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One man’s quest to lose his belly fat

Month Three

I didn’t think this process would be easy – and believe me, it wasn’t. However, one of the invaluable things an intense period of exercise teaches you is that it makes you think about your body in a way you never have before.

Originally, I had hoped that I would come out of this this process looking like

Ryan Gosling


Crazy Stupid Love

– but realised very quickly that this would both take an insane amount of added work, distinct loss of social life, and potentially be risky for the future (losing so much weight so quickly could result in loose skin – not ideal). Accepting that I couldn’t achieve everything at once was, in fact, incredibly freeing – and helped me to see this as a journey, rather than a one-off burst of effort. It’s great to have goals, but it’s also important to recalibrate and temper those goals in order to truly change your lifestyle. If I’ve learnt anything with this process, it’s that doing this will keep you motivated to keep going back for more.

With that in mind, my dual goals for this process entering the third month became reducing my belly as well as building up my chest, arms and shoulders. My logic: I might not have Gosling’s abs by the end of the process, but I could start preparing the foundation of a V-shaped torso. While I was still having HIIT sessions that incorporated cardio and boxing with Rhona, my trainer, she came up with a “body hack” programme to build muscle in my top half, fast.


As opposed to last month, my sets of two exercise moves at once became tri-sets of three. While these were heavier and more intense than ever, this was perhaps the most rewarding part of my transformation so far. With my body fat dipping under 20 per cent, I really began to see changes and started to feel like I was truly achieving something.

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Here’s my third month programme, each 2 x 10-12 reps:

Set 1

Chest press (10kg each end of a bar)

Incline chest press (16kg)

Flys (12kg)


Set 2

Bent over row (24kg)

Lat pull down (40kg)

Upright row (25kg)

Set 3

Shoulder press smithkline (10kg each side)

Side bends (20 each side with 20kg)

Front raises (10kg plate)

Set 4

Bicep curls with bar bell (25kg)

Seated bicep curls (8kg)

Cable curls (15kg)

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Set 5

Scull crusher (20kg bar bell)

Cables extensions (15kg)

Tricep single arm overhead (8kg)


Set 6: core(all with 10kg Medball)

Medball sit-ups

Russian twists


A side effect of all this exercise was that my metabolism felt like it was going into overdrive – my body needed constantly fuelling. Alongside the continual stream of delicious meals and snacks from

Munch Fit

, I was eating more packets of sliced turkey than I ever have in my life – quite an achievement for a former vegetarian. I also began to start supplementing my protein intake with protein bars and ready-mixed protein shakes. If you’re anything like me, by the three month mark you’ll be seriously craving chocolate – and in that case I can particularly recommend Pro2Go double chocolate chip protein cookies (£14.85 for 12 at


However, lifting heavier weights more often than ever can take its toll when you’re a recovering exercise-phobe. With 6-7 visits to the gym a week, my muscles were almost permanently aching even with stretching at the start and end of each session. So, as I approached my last week of the programme, I booked in for a sports massage at the Fix pop-up downstairs at

Ron Dorff

in Covent Garden (£100 for 90 minutes). Using a mix of techniques over 90 minutes, the masseur worked on the problem areas I’d discovered over the past few months (gristly left shoulder, tight hamstrings, painful lower back), and gave me a whole swathe of good advice to keep flexible going forward. But more than the practical tips, I could ask questions about why my body works in the way it does and, quite simply, relax at a time where I was more active than ever before in my life.

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Fair warning if you’re thinking of booking: sports massages are far more intense than your traditional massage, as the masseur will really dig into the deepest knots, but – just like a really tough exercise session – it feels immensely satisfying afterwards. And, hey, if your muscles are throbbing post-massage, you can always treat yourself to some of the brand’s

cashmere gym kit

on the way out.

Before I knew it, the big “after” shoot was looming – and, having spent most of the past three months underground at the Virgin Collection on The Strand, the final thing I wanted to do was give some colour to my pasty skin before getting my kit off. I booked in at

St Tropez

and became an immediate convert. It’s amazing how spraying yourself a shade or two darker can make you feel not only slimmer (as it covers up any inconsistencies in skin tone), but also make you feel like you’ve literally been on holiday. Bizarrely, looking in the mirror and seeing holiday-bronzed skin made me feel almost as relaxed as a fortnight in the Caribbean getting one in real life would. And, to be perfectly honest, anything that helped me to relax before taking a photo of myself shirtless to publish on the web was appreciated.

