Actress Gemma Atkinson has completed her stunning transformation at Ultimate Performance.
The Emmerdale, Hollyoaks and Strictly Come Dancing star pushed herself to the limit with the goal of being the best version of herself she could be.
In just 12 weeks she has transformed both the way she looks and the way she feels. Gemma says she is stronger in the gym, her figure is leaner and more shapely than ever, and she feels happy, confident and healthy after completing her 12-week personalised plan at UP.
Her bespoke training and diet plan helped her drop from 72kg to 68.9kg and cut her body fat down to a lean 11%.
But it’s the benefits to her health, her confidence and the way she feels that Gemma says has been most profound.
The 32-year-old has blogged about her transformation journey every step of the way – from Week 1 where she lost 5lbs in her first seven days; to Weeks 11 and 12 where she explained how her diet and training have helped her make such transformative physical, mental and lifestyle changes.
Training just 180 minutes in the gym with weights has shaped her body the way she wanted and has shown thousands of women who have followed her blog just how effective weight training is for stripping fat, toning up and getting stronger.
Now after 12 weeks Gemma sat down with UP to talk about her journey getting in shape for BBC show Strictly Come Dancing and how she has achieved this transformation.
Gemma talks about the following (click to go to each section):
- Her body goals that motivated her to take on the 12 weeks transformation
- The training she did to make the transformation
- The diet she followed and the foods she ate to support her training
- How quickly her body responded to weight training and she started seeing results
- How lifting weights has got her in the best shape of her life
- How other women can get into lifting and get the same body benefits
- How training has changed her mindset, her mood and her confidence
- The wider benefits for her skin, her sleep and her energy levels
- How she benefitted from having an expert PT
- How she is maintaining her new body
Read the full interview here…
How do you feel after finishing your 12-week transformation at UP?
The 12 weeks have finished and I feel really, really great. I’m a little bit sad, and I never thought I’d say that, but I’m a little bit sad. You feel like you’ve achieved it but you want to keep going with it and keep on with the progress and continue maintaining. It’s gone really quickly. It feels like two weeks ago since I was stood here saying ‘it’s my first session.’
But it’s literally the best thing I’ve ever done.
The mental and physical challenges have been unbelievable, I’ve met some great people in the gym, I’ve got the bug back again; the spark I lost with my training was the reason I’d started and it’s come back and I feel absolutely amazing.
What motivated you at first to take on a 12-week transformation with UP?
I’ve trained all my life on and off. I used to run for Manchester Girls, then I got into martial arts, then I was doing Thai boxing and my gym work, but everything kind of moulded into one and I felt like I didn’t really have a purpose.
It was just as and when I had a little bit of time, I’d go to the gym. I wanted to train again for a purpose and give myself a kick up the backside. I’ve never done a challenge or anything like that.
I saw the UP 12-week programme and I thought ‘I’ve got 12 weeks – I can do it!’
I enrolled and the rest is history.
What really captured your attention about what UP do and the results they get?
For me, the thing I liked about UP was everyone’s results were different depending on their individual goal.
When you walk in, you’ve got the board of everyone’s transformations and the results are incredible, but every one is different.
It’s not ‘one programme fits all’ – you feel like an individual. It’s for you and for you only. That’s what you need with a PT – not someone who does the same with every client. It’s someone who works with your strengths, your weaknesses and your goals. I just wanted that one-on-one time and to feel valued, and I did.
What was your goal coming into this? What shape were you in and what did you want to change?
I’ve always been in what I thought, was good shape. Obviously, you can always improve. For me, it was more so mentally I wasn’t feeling great. I was going through a bit of a crappy time and I felt a bit low and I was plodding along with training – I just wanted to mentally feel strong and feel good again.
So, for me, the gym is like my therapy. I love just coming in for that hour, sweat it out, let your aggression out. So it was more of a mental thing for me.
I’ve left every session tired, but feeling strong and it’s always been worth it.
What was the change from Day 1?
From day one, each session has got harder because it’s always been altered. But the confidence in myself going into the sessions has improved. If I’m on rep six and I feel like I want to stop, I always go to 10.
I just feel a lot more confident in my ability in the gym. My pain threshold is a lot higher than I thought, which I didn’t realise as well.
I left that first session thinking ‘oh my gosh, what have I let myself in for?!’ But the sessions after that, I left thinking ‘when’s the next one? I need to get back in!’
What’s the training been like and why is it so effective?
The training we’ve been doing is four days a week between 45 minutes and an hour, then an hour’s cardio on the bike once a week. But it’s super-setting, so there’s very little rest time. Again, it’s working different body parts.
