Girl Gains: Spartan Bootcamp

Tyres, a hill and torrential rain. A lethal combination, but one the Girl Gains ladies completely smashed when we took on the Spartan Bootcamp last weekend.

Nine of us took on the challenge, organised by Beth, our lovely Girl Gains ambassador for Birmingham, and lead by the brilliant Elie. It was completely different to any work out I’d ever done before: I am used to cardio and I’ve done my fair share of heaving lifting, but to combine the two and throw in objects that were completely foreign to us (have you ever bear-crawled up a hill dragging a tyre with you?), it was a new challenge that tested the strength, endurance and power of every single one of us, and the hardest workout I’ve ever done.

I learnt throughout the day that I was stronger than I thought. From being mentally strong to continue the challenges to being physically strong enough to have a go at flipping a 80kg tyre. And it was incredible to see all the brilliant girls around me completely smashing it both mentally and physically, too.

We began with squat jumps up a hill, with squats and pulses at the top. That was pretty hard, but the easiest task when we realised what was to come: backwards bear crawls up the hill, pulling tyres along with us. Smashing the tyres off the ground fifty times, and throwing them back down the hill until we got to the bottom followed.

Tyre flip

Next up was the main event: tyre flips! And the torrential downpour that ensued while we were halfway through only sought to push us on even more; everyone was cheering each other on, helping each other out and motivating us all to reach the top.

Through the Girl Gains movement, we have all been able to connect with people who share the same interests and have faced similar struggles throughout our health and fitness journey. Events like this just reinforce the importance of communities like Girl Gains; having strong woman surrounding you, cheering you on is one thing – one brilliant thing – but to also be around girls you had only just met, but felt like you had known for years, is really something else.

We finished with core, stretching and a lot of chats, and left us all excited for the next event. It’s empowering to be in the presence of such fantastic, strong women both inside and out, and a real pleasure to have had the chance to meet people like this through #GirlGains.

GirlGains

Find out more about The Girl Gains movement here, and follow the Instagram account.

Knowledge

It’s Time to Train Shoulders

Upper body training is becoming increasingly popular with women at the gym, and with good reason. It’s all well having a nice pair of legs, a good set of glutes and a flat or ‘toned’ stomach, but you can’t ignore the rest of your body. How many times have you heard people making comments about guys skipping leg day. We definitely shouldn’t be skipping upper bod day, either.

One upper body part, which will give you a major advantage in terms of your overall figure, making your waist look smaller, and your bum look bigger all in one go, are shoulders. Having nice, rounded delts will have an impact on your overall package, and who wouldn’t want that?

My shoulders

Where to begin?

You’ve probably seen all the many (many, many…) booty workouts on social media, but where are the upper body videos? You’ll need to start with a bit of inspiration, and fortunately, more and more girls are now sharing their upper bod workouts, making it easier for you to get your head around how to grow those muscles.

But, let’s take it back to basics: Bodybuilding.com’s extensive database has pretty much every exercise you’ll ever need, with instructions on how to do them, and videos to go with it.

For shoulders, you’ll be looking for deltoids (delts: the main part of your shoulder, the ‘capped’ bit), and the trapezius (traps: the muscle which runs from your neck, to your shoulder and down into your back).

This is because you’ll want to be hitting all parts of your shoulders in order to see the most growth and progress – which, when you think about it, is obvious.

The front

It’s pretty simple when it comes to your shoulders: hit the front, the back, the top and the sides. Raises are great for the front of your delts, and any form of front raises will hit them.

You can do them with a plate, dumbbells or a barbell. Hold your chosen weight at arms length in front of you, and raise it upwards in line with or past your face. Make sure your stance is strong, and don’t swing when you lift the weight in front of you. The pressure should be on your shoulders, so don’t take it off them by using the momentum of the weight coming down to push it back up again.

The back

Your traps play a key role in the growth of the back of your shoulders, as well as your rear delts – which you’ll often find yourself hitting on back day, with exercises like lat pull downs. For the traps, any form of shrugging exercise helps with their growth. I have also found that deadlifts have helped to strengthen my traps – remember, a lot of muscles can grow when you’re not specifically targeting them, but they are recruited in compound lifts such as a deadlift.

In terms of your rear delts, if you want to target them on shoulder dear, bent over rear delt flyes are a key exercise. You’ll need light dumbbells for this, and they can be done a number of ways. My favourite way is this (head on a bench is optional, I never do it.).

The sides

Your best friend for the sides of your shoulders will be dumbbells and cables. You could superset front raises with side raises, which is a common exercise you’ll find in a weights room.

