Haddins Fitness Challenge participants reflect back on the journey

Graham Caygill (see photo)

It seemed appropriate starting Primal at Haddins Fitness in early January as for the umpteenth year on January 1, I had vowed as a resolution to shed some weight and actually get fitter.

I had low expectations going into it, given how unsuccessful I had been in the past at sticking to any kind of movement towards getting healthy, but eight weeks on I genuinely feel like a new person. Once my body had adjusted to the shock of doing exercise every weekday, I found I could push myself harder as the weeks went by, and I was surprised by how frustrated I would be if I didn’t finish a challenge or competition.

The sheer enthusiasm of Michael Haddin and his staff rubbed off on myself and the other Primates, but it was their constant ability to push you and remind you that while you were improving, there was always more you could do.

The key thing, and where I have fallen down in the past, was healthy eating. Lacking pretty much any culinary skills, this was going to be a test, but living off chicken, salmon, beef and vegetables has been much easier than anticipated.

The four-day detox at the start of the programme was by the far the worst part of it, but I use the memory of it as a reminder never to get too out of shape again.

I am trying to set targets as I continue to push myself, and am doing my first outdoor race in more than 10 years later this month when I take part in a 10km race at Yas Marina Circuit.

I never could have imagined I’d be in a position to try that at the end of last year. The impact Primal has had on me has been great and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking to get fit and lose weight in a fun environment.

Graham Caygill is The National’s deputy sport editor and took part in Haddins’ Primal Transformation programme.


Weight lost: 12kg

Centimetres lost: 13cm

Resting heart rate: Before: 73 beats per minute. After 48 bpm. Improvement 25bpm.

Upper body strength – number of pushups in 60 sec: Before: 35. After: 54. Improvement: 19.


Graham Caygill – the man with calves the size of soccer balls – has made an amazing transformation. Graham struggled to keep up at the start of the programme, but due to sheer guts and determination, he was leading the way in all sessions towards the end of the eight weeks. Twelve kilograms lighter and targeting his first running event, the man who could run out of sight in a dark night is now leading the charge.

– Michael Haddin

Stacie Overton Johnson (see photo)

During my first week at Haddins Fitness, I actually thought the WODs, which is short for workout of the day, might kill me. The pain was almost unbearable. It was difficult to walk, to sit, to stand, to breathe. I hadn’t worked many of my muscles this hard in at least 10 years. But the pain eventually stopped and I started seeing results. I could see the changes in the mirror, but the numbers during our final assessment were all the motivation I needed to keep going (I’ve just signed up for another four months).

I’ve lost 6.8 kilograms (3.5 at the assessment; the rest since); 9 centimetres from my waist and 5cm from my hips. I increased the number of knee-pushups I can do in 60 seconds from 42 to 60 and have upped my squats in 60 seconds from 38 to 54. I could do a 40-second plank on day one. At the end of week eight, I did 2 minutes 10 seconds. When I started, my resting heart rate was 91 beats per minute. It is now 60. Those numbers tell a story – but they don’t tell the whole story.

For me, the most significant benefit has been a reawakening of my mental toughness – something that had been slipping in the last few years. I’m pushing my body beyond where I ever thought it could go and that has changed me. I’m more confident; more determined; more focused than before. My competitive streak has been reignited and my fierce determination to succeed has returned.

All of that has made me a little rougher around the edges; perhaps not as socially graceful as before – but I’ll take it. Because I also feel a little more alive.

Stacie Overton Johnson is The National’s food writer and was a member of the WOD group.


Weight lost: 6.8kg

Abdominal strength - number of crunches in 60 sec: Before: 32. After: 43. Improvement: 11.

Core strength – plank: Before: 40 sec. After: 2 min 10 sec. Improvement: 1 min 30 sec

Blood pressure: Before: 137/95. Improvement: 122/74


When she first arrived, Stacie was nervous due to having type 1 diabetes and she was right to be a little worried. But Stacie made a massive commitment to the programme and had one of the highest attendance records. She tried extremely hard and has been rewarded with some awesome results. There were times Stacie had to stop mid-session to check her blood sugar levels, but this didn’t deter her from getting the job done. Her confidence and fitness levels are now sky-high.

– Michael Haddin

Ashley Lane (see photo)

When it comes to big undertakings, be it moving country or making a career switch, I tend to jump in feet first, assuming I’ll sort out the nitty gritty details as I go along. Competing in the TriYas triathlon was no different. It didn’t matter that I don’t own a bike or that I have an unbridled fear of swimming in the ocean. These issues were sure to sort themselves out, as they usually do.

My one saving grace in this whole encounter was that I went in with a decent level of fitness, something that helped throughout the experience. Done alone, a 22-kilometre bike ride was a breeze and a 5km run seemed like a cake walk compared to my experience running the London Marathon.

Prior to starting the training with Haddins triathlon team, I frequently visited the gym, typically completing three to five sessions a week, so the notion of keeping to a schedule was nothing new. The move to training seven times a week, sometimes twice a day, however, certainly took some getting used to, particularly the 6am starts and sometimes late finishes.

I’d be lying if I said that I saw massive changes in my fitness abilities over the eight weeks of the programme, and some of that was down to my aim of “just finishing”. As I got closer to race day, though, my competitive nature led to me setting the goal of finishing in two hours or less. What I did see an improvement in, however, was overcoming my trepidation of the water. For that I credit the amazing support from both the Haddins trainers and my teammates, mixed with Saturday swim sessions at the beach at St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort and Al Bateen.

Still, for all my prepping, the thought of the swim had me, quite literally, shaking in my trainers on race day. The thought of jumping into the cold marina was almost too much to bear, and had it not been for, once again, my teammates, I’m not entirely sure I would have gone through with it. Much to my surprise, I finished the 750-metre swim in 22 minutes, and wound up finishing the race in 1 hour and 52 minutes – 8 minutes faster than my goal.

Would I do this again? Absolutely. For all the times I brushed off the “you’ll be hooked after one” comments while training, I’ll be the first to admit that they were right.

Ashley Lane is The National’s assistant editor for magazines and trained with Haddins’ triathlon team.


Resting heart rate: Before the challenge: 89 beats per minute. After the challenge: 59bpm. Improvement: 30bpm.

Core strength – plank: Before: 2 min 35 sec. After: 3 min. Improvement: 25 sec

Upper body strength – number of pushups in 60 sec: Before: 32. After: 40. Improvement: 8

Abdominal strength – number of crunches in 60 sec: Before: 40. After: 50: Improvement: 10


What an impressive transformation. At the start of the programme Ashley was a nervous woman who was scared to go in the sea during the first ocean swim for fear of drowning, but she emerged as a “triathlete” at the end of eight weeks.

– Michael Haddin

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