This programme can be adjusted to fit all fitness levels – however, those who have never trained before should significantly underestimate what they think they can achieve and ensure that they master correct exercise technique first – training loads could be reduced by as much as 50% consequentially.

Getting started

Many regular exercisers fall into one of two camps, neither of which makes the most of the valuable time they devote to their training. In one camp, we have the people who do the same workouts, same classes or same runs over and over again – the ones they’ve been doing for years.


They’re stuck in a workout rut – and making less and less progress. In the other are those who have no plan or routine and simply cobble together sessions on the hoof. There’s no way of monitoring progression and no way of knowing what’s working and what’s not. They also fail to develop the shape or fitness that they could.

Work in blocks

It’s far more effective to work in training blocks – each with a definite purpose and progression to the next. Each block should typically last 4-12 weeks, after which the training focus is altered and the routine overhauled – and our programme does just that.

Within each block you’ll gradually increase training load, this will maximise training adaption and avoid stagnation. From a physiological perspective this ensures that your body (physically and mentally) is constantly stimulated and adapting.

The Plan

The 18-week plan is based around 4-6 workouts per week. In each 6-week block 2-3 of these will be gym resistance work and the other 2-3 cardiovascular sessions. During the first block the resistance work concentrates on building base strength and developing exercise technique.

You’ll use simple, basic, but highly effective, ‘compound’ exercises – these work multiple joints and involve numerous muscles. Your CV emphasis is on building base stamina and economy. By economy we refer to the ability to complete CV exercise with a greatly reduced level of energy expenditure. For the second 6-week block, we’ll build on your strength foundation and introduce more advanced and functional resistance exercises.

And the intensity of your CV work will increase, with the addition of more advanced methods, such as ‘tempo work’ (this is explained in our ‘Marathon Hero’ training plan – see page 58). The final 6-week block introduces more dynamic resistance training and higher intensity intervals for your CV work. You’ll look great and be super fit.

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The Training Programme

Block 1: Weeks 1-6 Cardio
Building a good CV base is an essential part of training for fitness and the majority of sports. Without it, the effectiveness of any higher intensity work will be compromised. Even if you’re training for aesthetic or health reasons, a good CV foundation is essential for meeting fat loss goals or improving cardiovascular health.

Basically, the base will allow you to train harder over future blocks and burn more calories. Base building CV work will improve your body’s economy and its ability to utilise fat as a fuel. The key session is a long and steady effort of 20-120 minutes duration.

Minute for minute, running will give you the maximum return compared to other CV exercise modes, but, if you really don’t fancy it, then fast walking, cycling, swimming, rowing or using a X-Trainer can be substituted. Intensity should be low at 60-70% of heart rate max (HRMax) or an intensity where you are able to maintain a full conversation if you had to.

If you have to walk (or drop the pace right down on another piece of CV kit) to stay in your zone then do so. It’s not about how hard you push but how well you can control your effort. If you’re new to exercise start with 10 minutes of CV work, adding 5-10 minutes per week to the session over the 6 weeks of the programme.

If you’re an intermediate or advanced CV trainer then start with a duration you are comfortable with and build from there. The two additional CV workouts are preferably pre-breakfast 10-30 minute efforts. As with the long session, sticking to the low intensity is essential. You’ll find that these workouts are particularly effective at improving economy and shifting stubborn fat.

Cardio Summary/week

Goals of Block: develop base aerobic fitness, economy and your body’s ability to burn fat.


Key Session: 1 x 20 -120min low intensity (60-70% HRMax heart rate) CV effort.

Additional Sessions: 1-2 x 10-40min plus, low intensity (60-70% HRMax) pre-breakfast CV efforts.


It’s all about ‘The Big Six Exercises’ in this block – these exercises will create an excellent base of strength. The ‘Six’ target all your body’s major muscle groups, build functional strength and will increase your metabolic rate, by creating more valuable lean muscle. You’ll be lifting fairly heavy weights, within a range of 6-15 reps per set.

You’ll note the inclusion of the press-up, a body weight move, this is thrown in to add a slightly higher rep count to the workout and will contribute to creating a lean torso and arms – after a couple of weeks of training you could introduce the bench press as an alternate and a greater muscle developer. Training using heavier weights and compound lifts, although predominately favoured by men, is extremely effective and worthwhile for women also.

Women will find that they will gain strength, improve bone health, raise metabolic rate and reduce body fat, become leaner and will not bulk up (see His and Hers page 104, for more reasons why women should weight train). It’s essential, to maintain progression – as you get stronger you must increase the weight you lift.

Having difficulty repping out the last few reps of your sets is good and shows that you’re challenging your body. If you are new to resistance training you will find, primarily because of neurological adaptation (the ‘brain to muscle’ link) that strength gains are satisfyingly fast. Aim to complete the workout 2-3 times per week and allow 48 hours between them – it’s the time when you are not training when your muscles grow stronger.

The first set is the heaviest and has the lowest rep number.For the second and third sets, reduce the weight you lift by 5kgs (for the upper body) and 10kgs (for the lower body) each time. Take 30sec. recovery between exercises and 2-3min between sets. Warm-up with 10min of cardiovascular work rowing is ideal as it uses most muscle groups.

Resistance Summary/week

Goal: to build a base of strength using relatively heavy weights and compound lifts.
Key sessions: 2 x ‘Big Six’ sessions.
Additional sessions: Big Six or Yoga/Pilates class.

The Exercises

Barbell Squat

Targets: thighs and calf muscles

It’s impossible to say how important this lift is to allround strength and complete conditioning – if you were to only ever do one exercise, this would be it. 

*As you’re lifting ‘heavy’ make sure you’re using a proper squat cage and know how to use it (‘Smith machine’).
*Don’t take a sneaky breather by locking your knees out at the top of the movement.
*Go down so your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.

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Targets: chest, shoulders and triceps

A great upper body strengthener

*keep your body braced
*lower to a fist height from the floor
*lower slowly and push back dynamically

Bent Over Row (not shown)

Targets: both upper and outer back, shoulders, bottom and hamstrings

So many people take the easy option of a lat pull down or cable row when an oldfashioned barbell row is far more effective.

*Keep your head up and posture strong.
*Move the bar parallel to your thighs.
*Bring the bar all the way to your lower chest.


Targets: thighs (particularly hamstrings), back and glutes

A massively effective exercise that’s not that commonly used.

*Extend your legs and hips to lift the bar
*don’t round your back to start moving the bar and don’t pull with your arms
*Pull your shoulders back at the top of the movement
*Keep a strong and neutral spine throughout.


Targets: thighs

The last leg movement of the workout and a great specific conditioner for any activity involving running.

*Try to drive back with power
*Don’t slump forwards
*Aim for a ninety-degree bend in both front and rear leg.

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Overhead Press

Targets: shoulders

The most effective shoulder exercise there is and a good additional hit for the triceps too.

*Avoid arching your back.
*Don’t skimp on the depth of the movement. Lower the dumbbells to a position level with your ears
*When pressing, the dumbbells should follow the path of an inverted ‘V’ starting wide and coming together at the top.

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Pollyanna Hale Health and Lifestyle coaches
Lost 13 Kg in Total
Mel, 32y Location: London, United Kingdom Working with Pollyanna changed everything. I lost 13kg, got toned and have more energy than ever! Get same results!


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Lost 45 Kg in Total
Chris, 50y Location: London, United Kingdom Lost 45kg after the age of 50 and now competes and wins physique competitions and runs marathons Check our weight loss plans