Construction man Chris Sugden’s gut had grown out of proportion. Here’s how he remodelled it

HIDDEN AWAY IN AN AREA CALLED Sun Valley in Noordhoek lies a small but potent training lab. It’s equal parts sweat, science and proven bodyweight training, and it’s the main cause of Chris Sugden’s impressive weight loss. The burly ex-rugby player has always been a big man but when he stopped training and playing the 15-man game, the paunch came piling on. “In 2013, the alarm bells started to ring when I weighed in at a whopping 142kg at the age of 38,” says Sugden. Sugden’s salvation came through a combo of trainers, including Darren Clarke and Lee Ann Dawson of the Athlete Development Centre, but it was mostly thanks to the expertise of Niel Zietsman, owner and head coach ( of the little lab in Sun Valley, where Chris still trains. Here’s how to start your own body-construction plan.

1. The Problem

“When I moved to South Africa and started my own construction company at the age at 30, I stopped playing rugby and exercising. I also had two young daughters and a long list of excuses not to train. In my twenties, I was a pretty constant weight of around 105kgs. In 2013 I hit rock bottom when my scale said I weighed 142kg at the age of 38.”

THE LESSON There is always going to be work, family, and social pressure. The biggest danger is becoming complacent and ignorant of the dangers of piling on the kilograms. The reality check is tough, but you need it to start.

2. The Change

“I picked up a rugby ball again in 2013 and played in the Cape Town Tens for my local club, Masiphumele RFC, in the Vets league, and it wasn’t until I played that I realised just how unfit I had become. I was way off the pace and struggling to breathe.”

THE LESSON Being overweight isn’t just about appearances. The more you’re carrying around the middle, the more risk you face of cardiovascular disease, and the more your fitness will be affected. If you’re struggling to set goals, rather aim for realistic performance rather than figures on the scale. An easy example? Stay on the field for a full rugby game.

3. The Strategy

“I started with baby steps. I did three weekly 60-minute long cardio sessions on a rugby field, and three strength training sessions. Initially I struggled to run a lap of two fields without stopping. I slowly built on this. I also saw a dietician to learn how to read food labels. I’d always eaten relatively well (or so I thought) but my portion control was totally out. I then cut out binge drinking. I now limit my beer intake and tend to drink whiskey and water or vodka and soda if I go out.”

THE LESSON A visit and meal plan from a dietician is worth more than a month full of personal training.

4. The Result

“The initial rewards were from friends and family passing compliments. Now I see the real rewards when running. On my 40th birthday last year I ran my first half marathon and finished in 2.13, and then finished my first full marathon in 4.52, (with the first 21km in 2.09). My body is still changing: my waist size has gone from 42 inches to 36.

THE LESSON Don’t stop taking on challenges.