You can also focus on unilateral training here, and one exercise I always pick on shoulder days is cable side raises, using the handle attachment, superset with cable pull outs (having the cable, sans attachment, and pulling it out in a line across my body and back again).

The top

Get it above your head, and you’ll be hitting as essential part of your delts. The two best exercises for this are seated (or standing, if you prefer) dumbbell press or standing barbell press.

Keep your core tight and again, don’t use the momentum to push the weight back up – it’s cheating! They are the most common shoulder exercises you’ll see, and the ones you’re likely to see more progress on in terms of strength and working your way up the weights.

Learn to love upper body day – most importantly, shoulder day – as much as you love training legs and glutes. You’ll definitely thank yourself later.

Leg day: the parts you’re missing

It probably isn’t uncommon for one to have a quick scroll on Instagram and decide that in order to get the bum and legs they so desire, all they need to do is squat and do those weird cable rope pull throughs and they’ll be set.

Of course, these exercises work. Do them and you’ll be well on your way, but ignore other parts of your lower body and you won’t get very far.

Your glutes and your quads – the lower body parts people will always focus on – are incredibly important and should be trained weekly, but your leg days also need to include a couple of muscles often forgotten: hamstrings and calves.

Hamstrings

If you take a quick look at any athlete, you’ll see their well-developed legs have hamstrings of absolute steel. That’s because this muscle group is vital for power, strength, and explosiveness, and a well-rounded athlete will need strong hamstrings to enable them to compete at the highest level.

Granted, us mere mortals don’t need hamstring strength in everyday life, but it is important for a good physique and strong legs. They are also one of the most frequently injured muscle groups (how many times have you heard ‘I’ve pulled my hamstring?’) so we shouldn’t risk injury by neglecting them.

Top three exercises

Romanian Deadlifts
RDLs can be done with either a barbell or dumbells, and I love using both to really burn them out. As the pressure will be on your hamstrings, go for a lighter weight than a normal deadlift.

When using a bar, get into a deadlift position and lift the bar up, stand with a slight bend at the knee and tilt your body forward from the hips, keeping the bar close to your body. Stop just before you reach the floor, or until your hamstrings start to burn. Pause for a second or two, and then return to your starting position.

If using dumbells, again, deadlift them up so that you don’t hurt your back by picking them up awkwardly. Stand in the same position as if you were to do it with a barbell, and roll your hips forward. The dumbells won’t touch the floor. Pause and retune back up, ensuring you keep your back tight and the pressure is on your hamstrings.

NB: For both, you can elevate your heels with small plates which will put more pressure on your hamstrings.

Good Mornings
I love to superset these with dumbell RDLs. Grab a barbell – I use about 20kg especially when super setting – stand with your legs roughly shoulder width apart and the bar on your back, as if you were about to squat. Tilt your body forward, keeping your legs straight and your back flat as you bend. Tilt until you feel it pulling your hamstrings, pause, and return to the top of the movement.

Hamstring Curls
Curls are brilliant as there are different variations and the chance to do drop sets, single leg work, and tempo work.

The lying hamstring curl is fairly straight forward, and I love doing drop sets or triple drop sets near the end of my workout. Try and keep your feet floppy during the movement to ensure the pressure is on your hamstrings. You’ll want to watch your back on this one too, as he heavier you go the more likely you are to lose posture and your back will raise upwards to help lift the weight – drop the weight if you feel this is happening.

Another leg curl variation can do done on the leg extension machine. Position the pad on the back of your ankle and raise it upwards – control it on the way back down to really feel it in your hamstrings. You can lift it all the way to the top and squeeze to get some glute work in there, too!

Calves

Calves are, without a doubt, the most neglected muscle for everyone who goes to the gym. There is no such thing as ‘calf day’; they are stubborn and we find them hard to grow, which is why we may be guilty of not paying too much attention to them.

Generally training your legs at the gym will, of course, involve the use of your calves. But how about doing exercise to target them specifically? There are three different sections in your calves, but let’s not get bogged down with too much information: the most important thing, for now, is that you start training them at all.

And the good thing about training calves is that it doesn’t tire us out. We can throw in calf exercises throughout our workout on leg days and help to grow them, without finding it too much of a chore.

Top three exercises

Smith Machine Raises
They are my favourite exercise to work calves and super easy to throw on at any point of your workout. Grab either a plate or a box and position it underneath the bar. Load the bar up with your preferred weight and stand with your heels hanging off the back of the box/plate. Unhook the bar and lower your heels, stand on your tip toes and pause, before returning to the starting position. Using a plate or box will give you more range of motion and allow you to work your calves more that standard raises with no elevation.

