As promised, here’s my review of the first 4 weeks of using the Body Coach App. It will come as no surprise to those of you who know me that when Kath decided she was going to do the Body Coach 90 Day Plan last year I was sceptical. It all sounded too much like diet to me. However, we were already cooking quite a lot of the recipes from Joe Wicks’ books and as Covid-19 meant the gym and sessions with RunRight weren’t an option, having a structured set of exercises to do at home did make some sense. I was in no state to join the 90 Day plan at that point but I very much enjoyed the food and had a go at one or two of the sessions towards the end of the year.
The more I looked at the meal plan and the more I looked at the exercise stuff, the more I thought that actually maybe the structure it provided would be quite useful, the workouts would push me and make me do some of the strength work that would help with running. Once I got back to running it would also provide a way I could do stuff at home if I had run out of brave to make it outside. So just as I decided that the 90 Day plan might work, the app was launched. I wasn’t sure about an app. It somehow in my mind made it sound even more diet like. But then maybe that’s just because my brain went straight from ‘app’ to ‘tracking’ or ‘counting’. After a bit more research I decided that I did want to give it a go. So both of us signed up to the app at the end of December.
Here’s how it works
You sign up and chose your level – Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced. You start with cycle one. Each cycle lasts 4 weeks. At the start of your cycle you add your starting stats which include weight, hip, chest and waist as well as arm and leg measurements and if you want to, photos. Then you ignore all of those things for the entire cycle until it is time to check in again 4 weeks later. The check in triggers the move to the next cycle. As I understand it there are 3 beginner cycles and then you move up to intermediate where there are also 3 cycles, then to advanced where it seems cycles will be unlimited. Workouts and recipes then move into your library so you can get back to them if you want to. The recipes will adjust automatically so the quantities are always tailored to you. I like the fact that the workouts stay there. While I want to push myself, I also know that on some days my head won’t play ball but when that happens it might still be persuaded to have a go at one of the easier and familiar workouts.
In cycle one we got recipes for 27 different refuel meals, 33 general meals and 12 snacks. Each of those recipes has the amounts tailored to us individually using our basal metabolic rate. I have absolutely no idea how accurate this is at all. And I don’t care. The cycle also provides 5 Cycle 1 workouts. They are pre-recorded and easily accessed from the app. The idea is that you do 5 workouts per week and have a refuel meal after each of those workouts. All other meals should come from the general plan and you should also eat 2 snacks each day. In addition the app recommends the amount of water you should drink. Right, there are a lot of shoulds in there. I am not good with should, at least not without understanding things a bit more. But it does all make sense. Hydration is important so I’m good with the drink lots of water (I’ll come back to specifics in a minute). Giving your body what it needs after a workout also makes a lot of sense – so eating a meal which is higher in carbs within a short-isn window after a workout seems sensible as it replenishes the body and aids recovery. Not eating loads of stuff we don’t need and which isn’t good for us obviously also makes sense – as does the idea that sometimes we all need a treat and that what we fancy as a treat might vary so chocolate can be part of a snack and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of popcorn!
I started the app a day before Kath although I will do my check in on the same day as her so we are back in line, so I did workout 1 twice. On the 90 day plan I found the cycle 1 workouts challenging when I tried them. I really noticed that the Beginner Cycle 1 workouts on the app are much more beginner level than on the 90 Day Plan. I like this. My critique of the Plan would have been that the cycle one workouts were not beginner enough. The app is gentle and gentle is good. It builds confidence. In the first week we simply did workouts 1-5 in order and I liked them. I could do them mostly and occasionally I could even do the next step up. So instead of marching on the spot I could jog, I could do an elbow plank without having to go from my knees and I can do star jumps rather than stepping out. So I am impressed with the beginner workout and I am also impressed with the way Joe Wicks presents the exercise to beginners. He takes care to demonstrate good form and to remind us as we go through and he makes absolutely clear that it is ok to pause the workout if you need a longer rest or to miss out an exercise or substitute it for something you can have a go at or to just do what you can and have a longer rest. Having lost all confidence with exercise, this was all really good for me. I never actually paused or took additional rest but it was good to know I could.
