Shape Up: Your 6 week summer fitness plan
Welcome to our 6 Week Shape Up programme. We've teamed up with personal trainer John Belton, owner of No.17 Personal Training in Merrion Square, Dublin, a dynamo who has helped clients as diverse as model Millie Mackintosh and Irish ultra marathon runner John O'Regan reach their fitness goals.
He has put together a food and exercise programme especially for Sunday Independent readers that will have you leaner and fitter in just six short weeks.
There are three workouts each week, each should take you roughly 30 minutes, including warm up and cool down. Together the routines cover mobility, strength training, conditioning and core work to help build a strong, balanced and aerobically fit body. They are accompanied by pictures and instructions, as well as being available on video at independent.ie.
Who is it aimed at? John has designed this programme to help get you off the sofa and into your trainers, no matter your age or fitness level. But before you begin, it is always advisable to visit your doctor first for a full check-up and to discuss your fitness programme.
Use the first week to test your fitness levels, take a note of how you feel after each workout and what targets you achieve and tuck it away to compare with your results in Week 6. Take the workouts at your own pace, whether that is running, jogging, walking or alternating between running and walking until you've built up your base fitness.
What you eat while you're on the programme is just as important as how you exercise, so John has shared his tried-and-tested eating plan - a healthy, sugar-free weeklong menu that provides all the macronutrients you need to be energised, shed between 7-14lbs and, if you follow his exercise programme, build muscle too.
Each day's menu contains about 1,200-1,300 calories (though we prefer to think about healthy eating rather than calorie counting), and to give your tastebuds a good workout, we've asked Roz Purcell, bestselling cookbook author of Natural Born Feeder, to sprinkle a little foodie magic over the menu so that you'll find a new dish every week to add to the programme.
To help you keep up the tempo, we've asked six people well-known for their fitness to reveal their health secrets, alongside expert advice from folks such as Enda McNulty, performance coach to the Irish rugby team, and dietician Paula Mee.
What you'll need
Preparation is important - many a resolution evaporates because there's nothing healthy to eat at just the moment when your willpower hits the floor. So clear out the cupboards of highly processed foods, sweets, biscuits, chocolate, fizzy drinks (and yes, alcohol too), and stock up on vegetables, fruit, nuts and wholefoods.
John advises: "Plan your meals in advance, cook them the night before and always know where your next meal is coming from." That way, you'll be less tempted to snack. "If you're not able to make the drastic change at the start then I suggest changing things step by step. Your first step is to drink enough water, next step is to get adequate protein, then improve general food quality." And if you're someone who likes to keep visiting the fridge, John advises keeping a food diary - "it's a great way to keep yourself accountable".
All you need is a good pair of trainers (see below), a space to do your workout and, depending on your fitness level, roughly half an hour three times a week to follow the programme. Try to space the workouts a day apart, and on the days you don't train, take a 30-minute brisk walk. John has also included bonus work - additional training for you to do each week that will help boost your results.
Prepare your mind
An important part of preparing for the 6 Week Shape Up is developing a healthy mindset. John Belton believes that your body is the canvas of your mind. "So ask yourself why you want to achieve your goals. Do you constantly tell yourself a negative story? Do you have a soundtrack that goes something like this, 'I am not good enough, I am not going to achieve this'. Recognising this self-doubt, and becoming aware of your negative inner voice is essential to your transformation process."
How do you change your soundtrack? Instead of thinking something negative, says John, focus on a positive thing you have in your life, really focus on it and be thankful for it. Practise gratitude and you'll be surprised how your day starts to change.
Next up, set your goals. Not just the 'lose a few kilos' type goals but Big Audacious Goals. Then set targets and write them down, and include how you will look and feel. Now visualise your goals daily, picturing how your day is going to go and set yourself up for success.
And finally, says John, practise mindfulness. "The biggest change I have ever made in my life," he says, "was to adopt a daily mindfulness ritual that I practise every morning. If you're like I was, then you probably have this vision of meditation as meaning sitting on top of a mountain cross-legged, thinking of beautiful rainbows and unicorns but that's not the case. Practising mindfulness or meditation helps to keep you present and grounded in your day."
He recommends an app called Headspace for guided meditations that are easy to follow and progressive, and they only take 10 minutes a day. Or if you want to delve a little deeper, you could sign up for one of the many mindfulness courses that have sprung up around the country.
Best of luck, you've taken the first steps on your road to wellbeing and fitness. We hope you'll continue to build on these foundations to become a healthier, fitter you.