All in your head?

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I had a startling reminder yesterday of how much my mind can contribute to, or hinder my performance. At my Olympic Lifting class we were practicing overhead squats and trying to test our one rep maxes. I’ve never tried to go heavy on an overhead squat so I didn’t have a number in my head that I was aiming for or trying to beat. What I did know was that my hips felt tight.

imagesIML42RLLOverhead squats are challenging – first you’ve got to press the weight over your head from your shoulders, then you’ve got to squat, without falling over. As soon as I stepped up to the platform I could hear my inner voice saying “ooh these are going to be hard today, my hips feel tight, I won’t be able to get very deep into the squat”

And what do you think happened? Exactly that. I got the bar overhead with no problem but then ‘couldn’t get into a decent squat position at all. “You really need to be getting lower than that Becca” said Sally the coach. “I know, but my hips are tight today” was my response.

I took myself off into a corner and decided that on my next turn I’d do better, slow the move down and concentrate on getting lower. And low and behold that’s what happened. Suddenly out of no-where I was squatting to parallel with 30kg over my head. All because I’d decided that I could, rather than I couldn’t. Nothing had changed physically at all. The change was entirely in my head.

untitledThen at the end of the session we had box jumps as part of a circuit. I stood in front of the box and pretty much froze. I literally could not get my feet to leave the floor. I’m not sure if I was scared of injuring myself or whether I just couldn’t work out what to do. All I know is that my feet were not budging off the floor and I felt pretty stupid.

I took myself off to the other side of the gym where there was a baby box and tried some jumps onto that.Those I found relatively easy and it built my confidence. So I returned to stand in front of the medium box this time deciding that I was going to do it. And again, sure enough I did. 5 reps with no pausing, and then another 5 in the next circuit.

As with the overhead squats the only thing that had changed was the way that I was thinking about the move. Clearly I had the physical ability to do both moves the first time but my mind was holding me back. I left the session feeling proud that I’d overcome my mental block but also feeling quite reflective.

What else does my mind hold me back from?

What, if I had my head in the right place am I actually capable of achieving?

Food for thought!

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Learning to run again

I haven’t run consistently for a really long time. Months really. While it’s been cold and dark I haven’t really missed it and my lungs have definitely thanked me for taking a break from running in the freezing air.

Now that the weather is getting warmer and brighter I’ve been feeling ‘the urge’ far more often. I love my gym and PT sessions but there’s something about Spring that makes me want to lace up my trainers and get outside. I’ve also signed up to the Nike Women’s 10K with a group of women from my gym. We’re going to be training once a week together on a Sunday starting in a few weeks time. The trainer leading the group has asked us all to make sure that we can run 5K before the first group run.

Now on paper 5K shouldn’t be an issue for me, I’ve completed two marathons after all. But in reality months of not running have taken their toll on my running fitness. When I was training for the London Marathon last year I trained using a run/walk method which is my preferred way to approach a half or marathon distance. But I want to run the 10K without stopping so I also need to get my body out of the habit of stopping to walk every 5 minutes or so. These days I may be able to squat my own body weight but running non stop for more than about 10 minutes presents me with quite a challenge.

20150322_113439So I’ve gone back to basics and started all over again, treating myself as a beginner. I decided to start off on the treadmill at the gym, mainly because it’s a good way to keep my pace under control and consistent. I started off with a 20 minute run at a very comfortable pace and have worked up from there. I’m not concerned with my speed at the moment, I just want to get my legs used to running again.

And they’ve reacted pretty well so far. My hip flexors have been quite tight for the couple of days after but so far there’s been no sign of the hip pain that plagued me last year. Long may that continue!

I’ve got myself up to nearly half an hour consistent running now so I think it’s time to take things outside. it will be harder to judge my pace and it will feel more difficult to begin with as my legs adjust to running on a different surface. But it’s time to leave the safety of the gym and get back to running the streets of London – these legs are ready!

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90 Day SSS plan – end of Cycle Two

Tomorrow morning I’m going to start Cycle Three of the 90 Day SSS Plan from Joe Wicks aka The Body Coach. I’m not going to beat about the bush, Cycle Two has been tough and I’m not sorry to see the back of it.

