Menopause App

Digital Packs Banner Digital Packs Banner


Personal trainer to Strictly Come Dancing’s Gemma Atkinson reveals how the star stays SO fit

Gemma Atkinson Strictly Come Dancing main image, Personal trainer to Strictly Come Dancing's Gemma Atkinson reveals how the star stays SO fit by healthista

Mark Bohannon, personal trainer to Strictly Come Dancing’s Gemma Atkinson reveals exactly how the star prepared for the show

The time is finally here, Britain’s second-best loved TV show (come on, Bake Off had to take first place) is back again. Strictly Come Dancing has fox-trotted back onto our screens and on Saturday night we met the couples that will be dancing their way through the series in a bid to win come Christmas time. And who have we got our eyes on here at Healthista HQ? It HAS to be health and fitness queen Gemma Atkinson who has been partnered with Slovenian hunk Aljaž Škorjanec. Soap lovers will recognise the 32-year-old actress from Emmerdale, Casualty and most popularly for playing Lisa Hunter on Hollyoaks. But we’re fans of the Strictly star for her love of health and fitness. In the past, she’s spoken about waking up early for early morning yoga sessions and training in the gym but now the actress has stepped it up a notch with an intensive weight training programme.

When she was revealed as a contestant, Atkinson said that she hoped she was partnered with someone strong that can cope with her 11 stone frame. At 5ft9 and with a lot of muscle, we are seriously crushing on the starlet’s body. But looking that good doesn’t come without hard slog. Before the show started, Atkinson took on an intensive 12-week body transformation programme with UP Fitness in her hometown of Manchester.

So who’s the trainer behind that enviable six pack? That would be gym manager Mark Bohannon who was awarded the title of PT of the Year at the 2017 National Fitness Awards. We spoke to Bohannon about his training philosophy and exactly how he worked with Atkinson to prepare her for Strictly.

Gemma Atkinson Strictly Come Dancing, Personal trainer to Strictly Come Dancing's Gemma Atkinson reveals how the star stays SO fit by healthista
Gemma Atkinson attending the Strictly Come Dancing premier in August

Wigan-born Bohannon revealed how you can follow Atkinson’s training plan to pump up your training routine. Here’s what he said:

Pick up those weights

‘With Gemma’s workout, we choose simple exercises that work the most muscles at a time. So she does a lot of split squats, row movements, push movements and we do some pull movements as well. We choose big compound exercises as opposed to small isolation exercises.

Gemma comes into the gym and we’ll do a quick mobility exercise which is an active stretch for two or three minutes to get her moving. Before she comes to us she’s done the radio all morning, she’s sat about so we just want to get her up and started and she’s usually quite tight around the hip flexor. After stretching out, she’ll do a warm up set which is with a lighter weight. The workout itself takes around 40 minutes and will always be weight based. A particularly useful weighted exercise would be something like a pendulum squat. We have a machine for clients to do a pendulum squat exercise (which not just Gemma but all of our clients notoriously hate) but it works really well. It gets people to get up in the full range of a squat and because the machine is there and it’s in place, we can push Gemma a little bit harder because we don’t have to worry about injury as much because we know that she’s safe.

After the workout we do one or two things, we either isolate some muscles, so that will be working backs of arms and abs and smaller muscles or we’ll do some conditioning. Conditioning would be a sprint on a bike or some farmers walks outside.’

Use your time well

‘All in all, Gemma is here for about 55 minutes to an hour maximum. You want to make sure you’re being as effective as possible in the least amount of time. So from the second Gemma walks through the door, we go straight into our training and she’s working hard right up until the point that she leaves.

Every exercise needs to have a purpose, rather than just going into the gym and going through the motions

And one of the most important things with all workouts is making sure that every single rep is perfect or as near as perfect as possible. The most important thing isn’t the workout itself, it’s the delivery of the workout and how it’s performed. So we could give Gemma’s workout to 100 different people and depending on how they perform those exercises in terms of intensity and the execution of the technique, that would then determine the results that they get.

