Gym Online

Reflections On My Stage Debut 

The last time I put pen to paper on ‘Bite, Bench, Breathe’ I was halfway through peak week in the run up to the Miami Pro World Championships, where I was due to compete in the ‘Fitness Model’ and ‘Ms Bikini’ categories. If you follow me on social media you may have noticed (because I’ve been all over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram like a rash!) that I placed Top Three in both categories and proudly brought home some silverware and two Pro cards! There is so much that I could write about the whole experience, but am going to pick some key themes that I deem to be interesting, thought provoking and not merely an opportunity for narcissism or self-promotion – which isn’t to say I am not damn proud of my achievements!

No One Tells You How Awful Carb Loading Is

Peak week was, on the whole, an absolute breeze. Until Friday. In the final week of prep it is common for competitors to deplete their bodies of carbohydrates for several days, before reintroducing them in the last day or two to give the muscles a fuller look. In my naivety I thought carb loading would be easy because, quite simply, I love carbs! My body responds to them well and, more so than protein and fats, they give me a real feeling of energy and satiety. However, as I started digging into my first of eight high carb meals on Friday I had a sinking feeling that I was going to struggle. And I really did. I got the food down me, but I felt like DEATH all day. My coach had told me to take it easy and to relax, which was a good job because all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and sleep! I have to say a huge thank you to Katie Barnes and the girls at Simply Nails in Warwick for helping me get through the day. Not only did they do an incredible job of my nails, but they also tolerated having me in the salon for four hours when I was tired, lifeless and periodically munching on rice cakes! Later that evening I then received some lovely cards, flowers and gifts from friends, which reduced this usually emotionally stunted girl into a crying wreck! I don’t know how much of this was down to the carbs, the dehydration, or the fact that I was finally so close to the end game, but I was exhausted and emotional. Fortunately I felt better on Saturday morning, although I still needed a nap or two later that day, and by Sunday I had enough excitement and adrenalin to be buzzing for the stage. I wanted to highlight this because social media can be deceiving – the last few days of prep is not all Rice Krispies and bronzed, cheese grater abs. It’s lethargy, forcing the food down, getting everything organised for show day and keeping your mind occupied so that it doesn’t start obsessing about your disappearing bicep vein or the appearance of cellulite that you’re sure wasn’t there an hour ago.

 

Coping Without Washing

You may know from my previous blog posts that I suffer from OCD, which I was diagnosed with about six years ago. I believe that I manage the condition really well on a day to day basis, and make sure that the effort I put into having a healthy body I also put into having a healthy mind. However, there are some things that I remain very particular about, such as my daily shower routine. Any girls who regularly see me in the gym changing room will vouch for the fact that I spend a disproportionate amount of time covering every inch of my body in lotion after my morning shower! So the thought of being tanned at lunchtime on Saturday and then not being able to shower, or even wash my face or hands, until after the competition was something I was dreading. I was fortunate that the girls responsible for my tan (which was expertly applied by Charlotte from Get Bronzed) made me feel at ease when I was stood stark bollock naked in a room full of fellow Oompa Loompa’s – I mean, competitors. But when I got back to my hotel room the urge to shower was really strong. Likewise, when I woke up on Sunday morning I was desperate to shower and wash my hair. Not because I felt dirty, but because I just don’t feel “right” unless I’ve completed this usual ritual. It crossed my mind that there would be no way I would place in my categories if I hadn’t washed. However, I was able to recognise this as irrational thinking, let it pass and just move on. Before I knew it I was up on that stage – grubby hair, face, armpits – with two trophies in my hands. To anyone else who suffers with OCD, all I can say is that your mind is a LIAR. 

Body Dysmorphia is Heightened on Show Day

To some extent, I admit that I still suffer from body dysmorphia. I certainly do not think I am fat or out of shape, but I am still surprised when people compliment my physique, often thinking of myself as having a ‘girl bod’ (the female equivalent of ‘Dad bod’). However, when I look at photo’s of myself I accept that I do have more muscle on my frame than the average female. Wandering around the venue on Sunday in just a tiny bikini was not something that caused me any anxiety – even in Anorexic days of old I was never overly self conscious. Surprisingly, I didn’t even find myself comparing my body to the other competitors all that much, I think because I was just so focused making sure I was ready, both practically and mentally, to step on stage. Having said all that, I still looked in the mirror and saw ‘girl bod’ staring back at me, albeit trussed up like a Barbie doll. I came off stage after the call outs for the Bikini class and was in a complete state of shock – I recall seeing my fellow Team Savage athlete Paul Mugridge backstage, but can’t for the life of me tell you what he or I said! I had a quick look on Facebook before I was due to get back on stage, and saw that Lisa Kelly had posted a photo of a blonde bikini competitor called Kate… I swear that I did not realise I looked like that! A lot of people have mentioned how different I looked on stage compared to real life, which I totally accept because I am not much of a glamour puss day to day. But to see my body like that – muscular, strong but feminine, my abs looking SICK (if I say so myself) – was a very welcome shock. In that moment I started to believe in myself.