It’s the kind of training where, on paper, you think ‘that’s not very hard. I can do that.’
Sometimes there might only be four or five exercises in the session, but it’s because of the repetition, the overload and the increase in the weights when it comes towards the end, that’s what makes it difficult.
So many people come into the gym and just blast their whole body every single day and wonder why they’re not getting results.
Whereas, at UP its specific muscles on specific days, so you’re always creating that overload and always giving yourself time to recover in between sessions.
It’s so clever. It’s unique really the plans they give you, and that’s why it works.
Is it surprising how little you have to train for so much benefit?
I think with training, it’s always quality over quantity. You can come into a gym and do two hours and not get the same results as when you come here and do 45 minutes.
When my trainers Steve and Mark said to me ‘it’s four days, 45 minutes, then an hour at home on your bike.’ I said ‘okay what do I do in the afternoons?’ They said ‘no, that’s all you need’.
If it’s done properly and done with a clean diet, your body will respond. You don’t need to do anything else.
How quickly did your body respond to the diet and training?
It did respond quite quickly, actually. Within two weeks. Mentally I felt great after a week. But the physical changes came after about two weeks.
So you really don’t have to slog it in the gym. People say ‘I’ve not got time’ but you don’t have to have a lot of time really. Just get in, get it done, and get out.
What did it feel like seeing the results of what you were doing in the gym was working?
When you see the results physically, you start to feel a little bit cocky like ‘yeah! It’s changing!’ Everything is getting a little bit tighter, your jeans are getting a bit looser. I’m quite straight, naturally, up and down – like Spongebob Squarepants.
But I started getting a bit of a waist – an hourglass figure. My bum got bigger. It’s just little things like my shoulders. If I went out in a top with no sleeves, people would be like ‘Oh gosh! You look like you train!’
Those kind of changes make you feel good and your hard work has paid off.
How motivating is it to see yourself progressing every week?
You’ve got to be your biggest fan with training. It’s very difficult and very easy to get into a situation where I remember one week I wasn’t 100% and I couldn’t get in because I was ill.
So I couldn’t train, I felt bloated and I looked different and my body fat had changed. I came in quite disheartened and the lads said ‘it’s alright. It happens. A female’s body will change month to month depending on the cycle and you can’t let it affect you mentally.’
You’ve got to be open to the fact that everyone’s human and you might have some months where you’re puffier than others or carrying water weight.
I went on holiday and I was quite puffy on the plane and I thought ‘oh my gosh, all my hard work’s been undone.’ It wasn’t that at all. The human body is different for everybody.
One thing you have to do when training is, know that you are human, you’re not a machine and there will be times you don’t look like you did week to week. But that’s fine, as long as you know you’re staying on track. A bad meal doesn’t have to turn into a bad day or a bad week. Cut off and get back on it.
Were you surprised at how quick you could progress with your training?
The strength aspect for me has been incredible. I started on 6kg shoulder press, 10 reps for four sets. Now I’m finishing on 14 or 15kg for the same amount of reps and sets. My strength has gone up incredibly, which makes you feel great.
You can do stuff on your own. You don’t need anyone’s help. It’s a great, great feeling.
You can just lift stuff and you think ‘oh my gosh! I couldn’t even lift this three or four weeks ago.’ That’s what keeps you going is how well you’re doing for yourself.
What does it feel like when you’ve had a really tough session but you’ve smashed it?
You feel really good. You feel tired and knackered, a bit shaky and a bit sick. But that, for me, is the sign of a good session. If you leave a gym after an hour of PT and you don’t feel tired, then you need to get a new PT.
I sometimes have to crawl out of here on my hands and knees; going up those stairs are a nightmare! You get home, sit down and think ‘yes! That’s another one done! Another one ticked off the list’ Mentally you just feel amazing.
For a female, it’s great. Because nobody expects girls to be able to come and lift weights and squat heavy.
In here, it’s not a case of ‘you’re a girl training, you’re a boy training’. It’s like you’re just on a mission to train.
Everyone is just in the same boat and on the same journey. No-one looks at anyone differently; there’s a mutual respect and that’s what I love about UP.
Have you had a mindset change since Day 1?
My confidence has definitely improved. What it is, is I’ve realised I’m tougher than what I thought, mentally. The little things used to stress me. They say when you train, you do release the ‘happy hormone’, so to speak. You do. I don’t take as much crap from people now.