Cycle Two is called ‘Shape’ and it’s all about building lean muscle while at the same time continuing to lose fat. To do that the plan changes to include carbohydrate at every meal on a training day, and as per Cycle One, no carbs on rest days. And not just a small amount of carbohydrate – it’s huge portions of the stuff, more than I’ve eaten in a really long time. In fact the reason that I’ve found it hard has been the sheer volume of food that I’m supposed to have been eating!

Cycle Two introduces Joe’s ‘pick and mix’ idea – I’ve been creating all my own meals from a set list of ingredients. A lean protein source, vegetable choice, sauce and spice option, more veg and then either fat or carbohydrate depending on the day. I’ve enjoyed having the flexibility to make up my own meals, that’s definitely an aspect that I’ve liked. Although towards the end of the cycle I found myself getting a bit lazy and dependant on one or two easy option – Thai chicken curry being one example.

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Thai chicken curry. I’ve had this once or twice* *quite a lot

At first the amount of carbohydrate in my diet was a bit of a shock and I felt sluggish and bloated. I actually felt like my clothes were getting tighter rather than loser and I had a bit of a panic. But speaking to others following the plan it seemed that this was quite common and something which calmed down after a couple of weeks so I persevered. It did get better but to be honest I’ve never quite got to grips with all those carbs!

 

That’s not to say that this cycle hasn’t been effective. While my measurements and weight haven’t shifted at all my end of cycle photos show some changes. This photo shows start of Cycle One on the left, end of Cycle One in the middle and end of Cycle Two on the right. I’m quite pleased considering I felt like I might have actually put on weight.

PhotoGrid_1425714635729Having sent in my stats to Joe Cycle Three arrived a few days later and I’m relieved to see that the carbs are back to once a day post training. That way of eating seems to suit me and is pretty much in line with what was recommended for me in my DNA Fit test. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the last four weeks of the plan and seeing how much more fat I can shed.

 

Chatting about strength training for runners

Last night I took part in a webinar with a fab lady called Julie Creffield aka Fatty Must Run who is a blogger, running coach and campaigner for plus sized runners. She has a virtual running club The Clubhouse which is aimed specifically at plus sized women.

flier1Each month Julie holds a webinar and she contacted me to see if I’d talk about strength training and what it’s done for my running and weight loss. I’ve never done anything like this before and was incredibly flattered to be asked and so jumped at the chance.

 

She’s sent me a link to a video of the session, it’s basically me and her having a chat with a few questions being asked by some of the women who were listening in. I loved it!

Here’s the video if anyone is interested in listening to me talk about my marathon training and how I got into strength training, taking part in Tough Mudder, how my nutrition has changed and my general advice to people about staying motivated.

I’m not a PT or a fitness professional so all advice is just based on my personal experience.

 

Addicted to weights?

I’ve not posted a training update for a while because, well, I’ve been busy training. Since finishing my beginners Olympic Lifting course at the end of January I’ve graduated to the intermediate group and have been going along to weekly sessions at Crossfit Evolving on a Saturday lunchtime.

I know you've seen this before, but I love it so here it is again!

I know you’ve seen this before, but I love it so here it is again!

The intermediate sessions run like a weight lifting club. You pay for a certain number of sessions and then go along whenever you can. Each session is a different mix of drills and lifts, some focussed on specific aspects of technique, some focussed on building strength and then some full lifts. The last session I went along to was a ‘PB’ day – an opportunity to work on heavy singles of both the snatch and the clean and jerk with the purpose of seeing how heavy we could go.

 

 

I matched my snatch PB of 30kg and added 5kg to my clean and jerk PB which now stands at 37.5kg. Small numbers but I’m still in the very early days of my lifting career and there’s so much to learn in terms of technique. I’m loving it though, which is the main thing.

This was taken ages ago, but it's the only photo I've got of me at the bench.

This was taken ages ago, but it’s the only photo I’ve got of me at the bench.

