Six women who signed up to an online fitness and fat loss programme hosted by a Belfast personal trainer have revealed their 'empowering' transformations in a stunning new photoshoot.
The women - from different backgrounds, age categories and fitness levels - took part in the eight-week initiative, run virtually by Belfast bodybuilding champ and PT Nicole Toan.
The 31-year-old, who is also the director and owner of her own clothing brand Miss:Fitt, launched the programme towards the end of lockdown, just as gyms were preparing to reopen. She devised a workout and nutrition plan for each woman, catering to their specific needs and goals. Each week she adapted the plan to keep the group motivated and to push them further to reach their individual goals.
The women all achieved amazing results; losing weight, strengthening their bodies and gaining muscle definition. Then after the programme was completed, they met up at Flex Gym in east Belfast to take part in their first ever fitness shoot with photographer Stephen Black. Sunday Life photographer Liam McBurney was also there to catch them in action.
Nicole, who has worked as a PT for 12 years, says the aim of the programme and follow-up shoot was to encourage female empowerment and to boost body confidence.
"About two years ago I began working with my clients online and dealing with women from all over the world," she reveals. "In January this year I launched my clothing range as well but then lockdown hit and all the gyms had to close so I had to adapt the plans to home workouts.
"I decided then to coach a group of local women coming out of lockdown, to prepare them for heading back to the gym. The fitness shoot was to give them something to aim for and to help push them on with their fitness goals.
"I put up a post on social media and the six women contacted me to sign up. None of them had done anything like this before. They were all shapes and sizes and had different levels of fitness so each had a plan specifically tailored for them.
"By the end of the eight weeks, I'd seen a huge change in not just their physiques, but their confidence levels too. They're all oozing with confidence now."
Nicole devised eating plans with each girl, showing them how to choose the right foods, keep an eye on their calories and macros and prepare meals. She then drew up home workout plans for them all; adapting them when the gyms started to reopen.
Each week she changed the plans, depending on how each woman was progressing. While some wanted to lose weight, others wanted to gain muscle. Nicole checked in with them regularly to see how they were getting on.
"Every woman had a different story," says Nicole. "One was a PT from down south who had never done a fitness shoot before and wanted to give it a go, another was a single mum of four children who suffers from anxiety and didn't leave the house much.
"One lost over two stone on the programme while others dropped dress sizes. But what they all gained was confidence. That was amazing to see. The whole point of the programme was to make them feel empowered and good about themselves, coming out of lockdown and that was definitely the case."
Nicole is now running a second programme, this time a 12-week one in the run-up to Christmas and most of the original group have already signed up to take part again.
"I got such positive feedback from all the girls," she reveals. "They all had different reasons for doing the programme and shoot but they all got something out of it; so much so that most want to do it again.
"One of the women is a single mum-of-three who was having a tough time of it during lockdown. To see her now, so full of confidence and happy, is so rewarding."
Store manager Emma Boyce, who comes from Cookstown but lives in Belfast, got so much from Nicole's programme, she is now considering a career change.
"I was back and forth to the gym before lockdown but when I saw Nicole's post, I thought it would be interesting to see how far I could push my body," Emma explains.
"I really just wanted to get motivated for heading back to the gym but I loved it so much, I'm now going to train to be a personal trainer.
"Taking part didn't just kickstart a new, healthy lifestyle for me but a whole new career."
The 39-year-old, who has two grown-up sons, changed her eating and training habits with Nicole's guidance and support and over the eight weeks, she lost over a stone and dropped a dress size.
She recalls: "To begin with I was doing the work outs at home but when the gym reopened, Nicole adapted my plan.
"I was going to the gym five or six times a week and as a result, I feel great, better than I've ever done. I'm eating healthier, sleeping better and have so much more energy. I just feel so much better in myself.
"The day of the fitness shoot, I was very nervous as I'd never done anything like that before, but we were all together in the gym and in the end, it just felt so empowering."
Emma would urge other women in need of a confidence boost to sign up to Nicole's online coaching.
"Nicole was a brilliant motivator," she adds. "She was always at the end of the phone if I needed advice or support.
"She really took the time to work with each one of us and to help us achieve our goals.
"In fact, I loved it so much, I've signed up to do it all over again."
Co Longford woman Ellen Moloney was just about to launch her own career as a personal trainer when Covid-19 struck and lockdown threw her plans into jeopardy.
Ellen, who also works in retail, had spare time on her hands and after seeing Nicole's post about the eight-week programme on Instagram, decided to sign up for a place.
To begin with, Ellen worked out at home, under Nicole's guidance. She already had the necessary equipment such as weights and bars and then when her gym reopened, Nicole tweaked her plan accordingly.
"I was quite petite to begin with and had a good frame but with Nicole's help I toned up, strengthened my body and got really class abs," says Ellen.
"There's a massive difference since starting to train with Nicole; not just physically but mentally as well. And she was always there for me any time I needed her advice. The photoshoot was such an empowering experience."