Thighs, thighs, thighs

sam briggs

I have always had an issue with my thighs.  Even as a small child they were a source of great embarrassment and shame to me.  I’m really short so my thighs should be perfectly petite like Kylie Minogue’s, right?  Except they’re not.  They are large and chunky.  Solid.  My body image has improved dramatically over the last year and a half, I am very happy to be able to say that, but there is still the thigh issue looming in the back ground.  My good friends went to America recently and brought me back a very cool top from CrossFit Brick City in New York and some long, purple socks.  I took a picture of myself in my new gear, with very short shorts, but I could never imagine actually going to the box in them.  I would be too self conscious.  I am a reasonably intelligent human being, I know this is ludicrous, but still I have this crushing fear of people looking at me and judging me.

This bothers me.  It bothers me that even at this stage in my life I allow myself to be governed by these ridiculous ideals of beauty and that I continue to feel ‘less than’ others because my thighs are thicker.  I don’t want to be bullied into believing that I am not good enough because I don’t have perfect thighs (this could easily be substituted for boobs, bum, tummy, face), and when I have children I certainly don’t want to pass on these worries and concerns to them.  It infuriates me that we live in a society where the worst possible insult you can give someone is fat.  Surely it would be worse to say I was mean or cruel or selfish?  A British comedian was recently heavily critisized on twitter for the dress she wore at the Baftas award ceremony.  She wrote this fabulous, but very sad response, here.  The critics, in my opinion, don’t care about the dress she is wearing.  The message is not ‘buy a nicer dress and fancier shoes,’ the message is ‘who are you to be a successful woman if you are not skinny and pretty?’  It is a message that we have forced down our throats day after day and I’m sick of it.

camille

It is the same message we get when we support CrossFit and people like Camille, Annie and Julie Foucher are the darlings, whilst the actual reigning champ, Sam Briggs, is sidelined.  Don’t get me wrong I adore those women, I think they are fantastic, but if you really pay attention t0 the media coverage and the language used by the commentators there is a marked difference.  Why?  Because Sam Briggs is a total effing bad ass and she does not fit in to the prescribed view of what a woman should be.  Because Annie, Camille and Julie are strong, with big muscles, but they are also very pretty, very feminine, and they smile a lot.  I had an interview with the youngest member of our box, Madi Farley, on BoxRox website recently (you can read it here).  She is 12, almost 13 and she is incredible.  Her mum and dad (and extended family, who are all super human CrossFitters too) are doing a great job of raising her but I think its sad that these young girls are being raised in a world where if you are a woman it matters more what you look like, and less what you do or say.   That’s the world I was raised in and it didn’t do me any good.

Beast mode

I have been inspired of late by the awesome, hard working, dedicated women competing in the Regionals, many of whom are very well endowed in the thigh department themselves.  So today I tested myself.  I decided that I would go out in public wearing what I like to call my booty shorts (they are just normal adidas shorts really) and see what happened.  So I got on my bike and went for a ride and a few things happened.  First of all the world did not stop.  Nobody crashed their car or dropped their small child out of shock at the offending hunks of meat.  In fact, I was just cycling along wondering how many people were silently judging me and my thighs, when a man called out to me ‘hey baby how ya doing?’  Obviously I blushed furiously and looked away but inside this made me laugh because I realised that its all about perspective.  If someone is looking at you, you don’t have to assume they are thinking the worse.  Try assuming they are thinking the best.  If they aren’t its their problem, not yours.  And me?  I will try assuming that nobody else gives a crap about the size of my thighs but me.

*  I have been loving watching the Regionals and I am really excited to catch up with the action today.  Go Sam and Will, Go Go Go!

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Health Challenge Update

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 Day 8 statistics update

Week One of my health challenge has been a success.  Some of you will be disappointed to find out that I am still the same height and have not shrunk or grown at all, as of yet, but I am okay with that!  Over the course of the week there have been a few tears (none of them over food I must emphasise) but overall I am happy with how it has gone.  I managed to eat out at a Thai restaurant called The Giggling Squid (highly recommended if you are in my neck of the woods) and at a friend’s house and I have eaten colourful, delicious food all week; at no point have I felt deprived or overly hungry.  The thing is I have always been great at starting diets or healthy eating plans (my record was the first week of Slimming World when I lost 5 kilos, which is almost a stone).  It is the sticking to it that I struggle with and why I decided to give myself this public challenge.