Something changes in your mental mindset and you just feel better about yourself. The byproduct of that and the icing on the cake is that you look better as well.
But for me, mentally, I just wanted to get happy again and training has helped me do that in more ways than I can imagine.
Have you found benefits outside of the gym from your 12-week programme?
My skin has got a lot better, I’m sleeping a lot better, when my alarm goes off I don’t need the ‘snooze’ button now; I used to have to put it on snooze for 15 or 20 minutes.
Whereas now I’m up and out of bed, I’ve got more energy throughout the day, more time to get stuff done, I’m more productive, I just don’t feel as sluggish and lethargic now.
Again, it’s because I’m moving. They say your body shapes the way you’re moving, so if you’re sat in an office all day slumped, that’s how you’re going to be. But if you get out and move, even if it’s a 15-minute walk, it’s better than nothing.
I’ve just got a lot more energy which I think other people have benefitted from as well. My mum said to me ‘you’re like a different person now. You’re bouncy!’ When I take the dogs out now, I can go running with the dogs. It’s great.
Has your confidence changed being in the public eye a lot?
I think before people understood about women and training, it was always a fear that if women lifted weights they would look too manly or butch.
There are obviously pictures of me where you do look bigger than others and there’s always going to be someone scrutinising your picture.
But those people who look at a picture of you and go ‘oh! Why’s she done that?’ 12 weeks later are saying ‘how’ve you done that?’ If they got themselves into the gym and they would see how good it made them feel.
Some people message me on Instagram and say ‘you look great! But don’t go too far!’ What’s too far? How can you not want to feel good about yourself? Why would I stop because I look too this or too that.
If I feel great and I’m healthy more than anything, to me health is everything. Why would I stop doing that just because someone says I’ve gone a bit too far?
Have you had a lot of positive feedback from people? And what have family and friends said?
The positive feedback has been amazing. I’ve had so many women who have messaged me and said ‘you’ve inspired me to go to the gym. You’ve inspired me to lift weights’. It’s such a nice feeling. It does mean a lot – not that I’ve changed someone’s life, but I’ve changed someone’s opinion of the gym.
I’ve changed someone’s opinion on that they can’t do something, that they can’t train or that they can’t feel good in a bikini.
To know I’ve done that just by doing a 12-week programme, it’s amazing.
My niece is 13 and she said to me the other day – ‘I want to join the gym when I leave school!’ .. I was like oh my gosh! I will take you to the gym! Come with me and I will train with you!’ It’s a great feeling!
What changed with your diet on this 12-week programme?
With my diet, the main changes were… I used to snack on dark chocolate and nuts, which is fine. But I used to have two or three of those snacks a day. Thinking ‘it’s dark chocolate. It’s good for you’.
I didn’t realise how many calories were in stuff. I used to eat a lot of bread and I took that out of my diet and replaced it with oats and sweet potato. It wasn’t that I was cutting out a food group. People said to me ‘oh did you cut out carbs?’ And I said ‘oh gosh no. That would have made me miserable.’
I actually ate a lot of food. But just a lot of good food. I didn’t deprive myself really. After about two or three weeks I stopped craving rubbish foods.
One time I did have it, I felt shocking afterwards. The morning after I had a headache, I felt bloated, I felt spotty. It just shows, ‘you are what you eat’ and if you fuel your body with good nutrition, then your body is going to thank you for it.
Did you feel different when you changed up your diet?
It was my skin really. I’ve eaten more vegetables in these past 12 weeks than I have in my whole life.
Things like eggs and greens in the morning and a banana and a shake after I’ve trained, just good food. Things that your cells are going to thrive off.
The weekend for me used to be, ‘right its weekend! Friday, Saturday, Sunday – right pizza, chippy, alcohol; whatever’. That’s fine to do, but I don’t do it Friday, Saturday, Sunday now.
I maybe do it a Friday night or a Saturday night. Not all afternoon Friday, all day Saturday, all day Sunday. It’s not depriving yourself completely, but not taking the mick out of yourself and undoing all the hard work you’ve put in.
What did you learn about diet and nutrition working with UP?
I learned you don’t have to starve yourself to look and feel your best. Your body needs nutrition. It needs it to grow and rest and recover.
So many people make the mistake of thinking you have to starve yourself or not have carbs. Or even the daftest one – a woman said to me ‘I do eat carbs, but not after 3pm.’
I said ‘why not after 3pm?’ She said ‘you store them as fat.’ I thought to myself, what happens if you’re in a different time zone? What happens then? Is it like Gremlins where they eat after midnight?
