Ring that (PB) bell!

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I had a great day at the box today.  This week was 1 rep max week but I have only made it in once due to work commitments.  On Wednesday I had a 2.5 kilo gain on my back squat taking it up to 72.5 kilos.  I have to confess that I was a little disappointed in that as I have been working really hard on pause squats for the last four weeks and I felt like I should have improved more BUT a PB is a PB and I can’t allow negativity to creep in.  Today was great though.  I can’t remember the last time I did deadlifts – it has been months – and I got 77.5 kilos, which is a 7.5 kilo improvement on my 1 rep max.  I also gained an extra 2.5 kilos on my bench press taking it up to 37.5 kilos.  It is really interesting to me that even when focusing on one particular movement, in this case back squats, you can still see improvements in other lifts.  I also have to keep in mind that as the weights I lift are going up (even if it is by a very small percentage) my body weight is going down.  Here are some stats on my weight loss/ body changes since January:

  January Now
Weight 69.5 Kilos/  11 stone 63.8 Kilos/ 10 Stone 0.5 pounds
Body fat percentage 35.1 33.2
Waist measurement 35.5 31
BMI 29 26.6

This is no staggering weight loss (I have been to Slimming World before are lost a stone in a week) but to me it is better because it feels more permanent.  It feels as though I am going in the right direction and that this is a change that will stay with me for the rest of my life and if I can lose weight and body fat whilst also increasing the weight I am able lift then I am a very happy bunny indeed!

What is also really interesting to me is the continued effect that CrossFit has on the rest of my life – yesterday I spoke at a teachers conference at University of Sussex in front of a room full of highly educated and intelligent people.  I told them about the work that I do with the project I run and I know that before I began CrossFit there is absolutely no way I would have had the confidence to do that.  Today marks three months that my husband George has been away and again, without CrossFit I know that I would not have been able to cope without him for all this time.

It is a glorious day here in Brighton so I am now off out to enjoy the sunshine.

* Good luck to all of the Connect Crew who are taking part in the Pound for Pound competition this weekend.

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Ten things I love about my new, CrossFitting, life

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I don’t really have any pressing things on my mind this week.  There are no big issues that are bothering me, no concerns I want to rant about, so I just thought I’d share some little things I have been noticing more and more lately that mean a lot to me.

  1. I spend most of my time smiling.  Whether I am at work, at the box or anywhere else I spend a lot of my life smiling and laughing.  It feels so much better than crying.
  2. Yesterday I ran, I mean really ran, for the bus.  I caught it and I wanted a chufty badge right there and then.
  3. I am happy to swan about with my thighs out and I could not give a shit who (if anyone) is judging me.
  4. I am 95% pain free in relation to my IBS and that is SUCH a relief.
  5. I get to hang out with really interesting and diverse people from all over the world and extremely varied walks of life.
  6. I am no longer afraid.  I have spent a lot of my life absolutely terrified of everything.  Not anymore.  CrossFit has taught me so much more than just how to move my body.  It has taught me patience, grit, determination, perseverance and the true meaning of strength.
  7. I am no longer angry.  I was doing a WOD today which included hitting a tyre with a hammer and I thought ‘this would be really good to get out anger and frustration,’ but I realised I don’t have any.
  8. I don’t see my body as my enemy any more.  I used to feel like my body hated me.  To be honest it probably did because I abused it.  Now I feel like me and my body are on the same team.
  9. I sleep really well.  And take naps.  Its lovely.
  10. I am absolutely certain that my life is going to just keep getting better and better.

I know I said ten but I have to include this one as an added bonus…

  • I like checking out my guns when I’m wearing short sleeves!

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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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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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CrossFit Couples

The 2014 CrossFit Open has begun and I am really excited!  Last year’s Games was the first time I have ever actively watched sport of any kind and I loved it.  I found watching the Games everything I had never previously found watching sports to be…exciting, inspiring and above all, fun.  A large part of the appeal to me was that it was something that my husband and I could do together, and I know we’re not the only couple that do.  We are one of many couples at our box (some of whom are gay, but that’s the joy of living in such a wonderfully liberal place as Brighton!)

Camille Le Blanc Bazinet and Dave Lipson

Camille Le Blanc Bazinet and Dave Lipson

Some couples like to have separate friends and interests and that is fine, if that’s what you want, but I love the fact that George and I have discovered and fallen in love with CrossFit together.  It gives us a fun activity to fill our spare time, it means we are always heading for the same goals (be fitter, be stronger, be better) and we have total DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) empathy.  We laugh a lot when we are at the box and a lot when we are at home.  I don’t get frustrated when he spends endless hours watching youtube videos about mobility and technique and he doesn’t get annoyed when I’m too tired to make dinner after Oly class.  I genuinely don’t mind if he ogles Camille and I think he ogles Chris Spealler almost as much as me.  One of my favourite memories of last summer (or the summer of love as we like to call it) was bellowing in a ‘Lucas Parker‘ style as we went for our daily dip in the icy cold Atlantic.

George and I on our wedding day last summer

George and I on our wedding day last summer

Lets be clear, my husband is way better at CrossFit than me.  I mean, he’s no Rich Froning but the boy can move.   Watching the hard work and effort he has put into developing his fitness and seeing how much progress he has made over the last year and a half has been a revelation and has vastly increased my love and respect for him.  I know that if it wasn’t for him I would never have started CrossFit.  In fact I would never have achieved many of the things that I have over the last 7 and a half years.  Yesterday was a day I have been dreading for a long time.  The day he booked his flight.  On 22nd March my husband of just 6 months (and they have been 6 blissfully happy months) is flying to Ecuador, where he will live for the next 16 months.  I can’t complain.  Many women have to face the agony of sending their husbands off to war and I am sending mine to do field work in the Amazon jungle.  But still, I am heartbroken.

