Akinfenwa vs Anthony Yarde Training Session
Train like… Mark Peacock
Men can be cynical about miraculous body transformations. Perhaps due to the rise of the internet – with its flood of quick fixes and monstrous muscle gains – many of the genuine physical overhauls we sweat over atMen’s Healthare greeted with a trio of acidic retorts: “Clearly on steroids!”, “Clearly Photoshopped!” and (our favourite) “Clearly not the same person!”
Normally, we pay such protestations scant attention. But for this particular transformation, we’ll forgive a little scepticism. What this 28-year old has achieved is indeed a little unbelievable. So, just this once, let’s take a moment to address the above concerns.
Mark Peacock is not on steroids. If you were to narcotically rank the planet’s population from pre-rehab Charlie Sheen to Mother Theresa, Mark would stand near the diminutive nun. A couple of weeks before Leah Betts became the UK’s most high-profile death attributed to ecstasy, her stepmum gave a talk about drugs at his primary school. That was enough to rein in the usual Essex excesses and limit his substance abuse to the occasional gin-and-tonic.
Mark may look Photoshopped (men in fantastic shape often do), but you’re welcome to visit The Third Space gym in London’s Soho to see him for yourself. While you’re there, he might show you more photos of how he looked before first stepping into MH Towers. And if you’re really lucky, he’ll explain how he put on 12kg of muscle to become the frontman of our biggest-selling issue of the year.
From small beginnings
Three years ago, Mark would occasionally pick up this magazine, skip to the back, and peruse the style section. He weighed 11 stone nothing and felt he had done so forever. A vegetarian since 1998 – “Someone betmeI couldn’t do it for six months; I ended up avoiding meat for 12years” – his nails were cracked from GP diagnosed protein deficiency. He was not, to say the least, cover-model material.
To fill up empty days before working evening shifts for the NHS, Mark started going to spinning classes… sometimes for three hours at a time. Then, one day, a line on the cover of our May 2010 issue caught his eye: “Scrawny To Brawny”. He bought the magazine and started the programme. The initial results were good but he soon ran into trouble – metabolism too fast, cardio regime too energy-sapping, diet too light on carbohydrates, form too hopeless – but his evolution had begun.
A PT friend outlined the basics. First off, forget about how much weight you’re lifting. Concentrate on technique. “I don’t play that stupid game boasting about what I can bench,” says Mark. “The most important thing is tempo. Focusing on time under tension.” Controlling tiny weights slowly always beats jerking away with dumbbells bigger than your head. If you can’t get the form right, take off a few plates. Nobody is looking. Nobody cares.
Despite a slow start, hampered by a reluctance to load up barbells in case he did it wrong and referring to YouTube for exercise descriptions, Mark was hooked. On a flight back to the UK after visiting relatives abroad, somebody left an issue of Men’s Health on an adjacent seat. He phoned up, enquired about internships and came in the following week. He’s been here ever since.
No one works at MH for long without tweaking their diet. We say it a lot, but it bears repeating: getting in shape is 80% nutrition, 20% training. Out went vegetarianism, in came a whole lot of chicken and protein shakes. Working two jobs meant 16-hour days, but most mornings, after waking before 6am, Mark would head straight to the gym and follow an MH-prescribed programme. There is always time to train.
“The tricky thing is to find what time works for you,” he says. “I’m best before 8am in the morning or around 2pm in the afternoon; anywhere outside of that and I can’t perform as I’d like.” Everybody is different. When starting out, you’ll need to experiment to discover when your muscles are at their peak.
Perfecting his diet came slowly. By cutting out processed carbs such as bread and pasta, Mark found he boosted his energy levels. His ‘three Mars bars a day’ calorie-bulking experiment was less successful – too sickly on the palate. But the real breakthrough came when he chanced upon microwavable steambags (35 for a quid from amazon.co.uk). By bringing the prep time for healthy meals down to just a few minutes, his daily need to grab three nutritionally suspect sandwiches on the hoof was eliminated. In come huge improvements in muscle size and definition.
