The December issue of Attitude is all about masculinity, and to find out if muscles equal happiness, Deputy Editor Adam Duxbury went through a three-month body transformation.

You can read all about how those physical changes made him feel in the issue, and for the full lowdown on what it takes to get your body in tip-top shape, read our three-part series. 

Part One: Learning to lift

When I first agreed to take on the challenge of bulking up my physique, I knew I’d be putting my body through its paces. Growing up I was always a very skinny kid, and tall with it, but I started to hit the gym when I became an adult. Unfortunately, I never really managed to make it to a point where I felt satisfied with the way I looked.

A lot of that was probably down to a patchy knowledge of what to actually do in the gym; I’d had personal trainers before, had done loads of different classes and had tried most exercises you could think of, but without serious motivation I’d basically been stuck in a rut for years.

A huge part of our sense of masculinity is tied up in physicality, and like it or not bigger muscles are still the default when we think of ‘masc’. And if I wanted to see what life was like with the body of an Adonis (or as close as I could get in three months!) I’d need to push past all that and bring in the big guns — literally. Geoff Clement has been named one of London’s best personal trainers and runs his own studio in East London, Pure Fitness Shoreditch, focusing purely on whipping people into the best shape of their lives.

“Adam falls between an ectomorph and a mesomorph. He has broad shoulders and tapered waist but is also super lean!” Geoff discovered after a full analysis on day one. “So we matched Adam’s style of training to heavy lifting using compound movements.” That meant no faffing around with complex exercises, it was back to basics with squats, deadlifts, and push and pull movements.

I was worried that the exercises would be boring and too basic, but the reality is that those are the movements that are perfect for adding mass to a skinny frame. And I would soon discover that when you learn how to actually perform them properly, those simple exercises are key. Master the basics to the point where you’re performing them with perfect posture and everything else falls into place and working out becomes a pleasure rather than a chore. Something I think many people skip over in favour of the latest fad or simply because they’ve never been properly taught.

Geoff planned out a three-day split, maximising sets and reps for specific body parts and my routine looked something like this:

  • Monday: Legs

Typical exercises: Dynamic band warmups followed by squats, dumbbell lunges, deadlifts, box jumps and stair runs

  • Wednesday: Chest & Biceps

Typical exercises: Dynamic band warmup, pyramid bench press (lightest to heaviest), single arm incline press, cable flys, bicep curls

  • Friday: Back, traps and triceps

Typical exercises: Single arm rows, barbell rows, superset of pull-ups and seated weight plate front raise

I would then head to the gym for a fourth day to do some light cardio and stretching, so all in all not that demanding on my time. “The first few weeks were a bit of a shock for Adam,” says Geoff politely. A shock was an understatement, in reality those first sessions had me wondering what on earth I’d signed myself up for. Especially after we focused on legs on the first day and I found myself huddled in the shower fighting waves of nausea when the session had finished!

Lots of people approach working out with their own issues; physical problems such as injuries and weight issues, or mental setbacks such as a fear of macho gym culture or feeling overwhelmed if you’re new to fitness can all hamper progress. I’d reached a point of resignation where I thought I’d be stuck ticking over on skinny mode forever, and a recurring lower back problem meant I knew keeping fit was important for my health, yet I was always afraid if I pushed too hard I’d risk further injury.

With Geoff patiently and clearly demonstrating every exercise first, mastering them meant I could push my body way past the point where I would normally have given up and my muscles got used to lifting heavy weights. And when you’re trying to work around an injury, having the correct form is a huge help.

As the first month rolled by, slowly but surely I started to see the kind of results I had given up on hoping to achieve. My key takeaway from that first month was the importance of getting your technique right — and that really does come from having an expert to show you how.

If stepping it up in the gym was a challenge, changing my diet to feed all those reps was a whole other level. Read about it in Part Two: Feed the Beast, which we’ll unveil later this week. 

The Attitude ‘Masculinity’ issue – available to download and in shops now – features exclusive interviews with former Scissor Sisters singer Jake Shears, non-binary musician Shamir, camp comedian Stephen Bailey and queer performance artist David Hoyle, who share their views on maleness in the 21st century.

Plus, editorials on masculinity and race, femme-shaming, and the results of our exclusive survey of over 5000 gay men to find out how our readers feel about their masculinity.