Summer

Summer Body? How I Prepped For Holiday

It’s a given that everybody wants to look good on holiday. They want to put on a bikini with confidence, go to the beach and feel happy in their skin, and have photos and memories to look back on that they love.

A summer body or being ‘beach ready’ is different for everyone. Naturally, we are all bikini body ready. We have a body, and the ability to put a bikini on it. But there is nothing wrong with setting yourself a goal to get in shape you’re happier with for your holiday.

What did I do?

I bulked from December to April – not with the intention to put on muscle mass purely for my holiday, but to put on more muscle and build a body I knew would look better when I eventually cut down.

Eight weeks out from my holiday, I began a gradual cut. We cut my calories, mostly from fat and then another large amount from carbs, keeping my protein the same. I added in two cardio sessions of 30 minutes LISS each every week, to further place myself in a calorie defect.

What actually changed?

Because my metabolism is pretty decent, we didn’t need to cut my calories too much in the first instance. I dropped water weight after 2-3 weeks due to the drop in carbs, and felt a lot lighter and less full – while I was on my bulk, I often felt bloated and quite full in the evenings because I was eating 2,500+ calories. For a 5 ft 1 human, that was quite a lot!

I also found that I felt healthier. Doing only a couple of cardio sessions a week, I was able to up my cardiovascular fitness, which used to be incredibly good. Cardio is one element I will keep on my programme even after I have finished my cut. Although I don’t find it particularly enjoyable, the effects have a positive impact on my life and my wellbeing.

Glutes

Did I get the body I wanted?

100%? No. I still have a problem with losing the last layer of fat from my lower abs – if I put on weight, it all goes there, and not to the rest of my stomach, so when I cut my top four abs coke in and my lower ones are still in hibernation mode.

I did, however, manage to hold onto some size on my glutes and quads. My quads feel more muscular than they ever have been, and my glutes are definitely bigger. Sure, I still have cellulite and stretch marks, but the majority of girls will walk onto a beach like this – even those who put in tremendous amounts of effort at the gym to work on their lower body.

I am particularly pleased with my upper body. It leans out a lot quicker than my lower body, and it makes my whole appearance seem a lot more athletic. Girls, if you want the look, it’s best to keep in mind that big shoulders = smaller waist, and give a more muscular appearance overall.

What would I do differently next time?

Next winter, I am definitely going to go on a longer bulk, and then a slower cut; possibly about 12 weeks, depending on how I look and feel, and when I book my holiday for – if I’m even going on one!

I would also have my protein a bit lower throughout. I haven’t felt hungry at all during my bulk or cut, but mainly I think that’s because of the high levels of protein. Which, is obviously a good thing. But at the same time, I think dropping my protein would allow me to feel a little less sluggish and full, especially during my bulk, where it became hard to fit in all the food – especially protein.

Would I recommend a bulk/cut cycle?

Absolutely. It has taught me that I am stronger than I think, and also that a bulk doesn’t make you fat – or bulky. You can put on as much or as little muscle or fat as you want, it is completely down to what you eat, how you train, and how much of each of these you are doing.

It has also taught me that a cut for a holiday isn’t a bad thing – it’s not like girls you are cutting for a bikini comp. It is more relaxed, less stressful, and a lot easier to complete because you know in your mind that you already have a bikini body, you’re just working towards one you’ll be prouder of.

5 Tips

Letting Life Get In The Way

I am pretty impressed with my blog writing track record. For well over a year, I managed to write one blog per week. It was two in the beginning, but once I got a full-time job it became too time-consuming to think, research and write about two topics per week.

But finding time is hard.

Last week was the first week since I started this blog that I was unable to find the time to post something, but, in turn, it inspired this little post: sometimes, life gets in the way. And that’s okay.

The events in the world recently have made me take a step back from my whirlwind of a lifestyle and assess it. The Manchester Arena attack struck the biggest chord with me, and ultimately it made me – and a lot of people I have spoken to since – realise that we need to be living our lives. We need to be enjoying it, spending time with loved ones, excelling in our careers.

And that’s what I’ve been doing.

I went to a gig with my boyfriend, I have had an incredibly busy (and stressful) time at work recently, which meant I didn’t have the energy or the focus to then sit down and write something else in my spare time. I have also been spending time on myself, with appointments and a regimented gym schedule because I go on holiday in just one week now.