Seated Calf Raises
If you follow me on Instagram you’ll see a nice outtake from this and how it’s not as easy to use as it looks. Or maybe just harder for people with short legs.. anyway, it is straight-forward: sit down, move the bar away and raise your calves. Pause at the top for more of a burn. There really isn’t much to calf exercises, but it’s good to vary them to keep it more ingesting.

Leg Press Calf Raises
These can be done on either a plate loaded leg press or a resistance machine, I like to do them on a resistance machine but it’s personal preference. I feel like this calf exercise feels like it’s working more than the others when I do it, I will always squeeze my calves really hard at the top of the movement and do 12-15 reps. Again, you’ll want your heels hanging off and the pressure to be in your toes to really work your calves.

Once you’ve grasped the basics at the gym, it’s always good to look at your overall goal. If you want nice legs you’ll have to put the effort in, and that means targeting glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves each week to hit all the muscles and to attain the body you want. Having a strong overall physique will also help you with your other exercises and compound lifts, too.

Training

Strength training? Volume training? What training?

The gym can be a bit of a minefield, especially if you’re only just beginning your fitness journey.

Intensity, frequency, volume, splits and weight are the main five you’ll need to consider, and actually it’s pretty simple, because it’s all up to you.

 There is no ‘right’ way to train, although you’ll get people trying to tell you there is. The only correct way for you to train is one you enjoy. If you hate cardio, don’t do it. If you’re a runner and see no need for weights, stay on the treadmill. It really is that simple.

But, if you are a gym newbie, or want to know more about making your training suit you and your needs, what are your options?

Intensity
How intense are you going to go? If you’re new, don’t push it: you can’t go balls to the wall every session because your body will not be able to cope and you’ll end up with muscle fatigue and wanting a week or four off the gym. Don’t start with drop sets, super sets or giant sets if you’ve only ever lifted a few weights before. Start with an intensity that suits you and your needs. A good place to start is with full body workouts, doing couple of exercises for each muscle group with 3-4 sets for each, before working your way up to more intense sessions.

Frequency
Again, it’s all about taking it slowly and being clever about it. As a beginner, three days a week at the gym is fine, and more than enough. As your stamina increases and your recovery improves, up the frequency and even the amount of time you train. I personally never tend to go over an hour/one hour ten, because I’m fatigued by that point. A good starting point would be 45 minutes, and then slowly increasing it as you improve.

Volume
For more advanced gym-goers, you’ll want to start thinking more about the volume of each session, and what your long term goals are. At the moment, I am doing strength training a couple of days a week, and volume the other three. At the beginning of the week, I’ll go heavy, concentrating on building up my overall strength with sets of no more than 6 reps. In turn, as my strength goes up, it means my volume training can focus on even heavier sets for reps/reps to failure to failure e.g. I used to dumbbell shoulder press 7.5kg for reps in December, and I’m not up to 10kg for 12+. Both types of training are vital for increasing not only your overall strength but your muscle too: the heavier you can go when working within hypertrophy rep ranges, the more muscle you will build. It’s science.

Splits
I like to switch up my splits quite often, but at the moment I’m doing legs (three times per week, with at least one strength session and insuring I include all compound lifts each week), one push session, one pull session, and 10-20 minutes of abs at the end of each of my push and pull days. It’s whatever works for you, and the best part is that when you get bored of your splits, you can easily change them up. I used to do three upper body days to two lower body, but because my main aim now is to build as much muscle on my legs and glutes as possible, it makes sense for me t train lower body more often.

Weight
This of course ties in with volume. The stronger you get, the heavier you’ll be able to lift not only on strength days, but on volume days too. It’s good to have numbers in mind you want to hit. This year, I want to hit 100lg deadlift, 200kg leg press for more than one rep (I hit 1 the other day – just about!), 150kg hip thrusts, and a good 50kg squat (my squat is perfect bodyweight, but pretty bad with weight because my hips are super tight). As for weight in general for other exercises, find what suits you: don’t be afraid to go a bit heavier, and if your form isn’t there or you’ve overshot it a little, don’t worry, knock it down and keep doing. Don’t be one of those guys (or dickheads) who are doing half reps because the weight is too heavy for them.

Be confident, but be smart. And, most importantly, enjoy it. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong if you love what you’re doing.

Training When You’re Ill

Tissues and throat sweets in hand, I decided to go to the gym today.

