Here’s What I Learned When I Tried To Get Lean And Strong In 3 Months

I lost, I gained, and I won.

Posted on September 06, 2017, 09:54 GMT

Hi, I’m Remee, and I’ve
often struggled with my weight and sense of body

Food has been a source of undeniable pleasure to me my whole
life, but it’s also been one of conflict. I grew up in a
South Asian family where you must always eat whatever
delicious thing has been made for you, it’s rude not
to, but you also must not be “fat”. Because of this confusing
and emotional relationship with food, I’ve yo-yo dieted and
exercised on and off since my early teens.

I also have this false
perception of myself as a healthy eater, so I get frustrated
when I feel like my body feels out of shape and lethargic. It
only takes a “typical” day (workout and non-workout) written
down to see where I’m going wrong.

I definitely eat a lot of processed foods unconsciously, and
in terms of exercise, I usually go through random phases of
doing spinning and boxing classes for a couple of weeks and
then nothing at all for a few weeks after that, before the
cycle starts all over again. With my 30th birthday
approaching I wanted to create better habits, become more
active, make more intentional choices about my diet, get
stronger, and change my body composition in a way that would
make me feel more confident about myself.

So, because I wanted to
be mean and lean but I’m prone to being inconsistent,
I decided to reach out and get a personal trainer who would
have no time for my shit. I got in touch with Evolve Fit London, which specialises in
12-week muscle-building transformations like the one

Disclaimer: I did this because I wanted to feel better about
my own health and fitness levels, but I also wanted to lose
fat and build muscle. I chose to do this for my own personal
goals and desires, but in no way am I defining what fitness
or beauty or health goals should be for others. Also, as
you’ll see, this required extreme lifestyle changes that
might not be for everyone. And always consult your physician
before making any drastic changes to your diet and fitness

Determined to give it my
best shot and become a badass in the gym, I started on a
12-week weightlifting program, focusing on compound movements
(exercises that involve more than one muscle group at a

“Compound movements stimulate the most amount of muscles with
one movement,” my lead trainer Hakim Medfai said. “Simply put, they
build more lean mass than isolation exercises.” This all
sounded great to me. A few big exercises to maximise my
workout and get shit done all at the same? Easy.

But once I got
introduced to my two new FRENEMIES, the squat and the
deadlift, I quickly realised it wasn’t going to be easy at

“The squat is potentially the king of compound exercises – it
targets the big muscles, such as the glutes and quads, but
also nothing works the core better!” said Medfai, and he
wasn’t kidding. No matter how much I tried to distract myself
by imagining that this was what J.Lo does and chanting to
myself “I want a big arse, I want a big arse”, I couldn’t
deny that the exercise was an all-round killer, especially
now I was doing it properly.

And doing them properly apparently meant getting down
low, like when you’re in the club and Lil’ Jon comes
on and you’re all like, “Woooo!!!”, and you drop it down to
the floor, but then you realise you’re almost 30 and might
not be able to get back up and oh my god what if this
weight falls on me and I die
. Yeah, that’s what it felt
like every time.

The deadlift was also just as brutal, probably because, as
Medfai said, it “works virtually every muscle in the body but
mostly heavily on your ‘posterior chain’ i.e glutes and
hamstrings.” However, it was also the exercise in which I saw
the most rapid improvement, and although it’s quite
stressful, it was one I was keen on pushing myself on. At one
point I even told my trainer I that I needed more
instead of giving the usual sad baby face I make
whenever they try to test me – which FYI, doesn’t work.
Personal trainers are ruthless and will only show leniency
once it’s too late and you’re already dead.

The squat and the
deadlift weren’t completely new exercises to me, but there
was one exercise I wasn’t familiar with at all, the
menacingly named “prowler” – essentially a sled stacked with
weights (or your trainer) that you push and pull as quickly
as possible across a certain distance.

