell, one of the top personal trainers at Virgin Active gyms. I explained that I was too uncoordinated for aerobics classes, loathed running and had only 30 minutes maximum to exercise at a time… but beyond that I was ready to do her bidding in the war against wobble.
Unfazed, Vikki put together a simple (but tough) programme of exercises that I could do either at the gym or at home. The moves were designed to work my entire body, build muscle tone and raise my heart rate for belly fat burning.
I’d do 15-20 reps of exercises such as squats, lunges, shoulder presses, burpees, planks and press-ups, getting my heart rate up for each one and leaving only 20-30 seconds recovery between each move. (This is the HIIT principle, where you exercise in intense bursts which has been shown to get better results than working at a steady pace). The whole circuit would be done three times.
I would do the exercises every day, cut down on the lard and wine and see what happened. The "before" photo was duly taken, belly overhang and all, and I vowed to look better in a month’s time.
Getting with the programme
Like any kind of fitness challenge, it’s all about sticking to the regime. I planned in 20-30 mins every day, either going to the gym in the day or slotting in a home workout at night. I have to admit, doing the moves in the lovely, air-conditioned Virgin gym was a lot more pleasurable than jumping around in the living room while the kids bellowed "Mummy what are you DOING?" down the stairs.
Once a week I worked out with Vikki herself, which quickly made me realise it’s worth forking out for personal training sessions – especially if you’re new to exercise and aren’t even sure if you’re doing it right.
I will also admit I really, really didn’t feel like getting off my bum some days. However, I did have the horrid "before" photo saved on my phone to tackle waning willpower, and once I’d actually started doing my daily workout I never struggled to finish it. In fact, I felt brilliantly virtuous afterwards. It’s just a matter of overcoming that initial "ugh, can’t I just sit on the sofa tonight?" inertia.
Doing a daily workout also made me think twice before giving in to unhealthy cravings. While I wasn’t on a strict diet per se, I did stop eating snacks in the office and managed at least three wine-free evenings a week. No mean feat when there’s glorious sunshine and ice-cold rosé to lure you off the straight and narrow (hipped).
One month later
Do I look like a supermodel now? No. Let’s be honest, I’m in my 40s and unless I book in my a tummy tuck, my stomach will forever be crinkly from having two babies in 15 months.
Do I look better though? Yeah, I’ll give myself that.
At the end of my one-month challenge, I’ve lost five pounds, my waistline is two and a half inches smaller and, while I’m a long way off Davina-like abs, I can see some semblance of muscle tone around my midriff. I doubt it troubled any of the bikini models on my Cyprus trip, but I felt a lot less mumsy than I would have done a few weeks ago.
It’s definitely makes me think: "Well, if I can do this in four weeks, what more could I do if I stick to the gym long term?"
I worked out every day for the purposes of a one-month challenge but as Vikki points out, this (somewhat impractical) schedule isn’t vital for results. ‘Three times a week is enough to make a big difference, and it’s easier to stick to in the long term,’ she says. Hallelujah. I’ll raise a kettlebell to that.
Virgin Active has 43 clubs in the UK and memberships start from £51 per month
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