The results of the entire experience can be seen here…

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Body weight:

83.3kg to 78.2kg

Body fat:

20.4 per cent 17.6 per cent

Muscle mass:

61.6kg to 61.2kg

Metabolic age:

34 years to 28 years

Overall, in three months I successfully managed to shift almost 10 per cent body fat and reduce my metabolic age from 45 down to a much more appropriate 28 years old. In short, my belly is definitely smaller and my body is far more efficient than it’s ever been before. It’s been an incredible experience, and one I would definitely recommend – especially if you can book in with Rhona at

Virgin Collection

, who really kick-started an enjoyment of exercise that I didn’t think I would ever possess. For that, I can’t thank her enough.

As I said at the beginning, the major takeaway this experience has taught me, it’s that you need to set tough, yet achievable goals to keep you motivated. This might be my “final reveal” for this particular article, but it’s certainly not the end of my journey. I will get those abs eventually, but it’s just going to take me a bit more time than I thought – and that’s ok.

What’s important is that I’m keen to get back to the gym – an activity the three-months-ago-me dreaded. Of course the body transformation was awesome, but the change in my own head has been even better. Watch out, Gosling – I’m coming for you.

Thanks to Rhona Punjabi (subscribe to her

YouTube channel


Virgin Collection


Ron Dorff



, and the guys at

Munch Fit

for all the support.

Month Two

One thing they don’t tell you about trying to get in shape is just how much it affects the rest of your life: exercise time needs to be carved into lazy weekends, after-work drinks get cancelled in favour of the gym, food on work trips needs to be planned in advance (protein bars packed in hand luggage just in case), and you become the default sober guy at every social gathering. Such a sudden change in lifestyle is a distinct shock to the system, but while the culinary and/or alcoholic sacrifices necessary to fundamentally change your physique are initially tricky to process, that commitment to them is rewarded in the second month.

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Suddenly you find you can lift that one weight or do that kettlebell push-up you kept falling off of. Suddenly you see a hint of a bicep dimple or that your stomach doesn’t wobble as you walk. Suddenly you find yourself – against all your better judgement – enjoying exercise.

Not only was this because that I was making progress by sticking to my relentless schedule, but also that because I was in there seven days a week, I started to feel like less of an outsider in the gym. I felt an unashamed twinge of pride when one guy approached me to ask my tips on doing squats on the Smith machine. I had officially drunk the (sugar-free) Kool Aid.

However, just as I was getting comfortable with what I was doing in the gym, my trainer

Rhona Punjabi


) upped the ante. My HIIT programme, designed to get my heart rate to 80 per cent of its max, made almost every area of my body ache – in the best way possible.

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Programme One:

Round 1

Tyre flip with press-ups (1 minute)

Vertical slams with soft medicine ball (1 minute)

Turkish get-up with dumbbell (5 each side)

Plyo steps-ups (1 minute)

Hard medicine ball sit-up and throws (20 reps)


Round 2

Tyre push and walk (1 minute)

Semi-circle slams with soft medicine ball (1 minute)

Kettlebell swings with alternating arms (1 minute)

Plyo jumps (1 minute)

Hard medicine ball side-twist throws (20 reps)


Round 3

Tyre dead lifts (20 reps)

Kettlebell chest press on Swiss ball (16kg dumbell)

Mountain climbers (1 minute)

V sits


In addition to the above, boxing was included in every round for good measure – and while this is far more enjoyable with a sparring partner holding punching gloves, you could always do this with a punch bag instead.

