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The Regional Round-up

I had the great fortune to attend the Meridian Regionals for the 2016 Crossfit Games in Madrid this weekend.  All I can say is wow!  For those of you who may not know, out of the hundreds of thousands of athletes who enter the Crossfit Open each year, the top 40 men, women and teams in each region qualify for the Regional stage.  From here they compete over 3 days and 7 events, with the top 5 in each group progressing to the final in Carson California each July.

This year’s Meridian event was held in Madrid’s Caja Mágica (Magic Box) and magic it certainly was.  The atmosphere was positively electric as thousands of fans, cheered, shouted and screamed encouragement.  Three long days of events were held, which as a fan I found exhausting, so I can’t begin to imagine how the competitors must have felt!

Through the 7 pre-announced workouts, the athletes were tested in a vast array of areas.  From very heavy lifts, to technical gymnastics movements, they had nowhere to hide.  The aim of the weekend is to provide a true test of fitness and to ensure the truly elite and well rounded athletes are the ones who will be soaking up the Californian sunshine this July.  I couldn’t help but be truly awed and inspired by the display of super human fitness I was seeing.  Plenty of beer was needed to salve my feelings of complete inadequacy!

One or two of the events presented a few of the athletes with huge stumbling blocks.  There were tasks involved which some of the athletes simply could not perform.  One example of this was in the chipper workout.  The third exercise the athletes faced in the workout was the overhead squat.  At 70kg for the women and 100kg for the men, it was significantly in excess of body weight for almost all of the athletes.  Anyone who has attempted the overhead squat will understand just how difficult it is.  It is often referred to as the King of the Squats and represents one of the most challenging lifts there is.  For a number of the athletes, the weight on the bar was just too heavy.  It became a bottle neck for them.  They had to continue to try to perform their lifts, while the others in their heat moved on.

For me, watching how these athletes dealt with this particular challenge, was almost more impressive than anything else I witnessed.  Some of them would have spent 10 minutes or more making attempt after attempt at the lifts.  Watching their follow competitors moving on in the workout, while feeling thousands of eyes on them, and being aware that their Games chance was slipping away.  Those minutes must have felt interminable.  Each one of them that I saw experience this, did so with a grace and dignity, which I am not sure I would have mustered.  It is often said that sport doesn’t build character, it merely reveals it.  Well, these men and women certainly revealed a admirable side of theirs.

As I reflected on this over the course of the weekend, it struck me that this is a great metaphor for life.  These athletes are at an elite level and yet, they can still be presented with things which cause them to struggle.  Life is very much like this.  For some of us this struggle could be with our weight.  For others, it could be a battle with illness or depression.  It could even be the challenge of finding a job, when it seems every door is being closed in your face.  Whatever the obstacle, it is how we choose to deal with it, that will ultimately define us.

The ability to dust yourself off and keep going, even in the face of adversity, makes us fairly difficult to defeat.  When you feel like you have tried everything, know that there is still something left to try.  Be brave and face each challenge with your head held high, even if it has knocked you on your ass before.  In his famous poem “If,” Rudyard Kipling asks “If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat these two impostors just the same.”  These two truly are opposite sides of the same coin.  Having watched an amazing display of sporting ability this weekend, I urge us all to just keep picking up that bar.  For the real tragedy would be to quit, never knowing how close we were to making that lift xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Balancing Act

As the 2016 Crossfit Regional season reaches its climax, I can’t help but be absolutely awed by the incredible feats and physiques on display.  Men and women are submitted to grueling workout after grueling workout and keep coming back for more.  They appear almost indefatigable and are an inspiration to all of us casual athletes.  However, as I watch these men and women perform I can’t help but ask myself if there is a point, at which, the quest to become “the fittest on earth” becomes an unhealthy thing?  Is there a point at which health must give way to performance?

Most of us train in order to become fitter and to improve our health.  You don’t need me to tell you about the numerous health benefits associated with doing some form of exercise and with becoming more active in general.  Along the spectrum of health, both diet and exercise are two things, which have a profound impact on overall well being.  Having both of these things dialed in will definitely help you to become healthier.  There is no denying that.  Is there, however, a need to be concerned with getting too much of a good thing?

When we look at the definition of health, it can be summed us as the absence of illness or injury.  In the pursuit of either peak performance or a stage worthy physique, athletes often endure numerous injuries.  You only need look at the heavy strapping and taping on display on the competition floor to realise that this is the case.  Is it fair to say, therefore, that these athletes are sacrificing health in favour of performance?  Would it be true to say that in order to achieve elite status, athletes must push themselves past the bounds of what would normally be advisable?