There’s not any logic in there, but someone had told her that. I was having sweet potato at 7pm in the evening and it still worked for me!
Are there a lot of misconceptions out there about training and dieting for women?
The word ‘diet’ has the word ‘die’ in it. So I always think a diet isn’t going to work. I like to think of it as a clean lifestyle.
Whenever you have a meal you have a choice to fuel or poison your body.
Now I got off 90% of what my body needs and 10% what I want, now and again. Especially once a month when I’m craving chocolate and bread. That will just be once a month, not twice or three times a week like it used to be.
What is the secret ingredient to what UP does it getting such amazing results?
I think the secret ingredient at UP is that it’s one to one. What my trainer Steve does with me, he won’t do the same with a client before me or after me. It’s completely different. You do feel valued.
I’ve been with PTs in the past and they do the same thing with every client – so they do the same thing with me as they would a girl who is 5ft 2. And if she ate the same amount of calories I do, it wouldn’t work for her. It’s like me eating the same amount of calories as a 6ft 2in bloke.
Every diet is tailored to you, your intolerances, what you like and what you don’t like.
I’ve got a bad hip. I’ve had a bad hip for years with Thai boxing so that was taken into account with every single session.
That’s the secret ingredient is that they put in time and effort for you and you alone. You just feel really valued and feel really important.
How important is the relationship with your trainers and the on-going support?
The relationship is really important. I want a trainer who I can have a laugh with, but will still get the job done and push me. I don’t want someone who’s a walkover who when you say ‘I’m tired’ and they’ll say ‘well, don’t worry have a rest and we’ll have another go tomorrow.’
You want someone who says ‘I understand you’re tired, but we have a job to do, so let’s do it, and then you can sleep.’
There’s a difference in being cruel to be kind, so to speak.
Mark and Steve don’t let me get away with stuff. Even though there have been times when I say ‘I can’t do it’ they’ve said ‘you can. Come on!’ Then I leave going ‘I knew I could do it all along.’
Have you surprised yourself with how far you can push yourself and what you’re capable of?
I’ve definitely surprised myself. I used to just give up. Your mind is the first thing to quit with everything. When anything gets tough, your head says ‘stop!’ You’ve got to push through that wall. Everyone hits a wall, whether it’s in a marathon, 10k or a training session.
But you’ve just got to push through it and that’s what these guys here help you do.
Then once you’ve pushed through it, you get another burst of energy and you just want to keep going and going.
I remember once I did a heavier weight. Then the next time I went up again and I remember saying to Steve ‘I can’t do this weight’. And Steve said ‘you said that yesterday and you did it.’ And then you do.
Yes it’s harder and you’re sore the following day, but ultimately you do it, and that’s what’s important.
What has surprised you most on this journey?
I’ve just surprised myself with everything.
How quick my body responds, mentally how it’s affected me in every positive way, how just 12 weeks out of someone’s life can change everything about how they look, how they feel, how they are.
If someone said that to me ages ago; if someone could bottle up a 12-week programme that you could just drink, then you’d be a millionaire!
But you’ve got to put in the graft and the work, but ultimately that’s what makes it even more beneficial because nothing good ever comes easy – no job, no relationship, no transformation – it always takes work, but if you put in the work and the dedication and the patience, then you’ll get the results.
Can you maintain what you have achieved over these 12 weeks? Have you learned some powerful things that will keep you in shape?
Everything I picked up here, I’m going to continue on my own. I am going to come in here and train and I’m still going to bug Mark and Steve on WhatsApp with ‘can I eat this? Can I eat that?’
But I feel confident enough to come in and train on my own and I feel confident enough to go into a restaurant and know which foods are going to be right for me. I also feel confident enough to know that I can still have my treats every now and again and not beat myself up about it.
Everyone is human and you have to enjoy your life as well, so that’s what I intend to do.
Do you feel more in control of your diet and understand how your nutrition makes you look and feel?
I feel now that I don’t really crave anything. Now if I just want it, I’ll have it. It’s not a case of ‘oh my gosh I need to pull over and buy some Haribos. I used to do that where I’d be driving and I’d think ‘oh my gosh! I need some sweets.’
Whereas now I can walk past a doughnut and smell it and just be like ‘it’s a doughnut, but I’m not really in the mood.’ Whereas sometimes, if I wanted one, I can have it. But it’s not because I need it.
It’s like I’m in control of the food as opposed to it being the other way around.
The ‘sugar addiction’, so to speak, has gone.
What have your overall results been from Day 1 to now?