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On days where I was flying solo, I would do the same cardio on either the cycle machine or rowing machine as I did last month (see first entry below), then do the following…

Programme Two:

Incline chest press (16-18kg dumbells on a 30-degree bench) – 4 sets, 10 reps

Clean & Press Olympic bar (with 5kg on each side) – 4 sets, 10 reps

Corner bar incline press (20kg on bar) – 4 sets, 10 reps

However, while Rhona was still dutifully training me two days a week, much of my gym work was a solitary activity. Not only do you find yourself silently competing with those lifting heavier weights around you, but you also compete with yourself to get better. This is, of course, a double edged sword: it pushes you to do your best, but when you’ve only got a short time to achieve something, it also feels like an impossible task – which can be incredibly down-heartening. Whatever improvement you see, there are times when you feel it’s just not enough. Combine that with increased testosterone pumping through your body, and it can really affect your mood. Even my boyfriend began to notice that a disappointing session in the gym would lead to a more melancholy version of me in the evening.

When I read transformation articles, the physical changes the man or woman goes through are obviously documented in great photographic detail – but the mental changes that are necessary for such a transformation are rarely discussed. With that in mind (no pun intended), I booked in a session with Gary Amers, otherwise known as

The Future Fixer

– a former actor turned life coach, trained in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and clinical hypnotherapy. Of course, while there were no visual results from my two-hour session with Amers, being given the space and time to talk through this whole transformation process in an impartial, confidential space was incredibly useful. And while the jump-off point for our conversation might have been exercise, we covered a whole host of different subjects from relationships to work – showing me just how interconnected this process all is in my brain.

What it did make me realise is that while this particular article might only be for a three months, I’m learning a new way of exercising and of thinking that’s going to stay with me for a whole lot longer. At the start of this whole thing I would have been terrified by that and probably just given up – now I’m seeing that as something motivational, and pretty damn liberating to be honest.

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Plus I’ve gone down a clothes size. Bonus.

Body weight:

83.3kg to 81.4kg

Body fat:

20.4 per cent to 19.9 per cent

Muscle mass:

63kg to 61.6kg

Metabolic age:

34 years to 32 years

Month One


f you ask anyone who has made a decision to get in shape, they will say there was a specific, pinpoint-able event that caused them to do so. My moment came just after my thirtieth birthday when I slipped on my favourite suit for

the men’s shows in London

, only to realise the trousers no longer fastened. As I went through my wardrobe trying to find another smart alternative to wear, I realised, with a sinking feeling, that none of my suit trousers fitted – not even close.

Thing is, I have never been particularly sporty, despite coming from a family of rugby, golf and football obsessives. With the exception of swimming (which I have always enjoyed, but never been hugely driven to do in my spare time since I moved to London) I tended to see exercise as something of a chore – a means to a physical end that I never saw materialise, as opposed to something I should build into my life for my own wellbeing. And despite being an outgoing guy, I also find most places of exercise inherently intimidating – especially when next to the insanely pumped clientele of the weight rooms at the gym.

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In short, not only did I need to change my waistline, I needed to change my entire mindset. No biggie.

The prep

With that in mind, I enlisted Rhona Punjabi – one of the personal training team at

Virgin Active on The Strand

in London – to guide me. Apart from a brief flirtation with


last Christmas, I was starting very much from square one when it came to knowing what sort of work I would have to do to change my body – so I needed all the help I could get.

The first step was to assess the damage I had been doing to myself by using the Boditrax machine at Virgin – a contraption that uses feet and hand sensors to assess the makeup of your physique without any shirtless humiliation. The three main takeaways I learned were: I was not eating enough (meaning my body was convinced I was in starvation mode and storing most of what I put into it – aka pasta and Pret wraps – as fat), I was seriously dehydrated, and I had the metabolism of a 45-year-old. Not a good start to my thirties.

Before even getting to the exercise portion of the programme, it was clear I needed to change my eating and drinking habits. First, I invested in electrolyte tablets that I could drop in water everyday to boost my hydration. Second, I cut out my ultimate guilty pleasure, wine (if I do fancy a drink when I’m out, I limit myself to one vodka, soda and lime). And third, I got in contact with

Munch Fit


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Founded by former personal trainer Angus Fay, this meal delivery service is designed to help you achieve your fitness goals while not sacrificing on flavour. I realise this was very much a luxury, but at least for the first month it made completely overhauling my diet that little bit less stressful – and, as a committed foodie, it showed me that healthy food isn’t necessarily boring food. With breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks delivered to my desk every day, I have begun to retrain my brain to see not only the sorts of things I should be eating, but also how much of each I should be consuming to fuel my body.

