All the Gear but No Idea!

Metcon 3s, lifting gloves and an Under Armour hoodie.

Ray has probably been dreaming of buying me this Xmas present combo for the past 8 years. Luckily for him he has never dared do it…. until now…

Yes, my New Year’s resolution is to stop eating all the leftover chocolates, don my new fitness gear and take part in the first Transformation Programme of 2018!

Now, you might think that because I’m married to a CrossFit-obsessed fitness fanatic who owns his own gym and watches videos of complete strangers lifting weights in his spare time (???) that I’m similarly athletic. Well, you’d be wrong.

In the past I’ve gone through phases of running (boring – I run out of things to think about) and I’ve tried CrossFit (due to my ‘strength issues’ Ray made me use a PVC pipe instead of a bar, pretty embarrassing!) but I’ve never had the grit and determination to stick to a fitness programme for longer than a few weeks.

Added to that, I’ve spent the last 6 years either pregnant or breastfeeding so my fitness level is absolutely zero, and the heaviest thing I’ve lifted is my double Bugaboo Donkey.

So there’s my starting point. A total weed with zero stamina.

Before January last year I would never have dreamt of going into Ray’s gym in this state – the regular members were mostly advance-level athletes and I would have felt far too intimidated to join the normal classes.

But that was before the Transformation Programme.

In Jan 2017 Ray put together a group of absolute beginners and coached them through a high-intensity, progressive programme which gradually built their strength, fitness, skill and, most of all, confidence. And the results were absolutely incredible! Something about the group dynamic and the structure of the programme just worked, and those previously fitness-phobic people were able to achieve things they never thought possible.

And so the Transformation Programme was born.

In the end over 100 people completed the Transformation Programme in 2017, but they didn’t just complete it – they got fit, they got strong, they lost weight and they made lasting friendships. So if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.

I’m excited and nervous about starting the course, but I know it’s my best chance of getting fit and losing the baby weight so I’m going to give it my best shot.

To make sure my motivation doesn’t waiver half-way through I’m going to post photos and blogs as I go along. Please follow me and offer (kind) words of encouragement! I’m hoping some of my fellow Transformers will do the same so that we can all share our journeys and stay on-track.

The programme starts on 22nd January – less than two weeks – so watch this space!

by Nicole Pharoah

The results keep coming!

Scott was a last-minute replacement for someone who dropped out just a week before the start of Transformation Group 3. Well done Scott for stepping up and thank goodness we managed to squeeze you in! You’ve had an amazing transformation and were a pleasure to work with.

Here’s Scott’s story:

Weight lost: a huge 1st 2lbs!

Inches lost: Waist – 2 inches; Hips – 3 inches; Chest – 4 inches.

Before the Transformation course I led a very inactive lifestyle, and my diet was poor to say the least. My job involves me sitting in front of a laptop for hours on end as well as spending a lot of time travelling between airports, hotels and conferences.

I knew this type of lifestyle was bad for me and I wanted to change, but previous efforts to join the gym always fizzled out after a few weeks. I had no real training plan and just couldn’t muster up the motivation to go and train on my own. This meant I invariably ended up paying for a gym membership that I never used.

I heard about the Transformation course from a friend who joined Southern Legion as a member last year. I’d been amazed at the transformation in her health and fitness levels since she started training with Ray so I spoke to her to understand a bit more about it and what’s involved. She was so enthusiastic that I decided to give the Transformation course a go with the goal of losing some weight and also getting fitter and stronger.

I started the course on 8th May and now, six weeks later, my lifestyle has completely changed! I’ve gained so much: I feel a million times better mentally and I wake up feeling fresh and ready for the day, not tired and sluggish like I used to.

I’m now active on a daily basis and the changes in my physical appearance are unbelievable. You can see from the pictures that I’ve cut a lot of body fat and am much trimmer. Ray’s nutrition plan has taught me a lot about how to eat and my diet is now completely different.  Tracking my daily progress through the My Fitness Pal app has really helped and I feel like I can easily maintain this diet.

But by far the part I’ve enjoyed the most about this programme is becoming part of the T3 team. The 12 people on this course, along with Ray, completely made it for me. Each and every one of us supported each other throughout the whole thing, helping each other get through the really tough sessions when we wanted to give up. I personally have made some great friends from the course.

