Update: This is a review of the 90 Day SSS from 2015 and some information is now out of date. Click here for an up to date review of the NEW Body Coach 90 Day Plan, which launched in 2018.
If you keep up with the UK fitness and well-being industry on Instagram, chances are you've come across Joe Wicks, the man behind @TheBodyCoach. The 30-something entrepreneur is making waves thanks to his #Leanin15 recipe videos (and book) and his 90-day "Shift, Shape and Sustain" plan, a fitness and food plan that's reportedly being purchased by up to 300 people a day.
Devotees of Joe's plan have called it life-changing, and the testimonials and before-and-after photos featured on his social media accounts definitely suggest he's on to something. There was really only one way to find out if the hype was real. On 1 September 2015, I paid my £147, submitted my scary "before" photos, and started my Body Coach journey.
Three months later, I was an official Body Coach graduate (just about). And while it wasn't a straightforward journey, it has definitely helped me battle some body demons, cut some cravings, learn to eat more (of the right stuff), and discover a fitness regimen I enjoy. For those who are thinking of giving it a go, here are my answers to all the questions I had before I started. Please note that I followed the plan in late 2015, and some elements may have changed since then.
What does the plan entail?
The exact details of the plan are confidential unless you sign up, but it focuses on building lean muscle mass while burning fat and fuelling the body with a balanced diet. There are three cycles of 30 days each, and you submit results between each to keep you on track (and so the support team can track your progress and alter the plan as necessary). You will eat more than you expect, and you will work out hard about four times a week. In very wide terms, it's based on bodybuilding principles; it's a workout regimen that combines HIIT and resistance training, coupled with a diet high in protein, good fats, greens, and balanced carbs. Your plan will be tailored specifically to your starting point, based off a long questionnaire you fill out when you sign up.
How much weight will I lose?
That depends. The plan is more about creating a better body than seeing a change on the scales, and participants are advised to "stay off the sad step" during the process and take measurements instead. The big change for most people is in inches, not pounds. I only lost about seven pounds, but thanks to the muscle mass I built, that equated to three inches off both my waist and hips and an inch off my chest and thighs. Results will depend on your dedication level and your starting point. I know I could have done better if I didn't fail quite spectacularly in the last few weeks as the Christmas parties began!
Will my results be as good as the ones I see on Instagram?
Let's put it into perspective. If up to 300 people sign up each day, and Joe posts maybe 10 results photos each week, that's a very small percentage of overall participants. You see the most dramatic results shared on social media. Everyone will be different, so try not to compare yourself to those "hall of fame" photos. From what I've seen, the people who see the most dramatic results tend to be women who carry the majority of their excess fat around the tummy (like the graduate below). Cycle 1 does amazing things to flatten the tummy and motivate people to continue, but people find different "tipping points" depending on their bodies.
Can we see your before-and-after pics?
I'm still not ready to share my bikini photos with the world, but I will give you my vital stats. I'm 5'7" and in my early 30s. When I started the plan, I weighed 160 pounds, and my measurements were 37.5-31-42. Before the plan, I wasn't doing much exercise, save for the occasional cardio session in the gym.
When I completed the plan, I weighed 153 pounds, and my measurements were 36.5-28-39. I dropped a dress size, and my body fat percentage (measured with callipers) dropped from 30 percent to 26 percent. The difference in my body was noticeable, but there was still some way to go to get the dramatic results of some Body Coach Hall of Fame members. I would estimate I stuck to cycle 1 about 95 percent, cycle 2 around 80 percent, and cycle 3 a dismal 50 percent. My results could have been a lot more dramatic if I'd stuck to cycle 3 with the same dedication as I did the other two, but I struggled with motivation.
Is it easy?
Nope. At least not for a beginner. Nothing good is easy! Results only come if you put the work in. If you're already eating well and you work out regularly, you'll be fine. If you're lazy and addicted to sugar (like I was!), you'll probably struggle sometimes. You will have headaches, you will get tired of the sight of spinach. But it'll be worth it when the endorphins kick in.
Do I need to be a member of a gym?
Plenty of people do the workouts at home, but you will need some basic equipment. I don't think I could have done it without my gym membership, especially as I got into the third cycle, which required a lot of different weights. There are ways to adapt the exercises, but you will need dumbbells or a barbell with adjustable weights, plus decent space to work out.
I have a busy social life, so how will I fit things in?
