Lucy Wyndham-Read took up exercise to stop herself being tormented by bullies – and has become a YouTube fitness sensation. Now she is going to help you get superfit in only 7 minutes
Lucy wears top, Intimissimi. Skirt, Reiss. Blue ring, Rebus. Other rings, Alighieri. Styling: Holly Elgeti. Hair and Make-up: Lica Fensome at Stella Creative Artists using Bumble & Bumble and BareMinerals
Personal trainer Lucy Wyndham-Read is a leading fitness influencer with over one million YouTube subscribers following her hugely popular series of seven-minute online workout videos. Her seventh book, 7-Minute Body Plan: Quick Workouts & Simple Recipes for Real Results in 7 Days, has just been published.
Behind her success, though, lies a tale of heartbreaking tragedy – when Lucy was 21 her fiancé Mike was killed in a horrific accident. In an instant, the life they’d planned together since becoming teenage sweethearts was destroyed. It was, Lucy says, exercise that helped her cope with her grief and gave her the determination to forge a new future, even though she wasn’t naturally sporty. ‘I used to dread PE at school. I was shy, clumsy, and the girls who bullied me were typically the most popular, so they would choose the teams. I was always left until last, giving one team no choice but to pick me,’ says Lucy, 48, who is single and lives in Surrey.
It wasn’t only on the sports field that Lucy suffered. ‘On a school trip to France when I was a teenager, two girls called everyone into the dormitory we were staying in. One held my arms and the other punched me in the face. When I got home, I confided in my mum, who took me to hospital where I discovered my nose had been broken. ‘It was a terrible thing to go through, but it sowed the seeds of me wanting to become someone strong who could protect herself.’
When she was 18, Lucy decided to join the Army. ‘I don’t come from a military family – my mum is an artist, my dad a folk singer, so they were shocked,’ says Lucy, whose only experience of Army life had been a few cadet camps while at school. ‘However, once I explained that I had an overwhelming need to challenge myself and stop being a target for bullies, they were very supportive, but there were plenty of people who said I wouldn’t be able to handle military life. I wanted to prove them wrong.’
Lucy admits that at the time she was far from the peak physical condition she’s in today. ‘I was a size 12-14, I wasn’t toned, and didn’t have the strength my body has now. I knew I’d have to pass a fitness test to get into the Army so I began getting up early every day, walking then running, slowly increasing my stamina.’
In 1990, Lucy’s Army career began with 12 weeks of boot camp at Aldershot, Hampshire, where she was then stationed and trained as a dental nurse. A year before, her fiancé Mike had also joined the Army. The pair had met when she was 15 and he’d proposed on her 18th birthday, not long before she signed up to the military.
‘We were in separate barracks and he was often posted overseas, while my training meant I stayed at Aldershot. Even though we couldn’t see each other regularly, we wrote constantly.’
Lucy admits her first two years in the Army were challenging. ‘As one of just a couple of female soldiers at my barracks I felt I had to work harder to prove myself. However, whatever I did was never good enough for some officers. It was frustrating because I was giving it my all.’
Army life also saw Lucy’s fitness develop and her body change. ‘We ran every day then did press-ups and burpees [a mix of squats and planks]. I also worked out in my barracks bedroom, developing body-weight exercises I didn’t need equipment for. As well as physically fitter, I grew mentally stronger, too. I’d become that woman I’d dreamed of being as a teenager.’
Then, in August 1992, Lucy’s life changed for ever. ‘I was woken at 3am by a corporal telling me I had to get up immediately. I followed him, sick with fear – I knew whatever had happened wasn’t going to be good news.’
Lucy was told Mike had died at his barracks in Belfast. A game of Russian roulette with another soldier – placing a gun in one another’s mouths – had gone wrong, and he’d been shot at point-blank range. He was 22 and due to leave the Army just two months later.
‘He was the love of my life,’ says Lucy. ‘I still have all his letters, including the last he wrote, which arrived shortly after he died. To this day I’ve never been able to read it. When our Army careers finished, Mike was going to train as a firefighter, I would be a dental nurse, and we’d get married – we thought we had life all worked out. His death left me in a deep state of shock – I couldn’t comprehend he was gone.’
After two weeks of compassionate leave, Lucy returned to work. ‘To be back in such a harsh, emotionally cold place was very hard. It was one of the loneliest times of my life as I was expected to just get on with it,’ she says.