I have been blessed with the Easter holidays (one of the many joys of working in education.  I love those kids but I also love having a break from them!) so I have been dog walking, cycling and exercising in the sunshine.  It is times like this that I love living by the sea.  I have also been trying to do WODs (Workout of the Day) lately and yesterday I thought check me out I’m going to do this WOD (featured in the photo above) Rx’d.  That means at the prescribed weight, which in this case was 25 kilos.  Maths is not my strong suit and when I couldn’t find a spare 15 kilo bar to use I grabbed a 12 kilo training bar and shoved some weight on before dashing off to the loo, holding the whole class up while I did so (standard).  Three rounds in and I thought I was going to die; sick and dizzy, I had to swallow my pride and ask if I could lower my weight.  It was then that I realised that rather than using the prescribed weight of 25 kilos, I had 28 on my bar!  Sometimes I stagger myself.  I suppose what I learnt from this is that a) maths is important and that b) sometimes you have to listen to your body.  So I didn’t complete my first Rx’d WOD, but I did live to fight another day.

Also my blog has now had over 20,000 views from all around the world.  Thanks for reading and thank you for your kind, supportive comments!

Weight: 65.9 kilograms/ 10 stone 4 pounds

Body fat percentage: 34.4%

BMI: 27.2

Dress size: 12/14

Bust Size: 34 DD

Waist measurement: 82.55 centimeters/ 32.5 inches

Height: 154.94 centimeters/ 5 foot 1 inch

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365 day health challenge

I had a dream last night that I was supposed to be running as part of a WOD and whilst everyone else got on with it, I put on roller skates (brightly coloured Rio Rollers that I love), skated in the wrong direction and started talking to a really cute little girl.  I’m not saying that this has any profound meaning but anyone that has ever met me will not be at all surprised at this.  Anything brightly coloured, cute or sweet has always been a welcome distraction for me.

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The last couple of weeks have been incredibly tough.  My husband has moved to South America and I found out that someone I love very much has the other c word and is soon to begin chemotherapy.   What’s interesting is that however far you think you’ve come, it is so easy to fall back into old patterns of behaviour when life kicks you in the coochy.  The lure of sugar laden cakes and chocolate has proved too much.  There was a time when I would have self medicated with more dangerous substances and, though it may seem as though eating cake is a fairly innocuous vice; for me this is a problem and I’m not interested in problems, I’m interested in solutions.  I know that I enjoy challenges and work well when I have strict guidelines to live by, so I have been considering what I can do to curb my emotional eating and get back on track to where I want to be:  the fittest, happiest, healthiest version of myself.  So this is the challenge I am publicly setting myself:

365 days of paleo eating and CrossFit.  That is a whole year of consistently making the right choices.  Can I do it?  I’m going to give it a bloody good go!  Watch this space!

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The 10 things I have learnt from 10 weeks of OLY lifting

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I have recently completed a 10 week Olympic Weight Lifting course at my box, under the tuition of the amazing coach Holly Gehlcken.  I absolutely loved it and I can’t recommend this kind of course highly enough to people new to CrossFit and Olympic Lifting.  Here’s what I learned:

  1. Progress is not linear.  There were times when I was delighted with the progress I was making and could not have been happier with my performance.  Three days later I could go in and struggle with every lift.  You have to remember that patience is essential and that, even when it doesn’t feel like it, you are making progress.  Don’t be deterred by an off day; if you consistently train you will see results, they just may not happen with every session at the box.
  2. What you do outside of the box makes a massive difference inside it.  All of those things that we all know about health and fitness like staying hydrated, getting enough sleep and eating a balanced, nutritious diet do actually make a big difference.  If you are tired and hungry, chances are you will not have a good lifting session.
  3. Mobility is key.  I have talked before about how lucky I am to be very mobile.  Others, my husband for example, really struggle.  Without good mobility it will be virtually impossible for you to achieve the proper position in movements such as snatch and clean and jerk.  Kelly Starrett’s book Becoming a Supple Leopard has an enormous amount of first class advice on this issue.  Having said that being hyper mobile is not ideal either as I have discovered over the last 10 weeks.  I am definitely guilty of switching off in the bottom of my snatch position.  Arse to grass is only beneficial if you are able to maintain core strength and tension.
  4. The proper kit makes a big difference.  I have found that having wrist straps, a velcro lifting belt and good quality shoes have made a significant difference to my confidence.  I am trying to ensure that I’m not reliant on the belt by lifting without it at times, however I do think it makes a big difference when I am lifting heavy, even if that is just psychological.
  5. You can over think it.  My husband is a very smart man and when we first began CrossFit he over analysed every single movement.  Whilst it is really important to think about what you are doing, sometimes when you think too much you can do more harm than good.  An excellent way I have found to overcome this is doing drills.  The more drills you do do, the more natural the movements become for your body.
  6. Recording your training sessions really helps (especially if you are a woman).  I talked before about how hormones affect my performance.  Keeping a detailed log of your training sessions, with not only what you lifted but how you felt, is extremely effective in making progress.  It is also a great tool to feel good about yourself as you can look back at where you were months ago and see how far you have come.
  7. However you feel at the start of the session, you will always be glad you went.  Even on the days where I have dropped the bar again and again, and felt weak and clumsy, I am always glad that I went to Oly class.  Feeling bad but knowing you have tried is always better than feeling bad, sitting on the sofa, and comfort eating.
  8. It is so much fun.  Maybe I am just lucky but the class at our box is full of really funny, happy people that it is a pleasure to train with.  You see people at their best (PB town!) and worst (those days where you are just not feeling it), but it is so much fun.  The feeling you get when you do a really good snatch is so exhilarating because that shit is not easy!  It is an extremely technical and difficult movement but when you do it right it feels great.
  9. A PB is a PB if its 1 kilo or 10.  With movements like snatch progress can be slow.  In the ten weeks course I have just completed I have made 2.5 kilos progress.  Initially disheartened I realised from talking to others that a PB is a PB and I have to give myself credit where it is due.  I know that I have worked as hard, if not harder, on my snatch technique as I have on all my other lifts and however small that number may be, it is heading in the right direction.
  10. You will get addicted.  Olympic lifting is addictive.  It is such a rewarding and exciting thing to do and the results you can achieve in such a short amount of time are fantastic so give it a go, what have you got to lose?!

