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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How To Do A Pull-Up

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One of the goals I set for myself in 2014 is to do ten unassisted pull-ups in a row, and for a little while I was using the dip & chin assist machine though I didn’t feel I was getting anywhere. In a PT appointment with Jamie Ann I told her of my pull-up goal, and she’s given me a simple plan I can use to work towards my ten pull-ups, which I’ve added and tweaked a few parts of.

To warm up, I do ten minutes of short intervals on the cross trainer, then use the multi-station on low resistance to do straight-arm shoulder flies.

Then it’s the lat pulldown. I do sets of 20-12-8 reps with increasing weight with narrow underhand grip (the aim here to lift my own bodyweight on the machine, I’m about half way there now), then I do wide-arm overhand grip, again 20-12-8 reps. Learning to use my shoulderblades and back rather than just arm strength is the toughest part for me.

Onto my main exercise, which is on the functional trainer, the big thing shown in the pictures that looks a little like a torture device. I:

  1. Pull down the small step on the right and grab the bar closest in with underhand grip.
  2. Launch myself up to grab the other handle whilst also tucking my body up high – this is now the highest point of the pull-up.
  3. Lower myself down to straight arms over 4 seconds.
  4. Jump down and repeat for 10 reps!

Cooldown is a couple of intervals on the stationary rower. I’ve been doing this routine for a little over a month now and found that I can pull myself up from about three-quarters of the way up, which is huge progress considering how weak my upper body was initially. I totally accept this is going to be a long, tough process – though I now firmly believe I will be able to do ten underhand pull-ups by the end of the year. I’m already thinking of 2015’s goal: ten wide-arm overhand pull-ups!

Nike Miler tee, Adidas Response tights, Nike Free Run 2 EXTs.

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