Before and after pictures: Bride's attempt to get abs in 12 weeks

Y&YW digital writer and bride-to-be Penny trialled a 12-week bikini fitness programme in the run-up to her wedding day, and here's what happened - including before and after pictures.

I wouldn't say I was unfit. I'd gone to exercise classes two or three times a week for the past couple of years and have never really snacked much (it helps that I don't have a sweet tooth). But I felt like I'd reached a bit of a rut. Sure, I didn't get out of breath when I manically ran for my train, but I didn't have that elusive washboard stomach either.

Plus, my wedding is coming up in the summer and, like a lot of brides, I want to look my best for the big day. I knew I didn't want to lose weight, but I did want to get toned up.

I'd always been curious about those 12-week bikini programmes you see on social media, and wondered whether those before and after pictures really were achievable or just a load of BS. More importantly, I wanted to see if I was capable of doing it, and whether I'd notice any changes in my body.

So, with the help of Anthony Dwayne Murray and Neda Karaliute, training ambassadors at Fitness First, I embarked on a 12-week fitness challenge. Here's what happened…

Week 1. After my first meeting with Anthony, he decided on a plan of action to reach my goal of getting a flat stomach and more toned arms.

Anthony says: "Penny had some concerns in regards to her body and how to fix problem areas before her wedding day. These areas were her tummy, arms and legs. We decided training three times per week was a good start and included a mixed HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and weight training regime."

We also talked about my diet. I thought I was quite good as I made sure I didn't snack in between meals and ate healthy lunches so I could have a bit of a naughtier meal in the evening if I wanted to. However, I was surprised to learn that actually, snacking is a good thing as long as you snack on the right foods, and that I probably wasn't eating enough calories per day.

"Penny was eating good quality food, but lacked in the quantity which stopped her from putting on enough muscle to tone up, as well as dropping the body fat," Anthony said. With that in mind, we added healthy snacks like banana and peanut butter, nuts and blueberries to my diet, as well as lean proteins like cod and turkey, plus LOTS of greens - hello broccoli!

Also added to my diet were protein shakes (to build muscle), BCAA (stops the rate of protein breakdown for muscle development), L-Leucine (an amino acid which is broken down into fat structures), plus daily vitamins.

This week was all about ascertaining my fitness level, so we did a few different exercises, which I didn't find too bad. Until week two.

Week 2. Turns out the first week was just the warm-up. Now Anthony was determined to put me through my paces and force me to challenge myself a bit more.

Anthony says: "Penny has always been pretty active with her short and sweet lunchtime workouts, such as boxing and abs classes. But she has never participated in a strength training regime with a trainer or followed a plan. It became part of my plan to introduce her to weights via body weight exercises, then progressing into a strength programme that would challenge her."

Weight lifting wasn't as scary as I thought, I even enjoyed it - although I have to admit we did start with light weights. What I most definitely didn't like was the HIIT training, which was mostly sprinting for 10 seconds, jogging for 10 seconds, sprinting again and other joyful exercises that got me so out of breath I thought I would pass out. Turns out I wasn't that good at endurance after all.

Week 3. I'm not going to lie, towards the end of week 3, I was starting to wonder why I'd been stupid enough to sign up to this. I was sore everywhere, and couldn't see any change (impatient, moi?). Knowing that I had to go and meet Anthony at the prearranged time meant I didn't have an excuse to quit, plus he was very encouraging in my sessions, pushing me to out-do myself.

Week 4. While I was starting to enjoy the exercise and feel less sore as my body got used to it, I hit a bit of a low with the diet because I was having broccoli and cod/chicken/eggs every day. I chatted to Anthony, who said that I could vary my diet a bit, as long as I stuck to the healthy diet 80% of the time. The prospect of a cheat meal or two helps A LOT.

Week 5. I switched personal trainers to the lovely Neda, who got straight into it. As I'd shed a bit of my body fat, we discussed upping my daily calorie count to 2000, which seemed like a huge leap for me. She taught me about what foods were good for my goals; those that were high in protein as well as good fats and carbs. I found it all fascinating, and it meant I had more freedom with my diet. I was a changed woman.

Week 6. During week six, Neda suggested I add a fourth training session to my schedule, which I was surprisingly up for, until she mentioned that said session would be accompanying her to a spinning class. Which I hate, with a passion. I survived the first class though. Just about.

Week 7. With the spinning providing plenty of high intensity training, we stuck to core exercises and weights the rest of the time. Think pull-ups, lunges with weights, squats with weights, burpees and much, much more fun stuff. Slowly, we started going for heavier weights too, and using machines a bit more. Needless to say I was grateful for Neda's instructions as I would've been clueless about how to use them.

Week 8. I had been taking progress pictures every week, and this is when I first started noticing a real change in my body, and even Neda commented on my growing "baby" muscles. This gave me the motivation I needed to carry on with the training. And the fact that there were only a few weeks left!

Week 9. I surprised myself by looking forward to my training sessions, and I couldn't wait to see what new exercises Neda had planned for me. I felt more energised and hadn't had an afternoon energy drop in ages.

Week 10. As my programme was nearing a close, I started asking lots of questions about exercises and machines to build up the confidence to do it all myself, with no lovely PT to prompt me.

Week 12. With the final week of the programme upon me, I was slightly disappointed that I wouldn't have anyone to push me anymore, but seeing the final results (pic above), I was determined to carry on by myself! Did I get those washboard abs that you always see in the "after" pictures on Instagram? Well, a tiny bit. In certain lights. But I know it's definitely achievable, I just have to be patient and put in the hard work. Because ladies, if these 12 weeks have taught me anything, it's that there's no magic solution to losing weight or toning up. You have to work out pretty hard and be very smart with what you eat. Those muscular people you see at the gym or in magazines have only achieved that physique after months, if not years or hard work!

I didn't lose weight, maintaining my 49kg, but I did lose a dress size, meaning I just gained in muscle weight what I lost in fat. I might want to bulk out a bit more, but I'm pretty happy with the results.

Would I do it again? Definitely. But I think there is definitely a balance. I might go back to three training sessions a week, and allow myself a pizza or two once in a while. Because, what's the point of life without pizza, eh?

P.S. If you're interested, click here for a gallery of the full transformation pictures.

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