That’s the no.1 reason why I’ve succeeded at this programme and actually achieved my goals: it’s nothing like a normal gym membership. It’s a team environment and you build such a strong bond, sharing things and talking over group chat when you’re not training. You look forward to seeing the team at training and you don’t want to let each other down, which is what makes you push on even when you could easily give up.

The majority of my group have now signed up to the Transition course so that’s another 6 weeks team training before we join the gym. For me it’s part of my weekly routine now and I can’t wait to keep training with Ray and the team and see how much further I can improve my strength and fitness.

Thank you Ray and everyone at Southern Legion!


Craig’s Transformation: 11 lbs lost and a new lease of life gained

It’s always a bonus when someone like Craig joins a Transformation group. He instantly puts everyone at their ease, chatting away to anyone about anything, and just generally filling the room with laughs and banter. But beneath Craig’s light-hearted exterior was a steely determined that this programme was going to change him once and for all.

After breaking his leg and using it as an excuse to stop exercising or going out, Craig got himself into a miserable rut of just coming home from work and sitting in front of the TV with a beer. Every night. He knew it couldn’t go on any longer so when one of our members suggested he join the course, he saw a glimmer of hope that something could finally work to dig him out of his old routine.

But who better to tell his story than Craig himself?!

“Where do I start? I could write a book on how the Transformation Course has changed my life.

Most important – it has given me my life back!

I used breaking my leg as an excuse to drink, not wanting to go out with the wife, just coming home from work and sitting in front of the TV with a beer or cider every night.

When Paul suggested doing the course (and told me how much it was!) I was a bit like ‘yeah yeah I’ll do it’, but deep down I was thinking ‘piss off, are you mad?’! But Paul is very persuasive, and once I’d handed over the money I was determined to get the most out of it and give it 100% effort.

6 weeks later and the course has changed me so much that I miss it when I’m not training! I’ve gone from a couch potato to a fitness fanatic in less than two months!

I’ve got my life back, me and the wife are out as much as we can and I actually enjoy it, and I’ve cut out a lot of my drinking. This is a big part of it for me, not only have I lost weight but my blood pressure is now normal, which is a massive relief.

Being part of the Southern Legion is like family to me, and I love all of my team and the other members I’ve met. I also want to say thanks to Ray, honestly that man is a legend. He is an inspiration to me and I’ve got massive respect for him and his dedication to us all”.


Craig is just about to embark on Part 2 of his transformation when he starts the Transition course tonight. Watch this space to see how Craig gets on learning the lifts and gymnastics skills over the next 6 weeks!

So… have our second Transformation Group lived up to expectations??

Group 1 set the bar extremely high (pun intended!)

There’s no getting around it, our first Transformation Group was an unexpectedly  phenomenal success. From a standing start (some of them had NEVER been to a gym before), Group 1 smashed all their weight, strength and fitness targets, transformed from nervous beginners to confident Legionaries and formed an unbelievably strong bond. So it was with a tiny bit of trepidation that we embarked on the second round. Could the buzz and success of Group 1 possibly be replicated??

Well the answer is a resounding, unflinching and unquestionable YES! We’re now 3 weeks into Transformation 2 and this group have not only met, but totally exceeded our expectations. Their dedication and effort level has been second-to-none and the group bond is already solid (with a Messenger group pinging day and night to prove it!).

Smashing out 100kg back squats in week 3!

On Monday this week I gave them their first technical challenge – the back squat. They listened to my coaching and we drilled the movement, and at the end the group produced some of the best back squats I’ve ever seen from beginners. Most of them squatted 80kg which is amazing in itself, but some even pushed through to 90kg and 100kg. In week 3! I can’t tell you how excited this makes me for the next few weeks and into the next phase…. We’ve got some great athletes in this group who will fit into the classes in no time.

Next week we’ll be building on the their strength, adding to their squat, and ramping up the conditioning element. Sorry guys, but there will be more of the assault bike that you had the dubious pleasure of meeting last night!

Group 2 has had an incredible start and things are only going to get better from here. Well done guys – keep up the good work!

I’ve found a way of life that I can love again

Having been in the Military since the age of 19, training has been always been a part of my everyday life. But when I left 6 years ago I joined a civvy gym and really struggled to stay motivated… one talked to one another and I felt like I was just going through the motions.