Aside from these, there were other weight-based exercises we
did (medicine ball slams, lateral arm raises, HIIT circuits),
and the focus changed every session (one day would be legs,
one would be arms, one would be chest and back, etc). But the
prowler was pretty much inescapable and was used in
practically every session. It’s often used as what the gym
calls a “finisher” exercise – yep, intended to finish you

At first I was
intimidated by the program and its absolute commitment to
getting ripped, especially since Evolve’s clientele was
mostly men.

I was worried that I wasn’t going to achieve results in the
same way its previous clients had, because I was well aware
that due to being a woman and having lower levels of
testosterone than the average man, I was very unlikely to
build as much muscle mass. Evolve assured me that although
this was true, it wouldn’t mean I couldn’t achieve a big
change in my body composition or fitness levels, and said
weight-training was the fastest route to that regardless.

“Running burns calories, and yoga will improve your mobility,
but nothing transforms the physique quite like weight
training,” said Medfai. “It is the key to lasting results,
not to mention the multitude of health and hormonal benefits
of being strong.”

And I clearly had no
idea what I was really signing up to. I always thought
weightlifting seemed slower-paced and less intense than
cardio, but jfc how I was wrong.

The program meant I had to train three times a week in the
MORNING before work for the first month, graduating to FOUR
times a week thereafter. And even though I was pushing myself
every session, it didn’t seem to get easier at any point,
which made me think, How do I know if I’m getting fitter
if I feel tired and weak all of the time?

So, a month in, I
decided give myself a challenge outside of the sessions to
test if my fitness had improved. I signed up to Tough Mudder,
because I have a death wish and, as you know, I’m prone to
false perceptions of myself. This is me during the final
obstacle. Stay humble, guys.

As embarrassing as this looks and was (thank you to my
best mate, her husband, her husband’s mate, and the seven
kind strangers who helped drag my limp arse over the ramp),
when I really think about it I’d already achieved two things
I never thought I’d ever do – sign myself up to a physically
intensive race and actually complete it.

Feeling pretty proud of
myself, I powered through the remaining two months of

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you this program did not get
any easier even after my Tough Mudder “glory”. Six weeks in,
it felt like the gym was starting to taking over my entire
life – I was tired constantly and I even caught a cold
several times (in the summer!!), presumably because my immune
system was quite low. When I relayed this to one of the
trainers on the program, they said it was normal at about the
halfway point because I was putting my body through a
complete health overhaul and a lot of stress, but also that
stress is actually necessary to the body’s transformation

With regards to improvement, they only had to show me how
they’d been upping my weights week by week, so even if I
didn’t feel like I was getting stronger, I actually was. It
was also comforting to know that the trainers themselves (who
were all big, strong, six-pack-adorned blokes) often felt the
same way as I did when training, and that contrary to popular
belief, you’re not supposed to look good training, you’re
supposed to look like you’re losing the will to live and/or
about to shit your pants. Essentially, the key to training in
the gym is to train outside your comfort zone,
otherwise your body adapts very quickly and won’t change.

Of course, even if
you’re training 3-4 times a week like an absolute boss, if
you’re looking to make big-time body composition changes you
have to change your diet significantly (well, at least
I did anyway). Here was a typical day of my new eating

Tim Lane / Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

“You can’t out-train a bad diet” was the mantra of the gym,
which was the worst possible news for a foodie like myself.
Killing it in the gym I can do; avoiding mac n’ cheese I
can’t. But I was in it all the way, so as part of the program
I was introduced to “carb-cycling”, where on different days I
would be allowed a different amount of carbs (or none at
all), with the rest of my diet primarily consisting of lean
meats, healthy fats, and veggies. Chicken and salad became my
go-to almost every day. If I thought the training was
hard, the diet was even harder.

But there were times
where I went off-script, and that was okay.

