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The final reckoning
Running on empty
I started this programme in the wake of running my second marathon. After an arduous training plan, I had managed to finish in 2hrs 58 minutes hitting my sub-3-hour goal by a whisker. So when I began the challenge, I was in decent cardio shape. But I wasnt strong. Or big.
The basic idea was to see what happens when you completely stop semi-serious running, which Id been doing for about 10 years, and focus entirely on gaining strength and size. I weighed just under 75kg at the outset not a lithe gazelle by any means and Ive been a regular gym-goer for quite a few years. It was to be a case of beefing up my brawn quotient, rather than starting from scrawny scratch.
My PT Andy Vincent put me through three stages of training:
A conditioning and preparation phase (teaching me how to lift weights properly and adapting my body for the intense training to come).
A Y3T phase (proper bodybuilding using techniques for maximum growth, involving extreme pain).
A giant sets phase (two mini-circuits of three moves hitting the same muscle groups combining muscle-building with endurance training).
Waist86cm (bigger glutes)
So, the above is what happens when you swear off cardio, hit the gym hard and pig out on a lot of protein and ahell of a lot ofcarbs. Unsurprisingly: you get stronger, you get bigger and you get heavier. Surprisingly: you dont get (much) fatter and you have fewer physical niggles.
Lets cover the obvious stuff first. With Andy, who is a biomechanics guru, constantly drumming the importance of correct form into me and pushing me 20% harder than I thought was physically possible, I made decent progress in terms of both weight and strength gains. I ended each of the weeks four, hour-long training sessions in pieces. But it worked. To highlight just a couple examples of my progression, my 6-rep-max dumbbell bench press increased from 32kg to 40kg and my final weigh in came in at 81.5kg: a gain of 6.6kg almost all muscle tissue.
But it was the not-so-obvious stuff I found more interesting. After ceasing all cardio and gorging on a frankly ridiculous amount of calories, I expected to blob out. But it didn't happen: my body fat increased by only 1.4%. Clearly, when done right, hardcore weights workouts can be just as effective at burning calories as epic runs.
Perhaps the best and most unexpected benefit of all, however, was the injury-proofing effect of my regime. Having had tight calves throughout my running training, as well as intermittent hip flexor and achilles twinges, I began to feel more flexible and robust as the intensity of the workouts ratcheted up. Im not saying running is bad for you but it certainly take its repetitive toll.
In a nut(rition) shell
Without doubt the biggest lesson to take away from this programme not groundbreaking, but always worth reiterating is the importance of nutrition. My diet was good (for a gym-going runner) before I started and Id naively assumed that a few more protein shakes per day would see me tearing T-shirts like Lou Ferrigno. Wrong. I had to meticulously flood my body with huge amounts of protein and carbs all day, every day to see significant growth.
To help me eat enough protein I used Athleat for fresh, top quality meat, and when I started to consume greater quantities of their lean beef, in particular, I could almost see the scales needle rising before my eyes. But in terms of lifestyle and logistics, eating enough was by far the hardest part of the challenge far more difficult to do consistently than the gym training which, in spite of the agony, I loved.
Overall Im happy with the results. Ive gained a new passion for going to the gym and doing itproperly. Working with Andy has helped to balance my body, increase my flexibility and contrary to some ideas about weight training or bodybuilding made me healthier.
And stronger. And bigger. Job done.
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