The plan is designed to be flexible, with the understanding that everyone has to live their lives, and that is one of the things I really liked about Joe's approach. One slip-up doesn't make you a failure. But you will have to say "no" more than usual. If you want to make big changes but you also want to go out every Friday and Saturday night, it's going to take you longer to meet your goals. Alcohol is not recommended during the plan, and the food choices don't really allow for eating out (at least not during the first cycle). I gave up alcohol entirely for cycle 1 and only drank very occasionally on cycle 2, and this is when I saw great results. By the time I hit cycle 3 my dedication was waning a little, the wine was flowing once more, and lo and behold, my results weren't great. You get what you put in, and if you're not willing to knuckle down entirely for 90 days, you will still see results, but you probably won't make the hall of fame!
I'm a fussy eater and don't eat a lot of foods, what should I do?
If I'm going to be completely honest, I'd say don't sign up without thinking really hard first. Though the plan can be adapted for food allergies, it is not tailored to likes and dislikes. I'm a former fussy eater who hated vegetables, and I'm pretty sure my old self wouldn't have lasted a day on this plan (a big part of the menu is green veg). There are very few food substitutions you can do, especially in the first cycle, so bear this in mind. That said, you can use all the spices and seasonings you like to jazz things up!
How much support do you get?
Your assigned "support hero" is essentially a member of a customer services team. Some are trainers, some are people who've done the plan themselves. Their role is mostly reactive, not proactive, so you won't hear from them much unless you ask a question. When you do, you should get a quick and friendly answer. If you're expecting daily motivational emails and tips, you may be slightly disappointed, but they will send the occasional message to help you on your journey.
Is it expensive to do the plan?
Your food shopping bill will probably go up, because most people will be eating larger portions of meat, more fresh vegetables, and buying lots of yoghurt and coconut oil. Some recipes call for expensive ingredients like chia seeds and fillet steak. There is no room in this plan for cheap convenience food. But through planning and prepping ahead, using your freezer, and making things in bulk, you can keep down costs. There are various recommended supplements you're supposed to take which can also get pricey, but they are optional.
Is it worth the money?
Ah, the 10-million-dollar question. If you're asking me if you get what most people would consider to be almost £150 worth of tailored, personalised info and support, I'd probably say no. Everyone gets the same plan with the same recipes, just adapted for height, weight, and diet history. My plan was littered with spelling mistakes and had a good few inaccuracies that I had to check using the FAQ on The Body Coach website or on the unofficial facebook support group. A lot of the exercises are outlined in quite a basic format with links to an external, unconnected website anyone can access for free. Given that he's the face of the brand, I'd expected Joe to have filmed more of his own exclusive instructional videos in his own unique style. His personality is what many people buy into, so it's a shame he's not really made the most of that in the plan itself.
That said, I don't regret paying the money for a second. I think it's perfectly priced for the simple reason that someone who's paid £150 is unlikely to give up at the first hurdle. When you buy this plan, regardless of the "value" of the contents, you make a commitment to yourself and your body, and the simple fact is, typos and errors or not, this plan does give really great results for the majority of people who follow it properly. If it was simplified and only cost £30, I don't think there'd be half the cheerleaders there are because they'd have given up after a particularly tough leg day (me? Never!).
Did you enjoy it, and would you recommend it?
I am 100 percent happy with my results and would recommend this plan to anyone who's dabbled with faddy diets and low-calorie plans in the past and never truly understood how a good balance of exercise and the right macronutrients will help them get their best body ever. I didn't enjoy it, so to speak, but there was a wonderful feeling of accomplishment at the end of each cycle. I really surprised myself by loving the exercise element, especially during cycle 2. The food was harder; I struggled to find time to prepare things in advance, but I still found myself thinking about food all the time. I got bored of the same ingredients over and over again and often found myself wondering why certain things weren't allowed at all (what did a legume ever do to Joe Wicks?). I became quite boring to be around, because I found myself talking about the plan even when I promised myself I wouldn't. My husband couldn't WAIT for me to finish, and to be honest, by the end, neither could I. Sixty days appear to be my limit for something this intense, but the lessons I've learned will hopefully stay with me for much longer!
UPDATE: Can't I just buy the books?
Joe's first book, Lean in 15, became an instant bestseller, and it's easy to see why. The second and third book are also now available. With the books, he's applied his principals to a much more affordable option, and they're a good starting point, but they're not the same as the plan. The first book is basically cycle 1 without any of the personalisation (books 2 and 3 cover the later cycles). If you want to know more but you're not willing to part with £150 just yet it's a good way to test the waters, but I don't think you could use the books for 90 days and expect the dramatic results you may have seen on Instagram from people doing the full 90 Day SSS Plan. The recipes are based averages, and many of the portions are much bigger than the ones I was prescribed on my plan. Some of the recipes are the same, some are different, some are brand new, so you won't get the exact same results.