All my life, I’ve been the tall, skinny, lanky guy. I’ve always been able to eat anything and everything in insane quantities, get very little exercise and still manage to not gain a gram. This is of course all thanks to great genes. For the most part, it’s never really bothered me – until people told me to buff up and consider modelling as a plan B in case the journalism and writing thing didn’t work out.

At university, I became more and more style conscious and being a media student, I became increasingly aware that my clothes played a crucial part in how people saw me. That was certainly the case on campus. People would dress up for lectures. Thanks to Facebook, I’ll never forget some of the bad outfit and accessory choices I made (including non-prescription glasses and super-tight skinny jeans) and although I managed to find my way style-wise, it still sucked that my shirts’ sleeves were too roomy. So, towards the end of third year, I made a half-assed promise to be more serious about my fitness and to work on getting bigger pecs and a 6-pack.

In 2013, I enrolled at Rhodes University for my Honours and the digs I lived in was across the street from the campus gym. As fate would have it, one of my housemates was doing his Masters in Ergomonics and spent a lot of time there. Clearly the stars were aligned, so I signed up for gym and spinning. I ended up spending more time in spinning classes than I did the weights section, which is probably why I can climb many flights of stairs with little pain or huffing and puffing and I actually didn’t gain much muscle. My diet also took a bit of a dip (don’t believe the hype around res food and booze) but I got the hang of gym and how the machines work, what a rep is, and so on.

Around this time last year, I made the great move to Cape Town. I was an intern at a magazine and with fashion week, sundowners and sushi in Camps Bay on the horizon, I figured I had to really look my best. My anxiety levels also hit an all-time high thanks to all the coffee and the difficulty of finding a place to live, so when I did, by the grace of God, manage to find a flat, I signed up at the Zone Fitness gym on Strand Street in the CBD but I soon discovered, after being hired, that sleeping in and boozy nights out were more appealing than pumping iron and eating vegetables. I managed to put in work two or three days a week, which was okay, but I still wasn’t eating healthily, or even enough. Last December, I joined the Men’s Health team. When I heard about the staff fitness challenge, I figured it wouldn’t only be a great way to commit to going to gym more regularly since I am paying for it, but also a way to make a few lifestyle tweaks and adjustments: I’ve cut down on alcohol, I run about two mornings a week, meditate and sleep more and as a result, I usually feel more relaxed and positive. While I’m not aiming to be as big as The Rock by the end of the challenge, I am hoping that I’ll put on enough muscle to fill out a suit and shirts better because the struggle of finding slim-fit ones that I like is real.

It’s now three days into the challenge and it’s really hit me – I have to lift weights on multiple days, plan what I’m going to eat and make sure it’s good for me. For someone who hates crowded gyms and cooking, those are the makings of a nightmare. The other MH editors and I received eating plans on Monday put together by the lovely folks at the Sports Science Institute and I’ve been trying my best to implement it. The hardest thing to adjust to is all the fruit and vegetables – they hardly make an appearance on my grocery list and apart from bananas and the occasional peach, I don’t enjoy fruit. I also have to up my protein and carb intake, especially on training days. I have to go for better quality food – rye over brown or white bread, low fat yoghurt over regular yoghurt, Nando’s over KFC, for example – and I need to get into the routine of snacking during the day to keep my body going. This is quite costly, so I need to get strict with my budgeting too.

As for the training, an instructor at Zone Fitness gave me a standard workout plan they give to members based on their goals, so that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few days. Because I want to build and tone muscle, my routine consists of little cardio and lots of good old lifting. Bench presses, squats, dips, arm and leg curls, you name it. The programme gets progressively intense, so this week I’ll be moving from doing 3 reps of 15 two days a week to three days a week, with a few new exercises added on. The weights I lift will also increase. The morning after leg day is the worst – when rolling off the bed and slithering around becomes an option – but in a weird way, it feels good and gratifying. No pain no gain, yes?

Now to figure out whether to snack on biltong or a packet of nuts today…