I am someone who loves to do everything. Who enjoys being busy. But I’ve realised that I can’t do it all. As much as I would like to be, I am not and never will be superwoman. But what I do know is that I am happy, successful, driven and dedicated. I also know that taking time out is important. That sometimes we have to prioritise, and if that means something we usually do gets put to the bottom of the pile, then so be it.

Not only should we let life get in the way of menial things, we should enjoy it

Recent events should have taught us all of the importance of life. I am in a place now where I understand that, sometimes, I need to prioritise things in my life. I also understand that, sometimes, it isn’t fun. It means I don’t get to go to the gym as much, or that I can’t write a blog that I love to write.

But it also means that I put everything into my career and get rewarded for it. And that I get to spend time with my boyfriend and my friends, and I am happier because of it.

So, my message to you all: live your life. Let it get in the way. Do what you enjoy, do what you have to do, and do it well.

Self Care

Realising Your Potential

Why did you start your journey?

Think about what you’re doing right now. Your career, your hobbies, your lifestyle. Why did you start it? There must have been something inside you that said, “this is what I want to do,” with enough affirmation to go ahead and do it.

Nine times out of ten, it’s because we are inspired. We see someone excelling in a career they love, and we want to do it too. We scroll through Instagram and see people doing these amazing things, and we want a piece of the action as well. We’re at the gym and we gaze at people who look strong and athletic, and we want to be like that too.

It’s important to have inspiration

Inspiration keeps us going. Whether we use someone else as our inspiration, or maybe even ourselves, it gives us the drive and the strength to keep going in whatever it is we are trying to achieve. It’s useful to use both as our motivation: to try and again the same great success someone else has worked so hard towards and to try and harness their drive, and also to use ourselves as motivation; to look back on the past and see where we came from to where we are now is the ultimate inspiration to keep going.

But what happens when the tables are turned?

We always look to other great, successful people to inspire us. But have you ever thought that someone might be looking at you in this way? Everyone, at some point in their lives, inspires another person. Whether that’s a work colleague looking to you to emulate your passion for the career you’re both in; whether it’s someone who looks over at you in the gym longingly, wanting your figure and your passion to succeed in your training… you never really know when people find you inspiring.

We must always try to inspire

My philosophy on life has always been to work as hard as I can. It’s as simple as that. I have put everything into my education, my career, my lifestyle, and the gym in order to get where I am today. I don’t necessarily do this to inspire other people, but mainly because I have always had this drive instilled in me from a young age, and if that’s something which inspires others, and if I can help even one or two people have a similar drive, then I will have made a positive impact on not only my life but the lives of others, too.

What is the point of this ramble?

Last week, I went to Birmingham Young Professional of the Year Awards,  celebrating the young talent in the second city. It was incredible to be in a room filled with hard working, driven people who are making the most out of their lives and their careers.

And it made me think, that it wasn’t only just those nominated that were inspiring – it was every single one of us in the room. We could look to the winners for inspiration, of course, but we could also look around at work colleagues and people on the tables around us for inspiration; for courage, resilience, determination, passion.

It made me reflect on what I have done, and what I can do to inspire other people. I started this blog because I don’t think the Internet can really have enough fitness blogs. Especially positive ones. When I first started my journey, I’d liked to have read honest,

When I first started my journey, I’d liked to have read honest, first-hand accounts of different things that work. To be told that it’s not one size fits all, and that you are on your own path, your own journey, and what you do doesn’t have to be what everyone else does, it just has to be what makes you happy. What you find inspiring. 

Take from this blog what you will, but if you take one thing away, I want you, the reader, to know that even when sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, you are inspiring. You are motivating. You are succeeding. Just as much as the person you look to for inspiration is.

Grateful

What’s Your Mentality?

Control. In fitness, whatever discipline you’re taking part in, you need it in spades.

People often take it for granted or forget about it completely. How often do you see people in the gym doing half reps? Or doing an exercise so fast they might as well not be doing it at all?

Control over what you’re doing with the exercise is important, especially if your goal is muscle growth, but what about the control your mind has over your body? That’s ultimately the important one. It’s the key: if you don’t have control over your mind, and your mindset, how are you mentally going to convince yourself to put the work in physically?

For me, it is, has, and always will be about your mentality. It is what has kept me going and what will keep me going. But what’s your mentality, and how can you make sure it doesn’t get in the way of your progress?