I am ill; it’s either a really bad cold or a mild case of flu, but I still thought the gym would be a good idea. I always do. I can’t help it. And I don’t actually think the gym is all that bad an idea if you are ill. You just have to go about it the right way.

Don’t be an idiot
You just have to be aware that you won’t be as strong, or as energetic. Testing your one rep max probably isn’t a good idea, nor is 10 rounds of HIIT doing treadmill sprints – especially when you can’t actually breathe properly. You won’t be able to hit any PBs or go for a 2 hour session when you’re feeling under the weather.

Focus on form
Working at around 70% is proably your best bet. Focus on your form and getting in as many good reps as you can, but without fully exerting yourself because, let’s face it, your body isn’t up to that. If you have a cold, too, remember that breathing will be pretty hard. So don’t go balls to the wall because you’ll probably end up on the floor…

Be realistic
Some exercises (deadlifts, squats, pull ups, etc) require a lot of strength from mutiple muscles and parts of your body. Don’t be silly: choose exercises that don’t require as much from you, but will still benefit you. Train biceps and triceps, or do some lighter shoulder and chest work so that you’re not using your whole body.

When it feels like enough, it’s time to go
I did around 40-50 minutes today, and then finished with loads of stretching and foam rolling, and that was perfect for me. If you start to feel too lethargic, or generally that you’d rather be in bed than in the gym, then it’s probably time to leave. Your body is pretty devoid of energy when you have something like a cold, so make sure you listen to it when it doesn’t want to go anymore!

Refuel
It’s arguablly more important to fuel your body when your ill than on a normal day when you’re feeling fine and fresh. You need to replenish your energy stores and get some micronutirnets in too so that you’re giving your body all it needs to fight back against that illness.

While I definitely wouldn’t recommend training when you’re super ill, I personally like getting in a quick workout when I have a cold to get my body moving. I’m not someone who likes to spend the whole day at home feeling sorry for themselves, so going to the gym and training (sensibly) is something I like to do when I have a cold. Although, with that being said, I plan to spend the rest of this afternoon in bed…

7 Days In

Feel The Burn: Best Glute Day Exercises

While 2015 and the years preceding it were all about the abs, the flat stomach, and the thigh gap, 2016 was the year of the booty.  It was the year girls everywhere decided to eat more, and embrace a little fluff in return for a bigger butt. Which is great, fab, fantastic.

But all that food and all those 30 day squat challenges will only get you so far.

So grab a barbell, get some dumbbells, and pay attention: here are some excellent booty burning exercises, which really target the glutes (no half squats here) and build those glutes.

Bulgarian Split Squats
Grab yourself and bench and prepare to look like a flamingo because this will test your balance as well as your strength. The hardest part is the balance: stand with one leg in front of you and pick up your weight(s) – you can either hold one dumbbell in the hand of he same leg you’re working, or one in each) and lift your other leg off the ground and onto the bench. Get comfortable and stare straight ahead at a still object to keep your balance, and lower the weight into the working leg, and then back up again. Go far enough down to use your glute to push back up, rather than your quad.

Deep Leg Press
See those people doing that half leg press? Nice quads, small glutes. Nothing wrong with them, but if you want to target your glutes, you need to be doing DEEP. Place your feet high up on the leg press, and bring your knees all the way towards your body, almost to the point where it hits the bottom, and then back up again. Keep your knees out slightly and push through your heels. Try single legs too for even more of a burn!

Hip Thrusts
This exercise came to prominence via trusty old Instagram, and it is brilliant. To get more load, do it from a smaller height than a bench – e.g if your gym has soft boxes for box jumps like mine does, use that so you can reset after every rep, or I’ve also seen people do it straight from the floor.

So, the exercise: load up a barbell (do not do this with a baby (preloaded) barbell, this needs to be done with an Olympic lifting bar so that you can roll it over your legs), plonk yourself on the floor with your back against your box/bench, and roll the bar onto your lap. Make sure your feet are apart, with toes out. You’ll want to use a rolled up mat to protect your hips, or at least a foam support for the bar. Put your elbows and back on the bench/box and lift the bar up. Once stable, lower the bar down and thrust up, making sure you squeeze at the top to fully engage your glutes. If your hamstrings feel like they’re engaged, drop the weight and focus on the squeeze of the glutes as a priority.

