Wednesday, 17 May 2017

To the girl who will settle for nothing less than the best

I’m 10 days out from my first competition of the season and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about myself during this prep is just how hard I am on myself. I’ve had to make a real concerted effort over the last 2-3 weeks to give myself a break, mentally as things reached a bit of an unhealthy point for me. And before anyone starts, it’s nothing to do with ‘self-love’ and all that stuff that we read about all the time as I have a good relationship with myself overall. It purely comes down to a personal drive to be the best, to do the best I can, to constantly be pushing myself. And that’s not always a bad thing; I would much rather be this way than never aim for anything, but it’s not always a good thing either.
Photo: John Gardner Photography
I’ve spent the last few weeks repeatedly challenging my own thoughts and beliefs, on purpose, so that I can be a bit kinder to myself. I wanted to share a few of those messages I’ve been trying to tell myself on a daily basis so this is written from the ‘kinder’ Rebecca to the ‘unless-you’re-on-verge-of-collapse-you’re-not-trying-hard-enough’ Rebecca.
I hope that you learn to take time to look after your mental wellbeing as much as your physical wellbeing.
It’s okay to spend half an hour…what the hell, an hour or two even, on the sofa, just relaxing and taking that time to allow yourself to switch off from the world. You don’t always have to be doing something and that’s just as important for both your mental and physical health as exercising and eating healthy is.
I hope that you learn to be a little more selfish sometimes.
I think we’re all guilty of this from time to time. How many times do we do things to keep others happy or because we feel we should do something when actually we don’t want to do it? I’ve learnt to say no a little more over the last month or two and to stop and think what do I WANT to do? You can’t be something to everybody all of the time otherwise you cut yourself so thin that you’re actually not that much use to anyone and you’re definitely not much use to yourself.
I hope that you’re proud of how far you’ve come rather than always looking at how far you have to go.
What screwed my mind up a few weeks ago was thinking I wasn’t good enough. Looking at photos on social media of other figure girls and marking myself down. In that respect, last year was much easier as I didn’t know any other competitors and last year I competed purely for the challenge and accomplishment of doing so. But in typical Rebecca fashion, that was never going to be good enough and so this year it wasn’t about getting through the prep, I knew I could do that, it was about being better. And it started off with me just wanting to be better than last year’s me but then I found myself putting so much pressure on myself to be better than those around me too and that’s not healthy. I’m all for competition and ambition but I had to really pull myself back, with the help of my coach to just focus on me. I looked at where I was 18 months ago when I began training with my coach and after doing no bodybuilding-style training ever before and after a year of travelling, we got me ready for stage within 6 months. That was no easy job and to place in a strong line up of girls too, I really didn’t expect that. We’ve refocused my mind and shifted my attention back onto me, and only me, and that’s where it needs to be.
September 2015 to April 2017
I hope you come to realise sooner rather than later that you’re not superwoman and you don’t have to be the best at everything nor do you have to take on so much all of the time.
I’ve always known I take on a bit too much but it’s not until this prep that it really hit me just how much I do take on and whereas before I’ve laughed it off when people have challenged me on it, this time I actually found myself frustrated and a bit disappointed in myself for allowing it to happen. My job demands a lot of me and very rarely do I actually just work my paid hours each week. And it’s not just the number of hours worked, it’s the mental energy my job demands too. I can’t just have ‘off’ days where I can take it easy in the office; I have teams to manage, areas of work that I’m responsible for, meetings to attend, reports to write, the list goes on and I’m very mindful that my job is about people’s lives at the end of the day, it’s not something to ever be taken lightly and I take much pride in my work. Throw in a Master’s degree into the equation which I’m trying to fit in too and then bodybuilding competition prep and I’m not sure how I’ve actually got through the last 20 weeks. And this isn’t a sob story or looking for sympathy, these are all my choices I get that, but sometimes I just need to take a step back and learn how to prioritise. I think I forget that I’m only 26 and have a lifetime (hopefully!) to do things; not everything needs to be done as of yesterday.
These are things I’m reminding myself of daily and for anyone that struggles with similar issues; some of the practical things I’ve done to try and help myself are the following.
·         I switched my training to a morning. This has surprisingly helped massively as yes I have to do the same amount of things in a day but by getting up that bit earlier and going to train before work, I find I have more energy to train and it gives me my evenings free so that I can relax or I can see friends. The gym is also much quieter at that time too so I find I’m in a better state for training and can use it to relax my mind ahead of the day.
·         Sleep, sleep, sleep. I’ve always made sure I get enough sleep but especially lately, I’ve made sure I’m in bed for 9pm most nights. Even if I don’t go to sleep straight away, it relaxes me to make sure I have a good night’s sleep. I get at least 7 hours of sleep per night and it makes such a difference. Yes I appreciate 9pm bedtimes impacts on social life but we are talking about competition prep now and so no it’s not something I will do forever but to help me during prep, it’s been a good part of my routine.
·         Learn to say no. Lately if I haven’t wanted to do something I haven’t done it. This I found more difficult to start with as I don’t like letting people down or saying no to things but sometimes you have to for your own good. Real friends will understand.
So, I’m 10 days out now and I’m in a much better place mentally than I was a few weeks ago. I still have my struggles and I still have my anxieties for post-comp but I’m thinking them through and trying to prepare for them now as I feel that’s a part of bodybuilding that people don’t give enough focus to – the post-comp mental battle. I haven’t decided about other competitions yet; one step at a time for now.
I always will be ambitious and I’m glad that’s part of who I am, I just need a better balance in my life sometimes and I’m working on that. But no doubt whatsoever that fire in my belly will always be there; that drive, that passion, that need to succeed. So whilst I’ve come so far on this journey and taken time to reflect; 7 months of hard work in off-season, 20 weeks of dieting almost complete and just 10 days to go. In my eyes, the real journey starts now, the 10 day journey to give it my all on that stage. This isn’t the end, this is just the beginning.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

