TRAIN: Get Spartan Fit

Spartan Race is coming to Manchester in July – AROO! – and I’ve put my big brave girl pants on and entered the Super*. The Super race is 13+km worth of obstacles, but there’s also Sprint at 5+km at Beast at 20+km.. I might have been tempted by the latter but in Manchester this time Super is the longest! I have an entry place for any Spartan you wish to give away (worth up to £90) so read on for details of the giveaway plus some of my tips to help with your Spartan training.

The Spartan is a pretty unique race, and from the information I can find the obstacles vary from race to race, so there’s not just one set of exercises you’re training for. I had a look around my gym to see if I could get creative with some of the kit and hopefully build my strength to help with the Spartan.

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TRAIN: Pull-Up Progress

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It’s now just over a year since I wrote Practising Pull-ups, describing the regime I was doing to help me get that coveted upper-body strength that would enable me to do pull-ups. I’ve noticed a lot of interest on social media recently, especially from girls, focusing on pull-ups, which firstly is totally awesome. I love how so many have made upper body strength their goal when it’s all too easy as a female to think that we’re weak in the upper body, and that’s something that’s set in stone.

Getting into that mindset is no good for our fitness, though, as we will never progress if we just give up after finding we can’t do something. I recognise it’s easy to think that way; I remember all too clearly standing with my hands wrapped around a bar, pulling, and absolutely nothing happening. I’d think, how can I work on this? How can I improve if nothing happens?! It was only when a PT gave me a set of exercises to do to strengthen my core, shoulders and back, and introduced me to negative pull-ups that I started to see progress. As the weeks passed I jumped up a little less and pulled myself up a little more until I found I could pull myself up the entire way. It took a long, long time – we’re talking seven months here – for me to get that first elusive pull-up.

As with anything, it may come quicker to some and slower to others. That was with me training upper body and core fairly consistently the entire time, and although I was only making marginal strength gains I convinced myself to trust in the process and that eventually my pull-up would come.

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I’m still nowhere near where I want to be – eventually I’d like to be able to do ten pull-ups, with full extension, without stopping – though right now strength training has taken a back seat as my marathon approaches. Once or twice a week, though, I do pull-ups to failure, touching down on a step every two or three pull-ups. I find it much easier to do them on the functional trainer (pictured) due to the flip-out step and there’s something about the hand positioning that I find easier, so if you’re struggling on the bar I’d recommend having a go on one of these. I do try to do them on the monkey bars too, though, to really challenge myself, and recently I found I could pull up straight from my feet touching the ground, even though I was reaching up high with full extension. Funnily enough, another time after that I tried and couldn’t do it at all. But never try, never fail, never learn – so I recommend if you are one of those strong ladies out there who is desperate to do their first pull-up, follow a strength training programme similar to my first pull-up post (or tell your PT your goals for their tips) and just keep going. One day you WILL be strong enough to pull up your own body weight and you will feel like an absolute BOSS!

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TRAIN: Voga Beets the Blues

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Fitness events in London always look so awesome, but I find it hard to justify a five-hour round trip – can you blame me when it costs more than my weekly food bill? I made a bit of a spur of the moment decision this week, though, when I heard about the Love Beets launch at the grand London Edition hotel. On offer was all the beetroot juice I could manage, juices made from Love Beets with added extras like ginger and kale, plus a super sassy Voga session from its creator Juliet, which I’d wanted to try out for ages. It was too tempting not to at least check out trains and I was delighted to find Virgin have reduced prices – so I booked in and away I went.

Love Beets is pure beetroot juice with only a touch of lemon juice added (I was careful to look and quizzed the Love Beets guys about it – I hate added hidden extras) so you get the benefit of three beets by drinking a small bottle of the juice. I love the taste of beetroot anyway and if there’s a juice option available with them in I’ll always plump for that one. Somehow they always taste like they’re nourishing me! The effect isn’t immediate, of course, but beetroot has been proven to increase blood and oxygen flow around the body, protect the stomach lining to prevent ulcers, reduce blood pressure and prevent fatty build-up in the liver. Remember though, the fibre’s removed because of the juicing process, so it’s important to still eat portions of fruit and vegetables for all-round balance and health.