Set a goal

Whether it’s fat loss, muscle gain or somewhere in between, what is your end goal? There will be one specific goal you want to reach, and you need to be certain of it. Also, make sure it’s one. ‘Fat loss and muscle gain’ is one aim people bang on about, but it’s fairly hard to achieve both – successfully – at once. Pick one, stick to it, and then choose your next one once you have achieved it. Your goal might also change along the way, so make sure you’re driven and in control enough to roll with it should it alter.

Pick out your milestones

While you have only one goal, you must remember that it will be far in the future, and there will be certain milestones you reach before you achieve your end goal. Some people work well in time periods: set yourself realistic milestones in weeks or month timeframes, e.g lose one pound per week, or gain 1kg in one month.

You can also set targets to do with your diet or your mental health, such as eat vegetables with two meals per day or take 30 minutes to meditate or practice breathing twice per week. Write them down and date stamp them, and then you can look back and see how you progressed in your set time period, to measure how far away you are from your end goal.

Find your motivators

You need something that actually gets you motivated to reach your goal, other than the goal itself. You need to be more internally motivated than you are externally. You must be able to do this on your own without relying on other people: no one else is going to get you to the gym, get you through your workout, spend hours meal prepping, other than yourself.

Of course, you can use external motivators such as friends, family, or a personal trainer. But you need to realise that you must be your own motivation (cringe alert) if you’re going to go all the way. There’s only so much other people can do to influence your choices.

You need to be a realist

You need to be mentally strong to realise you will have to make one or two sacrifices along the way, and even stronger to be able to actually carry them through.

That’s not saying you can’t enjoy yourself: the whole point of a healthy lifestyle is that it is exactly that – a lifestyle. And in order for it to be something you are living day in, day out, it must be sustainable. A few alcoholic drinks won’t kill your dreams of reaching your goal. But you must also realise and acknowledge that going on the piss very weekend will take you one step back. Just like one ‘bad’ meal won’t make you fat, but several over an extended period of time will do some damage, especially if your end goal is fat loss.

So, back to my initial point

What’s your mentality? If you have a goal, a meaning behind it, and clear plan as to how you’re going to get there, it’s already on the right track.

Reflecting

Why You Need To Be Doing More To Recover

Why do we train? To get better, stronger, fitter, healthier, happier? It will be all or several of these options.

But are we doing everything we can to achieve this? Sure, we might be training hard and eating the right things, but there might be something missing: recovery.

Recovery from exercise is just as important as walking into the gym and picking up weights. You will make some progress without it, of course, but for optimal performance and desired results, recovery is of the utmost importance.

But how do we go about recovering

I’m sure if you’re into fitness and on Instagram you’ll have had foam rollers thrown in your face and heard ‘anabolic window’ shouted from plenty a rooftop. So let’s start with the latter, shall we?

let’s be sensible

The anabolic or metabolic window is the idea that your body has a certain amount of time post-workout where it is optimal to eat food for gains. Otherwise, you go catabolic and lose your gains. Real talk. They literally just fall off and disappear.

Or maybe not. The dynamics of recovery are not as black and white as that. You will not go catabolic (the breakdown of your muscles) if you don’t eat within the ‘magic window’ after your workout.

But that’s not to say that food isn’t important. It is. Food is essential for recovery, and if you’re like me, you won’t be able to wait an hour plus anyway to eat after your workout. What you put into your body is highly important for recovery; refueling your body with carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores and with protein to assist with the repairing of your muscles is essential post workout – but not essential to eat it within a certain time frame.

And the rest of the day? Ensure you are eating for your a) your goals and b) your body. Eat in a caloric surplus to build muscle mass, a deficit to cut fat or lose weight, and at maintenance/untracked if you’re happy with where you are. And eat what your body likes: if you prefer a high carb, low-fat diet, then do it. Or if you like filling yourself up with fats and protein and eating a lower carb intake, go for it. Eat well, and eat smart to suit you and your training – and recovery – goals.

Foam rolling hurts but works

Again, foam rolling is really important. I remember the first time I foam rolled and I was sure it was some sort of sick joke. It hurt SO much. But that’s because my muscles were so tight and I didn’t warm down properly. Foam rolling is particularly great for recovery because it’s similar to a massage, it is self-myofascial release; a fancier word for a self-massage which releases muscle tightness and can be used to trigger point.

