#TopfitMorning week 1: the first step is always the hardest

After overcoming the inertia of previous sedentary and less-than healthy lifestyle habits, our challengers are starting to ease into a workout routine

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 4:09pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 4:09pm

An object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an external force: Newton’s First Law applies to working out too. Overcoming this inertia is probably the hardest part in starting an exercise regimen.

But after just the first week of training in the SCMP’s #TopfitMorning 12-week fitness challenge, our three challengers seem to have overcome that inertia and are adapting well to their new exercise routines under the Topfit personal trainers.

All three challengers have been working out thrice weekly with their trainers, following a training method called German Body Composition that focuses on heavy weightlifting exercises - each circuit pairs an upper body exercise with a lower body one, with minimal rest between sets. Movements target major muscles and are slow and controlled, thereby creating constant tension on the working muscle.

Arnold Wong, personal trainer to challenger Janice Lee, explains that alternating upper- and lower-body exercises causes a “peripheral heart action training” effect. The constant switching keeps blood circulating throughout the whole body during the workout, and the body also burns more calories pumping blood to the extreme ends of the body.

All three challengers have also made changes to their diets and lifestyles, mainly eating healthier, cutting out alcohol and getting more sleep.

We checked in with them after their first week of training to see how they’re getting on.

Challenger: Elizabeth Wu

Having not exercised since high school, Wu was surprised at how much energy and motivation she had in the first week.

“I thought I would be too exhausted by the first week considering my non-existent fitness background, but I am feeling surprisingly energetic and pumped for my next session,” says Wu, 28.

A self-professed “foodie”, Wu has also made drastic changes to her diet: planning meals in advance, being conscious of calories and portion size, not eating out at restaurants as much and abstaining from alcohol. Every day, she has a healthy lunch from Optmeal delivered to her office.

“I also thought the whole diet overhaul would be tougher, but at home we have found creative ways to make healthy and delicious food so I find myself looking forward to the next meal,” says Wu.

She’s also clocking in more slumber at night: 8 hours versus 5-6 hours previously. The toughest part, she says, has been meeting friends outside while remaining teetotal. “With restaurants there are healthy options I can order, but sitting at a bar without having a drink takes a lot of willpower.”

Personal trainer Heanney McCollum says Wu has been impressive in her ability to learn exercises quickly and in her work ethic.

“Even though prior to this week she had never performed any of these exercises before, it took less time than I thought for her to get her form right,” says McCollum. “She was able to pick up the dos and don’ts fairly quickly.

“Each session this week took longer than an hour, due to working on form, breathing techniques and so on, but Liz has been a very strong sport and was very patient. I am very pleased with our first week of training. Liz always performed her last set of each circuit the strongest and in the best form, which shows her strength and determination.”

Challenger: Lee Tsui

Tsui was the biggest loser after week one, dropping 2 kilograms in just three sessions with Topfit lead trainer Louis Doctrove. That said, Tsui at 88kg does have the most body mass to lose – and he’s also been putting in extra cardio sessions on his own, like hiking and rollerskating.

“Once you get into a habit, you start to look for more exercise. I feel like after this week, exercise has become a habit for me,” says Tsui, 33, who commutes to the mainland a few times a week for work.

The first day working out, however, Tsui nearly threw up. But by the third session, he was feeling “really strong”.

“I never had a personal trainer before and having one makes a huge difference,” he says. “It’s the push; it’s about getting someone to get you to do the things you hate so much, and for me that’s things like deadlifts and squats.”

Tsui has learned quality is by far more important than quantity. On his own, Tsui used to speed through three sets of weights and hardly break a sweat. With Doctrove’s guidance, just doing one set – and with half the weight he used to do – causes Tsui to “hurt a lot more”, because exercises are now done with a slower and more controlled technique.

Diet-wise, Doctrove introduced Tsui to a phone app called MyFitnessPal to log his meals and calories. Tsui has been loading up on vegetables and lean proteins while drastically cutting his calories to about 2,000 a day.

“I’ve actually been feeling pretty full,” says Tsui. “It’s difficult to eat 2,000 calories of good food versus bad food.”

Challenger: Janice Lee

Relatively fit to begin with, it is not surprising that triathlete Lee has quickly adapted to her weightlifting regimen under trainer Arnold Wong. With workouts at 7.30am, the first two sessions left Lee a tad exhausted in the office, but by the third session the lawyer got used to the pre-work burn.

“I cursed more than usual this week,” quips Lee, 33, “but it’s been good to activate the muscles that have sat dormant for years. In the office, I now sit with a straighter back.”

Lee has also tweaked her diet based on Wong’s advice, splitting three big meals into six smaller ones throughout the day and including carbohydrates in her dinners. Contrary to beliefs of the low-carb camp, Lee has lost 1kg in spite of the increase of carbs in her diet.

Avoiding alcohol has been Lee’s biggest challenge. “I said I wouldn’t drink THAT night. I didn’t promise I wouldn’t drink at all,” Lee says, referring to a conversation she had with Wong earlier in the week.

Alcohol such as wine, beer and spirits are made from the fermentation or distillation of natural starch and sugar. Alcohol therefore contains a lot of calories – seven calories a gram – almost as many as a gram of fat (nine calories). Sooner or later for Lee, the tipples will likely have to stop.