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 and it’s only going to take up 7 minutes of your time.
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.’
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.
The 7-minute cardio-boost & sculpt seated workout
Just because this workout is seated, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s easy. You are going to be investing in your most important muscle of all – your heart – as the moves are great for cardiovascular health. If you have a disability, injury or wear and tear on your joints, this is the workout for you. For each move, sit tall and with good posture, keep feet firmly on the ground, hip-width apart.
1. MINUTE 1 – RUN PUNCH
Sit with back straight, shoulders back and bellybutton pulled in towards your spine.
Punch your arms continuously, straight out in front of you. Keeping your fists at shoulder level. Do this for 10 counts.
Switch to ‘running arms’ – mimic how they would move if you were running by pumping them back and forth. Do this for 10 counts.
Alternate your arms between punching and ‘running’ for 60 seconds.
2. MINUTE 2 – THE AB MONSTER
Place your fingertips by the side of your head, elbows out to the side. Try to keep your elbows in line with your shoulders.
Twist to the right from your torso, reaching your right elbow behind you and your left one forward. Feel the twist at your waist, while avoiding hunching your shoulders or tugging your head or neck. Repeat on the other side.
Alternate side twists for 60 seconds, keeping your arms and head in the same position.
3. MINUTE 3 – SPRINT SWIM
Stretch both arms out in front of you at chest height, palms facing down.
As if you are doing breaststroke, pull your arms back in an outwards circular motion, drawing back your elbows smoothly and deliberately. Squeeze your shoulder blades.
Extend both arms, palms facing down, back to your start position.
Repeat for 60 seconds. Don’t let your arms drop below shoulder level.
4. MINUTE 4 – POWER KICKS
With your hands in fists, hold them just in front of your shoulders, elbows pointing behind you.
Punch your right arm straight forward at chest height and – at the same time – kick the opposite leg out, creating a straight line from foot to hip.
Return to your starting position, then punch the left arm and kick the right leg. Aim to get your leg parallel to the ground, or higher.
Return to the same start position each time. Keep alternating for 60 seconds.
5. MINUTE 5 – KNEE CRUNCH & TWIST
Bring your hands behind your head, palms facing forward and elbows bent and in line with your shoulders.
Raise your left foot off the ground, lifting your knee up. At the same time twist to your left through your torso. Hold for a second.
Return to start position, then switch sides. Repeat for 60 seconds keeping your back straight as you twist. Engage your stomach muscles throughout.
6. MINUTE 6 – THUMBS UP
Sit with chest lifted, shoulders back. Extend both arms straight out in front, palms facing inwards, thumbs pointing up.
With control bring both arms out to either side, so you are lifting and opening through your chest.
Return to start position.
Keeping your hands close together, lift both arms directly above your head. Hold for a second. Try not to arch your back.
Continue for 60 seconds.
7. MINUTE 7 – CUPID’S ARROW
Extend your right arm straight out in front of you, and pull your left arm back, as though you are shooting a bow and arrow. Your left elbow should be behind you and your hand by your shoulder.
Now change arms; pull back the straight arm, and extend the other arm forward.
Keep alternating continuously for 60 seconds. Don’t twist your neck; your waist should be doing all the work.
The 7-minute calorie-burning workout
This really supercharges your metabolism and is ideal if you are trying to reach a healthy weight; you will burn off serious amounts of calories during the 7 minutes, and also raise your calorie burn for hours after. The routine includes some ‘plyometric’ (jumping) moves that require a little more energy.
1. MINUTE 1 – ON THE RUN
Stand with good posture. Engage your abs and glutes. Make sure your knees are soft and not locked.
Start running on the spot, bringing your knees and arms up as high as you can. Exaggerate your movements.
Do this for 60 seconds. If you need to make it easier you can march on the spot.
2. MINUTE 2 – NETBALL JUMP
Start in a squat position, with your body as low as possible; engage your core for balance.
Keeping low, push off your left foot, take a big side step to the right, moving as far as you can. Bring your left foot to join your right.
Straight away jump up high, then land low, back in your squat position.
Now push off your right foot and take a deep side step to the left. Bring your right foot to join your left. Then jump up high. Keep travelling from side to side.
3. MINUTE 3 – LUNGE TO KICK
With feet slightly wider than hip-width, lunge with your right leg behind you. Your right knee should point to the ground, with a 90-degree bend in your left leg in front. Bend your arms and bring your hands up towards your shoulders.
Driving off your left leg, kick your right leg out in front as you come back to standing. Straighten your arms and swing behind you for balance.
Repeat the move on this leg for 30 seconds, then change to the other leg for the final 30 seconds.
4. MINUTE 4 – SKI JUMP SQUATS
Start in a deep squat position. Now jump diagonally forwards to the right, landing in a low squat.
Jump back to your start position, then straighten up to perform 2 tiny jumps. Return to the squat and jump diagonally forward and to the left, again landing in a low squat.
Now jump back to your start position, straighten up and do 2 tiny jumps again.
Keep alternating from side to side for 60 seconds.
5. MINUTE 5 – SIDE SHUFFLE TOUCHDOWN
Start in a deep squat, knees and hips bent, hands lightly clasped in front.
Staying low, step sideways a couple of paces to the right. Bring your feet together between each pace. Feel the stretch in the side of your leg as you move.
At the end of your shuffle to the right, tap the ground with your right hand, hold the side stretch for a moment, then return to squat position.
Repeat to the left. Continue, alternating sides, for 60 seconds.
6. MINUTE 6 – PUNCH & CRUNCH
With legs wide, knees soft, bring fists close to the body, with your elbows out to the sides.
Punch one arm out straight, then the other. Do 4 fast but controlled punches.
Lift your right knee up as high as you can. Draw both arms tight to your sides. Step the right foot back, then back up into another knee crunch. Do 4 crunches with your right leg.
Repeat: 4 punches, then 4 knee crunches. Continue for 30 seconds. Then switch and do 30 seconds with your left leg.
7. MINUTE 7 – STAR IN & OUT
Stand feet together, arms by sides, knees soft, glutes and abs engaged.
Jump up, moving your feet outwards and your arms above your head, forming a star – land softly in your start position.
This time, jump your feet out to the side, but bring your arms up to shoulder height in front of you, palms facing the floor. Land softly in your start position
Alternate arm movements continuously for 60 seconds.
Interview by Eimear O’Hagan
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)