Our second week then coincided with the start of the January bootcamp on the app. This was/is a series of live workouts 5 times a week at either 7am or 7pm and they were obviously aimed at everyone using the app at whatever level. We did the first one live simply because it was about the time we were going to do a session anyway. The live workouts save to an ‘on demand’ section though so can be done at any time. I was anxious about having a go but actually have enjoyed all of the ones I have done so far. They work well when Kath and I do our workouts together because Joe gives different options for different levels of intensity. I have done 11 of the bootcamps and they have allowed me to push a little harder than the Cycle 1 workouts and have probably given me confidence to try things I didn’t think I could do. On a few occasions I went back to workouts 4 and 5 of Cycle 1. The first time because I wanted to wait for Kath to do the next bootcamp, the second because I was thinking about perhaps going for a little run and wanted something comparatively easy and the third because I had been for a run earlier in the day and it was late and what I really wanted to do was go to bed. On the first occasion I really noticed how much easier the workout was compared to the bootcamps and that to push myself to the same extent I needed to step it up. It was a nice feeling. The second time was this week on Thursday when I had a crappy weird day and couldn’t be bothered with the world. I was too scared to go out and thought that maybe a workout would help me snap out of it and I could go for a little run and get some air after. Well I was just dead. Some days you just don’t have it but I managed to finish the workout and I did feel better for it. Friday was really the first time I nearly didn’t do my workout. I wanted to go to bed really but instead I had a go at workout 4 and while I didn’t enjoy it much, I did enjoy having done it. This morning I did workout 5 of the first cycle and Kath did it with me after having done a bootcamp workout already (mad woman). It felt fitting to finish cycle 1 with a cycle 1 sessions. So in terms of workouts, I have really just done what the app told me to do. That’s not likely to last is it!?!
The food wasn’t really new to me. Kath did the 90 Day Plan and we have several Joe Wicks books. We also know at least a little bit about nutrition and from our running etc have a pretty good idea about what our bodies need in terms of fuel. I think it is also important to remember that this isn’t meant to be a diet. So no, I didn’t stick to the food plan all the time. All meals over the last 4 weeks came from Joe Wicks but no all of them came from the app. When using the books we adjusted the quantities to be more in line with the quantities in the app recipes and when using recipes from the 90 Day Plan we used Kath’s quantities from that plan which are very slightly lower than mine. The biggest deviation from the app was probably that we realised quickly that Kath in particular struggled on one refuel meal and was tired, hungry and a bit flakey. So on some days we had 2 refuel meals and one general. We did try, and mostly succeeded, to have a refuel meal after a workout but sometimes things changed and we didn’t do the session when we had originally planned. Yesterday we were meant to have some home made fish and chips but our heads just weren’t in it so instead of sorting breadcrumbs and coating the fish and faffing, we had fish fingers from the freezer. Yep, that’s right, it has to fit in with life or it’s just another diet to make us miserable. We also had quite a lot of chocolate and biscuits left from Christmas which we enjoyed without the slightest hint of guilt and Kath made a delicious fruit cake which we enjoyed with cheese from our monthly cheese subscription. I am really happy with the food. It’s all lovely, none of it is difficult to make, we haven’t had any major cooking disasters and I love the idea of peanut butter and apple as a snack. Of course I could do much more to ‘be good’ but I don’t really want to be good. I want to enjoy yummy food that fuels my body well and provides the energy to do the things I want to do and I want to enjoy a biscuit or three.
According to the plan I am supposed to drink 3.5litres of water. Hahahahahaha. Yes well. I might as well just sit on the loo, stay there and pour water in the top. I started using Garmin to track hydration as that seemed the only way I was actually going to manage to keep an overview of how much water I am actually drinking. I have been tracking for 15 days and have drunk 3.5 litres on 6 of those days. I am consistently reaching at least 2.5l sthough which, I am fairly sure, is more than I was drinking before.
The Facebook group
The Body Coach website and app are clear about what it is, the app also gives loads of useful information. It’s all there, it’s all pretty clear. The key message is always, it seems to me anyway, that the app is about helping people become healthier and fitter. It’s basically a training and food plan for those of us who are too lazy to figure one out for ourselves. The focus is most definitely not on weight loss. It’s not a diet. If I thought it was I wouldn’t be doing it. That is not, however, what the Facebook group feels like. I joined the Body Coach app official group on Facebook because I sort of presumed that it would be a very supportive and positive space to share thoughts and ideas. I was quite shocked. There are clearly lots of people who do find it supportive and inspiring but mostly I was really taken aback by how much focus is on weight. I was disappointed to see how many in the group seem to measure their moral worth by the number on the scales and how many are really disappointed when the scales don’t move even when they admit that they feel better and stronger. I was surprised at people apologising for going ‘off plan’ or ‘falling off the wagon’. I was concerned about questions about alcohol or biscuits or whether the plan would be less effective if you use natural yoghurt rather than fat free versions. The Facebook group mostly talks about this as a diet and there are lots of posts about how great the food is with comments like ‘how can this be allowed?!?’. After first scrolling through the posts I was quite upset and I took some time to think about why.
