Image Source: Getty / Jeff Spicer
I first discovered Joe Wicks, aka The Body Coach, back in 2015, and it wasn't long before I was embarking on his 90-day plan. But a lot has changed (including my body) since I first delved into a world of spinach omelettes and squats. When Joe and his ever-growing Body Coach team completely overhauled the plan for 2018, I took it as a sign to get back on the wagon.
The first positive sign: the plan is now cheaper. Back in 2015, I paid £150; the plan is now £97. It's been reformatted for mobile devices vs. the chunky printable PDFs from the early days. And there are new workouts, new recipes, live chat, and a brilliant Facebook group to help you on your way.
If you're thinking of giving it a go, here's what you need to know, from someone who's been there.
Let's start with the basics. What is this plan?
The 90-day plan is a food and fitness program designed to reshape your body, helping you to lose fat and build muscle across three specific cycles (with new recipes and exercises for each). It is not a weight-loss plan, and Joe has strong feelings about what he calls "the sad step" (your bathroom scales). If you sign up with the hopes of just losing a lot of weight, you might be disappointed. Across 90 days, I dropped only seven pounds in total, but because of the muscle I built, that equated to three inches off my chest and waist and two inches off my hips. It changed my body. Let's get the before-and-after photos out of the way quickly, shall we?
Image Source: Gemma Cartwright
My results aren't as drastic as some, but they're noticeable, and seeing what can be accomplished in just a few months has inspired me to keep going with the exercise. Now I've graduated, I'm still following the principles of the plan and doing the workouts. I've loosened the reins slightly, but I have no intention of stopping yet, mostly because I love those post-workout endorphins. Oh, and I love fitting into my 2015 jeans again.
How has the plan changed since you last did it?
The principles are the same, but they've been refined and simplified, and it really seems like they listened to feedback. I had a few bugbears with the food last time, like the giant portions of green veg (now "a handful") and the lack of flexibility with meals. The swaps tool, the "create your own" (CYO) options, and the recipe hacks and suggestions from the Facebook group have all helped with that.
My biggest disappointment the first time round was the lack of exclusive workout videos. I liked working out, but I couldn't help thinking they'd missed a trick not having Joe involved more. I'm happy to say that's definitely been sorted now. Joe has filmed five exclusive workouts for each cycle. In a real case of "be careful what you wish for," these workouts are short but brutal (especially if you happen to be doing Cycle 3 during a heatwave). However, the feeling of accomplishment when you finally smash one is worth it. Most of the moves can be modified, and you shouldn't be afraid to do that. I was not fit when I began, and even at the end I couldn't do a full press-up or a decent chest-to-floor burpee.
How customised is it to each person?
Everyone gets the same plan, the same recipes, the same workouts. What's customised are the measurements in recipes, your daily water intake, and so on. These are tailored to your own body composition and the answers you give to questions before and between cycles. If you have a food allergy or intolerance, you're likely to get recommended swaps, not different recipes. But with CYO ("create your own"), there is flexibility to create things you enjoy. Oh, and in Cycle 2, there's pizza!
Image Source: Gemma Cartwright
A few of the meals I was able to eat on the plan: beef nachos, breakfast pizza, almond pancakes, and BBQ meatballs.
What's not allowed on the plan?
Technically, loads of stuff: sweets, booze, skipping meals, going more than a couple of days without exercising, eating loads of carbs when you're not being active. But as people will continue to tell you throughout, "this is a lifestyle change, not a diet." With all the will in the world, over 90 days, you will probably slip up a bit, and one beer or bar of chocolate won't undo the rest of the hard work. I like that Joe doesn't take an all-or-nothing approach; he's a realist about these slip-ups. However, you do need to recognise that this plan puts you in a very small calorie deficit. One slice of cake at a birthday party? Fine. Write it off and smash a workout. A glass of wine every night? That's a lot of calories over 90 days, and it's going to affect your overall results.
What do I really need to know before I pay almost £100 for this?
My main advice hasn't changed since I first did the plan: don't sign up if you're a mega-fussy eater or if you're not prepared or able to cook. Don't sign up if you have an injury or anything that stops you from working out. Don't sign up if you just want to lose weight quickly and if you are going to be a slave to the scales. This isn't about numbers, even if some of the before-and-after photos look really impressive.
This plan takes commitment and time (25-35 minutes to work out five times a week, plus preparing three meals and two snacks per day). If you cook for someone other than yourself, you need to get them on board. You have to be willing to give up (or, at least, hugely limit) your consumption of alcohol. You'll need to drink a lot of water and wave goodbye to most other drinks.
Be honest, how much did you actually stick to the plan?
I didn't miss a single workout, and I tracked every meal, every snack, and every drink. Here are my food results cycle by cycle:
Cycle 1: 92 percent
Cycle 2: 90 percent
Cycle 3: 85 percent
I added two days onto Cycle 3 to offset a couple of days away when I was eating out. Since graduating, I've lost a further pound, but my measurements are still the same.
Image Source: Gemma Cartwright
Are the results easy to maintain?
Let's get real. If you've read my 2015 review as well as this one, you'll have spotted one very obvious thing: I didn't maintain the results I got back then. In fact, going back to Joe this time around, I started the plan one stone heavier. You can't do the plan for 90 days, then go back to how you were before, and expect your body to just stay how it is, and I'm living proof of that. I didn't keep up the things I'd learned, the gym quickly slipped off my to-do list, and . . . well, I could give you excuses all day long. The long and short of it is this: if you want results, you're going to have to put in the work. Not just for 90 days, but for life. This plan gets you started, but it's not a quick fix.
Come on, is it just another diet, really?
There's a lot of derision about the likes of Slimming World and Weight Watchers from some Body Coach fans and claims that this plan kicks those in the arse. But to be honest, how I ate on this plan when using the CYO principals is not that different to Weight Watchers' latest iteration, Flex (known as Freestyle in some markets). "Real" foods are encouraged above convenience and processed foods. Vegetables are "free" foods you can use to bulk out a meal so you get plenty of nutrients and don't feel hungry. Lean meats, eggs, and fish provide the majority of your daily protein. Carbs are worked into meals in small quantities, unless you exercise and then you get more. The only major difference with this plan is that you consume more fats and more overall protein, which means a higher calorie intake overall. But there's still a deficit. The big difference is not the food, it's the exercise. On most of those plans, while exercise is encouraged, it's not the focus of the whole thing in the way it is with The Body Coach. You can't half-arse the workouts on this plan. They are the root of your success.
Would you recommend the plan?
Overall, yes, but it depends what you want out of it. I see it as a way to kick-start a fitness plan and get in the zone, shaping your body and losing a few pounds along the way. I wouldn't recommend it for quick and dramatic weight loss. I wouldn't recommend if it you're tight on time. And I definitely wouldn't recommend it if you hate exercise and have no plans to continue after the 90 days are up. I would also warn anyone following it that the "customised" aspect is limited, and some people feel like the cost is high given what you get. But it works out at about £1 a day, and to be honest, I saved that money not buying my usual lunchtime Diet Coke!
OK, I'm sold. What do I need to sign up?
Aside from your membership, there are a few other bits and pieces you'll need to begin your journey; I've rounded up my suggested buys here. Everything will be useful once you've finished the plan, so if you can afford to buy quality, do it. I learned the hard way that a cheap exercise mat isn't going to last through all those lunges, squats, and mountain climbers!