In any sport elite athletes must subject themselves to physical demands which most of us could not endure.  Watch any Rocky movie if you don’t know what I mean!  Most of us simply could not withstand the physical and mental stresses, which are required, in order to become the very best in our chosen discipline.  This is not a criticism.  The truth of it is, in order to achieve the levels of performance or body composition required to take center stage, we must sacrifice a great deal.  Not least of all is our health.  Social life, work life and relationships also have to take a back seat.  For most of us, achieving this level just won’t be worth it.

I have personally struggled with unblurring these lines.  As someone who had a problem getting my weight to behave, it was difficult for me to recognise when enough was enough.  Not long ago, my coach asked me a very important question.  Something which helped me gain a little much needed perspective.  He said “Arwen, where are you trying to get to?”  I didn’t have an answer for him, and he just let the question hang.  I allowed his question to marinate and a few weeks later, when I met with him again, I had a bit more of an idea.  We hashed it out together.  He basically said that when you get to a certain point with your weight and body composition, you’re going to have a choice to make.

Yes, I could continue to try to drop weight.  I could continue to try to lose another bit of body fat, but it wasn’t going to be any fun.  It would mean missing out on a lot of the things which make life worthwhile.  I needed to decide if seeing a smaller number on the scale was worth missing out on birthday cake and a glass of wine at the weekend.  As I have absolutely no desire to be on stage or to take part in competition, it was an easy decision in the end.  That’s not to say that I won’t continue to work hard with both my nutrition and my training, but it does mean refocusing my energy away from those particular metrics.

For me, life is about balance.  The more effort you put into one aspect, the less energy you have available for anything else.  This year has seen me embarking on a whole host of exciting adventures (not least of all talking to you lovely people)  None of this would have been a possibility if I can continued to obsess over every morsel of food ingested and fret over every workout.  I believe we should give our nutrition and training the amount of attention they require, but no more.  They should be life enhancing and not sources of stress.

It is up to each individual to decide where on their list of priorities these things fall.  It’s also important to realise that at different stages, they may become more or less important.  Be aware that you are a human being with limited resources.  Spend these resources in the way that brings you the most joy.  Balance your time and your efforts according to your own goals and you won’t go too far wrong.  As yourself the question my coach asked me.  Where are you trying to get to?  Once you have the answer to this, unapologetically race there.

Next week I am off to Madrid to watch the European Regionals, and I will definitely be glad to be sitting on the side lines!

 

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Creatures of Habit or Stuck in a Rut

As I pulled into the petrol station to fill up my car last week, I noticed that I had pulled up to pump number 7, again.  The one I always choose.  It isn’t the most accessible and it certainly has nothing to do with superstition.  It most likely is the one which was available the first time I filled up there, and like the proverbial salmon, I have returned to that one every time since.  I joke sometimes that I have a borderline anxiety disorder, however, this is probably closer to the truth than I would like to admit.  The experience in the filling station prompted me to critically evaluate the other habits in my daily life.  It challenged me to try to figure out which of these auto-pilot activities are helping me to reach my goals and which of them are hindering my progress.

Each morning, without fail, I snooze my alarm clock.  This is one thing that infuriates me about myself.  It serves no purpose.  I rarely fall back asleep.  Even if I do, those extra ten minutes of sleep are not going to have some magical restorative properties.  What those ten minutes do do, however, is put me on the back foot, before my feet even hit my bedroom floor.  I spend the rest of the morning rushing around, trying to get out the door and generally stressing myself out.  Why, oh why, do I do this?

When I looked through my daily rituals, there were many of these, seemingly insignificant little habits.  Some positive, some negative and some which have little or no impact.  It made me wonder just how much of life are we consciously piloting and how much of it is spent simply following familiar pathways?  If we were to ask ourselves “why am I doing this?” how often would we have a convincing answer?

When it comes to issues which impact our health and fitness, it can be particularly important to ask ourselves just such questions.  Am I reaching for that piece of chocolate because I really want it and am going to enjoy it, or am I just reaching for it because I always have chocolate at this time?  Am I ordering this take away just because I always order in on a Friday night?  Answering these questions can be a really good starting point towards making a change in your lifestyle.  Habit is a powerful thing.  Often described as a force, it can be extremely difficult to break.  Recognising that we do certain things out of such habits, however, can be liberating.  Realising that it is habit that has you reaching for the biscuit tin in the evening, as opposed to a genuine hunger or craving, can give you a psychological advantage when trying to change the behaviour.  Habits are formed and they can be unformed.  Better ones can be put in their place.

