Consistency and Cutting

Warning: this entry contains pictures of me in my pants. Sorry about that.

I started this year sober and motivated, with the lofty goal of attending the gym consistently. Gaz’s generous gift of a year’s gym membership for my birthday in early January was going to be the catalyst for improvement in my strength and physical fitness, and the motivation I needed to re-introduce deadlifts and finally start bench pressing.

True to my word, I started attending the gym 3 days a week. I went twice in the period between Christmas and New Year, smashing out a new back squat PB of 102.5kg 1RM @ ~77kg bodyweight. Unfortunately in February my knees started playing up (after niggly pain on and off for some time) necessitating some time off and a drop in squat weight to less than half of my new PB. Sad face. I later discovered, after much research and reading, that this was potentially caused by a quad dominance. I have not had any problems since I incorporated more work on my hamstrings to balance out my legs. Another gym break occurred in May/June because of the house move, but aside from that I have attended the gym consistently: week in, week out.

As well as working out religiously, I started documenting my lifts consistently. Rather than turning up and winging it — doing what I felt like that day — I came up with a plan that targeted different muscle groups on different days, with accessory lifts and a range of low rep/high weight and high rep/low weight stuff. (I was very much aided in the draft of a plan by lifting insta-friends and Google.) Documenting reps and weights meant that each week I was able to increase one or the other: progressively overloading my muscles to encourage growth and increase strength.

Sobriety and this new-found consistency meant that I started to drop some weight early on in the year. I lost 10lbs without really trying. Although I was confident and happy at that weight, I was particularly liking the increase in muscle definition that losing 10lbs had given me and I decided to lean out a little more. I wanted to make the results of all my efforts visible.

Unfortunately it wasn’t that simple. My attempts at furthering my losses didn’t seem to make much difference; I was bouncing back and forth between 150-160lbs (68-72kg). Not only that, but I was feeling weaker and I would often stand up and get a ‘head rush’/low blood sugar feeling. I was concerned I was under-eating despite being in ♥ with food, because I didn’t know how to properly fuel the work I was putting in to both my lifts and my other fitness exploits (running, taekwon-do, pole dancing etc). I was eating like a sedentary person, rather than an “athlete” (for lack of a better word).

In June, I finally decided to seek help, and ordered a fat loss template from Renaissance Periodization. Now, you may recall that I’d ordered a diet plan from a “personal trainer” back in December. This original plan left me underwhelmed, which I think reflected in my previous entry on the subject, but I decided to modify it and stick it out for a bit. However, within days of posting that entry, I’d queried some bits in the template and got back an answer that could be summed up as “because I said so”. I don’t do anything in life on the basis of “because I said so” and especially not when it comes to something as important (and full of bro science) as nutrition, so I chucked it in as a bad idea.

Anyway, back to the template from RP… like the original plan I’d ordered, it broke down macros into 5 or 6 meals across the day. However, it did so according to training or non training days and workout intensity, and crucially (unlike the other plan) everything was backed up by references to scientific studies. The plans themselves are written by a team of doctors, dietitians etc: all with actual qualifications and everything. I felt more comfortable with the template (which in itself was non-restrictive and flexible) which straight away gave me the confidence I needed to fit it into my intensely busy schedule.

RP recommend a 12 week cut maximum, followed by 12 weeks minimum at maintenance. This gives your metabolism time to recover and beds in your new metabolic set point (the body weight set point is a theory in nutritional science that suggests we have a “comfortable weight” and that the body will use various signals and hormones to get us back to that point despite increases and decreases in calorie intake; it has its critics but has been observed in animals). Resetting this metabolic “set point” helps prevent bouncing back to your old weight, which is a common problem in a lot of diet programs and weight loss systems.

Within a couple of days of starting the new template, the dizziness and side effects from low blood sugar were gone. I was eating HUGE amounts of food compared to what I was used to. ALL THE CARBS! Holy macaroni. Not only that, but the weight loss started easily and immediately: I’ve lost over 10lbs in just shy of 8 weeks. Losing weight while eating all the foods? Winning!

weight loss progress over the course of 6-7 months
I have lost significant amounts of fat from my stomach, hips, back, chest and face. Also boobs. Bye bye boobies :(

Perhaps even more importantly than losing this weight, I have smashed out some fucking EPIC lifts. Yesterday, after struggling with my squats since my knee problems, I did sets of 5 at 40, 50, 60 and 70kg. 3 and 2 reps at 80kg then 1 each at 90kg and 100kg. I am within touching distance of my Christmas squat PB and I weigh 10kg less. I finally incorporated the deadlift back into my program and am already doing reps at 80kg, which thrashes one of my new year goals “deadlift my bodyweight” without even really trying. This morning I benched 40kg for a handful of reps (bench is my weakest lift by far) after starting the year barely able to lift the bar for all 5 sets. Add this to running PBs at my 5k and half marathon distances (and a couple of 10km races coming up to thrash those too) and finally completing my long-held goal of completing a pull-up (albeit with dodgy AF form)…

& I am just buzzing! If I maintain the consistency (including trialling a 4 day split over summer), and see the cut through the final month, what else can I achieve? A double bodyweight squat, 100kg deadlift and 50kg bench seem like good goals to be going on with. Fingers crossed!