We all went in, did our class, then walked back out without saying a word: there was no camaraderie, and very little support. I tried various classes at different gyms but I sort of lost my way after that. I then fell pregnant with our second baby so I found that an excuse to stop training.

Struggling to find motivation

After the birth of our daughter in 2014, I struggled with my weight and really struggled to find my love for training again. My weight slowly crept up while my body confidence and self-esteem went down. I found it easier to stay away from the gym and as a result harder to do something about it. My husband had started at Southern Legion the year before and he kept saying to me that I would love it and I should give it a go. He would tell me what WODs they’d done that day and I could see the positive effect it had on his fitness, but I thought it sounded too difficult for me to even try it and I was too shy to take that first step.

Something inside me was awoken – I loved training again!

Eventually, 8 weeks after our daughter was born, I gave in and went down for my first session. I felt so nervous and thought that I would never fit in with this group of such fit and strong individuals…….but I couldn’t have been more wrong! As soon as I walked in there the coaches introduced themselves and made me feel at ease. That first session was so hard and I thought so many times about stopping, but the cheering and encouragement from the others there made it so much easier. There and then it woke something inside me, I actually wanted to do this again!

The fittest and Strongest I’ve ever been

I started off a complete novice, not having a clue how to do the movements and very unfit but with the help of the coaches, the camaraderie and the support network at Southern Legion I was able to re-discover my love for training. Not only has my self-esteem grown, but I am the fittest and strongest I have ever been as I have now found a way of life that I can love again……and that’s what it is for me, a way of life, not just a gym. I’ve been going to Southern Legion for 3 years now and I can honestly say I love it just as much then as I do now, if not more!

It’s only week 2 but love is already in the air….

It’s been a whirlwind romance…. none of them expected it…. but in just two short weeks they have fallen in love!

endorphins are flowing

Yes that’s right, our 10 transformation trainees have got the bug and cannot get enough of training! Like any new relationship there’s been ups and downs: Tabata night was make-or-break, with all of them being pushed to the limit; and none of them have been able to lift a cup of tea to their lips since Wednesday Wall Balls. But the unbeatable buzz and rush of endorphins they get at the end of each session has got them hooked and our trainees are already thinking about what to do once this 6 weeks is over – they don’t want it to end!

coaching + community = success

One of the main reasons why people stick to their training and get results at Southern Legion is because of our community: It’s not an exaggeration to say we’re a family. Our chosen 10 have had an intensive version of this, training together 3 times a week for the past two weeks, and it’s pushed them and motivated them to keep going and keep doing their best. Despite everything you hear in the news, humans are nice and people love being around other people who like the same things they do and share their goals. The way our 10 trainees have bonded through being part of this shared experience is amazing to see, and is what will make them succeed over the next 4 weeks, especially as the training gets harder and more intense..

Finally Finding My ‘Why’

For a long time people have asked me “What’s the point in keeping so fit?” and “What exactly are you training for?” I’ve always struggled to answer this, and most of the time I would just shrug my shoulders and smile, until now…

Being unhappy wasn’t good enough

I haven’t always trained hard. In fact, as a teenager I became very lazy, moved very little, ate too much bad stuff and gained a lot of weight. My self-esteem hit an all time low and my motivation sunk even deeper. It took a while for me to dig out some self-awareness but I finally realised I was unhappy and that really wasn’t good enough. So I began a patient process of finding fitness. My weapon of choice was my legs and I started to run. I trained for years, mostly on my own, fanatically running three or four 10km a week. I got fitter, faster and slimmer. I even rehabilitated myself back into running after an accident promised I could never do it again, but what for?

discovering southern legion

Running served its purpose but it was missing something. This is when I discovered Southern Legion in 2015. Most of my own training was programmed and completed by myself. All of a sudden I had found the most unlikely mix of people training at the same place and at the same time. Every one of them wanting to be there, train together and get sweaty. I remember being in a ball on the floor on my first session; desperately trying to catch my breath while the rest of the class cheered me on to finish the workout. I had a beaming smile on my face. I was having fun. I’ve come a long way since then: entered strong man events, completed advanced competitions, run muddy obstacle races, taken part in endurance running and even attaining my own PT qualifications. Despite all of this, the best part of my day is waking up every morning and going to class. And I know exactly why that is, training is fun and training makes me happy.