To further keep down costs, Mark now buys in bulk and cooks in bulk; keziefoods.co.uk offers discounts on large meat orders. He seasons it with his favourite spices and throws huge batches of chicken or fish in the oven on Sundays and a free weekday evening to sort his primary protein sources forthe week. Then it’s just three minutes for the veg, four for the complex carbs and a 30-second zap of the meat – the perfect muscle-building meal with all its nutrients retained. For a man who eats constantly, we rarely see Mark in the office kitchen. He’s in and out with a stacked plate while we’re all still wondering which calorie-bomb baguette to blow a fiver on.
And Mark does eat constantly. The biggest revelation when starting to train seriously was just how many calories he had to put away. Sometimes the hardest reps of your week, he says, are those last steak-freighted fork curls on a Friday night. But every mouthful matters.
Break your routine
Of course, once you perfect your diet and find a rhythm at the gym, it can all seem easy. First Mark’s arms began to fill up his shirts, then he popped a button, and before long he needed a whole new wardrobe. And then, all of a sudden, nothing worked. The solution? Change everything, over and over again. To stop his body becoming used to his training methods – and his muscle gains plateauing – Mark switches programmes every four to six weeks, constantly setting new challenges and targets.
As for keeping himself motivated, Mark has just one simple rule. He sets targets and makes promises; to himself and, more importantly, to others. When it’s freezing outside and warm in bed, what is guaranteed to pull you out the door and into the gym is the fact you’ve bet your best mates you’ll have a six-pack by March. And if you can put money on it to further raise the stakes, all the better.
Another valuable lesson is knowing when to stop. After the initial thrill of gaining weight for the first time in his adult life, Mark started hitting the gym every day – and subsequently lost size. When you’re training hard, rest days and at least seven hours sleep a night are vital. Mark has programmed his body to wake up at 6am but, just in case, he sleeps with the curtains open. Natural light is his alarm, gently easing him into consciousness rather than jerking him out of deep sleep. The more you can manipulate your environment to optimise your morning mood, the fewer gym sessions you’ll want to skip. A supermodel bringing you a cup of tea works well, if you can arrange it.
Coveting the cover
Mark’s first appearance in Men’s Health was as a hand model. A little later he provided a foot, then a leg – before, finally, when a model cancelled last minute, he stepped up for a body shot. The secret was out. He has now appeared in 24 consecutive issues of the magazine, providing exercise demonstrations and advising on form.
Last Christmas, sinus issues and a collapsing shoulder conspired to keep Mark out of the gym for months, dragging his physique back toward its scrawnier stature. Tentatively building his strength back up in March with help from Robert Kavanagh at Devonshire Sq Physiotherapy, he could have been forgiven for setting himself a more modest goal. Instead, Mark vowed to appear on the cover.
To make this goal a reality, he began working with PT and model Olly Foster – who has fronted our mag a record six times – to further perfect his diet and training. The bulk-up began in earnest. “The hardest part for Mark was eating red meat for breakfast,” says Foster. “It sets up your neurotransmitter production for the day and connects the brain to the gut, allowing for better absorption of the rest of the day’s meals.”
To stomach steak first thing, Mark popped Udo’s Choice Super 8 (£19, amazon.co.uk), a high-potency probiotic, to improve his digestion. Carbs were limited to post-workout shakes and his first two post-workout meals. “They were used to restock muscle glycogen, without creating an overspill that would lead to fat gain,” explains Foster. It wasn’t easy. But through ceaseless dedication – and a couple of months forsaking his precious gin – he’s proved a dream physique is possible no matter howskinny you are, or how lightning-fast your metabolism. At one point, Mark was eating so many sweet potatoes the carotene turned his skin orange.
“For those who say you can’t put on muscle mass and reduce body fat at the sametime, I say just look at Mark,” says Foster. For his part, Mark wanted to make the cover for one reason and one reason only: “Just to show that skinny people who say they can’t gain weight are wrong.” We think you’ll agree, he’s more than made his point.
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