7 Ways to Make Fitness Stick in 2018

1. Find a reason

A reason that isn’t just “being thin”. Not that there’s anything wrong with losing weight if you feel your health and wellbeing is negatively affected by your current weight, but a lot of people make the mistake of deciding they’ll lose some arbitary amount of weight and then find that when (if) they reach that magic number that it’s not actually all it’s cracked up to be. Being skinny isn’t a cure-all.

When I first started running and weightlifting, my reason was to be physically fit and strong when mentally I was anything but. Physical strength was my way of keeping my body alive. (Mental wellness was a surprisingly addictive side effect.) Finding a reason kept me going even on days where I struggled to get out of bed, and always gave me something to fall back on when I hit rock bottom.

Your reason doesn’t have to be quite this ‘deep’, but having that “something” will give you motivation & purpose.

2. Find a sport

A lot of people use running as the go-to sport of choice when they first start. Running is awesome – and good for you – but not everyone likes running. Forcing yourself to run even if you despise it won’t help you stick with it long term. There are literally thousands of sports and activities you can try: you don’t have to run unless you want to.

Martial arts can be a great cardio workout, and post-grading selfies are not compulsory.

With that said, I would recommend sticking out whatever you choose for at least 3-4 weeks. If you’re currently leading a sedentary lifestyle, most things are going to suck in the beginning while your body adjusts and you find your pace. Don’t write something off after a few days because you’ve got a few aches or you’re not immediately running like Mo Farah.

3. Find a buddy

Find a friend who doesn’t care when you go “gym wanker” on them.


That time my instabuddies made me go to the gym

Find someone who you can either work out with if you can, but mostly find someone who will keep you accountable. Someone who will check in on you to find out how your progress is going, and who will not tune out when you rant that you have a blister on your big toe or you’ve hit a plateau under the bar. The key is to find someone who makes you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile, so that when the initial novelty wears off and your willpower is wearing thin (because willpower alone won’t make this stick) you don’t just give up.

This doesn’t even have to be someone offline; every sport I’ve ever been involved with has a massive online community of passionate folk who will have your back when you need it. I personally track a lot of my workouts via dodgy selfies on instagram, and love the feedback I get from fellow gym-goers.

4. Find a goal

When you have your reasons for working out, for running, for dancing, for zumba, for whatever it is you decide to call “your” sport, then you can set yourself a goal.

Real, tangible goals give you something to work towards. It could be something as simple as run 5km without stopping, or as lofty as getting yourself marathon ready. Set a specific goal, and even break it down into milestones if you can, and you have something long term to aim for that not only stops you flailing about aimlessly achieving nothing, but also provides motivation and allows you to track actual measurable progress.

In addition to the benefits of actually setting the goal, meeting a goal gives you an excuse to treat yourself. For some people, meeting a goal is its own reward, but if you’re a little more materially minded you might want to consider putting your sights on something physical: new running trainers if you run a 10km, a new fitness tracker if you manage to do a half marathon, or even something completely random… whatever floats your particular boat.

5. Find inspiration

One of the ways I stay dedicated to a particular goal, particularly in months where I feel like my progress is stalling or I’m just not quite good enough (and that will happen), is to follow athletes who participate in similar sports on instagram. When I wanted to get past my 60kg squat plateau I watched videos of crossfitters and weightlifters squatting massive weights and breaking world records. I squatted 100kg this Christmas.


“Off my tits on dopamine post-100kg squat high” selfie

You don’t have to be on instagram to get inspired. Most professional and semi-professional sports persons have facebook pages, twitter profiles etc. Find someone who’s doing it like you want to and follow them for that dose of “fitspo”.

(Word of warning: don’t get sucked into the rabbit hole that is “thinspiration“. It’s dangerous.)

6. Find a routine

When the novelty of a lifestyle change is wearing thin and it’s cold and wet outside and your well of motivation has run dry, there’s only one thing that’s going to make you get out of bed and hit the tarmac or drag your butt to the gym: by making your new sport a continuous part of your routine, or more simply, by making it a habit.