Your gym should have one or two, but if it doesn’t, they’re cheap from Amazon or eBay – I bought mine from Amazon. The best ones are those with the little spikes or bumps on them, because, although they do hurt more, it feels so much better and like you’re actually targeting properly.

Would you believe that recovery can even become before you work out?

We all know that stretching after a workout is helpful for recovery, but have you ever thought about stretching before you work out and how that can impact your body and its ability to recover?

We’re all guilty of skipping it, but warming up is vital to ensuring we don’t pull any muscles while working out. It’s also important in terms of recovering from the day before. Big leg day and you’re still aching? You’ll want to stretch to ensure your whole body is ready for whatever you’re training the next day, even if it’s not the same muscle group.

But there is a difference between pre and post workout stretching

Pre-workout, you’re going to be wanting to do dynamic stretching. This warms up the muscles and gets them ready to work out. Foam rolling is also handy for pre-workout because the movement will also warm your body up.

Static stretching is best for post workout. Hold positions for around 20+ seconds, or really as long as you like, and try and foam roll – especially if you’ve just trained your legs.

Sports massage

Better than your average spa day massage, sports massages are ideal for releasing tension and helping iron out any kinks. I’ve had a handful now, and they’re such a fantastic form of recovery. I still suffer from a slight back problem and I’ve had sessions focused purely on this area, as well as hamstring focus because they’re particularly tight. It can be a little painful, but they are so worth it.

Sleep

I am an advocate of 7-8 hours. Not just because research tells us this is optimal, but because from my own experience I have found this to be enough sleep to ensure I am energetic enough for the next day. I don’t really drink coffee anymore, I don’t take a pre-workout, I simply get my energy from sleep (and then a good diet on top of that).

Sleep is also where your body actually does the most recovering. Think about it: it’s the only period of the day where you are actually doing nothing, so your body uses it to rest, recover and repair, make sure you’re giving it enough time to do this.

Rest

And I mean complete rest. Not an ‘active rest day’ but at least one day per week where you don’t walk into a gym, where you don’t exert yourself and where you take time out to recover properly. Nourish yourself with food – I know some people like to cut carbs and replace with fats on these days, but I keep everything to same because I believe your body needs food to repair itself just as much on rest days as it does on training days.

Stretch if you get the time, lie in bed and watch a film, have a bath, but whatever you do, make sure you’re taking days off to recover efficiently. Team no days off will soon become team no days at all because I’ve torn my hamstring if you’re not careful.

In my opinion, recovery is just as important as your actual training. Without it, your body won’t be able to keep up with your lifestyle, and, as so many of us have seen and experienced, it will catch up with you.

A girl walks into a weights room

A more regular occurrence than it was a few years ago, even more common than up to a year ago. Girls are gaining the confidence to step up their workouts and step into a weights room. Women are feeling empowered by lifting weights and, even more so, feeling like they can achieve the body they want by plucking up the courage to walk into a weights room and standing alongside the guys they used to be worried about and training how they want to.

But why do some girls still find it hard to find the confidence and nerve to step into the weights section of the gym?

It’s still intimidating

Whatever way you look at it, and however long you’ve been doing it for, wandering into a room full of testosterone, grunting and groups of blokes is daunting for even the most confident of women. Especially at peak times when it feels like there’s no room to breathe let alone any room to do any exercises with the weights you want.

But can I let you in on a little secret?

People at the gym are selfish. That’s right. We don’t care what you’re doing (unless you’re that awful PT on their phone whilst with a client, then we bitch). We are too self-absorbed and too into our own workouts to mind what you’re doing with yours.

What about if someone is looking your way? I often watch other people in between sets, sometimes it’s because I admire what they’re doing, or I think the exercise they’re doing is pretty cool and I might try it later. That’s pretty much it.

That guy looking at you as you walk into a weights room? Might be because he fancies you. May also be because he respects you for weight training. Probably isn’t because he’s thinking ‘what is she doing in here?’

It’s all about how you work it

I know for some, the nerves come from feeling like they don’t know what they’re doing. But we all start somewhere, and I know I’ve found being prepared more helpful that anything when it comes to owning it whilst in the gym.

Use Bodybuilding.com as your bible, their step-by-step guides to all the exercises for all the muscle groups you could ever want are brilliant. Watch Youtube workout videos and Instagram videos for inspiration as well, especially if they’re personal trainers. Write down your workouts or a rough idea of what you want to do before you go in to the gym, and that way, you’ll be less like a little lost puppy.