I’m also still having my weekly PT sessions with Jess. Recently we’ve been working on increasing my bench press strength. That’s involved some heavy benching sessions with a lot of assistance work (think tricep dips, tricep presses, triceps cable work – loads of triceps stuff!). I’ve increased my bench PB up to 60kg which I’m delighted with – the numbers have gone up quite quickly with the assistance work and I’m intrigued to see how much higher I can take them.

 

And the rest of my training is online with Julia Buckley in her online fitness club Extreme Inferno. At the moment I’m working my way through her Challenge XXX programme. A 30 day challenge that features a mixture of High Intensity Interval Training and strength training. Each training day of the programme there is a different video to follow – the whole programme is designed so that it can be done at home, although you could easily do it in a gym if that’s what you wanted to do. There’s an amazing community of people on the site now which I love being part of – supporting each other in our fitness journeys which are mainly focussed on fat loss.

11046547_10152575977936012_8873313979053143207_nI’m doing some of the sessions at my gym Limehouse Marina Elite. It’s only been open since November so it’s still relatively quiet and I’m loving having the equipment almost to myself on some occasions. Last Sunday I set a new squat PB of 85kg. That’s the equivalent of my body weight (yeah, I’m heavy) and I’ve been wanting to do that for some time. It’s fantastic that I’ve got the facilities to do this kind of thing literally on my doorstep.

So what about the running I hear you ask? While my love affair with weights has continued I’ve barely done any running at all in 2015. I took part in the Winter Run at the start of February and my lungs really objected to being out in the cold – I was wheezing for days afterwards. I decided at that point to leave the running until the weather warmed up a bit.

With spring now definitely in the air it feels like time to lace up my trainers again so I’ve signed up for the Nike Women’s 10K in June and am going to be joining a running group at the gym. It’s been such a long time since I’ve run regularly that I’m going to classify myself as beginner and go right back to basics. I’d love to run that race non stop, something that I’ve rarely managed in the past. To do that I’m going to have to leave my ‘I’ve run two marathons’ jacket at the door and start from scratch.

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These days I’m far more likely to describe myself as a lifter who likes to run rather than a runner than does strength training. And while I’ve definitely developed a slight addiction to lifting heavy it feels like the right time to take some of my training outside and into the fresh air again. I’m looking forward to it.

90 Day SSS Plan – Cycle One reflections

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The ever so slightly awesome ‘Build Up Bagel’. Possibly my favourite Cycle One refuel meal

Mushroom omelette - I don't really like mushrooms so I made it with tomato instead.

Mushroom omelette – I don’t really like mushrooms so I made it with tomato instead.

I’m now on day 2 of Cycle 2 of the 90 Day SSS Plan so I thought it was about time to write an update on how I got on with Cycle 1 before it becomes a distant memory. I last wrote about this at the end of my first week on the plan when I was started to get settled into the routine of eating in the way prescribed in the plan. Cycle 1 was all about fat loss – low carb meals most of the time with plenty of protein and healthy fats. Carbohydrate featured but only in post workout meals where my plate was filled with more lean protein and carbohydrate rather than fat. Green leafy veg were prevalent in most meals and alongside three meals a day there were also two snacks.

Sounds like a lot of food, and it was but my body took a while to settle into the new routine and in the first couple of weeks I had a few hunger pangs and headaches. NOt surprising really as I was coming off the back of a two week sugar and alcohol fest called Christmas and New Year.

 

But by the third week my body had adjusted and I was nicely into my new routine. Batch cooking at the weekend to make sure I had food to last a few days and confident enough not to panic if my plans changed and I needed to switch things around. My fridge was always stocked with eggs, Total 0% yoghurt, spinach, feta cheese, tomatoes, chicken, lean beef mince, broccoli and kale. From that list of ingredients I could always rustle up something in a matter of minutes if I needed to. The food was tasty and filling and I enjoyed it.

Another post workout winner - protein refuel pancakes with banana. Yum.

Another post workout winner – protein refuel pancakes with banana. Yum.

I should probably be clear that I’ve only been following the dietary side of the plan and not the exercise part. People following the plan 100% were only doing high intensity interval training cardio this month. I on the other hand was still strength training alongside the HIIT and also learning to Olympic Lift. Did that affect my results? Who knows – but I know I would have been sad without weights in my life for a month so it was a risk I was prepared to take.