There’s tons of small snippets of advice on how to build good, strong habits online so I won’t repeat it all, but for me the basics are as follows:

  • Plan ahead to when your best time of day is, and fit your sport in then. For me this is directly after the school run on a Monday and Friday, before I even touch my laptop or look at what chores need doing.
  • Make it easy to do by prepping anything you need in advance. I always lay out my workout clothes the night before, and I always wear them on the school run so that I can head straight out.
  • Don’t make poor excuses to miss out early on. If it’s a bit cold out, put a coat on. If you’ve got a bit of a sniffle, take a tissue. If you’re tired, suck it up, you might end up with a much needed boost.
  • If you have to skip a session, never skip it twice. It’s just a downward spiral from there.

There’s lots of science behind habit building and I recommend having a bit of a google to find out more.

7. Find yourself

Cheesy? Probably. However, the times in my life I have been most consistent with my exercise and most dedicated to my current goal are the times I feel the best me that I can be.

Exercise has massive positive benefits on many aspects of your wellbeing and I’m my own living proof of that. Nothing feels as good to me as physical and mental wellness and that’s a privilege I do not take for granted, so I owe it to myself to keep going.

Reflecting on a Rollercoaster Year

I can’t really think of any other way of describing 2017?

Starting the year with a massive unexpected tax bill (sound familiar?) was an uphill battle – a chain lift, dragging the rollercoaster car to the top of steep hill – following by rocketing at speed towards lows like the loss of yet more pets and the suicide of another brother, struggles with excessive drinking and my mental health issues chipping away at my sanity. Each low interspersed with heart-pounding highs: achievements in the gym and with my fitness, including reaching green belt at Taekwon-do and smashing massive squat goals (90kg and 100kg over Christmas!); accepting my bisexuality and how this affects my identity; and completing some of my best work yet both for myself and for local design agencies.

I didn’t manage to learn Dutch, or run a marathon (not that I am surprised by the latter) and I didn’t manage to blog more, but I did survive. I survived and, despite some crazy lows, not only did I survive but I kicked arse: I worked hard and I played hard.

Gaz has gifted me a year at the gym for my upcoming birthday. I’m so excited at the prospect that I can continue to build and shape myself in 2018 without having to worry about scraping change for a gym session. It should give me the chance to firm up a proper lifting plan, to work in the deadlifts and bench press both of which I typically avoid, and to make and break some crazy goals.

On top of time under iron, 2018 has to be the year that I finish with enough money to sort my taxes in January 2019: to be able to pay my dues and have enough for the payments on account, which screw me over year after year. This is not only important to reduce my stress levels but because I want to move house soon: to have a bigger kitchen, for my babies to have their own space and to finally move on from certain parts of my past which are tied up in shit memories here.

Beyond that I think I need to just carry on being my awesome self. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Featured image photo by Priscilla Du Preez

Personal Bests and Personal Worsts

I started this week on a fantastic high. After having cracked squatting my bodyweight earlier this year (roughly 72kg give or take) I had been struggling with improving my squats further. Marred by dodgy knees, skipped gym sessions thanks to a chaotic schedule and over-indulgence on food & drink, it’s my own fault. Still, this didn’t stop me on Monday when I smashed out squats at both 80kg and 85kg with a set of 2 for each. Strong strong legs.

Not content on just PBing there, I went on to pull 50kg doing close-grip front lat pulldowns having been stuck at 45kg forEVER. To say I was buzzing after that was an understatement.

(I am currently using Myprotein Impact Whey Protein to support my workouts but I’m looking to potentially improve on this in the new year. If you supplement protein, I’d be interested to know what you take. Drop me a comment/email.)

This strength-related high was short lived as I got home to yet another round of work related emails (boo) and the ever present threat of the taxman knocking at my door.

Every single year I forget about HMRC’s payments on account, leaving me ill-prepared to meet their demands for large sums of cash at a time of year where things are tight as it is. My kids want Christmas presents and I’m sat watching the balance of my overdraft grow hoping my clients pull their fingers out before December 25th; this doesn’t leave me much leeway to pay the taxman money for a tax year that isn’t even over yet (don’t even get me started).

Why is balancing the ebbs and flows of freelance, and planning sufficiently ahead, such a personal weakness? It’s been over 5 years since I started working for myself and barring a break in the middle where I briefly returned to my old agency, I have had to put money away all this time. And I fail, time and time again.

2018 has to be the year where I nail this shit.

First the plans, now the goals

Off the back of my post about plans for 2017, and following a conversation with my darling husband last night during which I got defensive more than once (even though he spoke the truth) I woke up with fire in my belly.

