Mark Tibbatts, 44, tells Men's Health how he transformed his body and improved his overall health after years of sporadic training and dieting.
I guess you could say I had a mild mid-life crisis. My kids are growing up fast, and I want to be a fit and active parent. As I’ve moved into my mid-40’s I’ve been more and more conscious of my health and the need to find a better balance with work and family commitments to enable me to put more time into my own wellbeing. Prior to COVID, I was traveling a lot for work and it was hard for me to get into a routine—or at least that was my principle excuse. It dawned on me last summer that one of the silver linings of this pandemic was that I wasn’t travelling, and I decided it was now or never. I’d been trying to get in better shape for some time, but struggled to be disciplined and consistent in diet and exercise. My wife knew of a couple of people who were training with Ultimate Performance in Hong Kong and she kept showing me the results. The final straw that motivated me to get in touch was that she showed me one of these transformations after a particularly unhealthy couple of days!
Above all, I want to be a role model for both my son and daughter and to promote an active lifestyle. We’re an active family and they are both involved in lots of sports; my son Harry is particularly passionate about sport in general. He’s only eight and I’ve been pretty involved to date but looking ahead I’m really motivated to stay fit and healthy and set a great example for him as he grows up – and participate myself where possible! I also have two brothers and one of them lives in Hong Kong too. We’re quite competitive, so I also set myself a little side challenge to inspire him to sign up to UP. I think after seeing my results he was driven to try and better me so he did sign up and has had a really impressive transformation with UP in the last few months too.
I had done weight training before, but never with this kind of targeted focus and detailed coaching. When I began the transformation challenge, I was physically fit in a cardio sense, but pretty out of shape; I had 27 percent bodyfat and subpar upper body muscle condition. My core was also quite weak.
The first thing we did was reduce my daily calories to 1,500, with the majority of that being taken up by protein. I also upped my water consumption. I used to intermittent fast and eat quite lean Monday to Friday, but weekends I rarely controlled myself so would eat too many carbs. During the transformation I was extremely disciplined. I weighed out all my portions and put everything into an app (much to the frustration of my family as I was always tapping away on the phone). I had very few cheat days also. I found it tough to eat enough protein, so had a daily whey protein shake and the occasional protein bar also. I also ate a lot more vegetables!
The biggest and most eye opening lesson for me was the impact of carbohydrates on glycogen storage and water retention in particular. In the past I’ve struggled with really fluctuating weight and now I know so much more about how my body works and how to control that. From a work out standpoint and I know a lot more about how to put together workout and target specific muscle groups. I’m still a novice but feel much more confident and productive in the gym now.
I was in the gym just three days a week, but I also did light cardio on the intermittent days, including 5km runs, trail runs, and cycling. Most weeks I took a day off with no exercise but at one point I got in a routine of seven days a week and I felt good for it. I enjoyed a lot of the exercises, although I found squats and deadlifts tough, split squats and pendulum squats especially. However, these exercises have made a massive impact on my core strength and I’ve noticed that my historic lower back weakness has been so much better. No pain no gain!
As a parent with a busy career it’s hard to find the time before or after work every day, and there is huge demand for sessions before 9 a.m., at lunchtime and after 5 p.m. I was lucky to have a supportive family and employer, and be able to shift my working schedule to enable me to go to the gym a couple of times a week at less busy periods during the working day giving me back some time to be present at home as a parent on those days. Of course I still had to get up early or train late a couple of days and on weekends but flexibility at work gave me the balance to sustain it and establish healthy habits.
Over the duration of three and a half months, I lost about 26 pounds, went from 27 percent to 13 percent bodyfat, and increased my muscle mass by about 3 pounds. Aside from the obvious physical results, the biggest associated gain was cognitive function. I found that I was quicker, sharper and more productive at work and definitely had more energy. I also completely stopped snoring, which was popular at home!
I had a few limiting beliefs to begin with about whether I could get below 80kg (176 pounds) and sustain there. I got to 72.5kg (160 pounds) in the end so I’ve absolutely changed those beliefs and I’m really confident I can sustain it. I feel much more in control of my health which also helps when I do want to just relax and enjoy some indulgent food or drinks or rest for a few days. That doesn’t knock me off track as it might have done before.
I think I have a bit further to go, although I would say I have definitely done the hard part. But I still have some goals remaining, and I know I can achieve more.
My advice to anybody who wants to work on their own fitness would be to get a trainer who supports you outside the gym, as well as in it. Time in the gym is important, but the biggest thing for me was having someone there to make me make the healthy choices when I was struggling to motivate myself. Whether it was putting in an extra 3,000 steps to hit my daily goal, choosing the right food to order in a restaurant, going for a run at 10 p.m. after a long day at work or so many other tipping points that got me to my goal. The reason I achieved this was because I had my trainer Dan there keeping me on the straight and narrow outside the gym as much as in it.
Also, look beyond the cost and don’t think of it on a “per gym session” basis! One big concern I had that almost stopped me was the price of personal training. On reflection, when I look at the time Dan put aside for me literally every day in and out of the gym the value is so much more palatable. I couldn’t have done it on my own and I’ve realised that at my age, health is worth every dollar invested.
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