The protein waffles with cashew nut butter and berry sauce have now, unashamedly, become a highlight of my week – and something I will damn well try to replicate at home.

The exercise plan

With my diet coming together, Rhona came up with a programme of exercise – important because, while I would see her two times a week for high intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions, the rest of the week would be up to me. And as my goal was to lose belly fat, I was going to have to be in the gym seven days a week, doing a mixture of weights and cardio.

Of course, as I was trying to shift fat, cardio was required as many days as I could fit it in: 25 minutes on either the rowing machine or cycle machine, with a 10 minute warm-up at a low speed, followed by 30 seconds at max capacity/30 seconds slow intervals for another 10 minutes, then a five-minute cool down. I could alternate this with a similar programme in the pool too, except I modified this by doing the intervals in lengths as opposed to times.

Lucy Streule

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At this point I also invested in a

Garmin Vivoactive HR fitness tracker

to not only keep an eye on my progress, but also to make sure I could monitor my heart rate as I exercised – and ensure I was in my aerobic zone to burn fat (about 27 to 85 per cent of my max heart rate) for the bursts of max capacity exercise mentioned above.

Stretching was also something I had never really done before, and consequently my muscles were strung so tightly that I really needed to loosen up (I have never been able to touch my toes, but a desk job certainly hasn’t helped my flexibility either).

These two, combined with 100 or 150 sit-ups on a Swiss ball, became the basis of my most basic workout. Here’s a breakdown:


  • 10x press-ups (wide, on a raised platform)
  • 10x squats
  • 10x hamstring stretch (like you’re starting a sprint at the running blocks)
  • 10x rotation stretch
  • 10x side lunge (touching opposite hand to knee)


  • 50x Swiss ball sit-ups
  • Cardio for 25 minutes (as above)
  • 50x Swiss ball sit-ups
  • Repeat stretches for cool-down

While I would have to do cardio every single day, I would need to slot an extra portion of weights into this programme three times a week. This was based on building strength in multiple areas of my body, with initial weights based on my 75 per cent of my one rep max (aka the heaviest weight with which you can complete only one lift). My initial set-up was three sets of each of the below (with a one minute rest between sets):


squat with legs extended on the Smithkline machine (15kg each side)


sitting shoulder press on Smithkline machine (8.75kg each side)


bench press on back (35kg in total – 7.5kg each side on 20kg bar)


single arm bent-over row (18kg dumbells)


cable curls for biceps (15kg) followed immediately by tricep pull-ups (15kg)

Combined with the cardio/stretching programme, this total time it took me to do this was about 1 hour 30 minutes – easy enough to pack in before or after work, as well as not taking up too much time on a Saturday morning.

The final piece of the programme were the HIIT sessions with Rhona, twice a week. While the exercises we did constantly changed, these were made up of two core elements: kettle bell training and boxing. Both required me to move my body in a way I never had before, and really control my core. As the month continued, seeing Rhona fast become the highlight of my exercise every week. Not only did I feel like I was learning a whole set of new skills (and, shockingly, enjoying it), but it also proved how having someone supportive in the room with you really helps to push you to do your very best work.


The results so far…

After a month I have lost two inches off my waist, two inches off my chest and, perhaps more importantly for my health, my metabolic age is now edging back to something far nearer my actual age. However, as I enter the second phase of my regime, things are about to get a hell of a lot more serious – there’s talk of protein shakes, supplements and – shocker – far heavier weights. What’s keeping me going is the gut-wrenching realisation that, despite feeling like I have more energy and that my clothes are fitting a little better, I’m still a fair distance from what I picture to be my end result.

And herein lies my final advice for any other newbies out there: set yourself realistic goals and track your progress as you go. You will start to see a difference towards the end of your first month, and just as you feel you can’t give any more during a session, this is what will keep you motivated to lift that final rep. Or a shirtless photo in a national magazine, of course. No pressure.

Body weight:

86.5kg to 83.3kg

Body fat:

25.3 per cent to 20.4 per cent

Muscle mass:

61.4kg to 63kg

Metabolic age:

45 years to 34 years

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