52 Exercises: #26 Body Building: Inspiration for Personal Transformation

Body Building: Inspiration for Personal Transformation

Even though I’m on a mental health plan and seeing a shrink I still think body building’s a bit mad. It’s easy to make fun of the chocolaty bodies, oily skin and funny poses but I’m horribly fascinated by it too.

Even as a scrawny child I can remember stripping down to my undies and pulling a few poses after seeing a body building competition on TV. The posing part looked like fun but since I am exercise shy the muscles were never going to happen.

So when I head to the gym for a personal training session with International Natural Body Building Association winner Joel Bushby I’m not harboring any body building fantasies. I’m just expecting a regular workout which will check a box in my 52 Exercises Quest under the personal training session. It is not to be.

Fitness model and Body building star Joel Bushby

Joel Bushby – Fitness model, body building champion and my trainer

I picked Joel for personal training because I already know him from a boxercise class he taught years ago and we get on great. Except that he’s rock hard and bossy and I’m a whinging Pom who hates being told what to do.

But despite this shared history the session does not get off to a good start.

“You’re late!” Joel says pointing at the clock.

I’m only three minutes late so it’s not a big deal. I churn out my excuse thinking my busy-working-mum schedule will get me off the hook but apparently not. Joel seems really cross.

He marches to the back of the gym, tells me to put my bag down and says:

“Right, you can start with three sets of 15 deep lunges.”

“Hang on,” I say “Don’t you want to know why I’m here and find out what I want to do?”

“No.” He says.

That seems strange. After all, I’m the client and clients should get what they want. I want to get my own way anyway. The gym hums and clanks around us.

“You’re here to get fit aren’t you?” Joel asks.

I nod meekly.

“Well stop talking and do 15 squats like this,” he says, wielding a large dumbbell. I wait politely for him to finish the demonstration.

“I was thinking maybe you could do some kind of fitness assessment on me?” I suggest.

“You do what I tell you to do and then I’ll tell you how fit you are,” Joel says.

Then  he whips out his mobile phone and shows me how he changed his own body shape in just nine weeks to win the male fitness model category while staying the same weight. The photos are impressive and the transformation from average Jo to super hero is amazing.

Tracking Joel's transformation over nine weeks in the run up to the body building competition

Joel’s nine week transformation before his fitness model and body building competition

He’s clearly a man possessed. Realizing that there’s no reasoning with him I submit to his demands.

First I have to hold a 5kg weight and do 15 lunges while lifting my arms sideways at the same time. I do a few lunges, grunting and groaning at first then breaking into a full out moan.

“I can’t do this. These are too heavy for me.”

“Stop whinging and complaining.” Joel says.

“But I can’t…”

Suddenly Joel grabs the weight off me, shoves it back on the rack. I think I’ve got my own way but then he pulls out an even bigger weight and hands it to me.

“Don’t say can’t,” he says.

“How much does this one weigh?” I ask.

“That’s 9kg,” he says.


“Don’t whine or I’ll make you lift a heavier one.”

I keep my mouth shut and do some more deep lunges with the big weight. Everything hurts.

Lunges with 9kg weight: no fun

Lunges with 9kg weight: not fun

“I don’t like this,” I say. “I don’t want to be all big and muscly like you.”

“You won’t,” he smirks, “you haven’t got enough testosterone to get big. You’d need to grow balls to do that.”

There are many things I’d like to grow; love, compassion, maybe even wings. But definitely not testicles. I’ve got enough problems already. I keep quiet.

“Now it’s time for the hammer strength leg press,” Joel says. He loads it up with 50kg and I struggle through the first set of 15.

“I can’t do this. It’s too heavy.” I say. Bad mistake.

90kg leg bench press: not fun either

90kg leg bench press: not fun either

“Don’t. Say. Can’t.” Joel repeats more slowly.

“But I’m going to have thighs like a rugby player.” I say.

He scowls and the mobile phone comes out again. He shows me before and after shots of 17 year old Emily. She’s a slim girl who got a lot slimmer and more toned with Joel as her task master.

“She’s not big is she?” asks Joel.

“No,” I say. He stares at me.

“She looks great,” I say. It’s true, she does look great and not in a body builder kind of way either.

“She can leg press 90kg,” says Joel.

“That’s ridiculous,” I say.

“No,” says Joel “that’s how you get slimmer and toned. By lifting heavy weights.”

I stare at him incredulous. I’m not 17 like Emily. I’m 17×2+11. Or 45 if you’re struggling with the maths. I’ve never been fitter in my life but I have limits and I have reached them. Surely Joel will take pity on me soon.

“Right,” he says “because you were late you can leg bench press 90kg.”

I start to protest but I’m too weak and worried he’ll make me do even more.

I lie on my back and push the platform up and down with my skinny little legs. My thighs are on fire. My back and neck ache, but I press on because I don’t want to make Joel crosser.