I have to keep reminding myself that I am no longer the fragile, depressed girl that he met all those years ago.  I don’t need to be afraid of everyone and everything and eat my feelings day after day.   I don’t need to hide behind my man like a timid little mouse.  I hope that the next 16 months, without the unwavering love and support of my husband, I learn how to love and support myself and when he comes back I will be the 15.1 version of Joski.  Fitter, stronger, better.

* I apologise for the highly cheesy nature of this post.  In my defense it is still Valentines month (just)!

** Check out this awesome new promotional video for Reebok CrossFit Connect I can be spotted towards the end pretending to row but actually have a nosey at the film crew!

The Biggest Loser: Inspiration or Manipulation?

Whatever your opinion of it, like it, love it, or hate it, I personally found that watching The Biggest Loser was a huge source of inspiration to me.  When George and I moved to Ecuador we didn’t have a television, or a stereo, and we lived in a tiny village at the edge of Quito.  We started to watch the American version of The Biggest Loser on George’s laptop and I loved it.   As a television show, a brand, and the catalyst that led to international fame and fortune for its hosts Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper, it has been a staggering success.  What I loved about it was that, in a society where we are very quick to judge overweight people as being lazy and ugly and where to be called fat is deemed to be a worse insult than most, it gave a voice to obese people.  Through the show we learned that many of the contestants had suffered horrific traumas and the fat that they carried on the outside of their bodies was just a visible symptom of the inner pain and turmoil they were suffering.  

One example that stands out for me is Abby from series 8 who lost her husband and two children (one of whom was a newborn baby) in a tragic car accident.  Having worked for many years with people addicted to alcohol, drugs or gambling, it seems clear to me that obesity is just that.  An addiction to food that can lead to devastating and debilitating consequences.  If you dismiss obese people as simply fat and lazy, or perhaps worse, mock them, then you need to learn something about compassion.  Whilst I never reached such extremes as the contestants on the show, I could relate to the feelings of despair, frustration, anguish and disgust they felt with themselves, and how marginalised from society many of them had become.  I had experienced the humiliation of my fat squeezing out of my clothes like the meat from a sausage.  I had wanted to die in the summer as I poured with sweat from the slightest exertion and winced with pain as my thighs rubbed together.  I had wanted to be invisible so that nobody could see how disgusting I had allowed myself to become and I had felt hurt and frustrated when I was invisible to people, when they would look through me as though I was nothing.  I am not saying for one moment that all obese people feel that way, but it is not unusual.

I am not a fool.  I realise that The Biggest Loser is an extremely manipulative show that intentionally pulls at our emotional heart strings but at the centre of it are real people that are laying themselves bare, physically and emotionally.  I cried with them when they told their stories of pain and loss and I laughed and cheered with them as they shed the weight and found strength that they never knew they had.  As they transformed from the old, broken version of themselves into happier, healthier people, amazed at what they were capable of and what they could achieve.  Yes, I was manipulated by the emotional music and clever editing but it helped me with my struggles because I realised that I was not alone.  I was not the only person who was ashamed, and scared and who ate their feelings so that they were numb.

Our favourite contestants of all time are sisters Olivia and Hannah. We loved their humour, their honesty and their grit and determination to succeed.  Olivia and Hannah are true Biggest Loser success stories.  Maybe because they have each other; or because Olivia’s husband Ben took the journey alongside them at home to enormous success, or because they have maintained a close friendship with their coach Bob Harper.  Some people may even attribute their success to the discovery of CrossFit and the support and guidance that the community provides.  Whatever the reason the two women have managed what a lot of contestants have not, they have maintained their weight loss and truly changed their lifestyles.  How can you not be inspired by that?

This year, for the first time since we began watching in 2009, my husband and I gave up on The Biggest Loser.  After the first couple of episodes we stopped watching, so I was particularly shocked to see the footage of the latest winner Rachel Frederickson looking frail and emaciated.  Opinion seems to be divided with many criticising Frederickson and the show’s producers, whilst others defend her weight loss as just being ‘part of the game.’  What I always loved about it was that at the end the winners, both men and women, stood on the scale flexing their muscles and appeared to have become mentally and physically stronger through their experience on the show.  Having not watched the whole series I can’t comment on her personality or experience but I do not think that this year the person standing on that scale was a picture of health and well being and I don’t think many people do.  I fully understand that the prize money is huge.  It is as much a life changing factor of The Biggest Loser as the weight loss, and maybe if I was in that situation I too would do whatever it took to go for gold.  I hope not.  I hope that I would prioritise my health above all.  That the lessons I had learnt along the way had taught me to veer away from extremes and look for balance.

I don’t agree with body shaming.  To me curvy is not better than skinny, and skinny is not better than fat.  I don’t think that the internet trend for comparison ‘when did this become better than this’ is helpful in the ongoing struggle for women, and men, to find happiness and contentment with their bodies amidst the constant assault of criticism and judgement.  We are all naturally different shapes and sizes and that is great.  All I know for myself and the people that I love is that I want to be strong and healthy, and I want my role models to be just that.  

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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