Of course, not all habits are bad.  Just as some can work against us, others can work with us.  If, for instance, you are in the habit or doing your food prep for the week on a Sunday, you don’t need to ask yourself whether or not you feel like it.  You won’t find yourself wondering if maybe you should do it tomorrow instead.  You will just do it on Sunday, because that’s what you do.  Positive habits like this are what will get you through when motivation and willpower have been exhausted.  When we get to the stage where we are doing all of the positive and health promoting things we need to do, almost without thinking about it, we really have won.  They say you have to do something 28 times in a row before it becomes a habit.  This means that if you start tomorrow, in a little less than a month, a new, healthy habit could be formed!

As for me, over the next few weeks, I am going to work on breaking some of the negative habits, starting with the damnable alarm clock!  I am going to consciously choose a different pump at the petrol station too.  I will continue to try to identify and challenge the little habits in my daily life.  Getting stuck in a rut can happen so easily.  It’s so gradual that it’s almost imperceptible and before you know it, you have become a passenger in your own life.  If I am to become a creature of habit, I at least want to be sure the habits are taking me in the right direction.  There are enough outside forces trying to derail our progress without working against ourselves.

I will keep you up to date with my progress, and if you need any help with yours, be sure to get in touch.  Until next time xxx

 

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Size Matters

When it comes to nutrition the phrase “too much of a good thing” really can apply.  Increasingly people are finding it difficult to achieve their weight loss and fat loss goals, not because they are eating the wrong foods, but because they are eating too much of the right foods.  While food quality is undoubtedly very important for overall health and well-being, food quantity is what will ultimately be the deciding factor for your physique.

We are all familiar with the calories in versus calories out idea.  While this is indeed an over simplification of what can be a complex physiological process, it is essentially true.  If you take in more calories than the body needs you will put on weight, if you take in less calories than it needs, you will loose weight.  This is true whether these calories come entirely from junk food or from whole, good quality foods.

All too often we are completely in the dark about what constitutes a portion of a certain food.  The best advice I can give regarding this is to get out your scales.  The one in the kitchen, not the one in the bathroom!  While I don’t think it is necessary for us to be weighing and measuring every piece of food we consume forever, I do think it is extremely worthwhile to do it for a week or two.  When I first started weighing out my food, I was shocked to discover that in most cases, my portion was twice or even three times as big as I thought it was.  This was especially true with dry carbs like pasta and rice.  If you weigh out the rice once, and then use the same dish to measure it out in future, before long you should be able to eye-ball it with at least some degree of accuracy.

Measuring cups are also very handy tools.  Again with the rice, I have learned that about 1/2 cup per person is a good guide, as distinct from half a giant coffee mug, which is the measure I would have used in the past.  Measuring cups are very cheap and are well worth the investment.

In What are Macros Anyway? I discussed the guidelines for how much protein, fat and carbs we should be eating on a daily basis.  In terms of portion size, a portion of protein will be about the size of your palm, a portion of carbs should be about a cupped handful and a portion of fat should be about the size of your thumb.  Realistically, over eating protein isn’t usually a problem for people.  It is much easier to over do it with carbohydrate and fat.  There are lots of reasons for this, but the main one for carbohydrate over consumption is that the vast majority of the highly palatable foods we crave are very high in carbs.  Think biscuits, cakes, chocolates, pastries etc.  The problem with over consumption of fat is that, per gram, fat has over twice as many calories as protein and carbohydrate, meaning that even a small miscalculation can mean we veer off course for the day.

Even good fats are high in calories and it is very easy to overeat the likes of nuts for example.  I am not saying that you need to count out the amount of almonds you are eating.  However, it doesn’t take much effort to work out that if, for instance, the bag has 200g, that would mean it contains about 7 30g portions.  So if when you grab a handful from the bag, you end up taking half of it, you know you have overdone it.

So called “healthy” and”guilt free” treats are something else to be careful with.  While I never advocate feeling guilty about anything we eat, I feel that these tags can be a little misleading.  Whether a treat food is made with agave nectar or with sugar, the calories still count.  Healthier junk food is still junk food and as such should be an occasional thing, if we have any chance of reaching our goals.