Smith Donkey Kicks
They are lethal but fantastic. You can’t go super heavy on these and you must ensure you remain slow and controlled throughout. Get yourself a mat and go on all fours (oi oi) going down onto your arms, as if you’re going to do a plank. Place your foot under the bar and push the bar up, making sure you remain in position and you don’t bend your back. Lower the bar and then back up again, for as many reps as you can do. Superset it with something like lunges or squats to failure and thank me – or hate me – later.

These are my favourite glute day excercises. And including both uni-lateral and bi-lateral exercises will ensure your glutes are continuously tested, and trained to their maximum. And that means a big booty.

7 Days In

2017: 7 Days In

I quite like writing blogs.

By that I mean the real chatty pieces. The ‘this is my life’ stuff. I do love researching and putting together a more article-type post, but recently I think I just love to talk.

With that in mind, hello, and welcome to my first blog of 2017: it’s nice to see that people actually read my musings since beginning this blog almost a year ago now, and I hope you’ll enjoy following my journey in 2017 too.

In my last post, I noted down my fitness goals for this year, and I’m really happy when the progress I’ve made with my training in just a week.

So, where am I currently at?
I am around 4 weeks into my first ever ‘bulk,’ I have quite honestly never eaten this much in my life before, and trying to bulk as ‘clean’ as possible means that the volume is HARD. Vegetables have taken a backseat. Like eating broccoli is now a chore. 

I am aiming to hit 2,660 calories per day, including 325g carbs, 160g protein, and 80g fat. I always hit my fat and protein, but find it hard to get past 300g carbs. We had to up my macros as I was actually getting leaner on my previous ones.

My training, as a result of all the foods, is unreal. I am going heavier, harder, and feeling so much more energetic and stronger.

What does a day in the life currently look like?
Like a fair amount of food, really. I am eating every 2-3 hours and probably pissing everyone off at work with my constant munching…

Meal 1: eaten on the bus on the way to work. It’s either a bagel or three boiled eggs (I know, they must LOVE me, but I get on when it’s empty and chow them down as fast as possible…)

Meal 2: breakfast, always porridge, taken in my porridge flask (best buy ever, check out Amazon if you want porridge on the go).

Meal 3: a mid morning snack, rice cakes jam and peanut butter or something of that ilk. Basically, carbs.

Meal 4: lunch. A protein source, carb source and some fat too. Tuna mayo pasta has been a winner this week.

Meal 5: afternoon snack and usually a pre workout too. Depending upon what I have in the morning, this can be a bagel, protein bar and a yoghurt, something like that.

Meal 6: dinner and post workout. Carbs and protein, and a bit of veg for them micro gains. Usually chicken and rice or something #bro and boring. Eaten on the bus, because that’s how we roll.

Meal 7: sometimes I’ll have something when I get back from the gym (yesterday I had weetabix because I needed pure carbs), but other than that it’s my trusty bowl of oats, greek yoghurt, cinnamon, fruit and peanut butter to cap the macros for the day.

What does my training look like?
Hard. I’m really happy, though, as I’m getting stronger already. I have gone from not deadlifting in months because of my back, to nailing my form to protect my injury and hitting 60kg for reps. I got a PB on leg press yesterday too, at 110kg for reps (then a dropset, also superset with a hip thrust drop set, trust me when I say I almost cried).

Starting next week, my split will be: three leg days, one pull day, one push day. I’m also going to train abs twice per week at the end of sessions, as I also want to spend this bulk making my core even stronger, and building up a strong muscle base all over my body. This should mean that, when I cut down in the future, my abs look even better because I have more overall muscle. In the past, I have found it hard to get my lower two abs and my obliques to come in, but hopefully I’ll be able to see them a bit more after putting on more muscle.

Oh, and I’m also on a cardio ban, winner. I do go for walks sometimes though, because I like them. And #health.

What am I aiming for?
As much muscle gain (with minimal fat gain) as possible. Training with my PT twice per week and three times on my own. We’ve set March/April as our goal, and then possibly start cutting down then, as I’m looking at going on holiday in June so I’d like to be nice and ripped for that – and show off the muscle gains under the fluff I am currently collecting!

I also want to get stronger, hit some PBs, and get my metabolism firing so that, when I do cut, my calories are significantly higher than those I previously had to be on to lose fat.

I want to eventually get into a bulk/cut cycle. I love the aesthetic look when you’re cutting, and actually don’t find it too hard because I quite like a challenge (weird gal). But I also love feeling strong and energetic, and getting comfortable with my body being a little less lean, but a little more chunky and muscley.

In a month I’ve already got myself up to 7 and a half stone, and can visibly see changes to my biceps, quads and glutes in particular. I can’t wait to see what progress I can make this year.