The Accountability Network

About this time last year, I was getting ready to make some pretty big changes in my life.  I was making a career move.  I got offered a great job, closer to home, which meant I no longer needed to commute to Dublin from Kildare each day.  It also meant changing gym.  I had been training at a strength and conditioning facility in Tallaght for about 3 years at that point.  After a bit of Googling, I found another great facility to train at, which was minutes from my home.  So, I made the switch, and honestly just assumed I could pick up where I left off.  I was wrong.

You see, I had gotten into a great routine in Tallaght.  Leaving work each day and heading straight to the gym, no exceptions.  I never had to think about whether I particularly wanted to go or not, I just sort of auto-piloted myself there each evening.   As well as this, I had built some great relationships there.  I was friendly with my coaches and there was a great sense of camaraderie in the classes.  I really had not anticipated how much I was going to miss this.

So, I left my little pond in Tallaght, and starting swimming in the big pond in Kildare.  I loved the training, and the coaches were great, but for some reason, which I couldn’t figure out, it just wasn’t coming easy.  I really enjoyed the classes, but had to drag myself there.  I felt awkward and unfamiliar, instead of comfortable and at ease.  I never managed to get to the gym as often as I had planned and started to beat myself up about it.  For want of a better expression, I had completely lost my mojo, and try as I might, I couldn’t figure out the root cause.

I remember when I told my father about starting the new job he had said “you won’t know yourself,” and to be honest, that was exactly how I was starting to feel.  I love training, and my family and friends even playfully called me a “gym junkie” so why was I having such a hard time getting my head back in the game?  Why was I finding this transition so difficult?  People change gyms all the time and do just fine.  What the hell was wrong me with me?

As the months went by, it slowly became clear to me what was missing.  I no longer had my accountability network.  In my old gym, I was a familiar face to all, and if I went missing, it wouldn’t be long before someone would be checking in with me.  In the new place, I was the little, anonymous fish.  Nobody would notice if I was there or not.  In Tallaght, there was a regular group of  girls (and guys) I trained with and the friendly competition between us was often what spurred me on.  This too was absent now.  Not that it wasn’t happening, just that I wasn’t yet a part of it.

So, now that I knew what the problem was, what was I going to do about it?  Unfortunately, as adults, we don’t often feel comfortable asking people if they want to be our friend!  The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on me.  I didn’t want to train regularly because I felt apart from everything, but the only solution to that was to train regularly!  If the accountability network didn’t exist for me, I needed to build it.  I was the new person, so it was up to me to make the effort.  As a friend of mine often says “you have to go along, before you can get along!”

It has struck me recently how often situations like this come about.  How we so often are faced with doing something, which feels alien and uncomfortable in order to reach the end goal.  Sometimes the very thing we need to do feels so very counter-intuitive, that we almost back away from it entirely.  It is often said that to be successful, whether it be with your weight-loss, your training, or even in your career, you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I agree with this, however, I would say that it’s not necessary to stay uncomfortable.  Once you get your foot in the door, start asking the question, “what would make this easier for me?” and once you have the answer, act accordingly.

For many of us, change doesn’t come easily.  In my situation, the career change was actually much easier than changing gym.  I know how odd that sounds.  The only thing I can put it down to, is that I expected the change in job to be challenging, where as I had greatly underestimated how hard leaving my network would hit me.  It’s an awful feeling when something, which was easy before, suddenly becomes difficult.  My rational mind kicked in and told me that if I just stuck with it, that it would eventually come good.  And, to a greater or lesser extent it has.

I love my new job.  It’s much more enjoyable and challenging than any other role I have had.  It also demands a lot more of me than other jobs, and so sometimes things like training have to take a back seat.  I am learning to be okay with this.  Gym junkie no more?  Perhaps, but I am figuring out new ways to define myself xxx


Her Baby, Her Body, Her Business!

These days, few topics seem to be as divisive as women choosing to train during pregnancy.  It never ceases to amaze me the lengths some people will go to in order to express their negative opinions on this subject.  Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, people feel the need to advise women who continue to exercise while expecting, that they are doing untold damage to their unborn baby.  Every few weeks this topic rears its ugly head again and the vitriol and diatribe which ensue are deeply unsettling.

The truth is, there are innumerable benefits to be had from exercising while pregnant.  Physically, mentally and emotionally, women I have known who decided to continue exercising have all fared better than those who have decided against it.  Obviously, women who make the decision to continue their training, need to ensure they are doing so in a safe way.  They also need to be doing it in consultation with their physicians and coaches.

Naturally, there are some movements which are not advisable during pregnancy and some which need to be scaled back.  I am not going to list them here, as it’s largely individual, and to be honest, your body will tell you what you are able for far better than anyone else can.  The only caveat I would include is that pregnancy is not the time to try to break personal bests, nor would I encourage women to take up a new, unfamiliar activity.

Pregnancy is a hugely emotional time.  A woman’s body goes through so many changes, that it can almost become almost unrecognisable.  For fit and health conscious women, this can be difficult to deal with.  Many women may have spent years or even decades trying to maintain a healthy weight, and although they rationally understand that weight gain is a normal part of pregnancy, it can still be extremely difficult to accept.  Keeping up a healthy lifestyle, which includes an exercise regime, can help these women to feel a lot more in control.

As well as this, for a lot of us, the gym is not just about exercise.  It is where we go to blow off steam after a hard day in the office.  For many of us, it is also a social outlet.  So, even if you disregard the physical benefits, this is a lot to give up for the best part of a year.  We are not human incubators after all, and a healthy, happy momma, has got to be better for baby.