Taking advantage before noisy children and the realities of my todo list extinguish the flames I’ve set myself some goals for the year (and cracked a few things off that blasted list) to work on alongside the Big Plans:

Challenge more stereotypes, more often
I work hard to address stereotypes at home – personally, and with my children – but can and should do more publicly and for others.

Work harder in the time I do have so that I can better use the time I don’t
I have a limited work day. I often get round this by working through the evening and making up time over the weekends. Sometimes this is a necessary evil but a lot of time this could be fixed by planning ahead, working harder/better during the day and waffling less on twitter.

Write more – blog posts, letters, thank you notes
It’s been ages since I’ve written decent long form posts and pieces, and years since I wrote a proper letter. I need to do both more often: so as not to lose the ‘skill’, because it reminds me of my Grandpa, because it’s the only way to improve, to record more of myself for when I inevitably forget.

Writing more thank you notes is self-explanatory. Gratitude is never wasted.

Drink less
For my liver and my bank balance. Cutting it out completely doesn’t work; it only takes one social occasion to reset me back where I started. I’m taking a different approach: don’t buy alcohol to drink at home. Once my Christmas treats are gone, any drinking needs to be done socially because there’s an occasion to do so.

Stop accepting mediocrity as OK
Mediocrity in my work, in my approach to fitness, in friendships, in my interaction with others in general: it’s not good enough. If I’m not giving it 100% I might as well not bother. To give 100%, though, I need to cut out the deadwood that’s distracting me from the things that deserve that 100%.

I started this last year by culling ‘friends’ on Facebook that don’t directly contribute to my wellbeing or happiness, as well as unfollowing people elsewhere who upset/annoy me or make me question or doubt myself. As we go forwards into 2017 I need to take this to the next level: cutting out people who aren’t beneficial to my mental health, dropping clients who cause me more stress than pleasure, turning down work that isn’t a good fit for my schedule.

I don’t know how long this will last. I don’t know how much I will achieve. But… if I seize every moment when I feel like a badass warrior woman, I’m hoping it’ll carry me through the days I want to hide under my duvet. I got this.

Now that’s out of the way…

So now the introspective waffle is out of the way, let’s talk about the small matter of me turning 30 in a few days.

Not because of the turning 30 part, there’s nowt I can do about that (and I’m looking forward to being FABULOUS at thirty … or something) but the part where I set myself a list of things to do before I was 30 and have utterly failed to complete the list.

It’s not like I didn’t try. I did some pretty radical (for me) things in 2015, things that I never thought I’d cross off the list but managed anyway. I also have some list items “in progress”: Gaz and I are booked on a hot air balloon flight early this year, I did *cough2cough* random acts of kindness, I registered to give blood but had to cancel my appointment because of a bad flu-like illness, and I have sort of worked with other developers on a couple of things.

But… there are definitely items on that list that were doomed from the start. Read 100 books? I’m lucky if I read 10 books in a year these days. Earn £5000 in passive income? Take off a zero, pal. And how do you even define a pay rise when your employment situation does a complete 180. I might earn four grand in one month and sod all in the next.

I still want to learn to swim. I want to volunteer because I think it’ll be good for me to get out of my little bubble. But mostly I just want to continue taking risks and doing cool stuff, and I don’t think I need a list for that.

The eeeeeend!

It’s here! September 30th! The last day of Septemblog! I can now proudly say that for the first time in around 15 years of blogging I have successfully completed a blog-a-day challenge.

I completely failed my supplementary challenge to leave 5 comments / follow someone new every day, and it’s probably best you don’t look at my ‘official’ septemblog page, but if I’d made that compulsory I’d have definitely failed weeks ago.

That said, if you’re trying to increase your comments, hits or overall engagement, setting yourself the X comments on blogs per day goal is a must. It shot my hits up, which just goes to show that when bloggers say “commenting is dead”, what they actually mean is “I can’t be arsed to comment any more”.

Engagement has also gone up on my blog Facebook page, with more likes and more posts reaching a greater number of people. I’m not sure if that’s Facebook being clever with some sort of frequency == relevancy algorithm, or whether it’s just the inevitable more posts == more likely to post something someone will want to read.

I did write another blog post today, one that is less ‘meta’ and less cheaty, but I’m keeping that to myself for the time being as I’m not sure my idea will take off yet. You’ll just have to wait and see for that one. In the mean time, yay septemblog!

Juneathon Day 7 and the “home gym”

I wrote this last week but have been a tad busy – oops!

