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..!


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 @ 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!


TRAIN: Sworn Off Squats

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Squats: the ultimate compound move, beloved by the entire of the internet and also everyone in the gym. Something I’ve done since I started training aged 19, struggling through a BodyPump track with 20kg on my back; lifting that little there’s no cause to think too much about form, as long as your knees don’t travel too much over your toes.

Fast forward ten years and I’m really struggling to progress my squat weight because of my poor form. I can squat 70kg, but it really puts pressure on my lower back as my top half travels forward, and I also can’t get deeper than parallel – that’s if I even reach parallel. You can see that in the top photo I’ve raised my heels to get deeper into a squat, but even at that level I’m starting to get a buttwink.

An email arrived from my university about their sports physiotherapy department coinciding with a particularly bad flare-up of my back, and I decided to make an appointment. I’d seen a generic physio about my back before only to be told it was an inflamed disc and something I’d have to put up with and manage for the rest of my life.

The appointment was an eye-opener. The physio listened very carefully to my activity history, taking interest in the fact that from when I was five up until I was 22 I rode horses very frequently, including four years of being a hunt, event and polo groom. A light bulb seemed to go on and he asked me to do a squat. “I can’t get any lower than this..” I said with embarrassment. But that seemed to be the key to him – apparently I’m totally inflexible in my spine from T3 down, and also in my hips and pelvis. It is also likely the reason why my glutes aren’t firing and developing.

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According to the physio, it was as bad an inflexibility he’d seen. I’ve now been given exercises and placed on the student clinic as a guinea pig in the hope that with some hard work from all sides we’ll be able to give me some flexibility within my lower back and pelvis.

I’m now taking a step back from squats while I have physio and work on my form, and trying out alternate methods to work my legs and glutes. The physio suggested I use the TRX, as above, to get the feeling of squatting whilst keeping my centre of gravity in the middle, and I’m also enlisting spotters as much as I can to point out when I’m reaching buttwink. I’m working on finally squatting deep with no buttwink and a more vertical upper body. Roll on the day I upright and flexible enough to do overhead squats..! Using this photo of CrossFit Games winner Camille Leblanc-Bazinet as my squat-spiration.

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I can’t find the original source of this pic I’m sorry, but looks like it’s from the CrossFit Games. Give me a shout if it’s yours and I’ll link you up.


TRAIN: That Squat Bot.. Or Not

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It’s now been eight months since I started working hard on my diet and fitness, and I have seen results. My body fat percentage has dropped, I’ve gone down two dress sizes, and I’ve gained all sorts of muscle, most notably on my back. I run far and fast; I do pull-ups and handstands; I can do pretty much everything I set out to do back in January (time for new goals, yes? Yes!).

But there is one thing that still evades me. A bum. A juicy, meaty, round squat butt. Given everything I’ve achieved I’m ashamed to admit it, but I still really, really want a bigger bum – although it’s not quite as pancake-flat as it once was, I don’t think it reflects the amount of effort I put in. I am comforted by the fact that your glutes are some of the biggest muscles on your body so it does take longer to see results, but I have really seen so little progress I figured it was time to shake up my routine a little!

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The biggest problem, I feel, is that I didn’t really have a bum routine like I did for the other parts of my body. As I mentioned I have seen gains in my back muscles, largely thanks to a routine given to me by my personal trainer though I’ve never had a programme for my glutes. This realisation came at around the same time as reading about the ‘butt wink’ (not what you think!) combined with lack of gluteal activation due to sedentary lifestyles and the penny finally dropped. It was time to switch it up! Here’s my new, and hopefully improved, routine:

With 12kg kettlebell
10 goblet squats
10 swings

With 16kg kettlebell
10 sumo squats stood on 2 steps, touching kettlebell to floor
With 15kg bar
10 hip thrusters raised on step
All x 5 to warm up hips and activate glutes

On functional trainer with heel cup
10 kickbacks
10 lateral lifts each leg

x 5

Down to weights room, cycle weeks:
Week 1 squats 12×45 8×55 8×60 8×65
Week 2 deadlifts 8×45 6×65 1x4x70 1x4x75

Finish off with 10 minutes slow on the stair climber with 10kg core bag on back

Let the top image be my new ‘before’ image; not before I started working hard on my body, but before I started on my new glutes programme. I’ve already seen better flexibility in my hips and deeper squats with better form! What do you more seasoned lifters think of this routine? Check back in another few months for my progress!


TRAIN: Train Like An Athlete

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You’ll have often seen the phrase “eat like a nutritionist, train like an athlete, sleep like a baby” knocking around Pinterest, but what does it mean to train like an athlete? Athletes can train for seven hours a day or more, so unless you want to forego sleep or give up your full time job it’s just not possible for the majority of us. I take it to mean that you should train your body in an efficient, effective way, which is why most of my workouts involve HIIT (high intensity interval training) or lifting heavy weights.

I hope this doesn’t come across as preachy or showing off (because I am neither of those things! I hate selling myself) but I’m often asked how I get to eat so much, or how I got ‘x’ body part, so I thought I’d share my current workout routine as it’s likely to change soon as I go into full time work. I’m a social exerciser at heart, so most of my workouts revolve around clubs, class workouts or otherwise organised exercise, but I do some of my heavy lifting on my own. Remember I am not a professional, so you may want to consult your PT or even a doctor before switching up your exercise routine.

By the way, these photos were for my Women’s Health Body of 2014 entry – I don’t tend to make a habit of standing around wearing this little..!

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Monday: 30 minute abs class, half hour shoulder workout. Abs includes sit-ups, planks, mountain climbers, double crunches, Russian twists. Shoulders is lat pull-downs, seated rows, pull-ups, and 10 minutes of intervals on the rowing machine.

Tuesday: 50 minutes HIIT class. Very similar to Insanity, with sets of 3 minutes x 3 exercises like burpees, press ups, jump squats, high knees, and anything else the instructor thinks to torture us with that day.

Wednesday: Rest day. I will probably get antsy and do some yoga.

Thursday: 30 minute abs class, 45 minutes of BodyPump. I keep my arm and shoulder weights light during the Pump class but go heavy on squats, lunges, deadlifts and chest.

Friday: 45 minute CrossFit-style workout, usually involving a mix of heavy cleans and squats with lots of high intensity plyometrics.

Saturday: 5K Parkrun and 45 minute yoga class, or rest day.

Sunday: Butt-specific workout with kettle bells, squats in the Smith machine, and glute kickbacks on the functional trainer, or rest if trained on Saturday.

I add spinning classes and runs in as and when I have time or extra energy, usually 5-10K at an average of 5 min/km pace, but always ensure I have two full days of rest a week.

I’m not going to lie, my training is hard work – and yes, I have a substantial life outside of working out! – but the benefits outweigh the work: I get to eat huge amounts, and though I eat clean the majority of the time a little treat doesn’t even touch the sides. Ironically the more you train the more energy you have and I also tend to suffer with nervous energy which training hard helps to burn off, leaving a much more happy and relaxed me.

I encourage you to quit the hour-long treadmill and light hand weight routines for HIIT workouts and heavy weights. You will feel and see the difference in no time – I promise!

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