In fact, it was encouraged by my trainers. When I expressed
my annoyance at having several big events and even a holiday
in the midst of training, they were right to point out that
that was life – you have events and you should enjoy them.
You’re not going to undo it all by going off-course for a
weekend, as long as you get back to your routine after it’s
done. I’ve been on diets on and off my whole life, and every
time I “fall off the wagon” I feel horrible about myself and
eat because I’ve “eaten too much”. With this program, I
learned to accept that it’s fine to give in to temptation –
after all, what’s the point in life if you can’t have

Once I got into a
routine, I started to find the diet easy to stick to,
although the level of snacks available in the office was
constantly testing me.

But 24/7 support from my
trainer enabled me to stay focused even when I really didn’t
want to.

Having to answer to Medfai made me accountable for my
actions: Being a people-pleaser, this way of working really
appealed to me. I didn’t want to let him down, and eventually
once I started learning to appreciate myself more, I started
thinking about how to not let myself down.

After 12 gruelling weeks
it was all over, and I’d transformed in more ways than

Evolve Fit London / Tim Lane / BuzzFeed

At the start and end of
the program, my body composition was carefully assessed to
see if I’d achieved my personal goals of increasing lean mass
and decreasing body fat:

To assess my body fat
and lean mass percentages, Medfai used callipers, a larger
pincer-like tool that pinches at skin folds on various areas
of the body. It was a really fun process.

“We use callipers to calculate the subcutaneous fat
underneath the skin,” Medfai said. “We then use a mean of
five of the most scientifically accurate equations to
calculate the percentage of bodyweight that is fat and the
percentage that is lean mass.”

It’s worth noting, though, that all of these results are
estimates based on the caliper system and science available.
Lean mass does not equate to muscle mass – an increase in
lean mass, while certainly including an increase in muscle,
will also include water weight.

What I’d been lifting
over the program was also tracked to get a tangible idea of
how much stronger I’d become:

Because I was so busy
trying to stay alive in each session, I never really noticed
how much heavier I was lifting as the weeks went by. By the
end of the three months I’d more than doubled – even tripled
– my weights, which made me feel super strong and

* Strength training was a sustainable way for me to achieve a
change in body composition, and it felt super satisfying
getting stronger each week. Learning how to do key
movements properly (much as it pained me to do so) has made
me much more confident in the gym
, and now I can walk
past gym bros smugly knowing I’m probably doing the exercises
better than them.

* The number on the scale is not the be all and end all.
Overall, based on weight, I dropped nine pounds, which would
normally not feel like much considering how hard I’d been
working. But hold up – I gained lean mass? I lost 11% of pure
body fat? Yes, I had body composition goals and I’d achieved
them, but to be honest I’m kind of more proud that I can
actually get off my arse four times a week IN THE MORNING and
squat my own bodyweight!

* Being consistent with my training and eating plan taught
me patience.
I’ve always yo-yo dieted because I’ve not
seen changes quick enough, or I would have a “cheat day” that
turned into a “cheat week”. Having to show up to the gym four
times a week meant that when I did eat outside of my plan at
the weekend, which was totally fine and encouraged, I would
immediately get back on track come the Monday. Granted, this
particular workout and diet regime is probably not
sustainable for me long-term, but what’s important is that
it’s helped me figure out a lifestyle I can actually manage
and stick to!

* And I know what you’re thinking: Remee, I haven’t
got money for this!
But a personal trainer isn’t
something you need to commit to as much as I did. If you have
the means to do a program like this, I would highly recommend
it. It changes your way of thinking completely, and it pushes
you to your limits – giving you a massive kick up the arse.
If you don’t, I would fork out for one or two sessions with
someone reputable like Evolve to get a personalised program,
because the most important thing when it comes to weight
training is doing the right kinds of exercises and
doing them properly. Having a trainer or a training
group is also about support, but if you don’t have one,
working out with a friend can make all of the difference
(especially if they’re bossy), not to mention making the
whole process a lot less intimidating and more

Services were provided by Evolve Fitness London to
BuzzFeed free of charge, but we were under no obligation to
be positive in our coverage. You can find out more about its
programs here.

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