The best defence you have against over eating is to be informed.  Read labels and understand them. Weigh your food, at least until you feel confident that you recognise what the correct portion is. We don’t need to become completely neurotic about it, but it is important to get a handle on the amount we consume.  Keep a food diary if you find it helpful.  A lot of us can be guilty of mindless eating.  The chicken nugget you take from your child’s plate counts.  The sweet you take as you walk past Susan’s desk counts.  The piece of cheese you eat as you make the sandwich counts.  All calories count, and if you are struggling to lose weight or drop body fat you might find that all these mindless morsels are having more of an impact than you would think.

If you need help, get in touch xxx

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Consistency is Key

If there was one thing I could urge people to do when they are trying to make meaningful changes in their lives, it would be to be consistent.  Yes, I know, this is very unsexy.  It’s not going to grab any headlines and certainly won’t sell any magazines.  However, I firmly believe it is the key to unlocking the future of your dreams.  We are the sum of that which we do on daily basis.  Whether you are trying to lose weight, get fitter, fix a relationship, progress at work or whatever the case may be, it is the small things done often which will get you there.

Let’s take a look at weight loss.  How many times have you seen magazines advertising the next hot diet, guaranteed to have you lose 20lbs in two weeks?  How many of them guarantee that you will still have that weight off in a years time?  None!  The reason for this it that such dramatic weight loss results can only come about from dramatic interventions.  Think Biggest Loser!  Chronic low calorie diets, supremely intense exercise regimes, or a combination of both are used to bring about stunning results, seemingly overnight.  The problem with this is that it is completely unsustainable.  Once the crash diet has ended, the dieter more often than not, reverts to exactly the same type of eating which got them into trouble in the first place.  Better by far to apply less dramatic interventions and practice them consistently.

I wish I could tell you that you will always want to stick to your diet.  I wish I could tell you that training will always feel easy and enjoyable.  But I can’t.  There will be times when it feels challenging and boring.  Times when you can’t be bothered.  There will be times when a tub of Ben and Jerry’s for dinner seems perfectly reasonable.  It’s at these times when having good habits in place and remaining consistent will get you through it.

If you want to be consistent with getting to the gym for instance, practice the habits which will make it easier.  Lay out your gym clothes or pack your bag the night before.  Go straight from work to avoid the allure of sitting on the couch.  Tell people you are going.  Hold yourself accountable.

In the United States the Weight Loss Registry have been conducting a study of people who have lost in excess of 30lbs and who have maintained that weight loss for more than a year.  The point of it was to try to determine what these people have in common which allowed them to be successful, when so many others fail.  One thing they identified as being a common habit among participants is that they weigh themselves everyday.  Now that’s not to say there is anything magical happening here.  Standing on the scale alone is not enough to ensure you don’t regain your weight, unfortunately.  But something about this small daily ritual helped them to stay on track.

I personally weigh myself each morning.  I normally bounce around between a kilo or so.  If I stand on the scale and weigh a bit heavier, I can usually identify why that was (damn Ben and Jerry’s) and 9 times out of 10 I am back to normal by the next day.  If however, I get a few days in a row that are higher than I would like, I know it’s time to get it together.  Without tracking like this, I would have no idea where I was.  I don’t let the number upset me, or affect my day, I just note it and move on.

Making lifestyle change can seem like a huge and daunting task.  So daunting, in fact, that many people perpetually procrastinate.  Continually putting it off until a tomorrow that never comes.  The best way to get around this is to start off small.  Pick one or two small changes and implement them TODAY!  Make sure you choose things which you will be able to do consistently.  Personally, I would always go for the easy wins.

If you struggle to think of some changes to make, ask yourself these questions;

  • Can I drink more water each day?
  • Can I switch off all electronics and have half an hour of no screen time before bed each evening?
  • Can I take a 15 minute walk after lunch and/or dinner on a daily basis?
  • Can I swap one of my daily coffees for a herbal tea?
  • Can I include one additional portion of fruit or veg each day?
  • Can I commit to bringing my lunch to work every day?
  • Can I practice a ten minute meditation or mindfulness exercise each day?
  • Can I add protein to my breakfast each morning?

If the answer to any of these questions was yes, then this is your starting point.  It’s as simple as that.  Just think, if you were to implement one change each month, how different your lifestyle could be by this time next year.  This does not promise overnight success, but it does promise to bring about change in a sustainable way.  Remember, the key is to be perfectly consistent, not consistently perfect xxx