By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies.

Greg Whyte OBE

Physical Activity Expert


19 September 2015Average man to iron man: Greg Whyte's ultimate fitness guide

He helped David Walliams swim the channel and got Chris Moyles up Kilimanjaro

Professor Greg Whyte is the kind of man who would have you believe you can do anything. His reputation rides on the fact that he transforms celebrity sofa-surfers, many of whom are the wrong side of 40, into achieving awe-inspiring athletic feats for Sport Relief. He convinced a chubby David Walliams to swim the Channel in 2006, got Chris Moyles up Mount Kilimanjaro in 2009, and in 2014 persuaded Davina McCall to overcome her fear of cold water and swim through the freezing February waters of Windermere. Now, he says, it’s your turn.

Whyte, 48, who is speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on October 2 about the appeal of pushing yourself to the limit, says anyone can achieve remarkable feats of fitness, regardless of their starting point. “There has to be some sort of mental commitment, some desire,” he says. “But if you have an inkling of that, coupled with enough time and energy, then you can achieve something incredible.” It’s this infectious positivity that has seen many a celebrity conquer their demons. Since first helping Walliams – he subsequently guided his training for the comedian’s 140-mile Thames swim in 2011 – he’s had a steady stream of famous faces through the doors of the London-based Centre for Health and Human Performance where he is a director. Ronan Keating, Eddie Izzard, John Bishop and Fearne Cotton are among his past charges and he is currently working with Jo Brand.

Still, most of his work involves helping ordinary people to achieve the extraordinary. It’s not the person, it’s the challenge that excites him. “That’s what drives me on, fires me up,” he says. “And if I don’t bring the enthusiasm factor, we are lost before we get started.” Indeed, he says his most rewarding accomplishment to date was coaching a team of four women, one a great grandmother who had lost a hip to tuberculosis as a child, another who, at 36, had undergone prolonged treatment for breast cancer, to complete a relay swim across the Channel. “The biggest mistake people make is in choosing an activity they really don’t enjoy,” he says. “If you do that, it will become a fight, a struggle.” Do they ever ask too much of themselves, set their sights too high? “Without exception, every one of the celebrities I’ve worked with has been pushing right to the edge of their capabilities,” Whyte says. “It is never easy.”

Success comes down to meticulous planning. Whyte, who represented Great Britain in the modern pentathlon at two Olympics, has a role as professor in applied sport and exercise at Liverpool John Moores University and his approach cleverly integrates the kind of cutting edge scientific training approaches used by elite athletes in an appropriately diluted format. “Societal factors are the big limiting issues for most people,” he says. “You need to factor in how much time you can dedicate to training, how that is going to affect work and the family. You will talk about it and think about it all the time.”

What’s startling is how quickly he steers the lardy towards athleticism. He is particularly keen on “brick sessions”, a brutal training method he helped to create when working as physiologist to the British triathlon squad. These entail switching between five minutes of all-out effort at one activity (running, swimming, cycling) to five minutes of another. Repeatedly, and often for 45 minutes or longer. No one size fits all where training is concerned and it clearly irks him that most marathon and triathlon training schedules are standardised to around four months. “One person might need that long, another might need a year,” he says. “I’ve worked with celebrities like Eddie Izzard who’d never worn a pair of trainers and some, like Davina, who had to get marathon-ready in a week.” Izzard subsequently went on to run 43 marathons in 51 days.

Beyond the physical, it’s the mind that also needs training. He’s seen irrational fear, mental fatigue and self-doubt plague even the most determined of his clients. Helping them to overcome psychological barriers is perhaps Whyte’s greatest strength. In his book Achieve The Impossible (£12.99, Bantam Press) he details the neuroscience and behavioural techniques that are key to success, but says the first step is to look at the small picture as well as the big one. “It’s no good setting a huge goal and going for it,” he explains. “You need short-term and medium-term mini-goals to aim for on the way. If you plan to run five marathons, set yourself a 10km goal first, then a half marathon.”

Pick your sporting challenge

• Choose something you enjoy or an activity you know you can do. By all means try something new, but have a go at something similar first. If you select an activity you find you dislike, you are setting yourself up for a fall before you start.

• Think carefully about the duration of your challenge. More or further is not necessarily better. If you have a job or family commitments that restrict the time available to train, perhaps think about a time-led goal such as completing a 10km in 1hr 50min.

• Think about diet. It’s important not to obsess too much about food, but ensure you have the right components to fuel the activity you are doing. You need carbs and plenty of them. White and brown bread, pasta, rice. Get them in to boost the glycogen stores that provide energy. Eat healthy oils from fish, olive oil, coconut and avocados. Snack if you need to, but aim for three meals a day. You don’t need endless energy bars and drinks. Normal food is fine.

• Set short and medium-term goals. This is critical, both for the mind and the body. Enter a 5km swim before you try a 10km, sprint triathlons before you attempt the Olympic distances.

• Make your training varied as well as event specific. Incorprorate “brick” sessions, interval training track work for runners, indoor sessions for cyclists. Be creative. Think about the training limitations of your challenge. If you are planning a very long swim, it would be impossible to devote the necessary training hours to replicate that all the time. So try cycling, rowing or another activity for similar physiological effect.

• Prepare for challenges within your challenge. When comedian John Bishop attempted his “Week of Hell” for Sport Relief, he was in serious pain from muscle damage. Ice baths at the end of a day helped to ease this as did wearing compression tights to bed. Davina McCall famously suffered painful abrasions around her groin from cycling 17 hours a day in wet shorts, but a barrier cream mixed with an anaesthetic cream provided a solution.

• Believe in yourself. There are four main limits to success – body, mind technical and environment – and all can be negotiated. Find solutions and the goal is yours to achieve. Anything is possible.


Greg Whyte will be speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Friday, October 2, 6pm-7pm; tickets are £8

Source: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/health/diet-fitness/article4560869.ece