 

No Bikini Girl is an Island

At the start of this process, when I was a skinny girl with pipedreams of stepping on stage, I was under the illusion that bodybuilding wasn’t a team sport. Yes I would get a coach to oversee my diet and training, but I thought that the rest was up to me. Over the past few days I have spent time reflecting on my achievements at Miami Pro, but I can’t help but feel that it isn’t just my win! Eddie Abbew has been there to coach and support me during my off season, throughout my prep and all day on Sunday. One of my absolute highlights of the day was when Audrey Kaipio announced that I had placed third in my Bikini category (I already had the Fitness Model trophy in my hand at this point) and I caught Eddie’s beaming face in the audience. I always told him I was going to make him proud, and I think I did just that. However, the support from the Team Savage as a whole was just incredible – Lisa Kelly went above and beyond for me over the weekend, even cooking up a whole bag of sweet potato for me and bringing it to the show when I had a panic that I might run out ; Samantha Davidge was responsible for my stunning make up and truly transformed me ; Hannah Marie Barry kindly leant me some of her stage jewellery, which complimented my amazing bikini made by Chrissie Nicholson-Wild ; Michelle Leach was on hand to offer her support and ensure that my diet boobs weren’t going to pop out of my bikini ; Paul Mugridge, Emma Baldwin, Dwain Stephens, Meisha Pijot, Wole Adesemoye – it was fantastic to see you there ; Laura Dowling, Lisa Quait, Aimee Boo, Tracey Merry, Janine Blasi – to share this experience with you all was an honour. The list of thanks could go on, but what I hope to demonstrate is that to be part of a community, a collective of likeminded people, is a truly wonderful thing. On the surface this sport is very fickle, obsessive and vain. I get that perception. But what I am lucky to be part of is a group of girls and guys who lift each other up and are genuinely thrilled for one another’s successes. I am looking forward to going to the UKBFF South Coast Championships in Portsmouth this weekend to sit on the other side and cheer on some more members of the team. 

What Now…

It will be no surprise to most of you who know me that I plan to do one more show, the UKBFF Bodypower Classic, before I go off season again. I therefore intend to spend the next three weeks keeping my nutrition on point, working on my weak areas in the gym and keeping an eye on my stress levels, as I know that this is still something that I struggle with. Meanwhile I have some other exciting opportunities in the pipeline, such as a couple of photo shoots and reaching the Final 30 in the MAS Body Development ambassador search. For those of you that may not know, MAS is a fitness clothing brand that prides itself on both the quality and style of their clothing, as well as being a fun and family orientated team. Check out their website – http://www.masbody.co.uk – and use the discount code FINAL30 for 15% off the entire site. If you are going to Bodypower make sure you go and see the MAS Body Development team on Stand M140, as I have it on good authority that they have some exciting stuff in store! Meanwhile, thank you again to anyone who has taken the time to read and support the blog, and for all of your incredible comments on social media.

The future is bright. Xx

Gym Online

Peak Week – The Madness and The Mindset 

 I thought I would write a short blog post this week to discuss how I am finding peak week in the run up to my first competition. For those of you who have just tuned into ‘Bite, Bench, Breathe’, I am competing in the ‘Ms Bikini’ and ‘Fitness Model’ categories at Miami Pro this Sunday (17th April 2016), and all being well at the UKBFF Bodypower Classic in May. I would say that my prep has been mostly smooth sailing, which I credit to my coach Eddie Abbew for pushing my calories high and keeping me away from cardio in my off season. To be honest, I really struggled with this at first. Running was my vice, my crack cocaine, so I will never forget walking into Olympian Gym to check in with Eddie, tail between my legs, and admitting that I had “fallen onto the treadmill”. Eddie and his assistant coach, the amazing Bodyfitness competitor Lisa Kelly, helped me through this blip and simply asked that I trust them, which I have done ever since! Trusted them every time they added yet another 40g of oats, or Vitargo, or nut butter (or all three!) to my meal plan. I appreciate that this sounds like a dream to a lot of bodybuilders, but to a girl with a history of disordered eating I felt like they were asking me to climb Everest. However, I stuck to the plan and, months later, I now see the method to their madness. 