When it’s over I try to distract him with questions but asking if he uses drugs to get so muscly probably wasn’t a good idea. For the record he doesn’t and is only interested in natural body building methods.

So it’s not ‘roid rage’ that’s making him cross. It must be me.

There are more torture machines around the gym. I remember the ab curl and the leg curl machine and there are others. My legs get weaker and weaker. I can’t believe people voluntarily put themselves through this much pain.

Leg curls: sounds like fun but it isn't

Leg curls: sound fun but aren’t

I wobble round the gym after Joel like a newborn foal but he is pitiless. He makes me squat on my heels then jump up to standing not once, not twice but 30 times.

“I think I’m going to collapse,” I say. I’m not joking.

“Keep going,” he says, “only ten more.”

I can’t jump any more but I manage to lower and raise myself knackered body a few more times. I’m seriously worried I’ll have to crawl across the car park to my car. I haven’t felt this exhausted since 2004 when gave birth to my youngest child.

I’m totally spent but Joel looks happy now.

“Give me a hug,” he says, his bulky arms open wide.

“Really?” I ask wondering if this is a trick.

He nods and I collapse against him. It’s all over.

I warm down on the elliptical trainer and spend a while stretching although nothing will stop me from aching for the rest of the week.

Body building is hard but I’m inspired by Joel’s photos showing how fast we can change our body if we put our mind to it.

The brain is a muscle too and although it can’t be seen my brain is surely growing and changing. I’m on week five of my mindfulness and meditation program and transformation is taking place. I’m becoming more aware of my emotions and reactions. I’m learning to open myself to emotional pain, not suppress it or run away from it.

Lifting heavy weights promotes muscle growth by tearing the muscles which then grow bigger as they repair themselves. By opening up to pain the body gets stronger and grows, just like my brain is growing by opening up to and accepting  emotional pain rather than running from it.

Transformation is possible if you put your mind to it and if you learn to handle pain. You can change your body or your brain if you’re brave enough.

But you have to feel the pain, harness it, accept it and use it for growth. Whether you want to transform your mind, body or soul the mental challenge of working with pain and not denying it is the biggest challenge of all.

Squats, squats and more squats - not fun

Squats, squats and more squats – no fun at all

Who or what inspires you to keep growing and getting better?

Body Building Exercise Review

Cost: $80 for one 45 minute session. Most of Joel’s clients see him once a week and are given strict instructions for diet and exercise for the rest of the time. To book a session or for fitness or body building inspiration and advice call Joel Bushby on 0405620063. Expect to feel great pain and be totally pumped.

Time Exercising: 45 minutes

Calories Burned: 366 cals

Average Heart Rate: 145 bpm.

Peak Heart Rate: 172 bpm.

Fun Factor: 0/10

Fear Factor: 0/10 But only because I had no idea what I was letting myself in for.

Post-exercise Glow: 8/10.

I forgot to mention I did 30 push ups too

I forgot to mention the 30 push ups


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  1. Sandra Pawula July 1, 2013 at 10:31 am - Reply

    You are a much more determined person that I am, Annabel! I would like to think that I would have left Joel in a trail of dust after I immediately ran out of that place once he started to dish out the tough “love.” But, I know I’m programmed in some odd way to think I have to put up with such abuse so I may not have dashed out as quickly as I think! I hope you don’t have any more experiences like that one.

    • Annabel Candy July 1, 2013 at 11:39 am - Reply

      Hi Sandra,

      It was punishing! My bum is still aching a week later… Joel has got the cruel to be kind thing down pat :) I have utter respect for him but definitely couldn’t do that every day.

  2. Charli | Wanderlusters July 1, 2013 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    OMG how on earth did it only take Joel nine weeks to pack all those muscles onto his chest?! Is it wrong that I’m swooning?! Love the photo of you doing your leg curls! Your look thoroughly unimpressed!!

    I’m trying to incorporate some toning exercises into my daily routine, because we’re on the move so often it’s proving to a challenge, thanks for the inspiration to get my but off the couch!

    • Annabel Candy July 4, 2013 at 7:57 pm - Reply

      Hi Charli,

      I think he was pretty muscly to begin with! It’s okay to swoon, perfectly normal and nothing to be ashamed of. I am stoked I’ve inspired you. I love a little toning with my 2kg weights though Joel wasn’t impressed…

  3. wftristan July 1, 2013 at 10:59 pm - Reply

    You do look as if you are loving those leg curls :-)

    • Annabel Candy July 4, 2013 at 7:57 pm - Reply

      Hi Tristan,

      The pain and disbelief is etched into my face…

  4. LOL Annabel, I’ve gone back to weight training with a trainer after a few months off. For sure it is so good for your body and can sculpt the lumps away – sort of in my case. I did two sessions a week for ages but am only doing one a week for a while. I think my trainer is a bit less forceful than your guy!! But I do do 100kg on the leg press. We just do 30 minutes, I’d HATE to do any more.

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