I totally get that it’s frightening. But girls, please realise that you belong in that weights room as much as the guy next to you. I used to be worried about what people might think, that fear of judgment and intimidation. But once you understand that it’s not a scary place, the weights room can really become something you completely own.

Now, I can walk into there at the busiest times.

I can walk up to groups of guys and ask how long they’ll be, or be confident enough to ask if I can jump in between sets with them.

What I’m not happy about is that I am often the only girl doing this, whilst the other women teeter on the edge. We need more women saying I can do this instead of watching other girls do it for them. Get brave, throw yourself into it, and you know what? It won’t be as bad as you think, and that’s a promise.

Knowledge

What’s wrong with body positivity?

The other day, I did something I would never have had the confidence to do a few months ago.

I posted a posed, sports-bra-and-Nike-Pros selfie on Instagram. And it felt great.

More often, we’re now seeing girls into health and fitness post images like this on the internet – some taking it one step further and happily stripping it down to their thong and posting away.

But there is a divide

There have been comments saying that this isn’t body positivity, that it isn’t right, that young girls looking at images like this on the internet may get the wrong idea about what they should or shouldn’t look like. Comments include the phrase ‘I’m all for body positivty, but…’

And on the flip side, you have the idea that you can post whatever you so wish, because loving your body is far, far better than hating it.

There are always two sides to every story

I do get the negative view. I get that young, impressionable girls who attach themselves to role models very easily may scroll on Instagram and wonder how the hell they’re ever going to get the body their #fitspo has. And I do understand that girls posting pictures in their underwear every other day with the peach emoji as a caption doesn’t offer much to the social media consumer in the way of education or inspiration.

But in a world where girls are constantly ashamed of their bodies, where women hate their stretch marks and cellulite, where people hide away and cover their body in baggy clothes because they dislike it so much… surely, body positivity is a better avenue to go down than that.

Body positivity doesn’t stop at selfies, either

The captions alongside the images posted are often uplifting, too – especially when coming from the fitness community on Instagram. Girls showing they have cellulite, opening explaining that stretch marks are normal, that they like one part of their body more than the other and that’s okay.

And what about if they don’t have a caption? What about if they just fancied posting it, or they woke up and their abs looked on point, or perhaps they just finished a booty workout and it was pumped as hell? The great thing about social media is that it is open and we are allowed to post what we like. There are no restrictions (well, there are, but if you’re posting porn on social media then you’re somewhat twisted), and if people don’t like it, they can go ahead and unfollow you. It’s as simple as that, really. When it comes down to it: we choose what we consume on social media, we aren’t forced.

Don’t forget the hard work

Behind every selfie, every caption, every emoji used, there is a story. And that’s what we have to remember. I captioned mine saying how happy I was that I had worked so hard and it had paid off – because it had. I am proud of how hard I have worked and if I want to post that on Instagram, there’s nothing stopping me. I have gone through stages in my life where I have hated my body, and so, when I feel good about myself, I am definitely going to shout about it.

I completely understand that some girls – and probably boys – get fed up of seeing belfies (a bum selfie, for those not up to date with the latest instafit lingo) on the regular. Because sure, other body parts matter; I’ve posted shoulder selfies before, and back progress pictures too. But we’re allowed to show off whatever we want.

But for me, body positivity comes down to progress

Body positivity is confidence, it is happiness, it is control. Body positivity is acceptance of your body at whatever stage in your fitness journey you are at, and it’s loving every step of that journey too.

It comes in all shapes and sizes: the tall, slim runner who loves to show off her legs, the short, stocky gym bunny who is proud of that peach, the proud woman who has lost a stone in two months. And everyone and everything in between.

Body positivity is posting half naked selfies on social media because you are proud. It is also sharing completely full clothed, unposed selfies in that outfit you felt great in. It’s the sweaty leggings and long-sleeve post workout selfie, too.

Everyone is body positive in their own way; the way they feel most comfortable. We shouldn’t shame others because their idea of being body positive involves a few less clothes than ours. We should be happy that, for once, girls are becoming more confident in their own skin, when the majority of us have, at one point, hated what was staring back at us whenever we looked in the mirror.

Body positivity comes in all shapes and sizes; what is most important is that we keep sharing. Keep posting. Keep posing. Keep loving ourselves.