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Incredibly, a study from the University of Exeter showed that beetroot juice boosts stamina and can help you exercise for up to 16% longer. Exercise is less tiring due to the nitrates present in beetroot, which reduce the amount of oxygen required for exercise. This is why you’ll see it recommended as an endurance activity pre-workout, and it’s something I can personally vouch for – after a lunchtime 1Rebel spinning class, drinking a beetroot juice and Voga, I then went onto the Lexie Sport Train About Town session and absolutely powered through it like I was fresh out of the stable (Yep, took advantage of as many London fitness offerings as I could in one day!).

I think I must have really gotten in the zone doing Voga, because although I felt like somewhat ungainly I actually look like I’m working it hard in the photos! It was a good giggle with a lovely bunch of girls and the soundtrack was absolutely immense, so I recommend if you get a chance to try it out.

FYI you can now pick up Love Beets in Holland & Barrett, along with some branches of ASDA and Tesco Local. Try it before your next training session and let me know how you get on!

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Awkward moment when I sat on fitness blogging megastar Faya‘s foot whilst it was on a sharp bit of the stage. Thankfully she was lovely about it, but definitely a case of clumsy lump strikes again..!

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TRAIN: Strength, Focus, Work

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And finally, my TRAIN shoot. Though initially I may have felt a little uncomfortable in front of the lens during YOGA, I shook it off a little in RUN, then in this shoot I really felt like I came into my own. And the shots are BADASS. I mean, I look like something out of an action movie, and I LOVE it – so empowering.

These shots are exactly what I dreamed of when the Andrew Wood team contacted me. To me, they represent strength, focus, and work. Maybe that should be my mantra in life. Strength, focus, work. Mantras often pop into my head when I’m doing something tough – whether that’s gym workouts, running, or just a hard day at work, creating a rhythm out of words can just keep you going through that last set or mile. In fact yesterday it was my birthday and I sat in all day finishing an assignment, and when I hit a bit of a low point, wondering why I was bothering, I asked myself “Sports Direct or Masters degree..?” to which I firmly answered “Masters”. I think that “Sports Direct or Masters” will now be my little mental nudge in the right direction whenever I’m wanting to go with what I want in the moment, rather than what I want in the long-term.

I think I’ve digressed, as per usual, so I’ll leave you to look at this last set of photos. Have I told you that they’re my favourites? I’ll look back on these with pride as long as I live!

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I’m wearing: Sweaty Betty bra/Nike G87 tank/Nike Legendary tights/Nike TR Fit trainers/Kettle bell, skipping rope & dumbbells kindly lent to me by my work!

This is the last post I’m going to go on about my giveaway, but you still have up until 24th November to send your emails. For the full information have a read of the YOGA post.

All you need to do to win a photoshoot is drop me an email at squatbot @ live.co.uk and a winner will be picked at random from the emails received.

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Hitting the Barre | Barrecore Cheshire

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Barrecore is no joke. Seriously. Described to me as a cross between ballet, pilates and yoga, I thought it would be a walk in the park for my fast-sprintin’, heavy-liftin’ self. Little did I know that when I went to the newly-launched Barrecore studio in Alderley Edge I would soon be shaking and shuddering like not even CrossFit had done to me before..

The studio with its huge mirrors, barre, balls, and various weights and straps can be a little daunting, but it needn’t be. Sarah and Rachel at the Alderley branch were so welcoming that you felt right at home on your mat. Rachel was cheerful all while showing us movements that were somewhat uncomfortable for me, but her ease of movement gave me hope that with some time and persistence I, too, could be that graceful.

If you’re after the long, lean, dancer’s physique, this is the class for you. It will strengthen muscles without adding bulk; it works your cardiovascular system without impact or insane intensity. You will know how hard your body is working by the shaking of your limbs – I looked down whilst doing a sort of squat with a ball in between my legs on my tip-toes, only to see my calves involuntarily vibrating!

Though I may not have the flexibility of a dancer (clearly, comparing the photo of instructor Rachel and me, above) it’s an awesome workout to add into my routine for two reasons. One, a lot of work involves the hips, pelvis, and lower back, which are exactly the points I need to loosen off but also strengthen. The work also help with alignment and posture, which could be the symptoms or the contributing factors to my little flexibility issue. Two, many moves include holds and also minute movements which builds up lactic acid in the muscles. This is beneficial for me as it will help increase my lactate threshold, meaning my muscles won’t feel as tired when running long distance.

Fancy giving it a try? Alderley Edge is easily accessible by road or train from Manchester, or there are three central London locations. Elsewhere? No worries. You can even take the classes online. No excuses now!

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Totally stole the idea for this photo off Clare, who visited Barrecore a few days before me. I had to recreate it with my super cute pilates socks!

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