The madness meant that I was able to start my prep on a high calorie diet, do zero cardio and still drop body fat. Combined with having a pretty fast metabolism, I was still managing to start the day on 80g of oats (my favourite!) and only do forty five minutes of walking a day right up until last week. So, what’s changed this week? Well, less than you would expect! I still have some carbs in my diet, and I’m still only doing forty-five minutes of cardio. I won’t be going into specifics here, for several reasons:

1. Every body is different and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to a peak week diet, or any diet for that matter.

2. There are different methods available to achieve similar results. I trust my coach, and believe that his approach (eating single ingredient foods and using LISS for cardio) is optimal, however that’s not to say that other methods (such as ‘if it fits your macros’ and using HIIT for cardio) cannot be used to get someone stage ready.

3. I pay for coaching, so have decided that some of the ‘tricks of the trade’ will remain under my cap – well, under my hair extensions at least.

So, rather than discuss macros and water loading I propose to talk about how being in peak week is affecting my mood, my mindset and my outlook for the competition.

Mood – Let’s be real, I’m in a calorie deficit, so it’s up and down. One minute I am bouncing around full of beans, and the next minute I am snapping at my mother on the telephone for asking me if I had watched the final of The Voice – “Of course I haven’t, I am far too busy training, posing, food shopping, meal prepping, working, sleeping, tanning, organising MY LIFE for God’s sake”! Then telling her I love her. We always take it out on those closest to us, so (as I mentioned in my last blog post) the patience and understanding of my family and friends is really appreciated at the moment. However, as someone who has once been at rock bottom, this peak week malarkey hasn’t caused me to kill anyone or have a mini breakdown just yet!

Mindset – I would say that I am feeling very reflective. This prep has been a real eye opener for me, and taking the lifestyle that I love to such an extreme has taught me so much about both my body and mind. Will I compete again? I honestly do not know. Sixteen weeks has flown by, and it has given me a real sense of how short life is. It has made me reevaluate my relationships and my career. It has made me make a commitment to myself that I will continue to surround myself with people who inspire me, who motivate me, and who simply MAKE ME FEEL AWESOME. Some of these people lift weights, and some have never stepped foot in a gym.

Outlook – I am freakin’ excited! I attended a Mock Show over the weekend, hosted by my fabulous posing coach Audrey Kaipio, and this has given me an even greater buzz for getting up on that stage. It’s common to start spouting ‘you are your own competition, it’s you vs. you’ at this point. But, lets be frank, I would LOVE to place. I don’t understand anyone who enters a competition and doesn’t have that drive to win. But I am realistic. My concerns are that I am too lean for stage, that I may not drop that little bit of water weight that’s still clinging onto my ass… But you know what, in comparison to the scrawny runner of yesteryear I fully intend to get on that stage feeling and looking fantastic.

 

As a final note, thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout this journey, in real life and through both the blog and social media. First and foremost I am doing this for myself, then I am doing it for all of you.

Gym Online

Runner vs. Bodybuilder – Why You’re Not So Different After All

Long distance running and bodybuilding are two sports that are often viewed as being polar opposites. What springs to mind when you think of the typical marathon runner? A lithe female in a flouro cropped top and pair of Asics, venturing out on a four hour run on a Sunday morning perhaps. Meanwhile, when we think of bodybuilders we tend to think of Arnold Schwarzenegger, or at least some greased up, pumped up dude with muscle bursting out of his muscles.
These are extreme stereotypes, I accept, however even amongst the running and bodybuilding populations the two disciplines tend to have something of a disregard for the other. Running is the ultimate, purest form of cardiovascular exercise, something which the average bodybuilder avoids like the plague through fear of losing his or her hard earned ‘gains’. Heavy weight training, in the form of squats, deadlifts, presses and rows, are meanwhile deemed to be something to ‘approach with caution’ by runners. In this case there is a general appreciation that these compound movements may assist the average runner in terms of strength and subsequent speed, but the fear of injury and/or gaining too much muscle, particularly on the upper body, may make the average runner reluctant to step into the weights room.

 

I am all for specificity. If you are planning to run a marathon, you need to run. If you are planning to step on stage in a bodybuilding competition, you need to lift. However, as a marathon runner turned bikini competitor I believe that it would be advantageous for us to take a leaf or two from the books of our sporty brothers and sisters. By incorporating a lower body and core strength regime into a marathon training plan, perhaps the day before a rest day or ‘easy run’, runners are really improving their chances of hitting that desired PB. Meanwhile, if someone has been bodybuilding for years and only touching cardio for some pre-contest LISS (low intensity steady state), I would argue that it might be worth putting on a pair of trainers every so often and testing the strength of those other important muscles, namely the heart and lungs.