Juneathon day 7 saw me take another slightly unorthodox activity day. No, not more vacuuming (although there was plenty of that), but the second Sunday spent totally gutting my home ‘utility’ (that is, brick lean-to outside the back door). The utility is where the washer & tumble drier live, as well as the cat litter trays and 4 years worth of accumulated crap. That is: clutter and rubbish, not 4 years worth of cat crap. Ew.

I have been umming and ahhing recently about using the utility for something other than as storage space for junk I don’t need, and had considered turning it into a bit of a home gym. Nothing special, just a proper dedicated space for my weights (to stop the kids from tripping over them as they play) and my exercise bike. This would be particularly useful with Gaz moving in with all his accumulated junk soon, as the bike is taking up a huge corner of my bedroom.

I recruited the help of my sister as part holder-of-a-big-hammer and part babysitter to give me a hand, and on the 31st May set about stage 1 of decluttering and destroying. This is the utility-cum-gym a couple of hours in (because I forgot to take a proper ‘before’ picture):

utility-before_mini

And this was the same space at the end of that day, having done a fuckton of clearing and two runs to the local recycling centre:

utility-after-day-one_mini

On Sunday 7th we (I say we, my sister didn’t do a lot!) set about ripping out what was left, including the ruined kitchen cupboard which was swollen with damp from a leaky pipe, clearing out yet more junk to the tip:

utility-complete_mini

So now all I have to do is get rid of the under-counter freezer that I don’t need, get some hooks on the wall to hang my bars up, and find some cheap foam matting so that I’m not dropping my cast iron weights down on to the concrete and tada: home gym transformation complete. I might even be able to get a proper bench in there too…

Juneathon Days 4-6

I have to admit the past few days effort at Juneathon have been pretty pathetic, hence me not rushing to blog about them. My excuse is that after my epic (for me) day 2 workout and then the intervals on day 3 I was knackered.

Day 4 I wussed out and took the kids on a short walk / did roundabout spinning duties at the park and day 5 was even more pathetic, with my “activity” being walking to McDonald’s for my lunch. Yep, I’m claiming that.

Today, day 6, I can at least hold my head up and log my activity as a significant time weeding (albeit not my own garden!) and vigorous sweeping. I think that’s more legit than a walk to Maccy Ds anyway.

Juneathon Day #3

After yesterday’s badass workout I was prepared to do a nice slow and steady 5k run tonight so as not to hit my leg muscles too hard, but then a friend reminded me that some local runners were meeting at the nearby park for some speed/intervals work so I went along to that instead.

BIG MISTAKE. We did a pyramid laps session, 1/2/3/4/5/4/3/2/1 laps round the approx 300m track with a minute rest in between each set of laps. Except I wussed out and only did 4 for that middle one — but that’s still a lot of laps! I’m not going to be able to walk in the morning. (Not helped by having eaten barely anything today, either.)

Ow.

Juneathon Day #2

Today’s an easy Juneathon day for me because Tuesday is always badass workout day. For some reason it’s the one workout I rarely skip – probably because it’s early in the week, I’ve usually had a shit day (there’s something about Tuesdays!) and I need that release to get me into Wednesday.

So, here’s my activity log for today:

  • Cardio-based warm-up (including vacuuming again, because I hate working out with cat hair and dust on the floor)
  • 3 x 8 30kg squats
  • 3 x 8 17.5kg barbell glute bridge
  • 2 x 5 17.5kg “bench” (floor) press (basically just did this to kill time between the sets of glute bridges)
  • 1 x 5/5/7/7/7 20kg overhead press
  • 5 x 8 11.5kg bent over dumbbell row (each arm)
  • 1 x 5 43.5kg deadlift (I need some more plates)
  • 35 second plank
  • Static stretches to cool down

I think I’m going to feel this one tomorrow (and possibly regret it!)

I’m taking part in Juneathon

Last week I saw people talking about Juneathon and as a lover of weird and wonderful challenges I figured it’d be something new to take part in and entered as a participant. The general gist is as follows:

  • Run or do some form of exercise every day.
  • Blog or tweet (#juneathon) or post on the Juneathon Facebook Group page about it within 24 hours.

Of course running every day is impossible for me because of childcare constraints, and so I’ll be making liberal use of the “or do some form of exercise” clause. In fact, how better than to start today with: vigorous vacuuming of the entire house.

(Anyone who claims that’s not exercise has obviously never come back after time away to an inch of cat hair coating everything courtesy of your resident moggies.)

I also walked to the school to get Izzy where I’d normally drive. I’m not lazy, it’s just that I pick her up on the way home from work. I picked her up today because I wasn’t at work (courtesy of waking up feeling like death; which incidentally is why I’m not doing anything more strenuous than a bit of housework!)

So anyway, is that a fail on the first day like my original #whole30 or does it totes count?