Over the years, I have been so impressed by the pregnant women I have trained with.  Once such woman is Yvonne.  Yvonne trains with me in The Performance and Fitness Academy in Kildare, which is one of Ireland’s leading training facilities.  Yvonne trained up until 39 weeks pregnant.  She is a perfect example of why women should continue to workout if they wish.  I was keen to hear about Yvonne’s experiences, and she kindly agreed to answer some questions.


The Performance and Fitness Academy – Kildare

How many weeks pregnant are you now?

I am currently 39 weeks plus two days pregnant.

How do you feel exercising during your pregnancy has benefited you?

I feel being able to exercise throughout my pregnancy has helped to regulate hormones which has resulted in me feeling pretty ‘normal’ and like myself throughout. I can only compare this to when I was advised to take two weeks off in the first trimester before being cleared by my GP to return to exercise. During this time I didn’t sleep as well as I would usually and felt more hormonal and anxious also.  Pregnancy brings about huge changes to you physically, but it also impacts on your emotional and mental well-being.  Exercise allowed me to feel normal, feel good about the physical changes happening in my body and also impacted positively on my mood.  I often found I left training sessions in better form than when I arrived.  I also feel I was more conscious of eating healthy as a result of maintaining regular exercise, which undoubtedly was important for a healthy pregnancy.  I cannot say for sure whether exercise impacted on having a healthy pregnancy, but I suffered no symptoms such as morning sickness, food aversions or cravings or swelling for example. I also feel exercising likely reduced any aches and pains often associated with pregnancy such as back pain, potentially due to a strong core and maintaining strength in these muscles.

Was your husband supportive of your decision?

My husband was very supportive of me continuing to train throughout.  With the expertise from our coaches in the Academy, ensuring I did only exercises suitable and safe and maintained a healthy heart and work rate throughout.  This was very reassuring for both of us.  Training is a hobby we enjoy doing together and so it was fantastic to be able to continue doing so throughout our pregnancy.

Have you encountered any back lash from people in relation to you training?

I definitely received some raised eyebrows from people throughout pregnancy in relation to continuing to exercise.  Some were concerned that I was over doing it and subtly suggested lots of walking and swimming as better options.  However, throughout I always knew my body and what I was and wasn’t able for, using common sense to guide this.  I was always upfront about my exercise with medical professionals who always acknowledged the benefits of exercise and never expressed any concerns.  However, I also protected myself from potential backlash by being choosy as to who  I shared information on my exercise routine with, often minimising it to avoid judgement.  Having said this, many were also equally supportive.  My husband often found people were shocked when he discussed our exercise regime, but not in a negative way.

Would you make the same decision if you were pregnant again in the future?

I would definitely choose to exercise in subsequent pregnancies as I have had a ‘dream’ pregnancy and while I can’t say exercise entirely impacted on this, I definitely feel it played an important role.

Would you encourage others to continue to train?

I would recommend exercise to friends and family when pregnant also.  However, I would stress the importance of choosing to train in a gym where coaches have the expertise to guide you through your workouts and ensure you only do what is safe for you and your baby.  My Husband and I felt we were in safe hands in The Academy, which put our minds at ease throughout.

I have personally never been pregnant, but I have been injured.  In both scenarios, I cannot overemphasise the importance of working with coaches you can trust.  Knowing that your coach has your best interest at heart and that you are in safe hands, can really make everything a lot easier.  Plus, it takes the thinking out of it, when you know someone else is taking care of you.

Having spoken  to Yvonne, I was eager to hear what her coach Niall Munnelly, co-owner  of The Academy and Head Coach, had to say.  He gave me these insights.

There is a lot of misconceptions and confusion around training while being pregnant.  People live back in the stone age with their knowledge about this topic and they can be very critical about an issue they don’t have a clue about. There are amazing physical and mental health benefits attached to training while pregnant.  It can

  • Balance your hormones
  • Can reduce morning sickness
  • Can reduce anxiety
  • Can reduce weight gain
  • Can help with your own headspace
  • Can help improve your mood
  • Can help with your baby’s mood

When you exercise your body releases serotonin (happy hormone) your baby can receive the same feeling and so can benefit from your training too.  This is the same feel good hormone your body releases during sex, or when you eat chocolate!

In the academy we’ve had about 20-30 women in the past 5 years train with us while pregnant and every single one of them found it massively beneficial with all the points I made above.

If you want to train while being pregnant, it’s an absolute must for you to find coaches who actually know what they’re doing.  Most doctors these days will tell you to continue exercising while  pregnant, especially if you’ve been doing it pre-pregnancy.  Of course, everyone’s body is different and some women have harder pregnancies than others, so always consult with your family doctor before any training.  If you get the all clear, there’s no reason why you can’t train up until your due date.  We’ve had women train at the Academy until a day before giving birth!  Some people say training while being pregnant can actually help with labour too, as it keeps your body in fit state, with more energy to push harder.

Training while pregnant can help you recover faster after pregnancy as your body is stronger and if you keep your weight somewhat under control while pregnant, it will be easier to loose the baby weight.  Some people use being pregnant as an excuse to sit at home and eat everything.  When you eat healthy while pregnant your baby will receive all of those good nutrients from the good, as they say you are what you eat.


Niall Munnelly, Head Coach and Co-Owner – The Performance and Fitness Academy

My own personal stand point is that the decision to train while pregnant is just that, a decision.  Each woman needs to make that decision for herself and her baby.  She should not be subjected to negative commentary from keyboard warriors, who have no skin in the fight.

I would like to thank Yvonne and Niall for sharing their insights on what I feel is an important subject.  I hope that as education around this topic increases, it may stem the tide of hurtful and unhelpful comments from people who know no better xxx




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













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!