I thought about why I was shocked. Over the last few years I have been a member of various exercise, or rather running, related groups on Facebook. There was the Too Fat to Run Clubhouse, various runDisney groups and of course the fabulous Trail Running Magazine Run1000Miles group. While the general runDisney and also the specific Dopey Challenge groups had their fair share of stupid questions and questionable running advice at times, they were never about weight. Too Fat to Run was about being fat and running and I left when discussions about weight started being policed a bit too much which bizarrely seemed to push a focus onto it more than there ever was when there were no rules about posting about weight. Run1000Miles is just about the joy of being outside and enjoying putting one foot in front of the other. The tone when people do post about weight in any of those forums is markedly different. People celebrate their own weight loss, or that of others in a completely different way. There is no moral victory assigned to the weight loss or for that matter any moral value to weight. If someone wanted to shift a few pounds because being a bit lighter makes running easier then that’s something to support and celebrate. If someone managed to stick to a strength training plan or a series of HIIT sessions they wanted to do because it makes them stronger and fitter then thats something worth celebrating too. And the groups I have been in did that. There were some incredible weight loss stories in all of the groups but they were framed in terms of health and fitness and what it allowed the person to do and not in terms or weighing less making you a better person. What shocked me was how normal it seems for so many to think that to be valued and valuable you have to weigh less than you do now and of course be thin. It made me realise how lucky I have been with the Facebook groups I am part of. In particular the run1000Miles group which is so supportive of everyone’s achievements whether that is running a mile or 10, whether it’s a 7 minute mile or a 14 minute mile and whether it’s a 100 mile week or a 100 mile year. The group also overall projects a much healthier relationship with food. That’s not to say that individuals within the group won’t have their own issues. Food and weight can be tricky in all sorts of different ways but overall conversations are about fuel needed for running, treats that nourish body and soul and that food, all food, is part of our lives and often part of what makes it pleasurable and sociable. There isn’t anything that ‘isn’t allowed’ although I’m sure we’ve all made bad pre-run choices that have come to haunt us a few miles in!
So the Facebook group that goes with the Body Coach app just isn’t my tribe. Partly I am tempted to reply to so many of the posts or even post what I just wrote but I would be screaming into a void. Marketing is powerful and the diet industry even more so. As a society we have so much work to do. I have remained in the group and every now and again I scroll through for the odd good tip on modified recipes but I have turned off all notifications and the posts don’t appear in my feed. I spent too long working through my own issues and moving away from the number on the scale meaning something to be dragged back to having debates about the moral value of fat.
Is the app working?
Yes it is. I have done 19 of the pre recorded or live sessions on the app and 6 30 ish minute runs in Cycle 1 and I have enjoyed the food. I am feeling a little bit fitter and a little bit stronger. I haven’t really struggled with motivation to do the exercises. Once or twice I’ve had to give myself a kick but mostly I have enjoyed the routine of ‘this is just what I do’. Of course that has been relatively easy as I haven’t been working and even if I had, I’d just be at home. So the routine aspect of this and the planning ahead and then just doing what it says on the plan without having to think about it might become more important as I go back to work and eventually even actually go to work, as in – leave the house. So I wanted to get into a regular exercise regime that ultimately supports my running and which can be done easily at home to deal with those days where going out is just a step too far. I wanted to build fitness and strength and feel better, more energised. I also wanted to try new recipes and move away from the same handful of meals we always used to have. So by those measures of success, the app is doing exactly what I wanted it to do and I am very happy with it. For those of you who care more about metrics: I lost 3.5kg, I lost 2 cm each off my chest, waist and hips and another 5cm total off arms and thighs. And just to make sure that my evaluation of the app isn’t coloured by those stats but is based on how I feel, I wrote almost all of this post yesterday, before doing the measurements and photos and hopping on the scales this morning after workout 5 of Cycle 1. I’ll report back after Cycle 2.