clean

Photographs by Rx’d Photography

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The world is a playground, are you coming out to play?

I’m not afraid of dying, no more than anyone else anyway, but I am afraid of getting old.  Not grey hair, crow’s feet old but the kind of old where you can no longer care for yourself.  When you are forced to be dependent on someone else, be they a devoted family member or someone earning minimum wage in an unflattering uniform.  When I was in my early twenties I worked as a Health Care Support Worker for a nursing agency.  Many of the shifts I got were in the elderly unit of the local hospital where, in the naivety of my youth, I was confronted with the cruel indignities of ageing.  For those poor, lonely souls, personal care was no longer personal but, regardless of how sweet and well meaning the carer, painfully public.  Incontinence pads, commodes, hoists; a deadly arsenal in the assault on independence, dignity and youth.

I have talked before about the way that Crossfit has challenged my own perceptions of gender both in myself and others.  It has also been a powerful tool in shaping my goals and aspirations and how I view my future.   I am 35 years old and I feel stronger and more physically confident than I ever have.  In the community that I train in age is irrelevant.  All around me I see strong, powerful women and men and many of my real life heroes are my age or older.  In the Crossfit Games there are several categories for masters (over 40) including 60+ and much has been written about starting Crossfit over 40 (check out this excellent blog post for example).   One of the owners of Reebok Crossfit Connect, Holly Gehlcken, won World, British and Southern Masters Olympic Weight Lifting titles in 2010.  She is not just the owner but one of the head coaches, mum of two and a bloody lovely lady to boot.

Holly 2All my life I have seen sport as something for young, fit people with natural talent and ability but why should they have all the fun?  Why do only young people get to skip and jump and run and swing?  Why do only young people get to play?  The answer, of course, is that they don’t.  Anyone can, you just have to make the choice to get off the sofa and do it.  You have to come to the realisation that moving is more fun than eating.  I don’t really drink anymore and I don’t remember the last time I went to a pub in the evening but I’m okay with it.  If other people think thats boring I don’t mind.  I spent many, many years feeling lost and sad and hating my life.  Now I love my life and I don’t want it to change (there is an enormous change coming up but more about that later, and no, I’m not pregnant).

Since I started Crossfit, I don’t worry about my age so much.  I spend less time looking in the mirror and fretting over my grey hair (which, by the way, I have had since I was in my mid twenties).  I no longer analyse my reflection in the mirror for new wrinkles, I don’t have time!  If I am looking in the mirror I’m checking out my guns for progress or laughing at how funny I look in my crazy new leggings.  One of the great things about Crossfit boxes is that they don’t have mirrors so you spend less time worrying about what you look like and more time thinking about how you feel (at times, like in the middle of a WOD, that is a mixed blessing).  As for my long term goals and aspirations, I hope that one day I can spend my retirement playing and instead of visiting me in the old people’s home or hospital ward, my grandchildren are working out with me at the box.

kay and tonyReebok Crossfit Connect members Kay and Tony after the Colour Run in September.

Photograph of Holly Gehlcken by RX’d Photography

True Grit

I have been thinking a lot about grit.  I don’t mean that fabled southern (American) food that looks a bit like porridge; I mean the personality trait where you are willing to put interest and effort into something in order to achieve a long term goal.  My husband (who is an absolute brainiac) is working on some research using Angela Duckworth’s Grit Scale and when I watched her talking about Grit, I was intrigued.  In truth because when I really look at my own personality, for much of my life I have not been a very ‘gritty’ person.  I passed my driving test first time and have never driven, not even once, since.  I qualified as a teacher and never taught.  I wrote a book and it is hidden away where nobody can read it.  I am a non completer.  That is definitely something I’m working on and is what Crossfit is all about.  You don’t get instant results; it is a long, slow, challenging process to get where you want to be.  There is no magic secret to success, just many, many hours of hard work and perseverance.  One of the most important guidelines in Crossfit is to train your weakness.  That means not just going to the box and taking the easy option (whatever that may be for you) but specifically working on what you find the most difficult.  That is true grit: deliberate practice of something that is difficult and challenging in order to improve.  In my case there is a long list, the first item on which is pull ups!