The happiness habit

It doesn’t matter who you are, what your motivation might be or what goal you might want to achieve, being active in a supportive environment like Southern Legion will make you feel good. Working in psychological therapy I am continually advocating to others the benefits of getting sweaty. I am human just like the rest of us, but I can honestly say that training these days rarely feels like a chore. Training is now a habit to me, a happy habit. Today, when people ask me “What’s the point in keeping so fit?” I say because it feels good, and “What exactly are you training for?” I say to be happy.

Deciding to Change is the Most Important Step

With coach Ray introducing Burpees into the first week of training for the transformation group, it got me thinking….. the physical demands of adherence to exercise are experienced by all, beginner or elite athlete alike, and it reminded me of a time when I just couldn’t make myself exercise! (more about that later)

So how much notice do we pay to the psychological demands of beginning and sticking to an exercise programme?

Developing Psychological RESILIENCE

The decision to change our behaviour is easy to make, however, the psychological resilience to make these changes stick is another matter. We all consciously or subconsciously re-evaluate our behaviours to meet with social norms and follow ‘fad’ diets or magic exercise programmes.

The transtheoretical model (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983) has been used to study the psychological processes for any changes we make to our normal behaviour. It has been successfully used to support smoking cessation, healthy eating and exercise adherence. Every time we make the decision to exercise, make the healthy choice at dinner or not have that first cigarette of the day, we are utilising our psychological resilience and ability to make informed decisions.
The model shows that we move through several stages. Pre-comtemplaters are those who are not ready to make the decision to change within the next six months, even though the pros and cons of the change in behaviour have been presented to them. Contemplators can be defined as those who know that the pros far outweigh any cons to a change in behaviour and will usually plan to make these changes within the next 6 months. Those in the preparation phase are considering taking immediate action and changing their behaviours with immediate effect.

entering the ‘action’ stage

Potentially the hardest step is to make the change. Given all the evidence for and against, following through with this decision can become the most psychologically challenging step. For the ten who have completed their first week at Southern Legion I’m glad to say that they have entered the action stage. The decision has been made and the action of following through with this change in behaviour has begun. Maintenance can only be achieved once the desired behaviours have been sustained beyond a 6-month period.

However, it doesn’t end there. Re-evaluation is required constantly: when injury occurs, work demands or stress in other areas of our lives strike, we need to build our psychological resilience to ensure our planned changes in behaviour are maintained. Sometimes we may find ourselves transferring from ‘Action’ to ‘Maintenance’ almost interchangeably, it’s important to understand that this is a natural process.

For anyone that knows me, I’m currently in a maintenance phase but this has not always been the case. In the past, work stresses have caused me to fluctuate between preparation, action and maintenance. For a significant period of time making the decision seemed second nature, I’d make the decision nearly every week. ‘I’ll start tomorrow’, ‘I’ll start Monday’. However the physical act seemed so much harder.

Set small, achievable goals

It wasn’t until I physically wrote down (or was made to by an exasperated fiancée) the pros and cons of a change in behaviour that I fully committed. I set myself some achievable goals and made the psychological effort to start small. I started with 3 gym visits per week. I didn’t measure what I did; it was the act of making myself go that mattered initially. I didn’t measure how far or fast I ran or how much weight I lifted, the goal was to attend and be active 3 times per week. Once I knew I could sustain this, I begun to measure what I was doing in each session, again setting some realistic targets.

The hardest part of all though, was that I’m a qualified fitness professional: I’ve got a degree in Sport Science and I was teaching young fitness trainees how to help someone change their behaviour. But I  couldn’t seem to do it myself! This conflict made the psychological challenge even harder for me, but ultimately made it all the more important for me to follow through and make the change. I knew the benefits, I’d evaluated the benefits, I’d analysed the benefits, and now I needed to do it.

For those who are thinking about or have recently made the decision to become more active, challenges will arise, but remember the pros will continue to reveal themselves and the cons will continue to diminish in value.

Good luck to all those in the transformation group and to all fellow Legionaries.

Paul Stannard – Programme Manager: Sport, Public Services, Science and Maths at Fareham College
AKA Bridges
AKA Southern Legion Member, general annoyance, chief ‘overtrainer’ and now husband to formerly exasperated fiancée