With her grief still so raw, Lucy again became a target for bullies. This time, her tormentors were senior colleagues. ‘On my first day back I was given Mike’s dental records and told, “These belong to a deceased soldier; you need to deal with the admin.” The officer knew they were my fiancé’s. It was deliberate cruelty. There was zero recognition of what I’d been through – it went beyond a stiff-upper-lip mentality,’ says Lucy.
It was then Lucy really threw herself into exercise. ‘I’d run for miles, and before anyone was doing HIIT [high-intensity interval training], I was creating my own routines in my barracks room. Exercise became a release, helping to lift the sadness that enveloped me. I slept better, it gave me a focus and it was time alone to come to terms with what had happened.’
Dress, Free People. Jewellery, Alighieri. Styling: Holly Elgeti. Hair and Make-up: Lica Fensome at Stella Creative Artists using Bumble & Bumble and BareMinerals
In 1994, Lucy decided to leave the military. ‘Army life was a constant reminder of Mike and I needed to get out and start over again,’ she says. ‘By now, having experienced the healing and motivating power of exercise, I was in love with fitness and wanted to show others that its benefits go way beyond having a six-pack.’
After qualifying as a personal fitness trainer and working in gyms, building up her client base, Lucy began sharing workout videos – which she filmed herself in her flat – on YouTube. ‘It seemed the perfect way to reach people who felt exercise wasn’t for them, either because they couldn’t afford the gym, were ashamed of their body or simply didn’t have the time. My videos made exercise accessible, something I’d always been passionate about.’
One of Lucy’s videos, 7 Minute Workout To Lose Belly Fat, has racked up over 46 million views, making it YouTube’s most-liked fitness video. ‘The irony that I used to be picked last for games isn’t wasted on me!’ laughs Lucy, whose online followers use the hashtag #lucyssquad.
‘I love the community that’s sprung up online, who do my workouts and connect with each other. There’s everyone from a grandmother in the Australian outback to new mums in the UK. And my focus is always on maximising your time – everyone can find seven minutes in the day.’
Lucy may be flying high, but she has never forgotten the tragedy behind her success. ‘I’ve faced so many hurdles and challenges, times when I wanted to walk away, but I always felt Mike with me, urging me on,’ she says.
‘Exercise was a bridge for me. Without it I might never have escaped the darkness after his death. It took me to a new chapter, and I know Mike would be proud.’
Can you really get fit in 7 minutes?
Lucy says yes! Here are two of her most effective routines
When my 7-minute Lose Belly Fat workout video went viral on YouTube in 2018, one thing that didn’t surprise me was the feedback: ‘I can’t believe this works!’ said viewers. You might be thinking the same – many people feel that the longer they spend working out, the more effective it will be. But intensity is key to getting results, not duration.
Traditional workouts focus on isolated moves, such as a plank or squat, and, although they work certain muscles, they don’t engage many – nor do they put the body through its fullest range of motion to achieve a full calorie-burning effect.
My 7-minute workouts use a special combination of cardio-toning moves and multi-compound and multi-directional exercises, so they engage hundreds of muscles in one move. Even better, they help to induce an effect known as EPOC (excess post-oxygen consumption), so you can naturally increase your calorie burn for hours after the workout. This is because your body is still working hard to rebalance its hormones, restock its fuel stores, cool down and return to its normal state.
Short workouts are also more doable. They are easy to squeeze into your life, so you are more likely to stick to them. My philosophy is keep it simple, make it easy. Everyone can find seven minutes within their day, including you – trust me.
Before you start…
- March on the spot for 30 seconds to warm up.
- Each workout has seven different moves.
- Do each one, flat out if you can, in the order shown, for one minute.
- At the 40-second mark each move will start to feel challenging. Keep going: it’s those last 20 seconds where the magic happens.
- You want to feel a bit out of breath – so it would be hard, for example, to hold a full conversation. This is the fat-burning zone.
- When you have finished, remember to stretch.
Cardio-boost and sculpt seated workout
Cardio-boost and sculpt seated workout
Calorie burning workout
This is an edited extract from Lucy’s new book 7-Minute Body Plan: Quick Workouts & Simple Recipes for Real Results in 7 Days (DK, £16.99). To order a copy for £13.59 with free P&P until 5 January, call 01603 648155 or go to mailshop.co.uk . ©Lucy Wyndham-Read 2019. Illustrations: Lizzy Thomas