When I was a kid I was absolutely convinced that I was rubbish at all sport.  I’m very short, I have big boobs (as discussed here) and for a large majority of my life I have been overweight.  So that was it.  Sport wasn’t for me.  End of story.  But guess what was for me?  Smoking, eating, drinking, partying!  I had found something I was good at! For nearly 15 years I treated my body with absolutely no respect and wondered why I had no body confidence or self esteem.

At several points I reached what I thought was rock bottom and signed up to a weekly diet club (you know the ones).  I bought into the multi million pound, evil, manipulative diet industry and paid my weekly subscription to weigh in, quite often forking out substantial amounts of extra cash to buy their own brand diet bars.  I distinctly remember one such diet club where the consultant (alarm bells should have rung; as well intentioned as she was, she was almost as tubby as me) told us all that exercise, or ‘body magic’ as they called it, was optional and not necessary for weight loss on the programme.  Unsurprisingly I did not show grit and determination, I failed.  Time after time I lost weight only to put it all back on again.  Weeks or months of deprivation were followed by equally long periods of absolute bingeing and if I had a pound for every time I told myself ‘I will start again on Monday’ I would be a very rich lady.

It wasn’t just the diet clubs that took the money I willingly, gratefully offered them.  There were also the gym memberships.  Full of good intentions I would trot down to the local globo gym and gleefully sign up an 18 month contract because that would inspire me to go regularly, wouldn’t it?  Studying the class timetable I would feel a mixture of fear and intrigue at all they had to offer but the few times I forced myself to go I would spend the entire time lost and confused, not knowing the moves and feeling out of place amongst the gym bunnies with their tiny little butts who obviously all knew each other.  So back I would trudge to the exercise bike or the treadmill where I would plod on, whilst scanning the pages of Heat magazine.  Soon my good intentions would once again fall by the wayside and I was paying considerable sums of money for a gym that I never went to.  I think my record was a whole year of monthly payments where I didn’t go once.  Not smart, but I wasn’t alone.

Big girl 3

When I saw this photo I could have cried.  This was when I was at my heaviest – 12st 4 pounds (79 kilos)

I am happy to take my part of the responsibility for this wasted opportunity but I didn’t know any better.  I didn’t know what weights I should be using or how to work the machines.  I had thousands of pounds worth of equipment available to me and no idea how to use it.  And as for the free weights, there was absolutely no way I was going to enter the testosterone filled man zone where pumped up guys bicep curled whilst gazing adoringly at their own reflection in the mirror.   I was scared and I couldn’t do it alone.

The first big, real, change was in 2009 when I moved to Ecuador for a year with my husband.  We started watching The Biggest Loser and I joined a gym.  This time it was different.  Instead of just aimlessly plodding I went every day and did Jillian Michael’s Thirty Day Shred there at the gym (I had written down all of the movements).  The faces of those Ecuadorians as they saw this chubby little white girl doing star jumps and butt kicks was priceless, but it worked!  It wasn’t just the exercise, it was my diet too.  My husband and I became vegan, which didn’t last long to be honest, but it was the first time I began to really consider that food should be real and not a concoction of chemicals.

A few months later my husband entered the Quito Marathon and I decided to do the half marathon.  We did it, we were slow and it hurt, but we did it!  For the first time in my life I had shown grit and determination and had successfully trained for and completed something using my body.  I wish I could say to you that I lived happily ever after but I didn’t.  When we came back to England life got in the way and despite good intentions I lost sight of my long term goal, replacing it with short term pleasures.  But this time there was one difference: I now knew what it felt like to be fit.  I understood what my body wanted and needed.  I had shown grit and determination.  I was capable of succeeding.  It may have taken me a while to get back on track but now that I have found Crossfit I know that I am not alone.  If I don’t know how to do something there are always coaches and other Crossfitters there to help me.  If I feel like giving up there are people there to cheer me on.  If I stop going my coaches will notice and want to know what’s wrong.

If you are anything like me then the answer to health and fitness doesn’t lie in trudging away on separate treadmills, watching TV or reading a magazine, it isn’t about paying to go to a diet club and bingeing after weigh in.  When you find something that is fun, exciting and challenging having grit, determination and perseverance is not so hard after all.

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