My overall results, I went from 72kg and went down to 68.9kg. My body fat was around 15.5% and I got it down to about 11%. It was massive physical changes in a short amount of time.
Then the mental changes – I’m sleeping better, I’ve got more energy, I feel happier, my skin is a lot better, I feel a lot more confident. I could go on and on and on.
Twelve short weeks and all of the above.
How can other women do what you’ve done?
I think for girls they need to just not be fearful of the gym. It’s just taking that first step coming in here.
Even if they came in and did group training sessions with us, which we do on Saturday morning, you can see that no-one is here to judge them, everyone is here to better themselves, as soon as they take that first step, that’s the hardest part of anything in life – just taking that first leap of faith.
Once they’ve done that and dipped their toe in the water they will know how good it could be and how comfortable it is in here. It’s like everyone is mates.
When you’re not training, they’re all sat out there having a protein shake together or doing a coffee run. It’s just a really nice atmosphere. So I would advise any girl to come down here and join in with it and start their journey.
What would you advise people for getting in shape who have never done it before?
For someone who has never done weight training before, my first advice is to get professional advice from a trainer. Don’t just come in and start flinging them around because you don’t want to get injured and then put yourself off even more.
I think you should get advice from someone who is qualified. I mean, I can sit here all day about how amazing it is, but I’m not qualified that’s why I need my trainers Steve and Mark.
The trainers here are so approachable. You come down, you have an induction, they talk you through what’s what.
Don’t be frightened of it. I would hate my niece to think she couldn’t walk into a gym because there were men there or big weights or because she felt she didn’t belong there. It’s a good era now for women. We’re doing a lot of stuff and weight training should be one of them.
How effective is weight training for getting in shape?
Weight training for getting in shape for anyone is incredible.
It’s shaped my body in more ways than you can imagine. Your posture is better, your curves are still there, you’re lean, you look powerful. You look strong. But at the same time you look feminine still.
There are people who obviously look a lot bigger, but there are other factors. You’re training and it’s just regular weight sessions and a good diet, naturally you don’t have enough testosterone (as a woman) to get as big as a bodybuilding competitor may need to.
I think they need to get that image out of their head of a bodybuilder woman and a woman who is just athletic.
Can you finally confirm for us that weight training doesn’t make women bulky?
Weight training does not make women look bulky. It’s hard enough for a guy to get bulky naturally weight training. They’ve got a lot more testosterone than us! Believe it or not, I’ve not got that much testosterone even though I sound like Stallone.
I think if it was easy for guys and girls to get big it wouldn’t take me 12 weeks – I’d do it in a week.
Are you impressed with the results you’ve achieved?
Yes, I’m more than impressed. Anything I put on, I feel great in – dress, jeans, gym gear. I just feel really confident and comfortable.
I’m at the stage where, if no-one likes it, or someone says it’s ‘too much’ or ‘not enough’, then that’s on them.
I feel great. I think I look alright, so that’s all that I’m bothered about really.
What has UP given you?
UP has given me a new lease of life, so to speak. It’s given me a confidence I never had, tools that I will take on forever now, new recipe ideas, and new goals.
I don’t want to stop here. I’m going to have a few weeks of training and still come in, but then I think another 12 weeks, at the end of the year, after Christmas, another 12 weeks is on the cards and we will see if we can better it next time.
Would you recommend UP?
I would highly recommend UP to anyone – male or female – no matter what age you are, what level you are with training. Even if you’re a pro at the gym or just a novice, there’s always something you can learn.
Whether you’re in shape or not, you can always get in better shape. Whether you want to meet new friends or get a more social life, you get all of that at UP.
I never thought I’d become mates with Mark and Steve, because they’re my trainers. But they actually are now and it’s cool. Everyone in here is friendly. You just learn a lot and you’re going to come out a better person.
Looking back to when you started, would you change anything?
The only thing I would change from when I started was that I would have done it a lot sooner.
I’m 32 and I started my 12 weeks. I would have started years ago if I’d have known it was going to be this much fun and I would have felt this good, I would have done one every year.
That would have been my go-to challenge each year. You’re never too young or too old to start here. Get in, get it done and get out.
Looking at those transformation images, what would you say to people who don’t believe them?
For anyone who says you can’t achieve this transformation in 12 weeks, or they see the board and think it’s photoshopped, I would get them to put their money where their mouth is and come down and do it themselves. I think the first people who say ‘oh you can’t do it’ are the people who are scared to try it.
But I’m proof you can do it, I’m not photoshopped, my pictures and videos in the gym haven’t been.