UP Fitness Gemma Atkinson Mark Bohannon, Personal trainer to Strictly Come Dancing's Gemma Atkinson reveals how the star stays SO fit by healthista

You need to set yourself some goals and make sure you understand that each rep is important and that each set is going to challenge you. Every exercise needs to have a purpose. Rather than just going to the gym and going through the motions, think about what you actually want from it. Decide which exercise you’re going to do, the amount of weight you’re going to use and what you want to get out of it. It almost becomes a routine for some people.’

Cardio is hardio so eat at a calorie deficit instead

‘No exercise really loses weight or loses fat, that’s down to the nutrition side of things. The idea behind the training is to build muscle and then the nutrition will look after the fat loss. Exercise will burn calories but we could give Gemma the perfect workout and if her nutrition wasn’t right then she wouldn’t get results. We need to use the workout to get some strength and to build some muscle, as a byproduct you will also burn some calories but we need to make sure nutrition is spot on.

If you set your nutrition at the right amount then cardio just becomes an extra tool that we can use

About 70 percent of Gemma’s training is with weights and around 30 percent is cardio but it really does depend on your goals, if you’re really lean you might want to do 90 percent weights and just 10 percent cardio. But the weights should always take up the majority of your plan. If you set your nutrition at the right amount then cardio just becomes an extra tool that we can use.’

Have an end goal

‘It’s very hard to achieve that great shape if you have no idea of what that shape looks like at the end. Gemma has always trained but we set some goals of where we wanted her to be at the end. Having something to work towards is what gets good results. Going to the gym and aimlessly training year round isn’t going to get the same result as being focused twelve weeks at a time. With Gemma one of our big goals has been to make sure we have visible abs at the end of the twelve weeks.

Our celebrity clients have it tougher to stay motivated and stay on track than people that work a nine to five. If you’re working nine to five, every day you get up at seven, you know when you’re having breakfast, when lunch is. Whereas Gemma’s schedule is all over the place. She might be at an event, an award ceremony or anywhere else and she needs to make sure that she stays on plan and she gets up before 4 am in the morning as well.’

Beware of the weekend binge

‘A lot of people will eat quite healthily throughout the week and Monday to Friday they’ll do well. But it gets to the weekend and they now feel that they deserve a cheat meal and the cheat then undoes everything they’ve done throughout the week. They binge at the weekend, so many people do it. Just tying up those Saturdays and Sundays makes such a big difference. But it’s a cultural thing in the UK – UP Fitness have gyms around the world and we don’t experience this as much in our gyms abroad. British people just seem to get to the weekend and decide to have a pizza and a few glasses of wine.’

Eat real food

‘The best diet-related tip I could possibly give is to make sure you get your proteins and fats and just make sure you’re eating real food. You should be able to look at your plate and everything on it should have been alive at some point. If you eat meat that would mean lots of fish, plenty of lean meat, eggs, vegetables and then carbohydrates would be things like sweet potato, oats and brown rice. And then depending on what kind of condition you’re currently in that should then determine how many carbohydrates you’re having.

sometimes if she’s eating out with friends, she’ll send the menu over to me and I’ll say ‘right this is what you’ve got to choose’

Someone like Gemma is relatively lean to start with so she needs a little bit more carbohydrates than others might. If someone comes through the door who is in really bad shape we might start with none. It’s all specific to your starting point. But your food should always be made up of real food, stay away from processed food. Everything needs to be natural and try to make sure that you buy it from a good source, that you go to a local butcher which will make sure it’s good quality meat as well. Try and see past it being a diet and look at it more as a lifestyle.’

And for the best results? Don’t cheat

‘As she’s on a 12-week transformation journey, we make sure that Gemma doesn’t cheat. She’s looking to get into the best shape possible. In order to do that we need to take away all the variables and makes sure she’s 100 percent on it all the time. We get a lot of clients that are in good shape, they just want to see what they can achieve. It’s a good mental test as well to see if you can actually do it.