So after 30 days I took my weights and measures and was delighted to find that I’d lost a total of 7 inches from across my body. My weight had also decreased by 3 pounds, although I stopped caring what the scales say quite a long time ago. I took some photos which don’t show an enormous change, I wasn’t expecting anything dramatic in 4 weeks – I’ve been training like this for a while now so it’s been more a case of tweaking my diet rather than completely overhauling it. But this photo of me in ‘too tight’ jeans shows the changes pretty well I think.

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I’m pretty pleased with that change in just four weeks. I didn’t stick to the plan 100% as I still had a few glasses of wine a week. I also ate meals which weren’t included in the plan but I stuck closely to the principles – i.e. carbs and protein post training, protein and fat at all other times. One of my main reasons for signing up for the plan was to learn more about nutrition and I’ve certainly done that already, so as far as I’m concerned it’s already money well spent and I’m only a third of the way through.

Interacting with Joe was always easy – he responded to any questions that I had very promptly over e-mail although I haven’t had too many questions as everything is explained very well in the plan. I sent off my stats and photos which were acknowledged by Joe the next day and five days later, as per the T&Cs my Cycle 2 plan arrived. It took me a few days to get my head around it – it’s pretty different to Cycle 1 with lots of carbohydrate on training days. Cycle 2 is focussed on building lean muscle and includes weight training for those following the exercise side of the plan as well. Since I’ve already been doing this I’m interested to see how my body responds.

It’s going to be more carbohydrate than I’ve eaten in a long time, but given how well Cycle 1 has worked for me I’m going into it with an open mind, alongside a cupboard full of rice and sweet potatoes!

Olympic Lifting with Strength Ambassadors

What did you get for Christmas? New clothes, the latest piece of technology, smellies and underwear?

I got something a bit different – an Olympic Lifting for beginners course. Run by Sally Moss of Strength Ambassadors the course was four weeks long – 90 minutes each Saturday afternoon in January at CrossFit Evolving in Holloway.

10696330_712870385472892_7456175012104335239_nI’d done a free taster session back in October last year and had tried my hand at both the snatch and the clean and jerk so I had some idea of what to expect. I knew how complex the moves were and how much there was to think about – it’s as much mental as it is physical I think. I also knew how amazing it felt to lift the bar over my head and was excited to start learning more and to see how much I would progress in the four weeks.

 

B8w_ik4CUAEtPpGEach session started with a warm up and mobility session. My squat form needs some work as I suffer from tightness in my hips so this was really important from my perspective. Starting off with a plastic bar we mobilised shoulders and hips getting our bodies ready for what was to come.

There’s a lot to each of the Olympic moves but Sally broke them down into smaller drills which we practiced, initially with light weights to really learn the form and build our confidence. Bit by bit these built up until suddenly there I was Olympic Lifting!

I definitely find the snatch the most difficult of the moves – there’s so much going on and I really have to concentrate to keep my form correct. For the first couple of weeks I felt like I was struggling with it but then in week three something clicked and I felt a lot more confident. In week four we worked up to a session where we did a snatch a minute on the minute for 10 minutes and I absolutely loved it. I PB’ed at 30kg which I was delighted with since in week 1 I’d started with 10kg.

You can check out a video of the group snatching here:

B8w_YluCMAIldXGThe clean and jerk came far more naturally to me. The fact that it’s two moves with a break in the middle might help but the movement patterns were more familiar to me. My favourite part of Olympic Lifting is the jerk – raising that bar over your head fees amazing and I think it looks pretty cool too. Again I got up to 30kg on this move and felt that I could have done more. But at the end of an intense 90 minute session I was really pleased.

 

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the course. It’s really well taught and builds up your confidence in stages. You’re encouraged to challenge yourself but it’s in no way competitive and if you didn’t feel comfortable to add more weight then Sally wasn’t forcing anyone to. I enjoyed it so much that I’ve signed up for the Intermediate classes which run each Saturday as well. I’m looking forward to returning next week and seeing how much more progress I can make.

Olympic Lifting for beginners courses run each month. Find out more here