 

Three years ago I was training for the Brighton Marathon, a beautiful 26.2 mile race in my birth city. Fast forward three years and on the anniversary of this marathon I will be competing in the ‘Ms Bikini’ and ‘Fitness Model’ categories at Miami Pro. My body has changed significantly in this time, as anyone who knows me or follows me on Instagram can attest to. Running left me thin and lifeless, compounded by the fact that I was not fuelling my body sufficiently, but I finished the race in a respectable three hours and forty five minutes. I now have more curves and muscle definition, and my aim for Miami Pro is to enjoy stepping out on stage with confidence and the knowledge of how hard I have worked to get there. Different body, different goals, different mindset.

 

So, aside from these differences, is anything still the same? Well, yes! The one thing that has struck me in the past sixteen weeks of contest prep is just how similar it feels to marathon training.

 

The Duration – If you have a solid foundation of running, you can train for a marathon in sixteen weeks. If you have a solid foundation of muscle, you can diet for a show in sixteen weeks. In both cases, having that solid foundation is really important. I always remember someone saying to me “respect the distance” with regards to a marathon, and I ensured that I’d hung several half marathon medals around my neck before even contemplating the full distance. Likewise, in bodybuilding, having a long off season where you train hard, eat hard and rest hard will put you in the best position to be stepping on stage looking your best. But let’s not underestimate what we can achieve in sixteen weeks. Gradually clocking up those miles, gradually chipping away at the body fat to reveal what is lying beneath – both require discipline and consistency, and once results appear it will spur you on all the way to the finish line or stage.

 

The Hunger – Both metaphorical and physical. You’ve got to really want it, otherwise when it comes to seriously dig deep, on the road or under the squat rack, you will struggle. In terms of physical hunger, this will depend entirely on the individual, their training intensity and metabolism. I am no authority on how to fuel yourself for a marathon – it would be hypocritical of me to pretend to be when I myself restricted calories during marathon training. However, over the past three years I have learnt so much about how my body works and how it responds to carbs, protein, fats, water, sodium, cardio and rest. Despite being just a week away from stepping on stage, I currently feel so in tune with my body, and suggest that this should be the case whatever your discipline. Whether you are training for a marathon or a show, there are times when you are likely to be HUNGRY. Like, seriously hungry. To best satisfy this hunger, I recommend eating nutritious, single ingredient foods and to stay hydrated. Meanwhile, black coffee will take the edge off when you are fifteen weeks into prep and not due to eat for another hour… Yep, the struggle is real!

 

The Dreams – Or should I say, the nightmares! For runners, it’s arriving at the start line of the marathon only to realise that you’ve forgotten your trainers, or that you trip over a water bottle on Mile 1 and twist your ankle. For bodybuilders, it’s standing on stage in your Sunday best, looking down and realising that your previously shredded abs are now covered in a distinct layer of body fat, whilst being laughed off stage by the judges. This anxiety is normal, and something to embrace. I always believe that if we dream about something it’s because we care, or have some unfinished business, about the subject. On the topic of sleep, I’m a firm believer that you can never get too much, whether you’re in training or not!

 

The Moods – Running, weight training and dieting – all of these put a great deal of stress on the body, and subsequently your relationships. I sailed through the first twelve weeks of my prep, generally feeling like my usual chirpy self. But the past three weeks have been more of a grind. If you live with someone who is serious about an impending race or fitness competition it is likely that they are doing everything by the letter. Every training session and every meal counts. It is likely that one of the reasons that you love that person is because of their determination and commitment. Accept that “evil bitch/bastard mode” is a temporary phase, and think of the smile on both of your faces when they cross the finish line or step off stage with a trophy. All we can ever do is support the ones we hold dear.

 

The Taper – The worst part of any marathon training plan! You’ve smashed twelve weeks of training, clocked up some serious mileage, and then four weeks before race day you are expected to run less. What is this madness?! Likewise with contest prep, when calories and carbohydrates are reduced it would be foolish to try and train with the same intensity as you did when you were in a calorie surplus. I must admit that I have really struggled with this, and have to literally force myself to take rest days or to cut my training sessions shorter. I find rest days a lot easier if I take them at the weekend and have something else planned that is completely away from the gym environment. Meanwhile, I have found that the most effective way of shortening my training sessions is by taking my plastic stripper heels (yes, really!) into the gym and practising some posing at the end of my session. Whether running or in prep, the important thing is to trust yourself. Trust in the fact that you have already put in the hard work, and trust in your body to carry you through.

 

And finally one for the girls, whether marathon training or dieting… You Will Lose Your Boobs!