If you’re not on a short term plan you shouldn’t be looking at it as a cheat. It’s just called having a bit of a social life. If there’s an event on, we’re happy for our clients to go off plan but not on these 12-week transformations. We calculate exactly how much food they should be having each week. By having a cheat that could completely throw the numbers out. If throughout the week you are at a 500 calorie deficit each day (which means over a week you’re 3000 calories down) and then you go and have a pizza which is 4000 calories or a big cheat meal, you’ll end up undoing all the hard work you’ve done throughout the week.

People ask me what my favourite cheat meal is and I always struggle. For me, it’s more about the experience. It’s not necessarily the food that people miss, it’s more the experience of having that food. So I always try and encourage clients, if you’re going to have a meal off plan – do it socially with friends. Don’t sit in your house with a Dominoes on your own, it kind of defeats the object. For me, though I’d have to go for either a paella or a burrito. And I suppose you could get a burrito made quite healthy with a wrap and lettuce and chicken or you could have one that has all sorts of dressings and cheese. You can make quite a healthy paella or you can fill one with chorizo and all sorts of different food. It’s down to how you make the food. A chicken salad could become very unhealthy quite quickly if you add a few things to it. I enjoy what I eat and I enjoy real food. I enjoy being able to go out with friends and still be social.’

Make the right choices when eating out

‘Preparation is massively important. Gemma makes her food prep each day so that she can take that into work. Then if she’s ever out and about somewhere she makes sure she knows the best places to go to get the right food. Sometimes if she’s eating out with friends, she’ll send the menu over to me and I’ll say ‘right this is what you’ve got to choose.’ To make a healthy choice when you’re out at a restaurant you might choose a chicken salad – which is what I suggested to Gemma. It’s not too far away from what she’s eating already.

When Gemma makes a chicken salad at home she’ll put spices on it but if you eat that in a restaurant it might come with a French dressing and that could straight away add 200 or 300 calories to the meal. If you’re eating out and trying to stay on target then make sure that you’re specific with what you want. 99 percent of restaurants will cater to you. There’s been a massive increase in healthy culture over the last ten years or so, it’s not rare for someone to go into a place and ask for a chicken salad with no dressing. Most restaurants are quite good at catering for that.’

Bohannon’s 3 best supplements for fitness

Looking for health and fitness supplements to help your health kick along? We asked Mark Bohannon for his favourites.

Omega 3

‘We want an Omega-3 supplement high in EPA. This is because it is a good anti-inflammatory and increases cell permeability, which makes cells more receptive to nutrients.’

higher nature fish oil, gemma atkinson strictly come dancing by healthista

Healthista loves Higher Nature Fish oil available here for £3.95

Vitamin D3

‘We don’t normally get Vitamin D enough from the sun, especially living in the UK. Supplementing with Vitamin D3 has many benefits, including helping with the absorption of nutrients like calcium.’

vitamin d3 Gemma Atkinson Strictly Come Dancing main image, Personal trainer to Strictly Come Dancing's Gemma Atkinson reveals how the star stays SO fit by healthista

Healthista loves Lifeplan Vitamin D3 available here for £9.99


‘Sleep is a vital part of rest and recovery, as well as creating an optimal hormonal environment for body transformation. Magnesium is a relaxant which can help improve the quality of your sleep.’

Healthista loves BioCare Magnesium available here for £17.60 


Mark Bohannon is gym manager at Ultimate Performance Manchester, one of 11 UP gyms across the globe which specialise in body transformation. He has 10 years personal training experience and was awarded the honour of PT of the Year at the 2017 National Fitness Awards. He heads up a team of 13 world-leading personal trainers at UP Manchester who are experts in muscle building, fat loss and body composition for hundreds of male and female clients.

Read more

How to get fit – celebrity trainer to Zoe Saldana reveals his 7 steps

Celebrity trainer secrets: Jennifer Aniston’s yoga teacher reveals the key to a healthy life (and it’s not yoga!)

Celebrity trainer secrets: PT to Caroline Flack and Pixie Lott says confidence is all about strength training



Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.

More Healthista Content