It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Bill Phillips is somewhat of a legend in the fitness world.
As author of the best selling fitness book ever (Body For Life), the fitness hall of famer has trained a number of Hollywood heavyweights for movie roles, including Sylvester Stallone for his turn in 90s flick Cliffhanger. Most significantly, Phillips is often considered the godfather when it comes to his role in bringing supplementation and nutrition to the fitness table, working with major American football teams to do so, long before it was industry standard.
Phillips has always enjoyed sports and fitness, training training people to reach their goals. But he had never been out of shape himself, until a few years ago when he suffered a devastating leg injury, rupturing the quadriceps tendons in both legs, after falling down the stairs in his house. After extensive surgery, his legs were put into braces, and he was not allowed to straighten them for weeks. Frustrated and bored, he turned to comfort food, ballooning in weight. When he was finally able to stand and look in the mirror, he was devastated by what he saw.
“I was like my own ‘before’ picture,” he says.
His programme, Back to Fit, was borne of this journey back to peak fitness. Available for free on bodybuilding.com, the routine combines six workouts a week with a nutrition plan.
There are three separate workouts that you do twice each throughout the week – upper body, lower body, and cardio. They are all only 25 minutes long and are based on a technique known as High Intensity Interval Training [HIIT], where you work in short bursts of high exertion, followed by rest periods. You are guided by your own abilities and limits, meaning most people will be able to take part. You do five exercises, followed by a two minute rest. You then repeat this five minute cycle another four times.
Phillips says: “The way 5-25 is designed we reach ‘progressive resistance overload’ (needed for positive muscle adaptations) through fatiguing the muscles more with each set. By your fifth set of 10 reps for each muscle group your muscles will be thoroughly cooked, and that is good!”
Personally my favourite is the cardio – I chose to run, though swimming, cycling or any other form of cardiovascular activity will suffice. You follow a set pattern; two minutes at a perceived effort of 3/10 (walking), two minutes at a perceived effort of 6/10 (jogging) and one minute at a perceived effort of 8/10 (near full-out running). While you could easily do this outside, I like doing it on the treadmill, where it’s easy to keep an eye on the time and also your speed – meaning it’s easy to monitor improvement. I took a rough notes of my km per hour, so I can try and work on these times over the next 11 weeks (out of interest, they were 4.5 km/hr, 8.2 km/hr, and between 12.5 and 15km/hr).
I find HIIT cardio leaves me bouncing off the walls with energy, and this was no exception. I think it’s a brilliant workout – anyone can tailor it to their own level, you can keep it challenging by raising your speed, and it’s obviously very compact time-wise. It’s really good fun, and I actually found myself looking forward to it.
The upper body workout includes barbell incline bench presses, side lateral raises (my personal nemesis), one arm dumbbell rows, barbell curls, and overhead triceps extensions. It’s challenging when you pick heavy enough weights and it’s fairly enjoyable.
The bleakest days for me tend to be lower body. Evil genius Phillips packs in three different types of squats (dumbbell squats, dumbbell sumo squats and narrow stance squats). That’s a massive 130 squats per lower body session. Just try walking down stairs quickly the first time you do them – your thighs and butt will ache like a mother…but as soon as the second time I did it, the DOMS [Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness] was less noticeable ( maybe means…I need to try harder?) Despite that, this workout is really challenging. Repeatedly working your largest leg muscles is almost physically nauseating. Because the time frame is so short though, it’s easy enough to just do.
Overall, week one was good. Energy levels are higher, and most of the workouts are pretty enjoyable – and the ones that aren’t are satisfying. I’m looking forward to moving into week two and measuring my strength and speed as it improves.