Before we get into the program review, a bit about my fitness and nutrition – As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gained weight and can’t seem to lose it very easily just by decreasing calories. Over the years I had done low calorie, low carb, binge eating, didn’t exercise, felt tired and got low blood sugar regularly. My nutrition was lacking; I ate healthy balanced meals at supper as I cook for my family, but throughout the day I’d eat junk food, high fat and high carb foods or not eat much at all. I weighed myself for the first time in a long time and was shocked to realize that I had become 192 lbs (at 5 feet 9 inches), the most I’ve ever weighed.
Over the years I have bought many home workout DVDs, tried them for a couple weeks, then quit. I hate cardio; it’s boring. But I’d get really motivated, in my head at least, and tell myself I’d finish a program, I’d lose weight – all to give up after a couple weeks. It’s pretty emotionally exhausting to go back and forth like that and it takes a toll on self confidence. I was feeling like I was failing, but hadn’t really done anything yet. As I was browsing online for yet another home workout program to try, I came across the programs developed by James Wilson (certified personal trainer) at Aesthetic Training Solutions. I purchased the home-based weight loss program, Body Earned, and tried it for a couple weeks, then after discussing my goals (hopefully eventually taking part in a figure competition; body type and mental strength allowing) with James, bought the muscle building gym-based program 1-2-3 Grow. This is a program for males and females at any stage of fitness. The first 3 weeks are full body circuit style workouts to get the body used to working out and lifting. The next 9 weeks are body part specific, still in the circuit style. With this program, you want to set the resistance (weight you are lifting) so that by the last rep, it should be impossible to do another. For the cost of the program, you get the workout, invitation to a private Facebook group, files on macro and calorie calculations and recommended food lists and personalized nutrition help provided by James for as long as is needed. You can do many rounds of this program, and people have done 5 or 6 rounds while getting personalized macros every week for the one-time cost of the program.
While there are recommended foods, the program uses an 80/20 approach where 80% of the food will be from wholesome and nutritious sources and 20% from more refined sources. This way we don’t feel limited, and with the high amount of carbs needed to build muscle, more refined carbs are needed, otherwise the body can get too much fiber, leading to digestive and absorption issues.
I joined the private Facebook group for the Grow program. This group is where you can post successes, weaknesses, strengths, goals, questions and anything fitness, nutrition and/or program-related. Members offer encouragement and there’s such a sense of community and support from the 1000s of members, a feature that might be lacking in other programs. James and his wife do the workouts, answer questions and post comments as well. The program is emailed to you and all exercises are linked to a YouTube video so you know how to perform each exercise, and I took advantage of the personalized nutrition help (as I was reverse dieting) for the one-time cost of the program.
Having not been in a gym since essentially since my early 20s and never having lifted any substantial weight, I went to the gym with a lot of trepidation to do my first few Grow workouts. The YouTube videos were very helpful and I had to check how to perform the exercises for almost every one for a few weeks. It took me until about week 5 or 6 to know the names of the exercises and remember how to do them, therefore cutting down on my time in the gym. It was taking me about 90 minutes to complete the warm-up, workout and cool-down. Midway through the program it was taking me 45 to 60 minutes. Around week 8 I was surprised to notice that I was looking forward to going to the gym to lift especially after a stressful day. I have never looked forward to exercising and previous to the gym I would eat junk when I was stressed. Grow is the first program I have ever completed. It took me about 14 weeks to complete the 12 weeks of the program and 16 weeks to be fully reversed, which is getting to my maximum amount of carbs reverse dieting (slowly increasing carbs week after week).
Nutrition/Reverse Dieting: Briefly, reverse dieting is for those people who have been eating too little calories/carbohydrates over a longer period of time or those who have stopped seeing results with decreased calories and/or increased cardiovascular exercise. Reverse dieting (used in conjunction with muscle building) is a weekly increase in the number of carbohydrates eaten getting to your maximum carbohydrate grams, then holding at the maximum for a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks. During these weekly increases, there should be no weight gain above about 2 pounds (allowing for normal fluctuations). If there is weight gain above this, there is no increase in carbs for that week. After holding at the maximum carbs for 6 to 8 weeks, a decrease in carbohydrates and/or increase in cardio is made, thus resulting in weight loss. James has a good in-depth video on YouTube explaining reverse dieting and the body’s adaptability.
With my before weight, average carbohydrates and calories, my starting reverse macros were calculated at 170 g carbohydrates, 125 g protein and 57 g fat (about 1600 calories). I divided this into three meals and two snacks a day, meal prepping weekly using MyFitnessPal. At the start, for a few weeks, I was so hungry especially on leg day.
My macros at the end of the reverse (which took me about 16 weeks; I had to hold my carbs a couple weeks for weight gain) were calculated at 400 g carbs, 135 g protein and 80 g fat (about 2700 calories). Towards the end if I missed a meal or woke up late, still having to fit my macros in, I was so full and some days ended up eating cake just to get those carbs and fats in for the day.
I went from 1600 calories to 2700 calories in 16 weeks and lost 16-1/2 pounds. Weight loss is not typical while reverse dieting, but weight should at least stay the same throughout the process. Having never heard of reverse dieting before this program, I was amazed the body is able to adapt like that.
Onto the results:
Week 1 Week 12
Weight 192 lbs 175.5 lbs
Chest (bra line) 38.5 inches 34.5 inches
Waist (1 inch above belly button) 39 inches 36.5 inches
Across belly button 44 inches 39.5 inches
Hips 45 inches 42.5 inches
Thighs 26 inches 25 inches
Some of the gains I’ve made in my strength:
Week 1 Week 12
Leg press 50 lbs 150 lbs
Dead lift 50 lbs 120 lbs
Barbell bench press 30 lbs 65 lbs
Pullups assist of 150 lbs assist of 110 lbs
Plank 20 seconds 2 minutes
Tricep extension 17.5 32.5 lbs
Before (left) after (right)
When I was finished the program and reflecting on how I felt and looked, I was happy to say that I actually completed a workout program. I enjoyed lifting and felt stronger. I got less out of breath when going up stairs. I’m very happy with the before and after photos. I think without taking photos it’s hard to tell the difference made by all the hard work put in and looking in the mirror I didn’t think my body had changed much. My body measurements and strength gains are great for the 14 weeks or so that I worked out for. Unfortunately, I still look about 5 months pregnant. That’ll eventually disappear as I continue to work out. I can’t see any visible muscle as I still have fat, but I can feel good size quads and triceps. I found that I pushed myself harder on my upper body days than on leg day. I didn’t make much gain in my squat strength; these are probably my worst exercise. I was halfway through the program when I realized my form was incorrect and had to take a few weeks to learn the proper form and get my strength back up. I got a lot of anxiety when it comes time for leg day. Leg day is very difficult and takes a lot of mental strength as well to push through the workout. Weightlifting really is a mental game, as your brain is going to tell your body to stop before you actually physically need to. I found I had to encourage myself in my head to keep going especially on squats and walking lunges. As with any exercise regimen, you get out of it what you put in.
Update: I completed this program about a year ago, and did parts of my second round here and there. The longer I was away from the gym, the easier it became to just not go. So, I’ve gained my weight back and will need to start at the beginning unfortunately.
If you’re looking for a new fitness program, I’d recommend looking at James’ Facebook page at James Wilson- Faith, Family and Fitness and reading through his posts and the comments to get a sense of his fitness philosophy and ask any questions you may have.
Thanks for reading.