What a difference a year makes. 12 weeks down. 9 weeks to go.

“You’re much nicer than you was last year”.
This was a comment my mum made recently. I couldn’t disagree with her to be honest on either account that a) I was horrible last year and b) I wasn’t so horrible this year.
One of my biggest fears going into prep this year was that I knew how hard I found it last year. It’s no exaggeration when I say it was the hardest thing I’d ever done and for the majority of prep I really did not enjoy it. Because of that, I became a nightmare to be around. I was pleasant when I had to be i.e. at work I would switch on my professional mode and walk around with a smile on my face most of the time, even if deep down my patience levels were at around -15. At home I was moody, snappy and it’s fair to say an absolute cow at times. My poor parents received the backlash from this and I think they were probably equally as nervous about me going back on prep this year as I was, wondering at what point their daughter would turn into the devil yet again.
So it’s surprising for me (and a relief for everyone else) that I’ve been dieting for 12 weeks and I’m still a pleasure to be around (yes, I determined this, thank you). Most of my blog posts of late have been quite topical as I realise it can get a little boring just reading about my progress week in and week out. However, today, at 12 weeks in, I felt it to be timely to write an update on this year’s prep, how I’ve found it and how I’m feeling.
March 2016 to March 2017
So why has it been so different this year? I’d say there are three big reasons overall.
1.    Diet.
Because I remained in shape (relatively) during off-season and had a good 7 months of building after my competition last May before I started back on prep, I put my body in a good position of not having as much fat to shed this year. This means calories are much higher than they were this time last year so I’m not as hungry. In addition a big factor in my diet has been variety. I did a lot of research in off-season on diet and training which opened my eyes to different ways of cutting and the flexibility you can have. In addition, my coach very much promoted flexible dieting with me in off-season so I continued tracking calories and macros but didn’t have to deprive myself so much. Clearly on prep I have had to give some things up but in comparison to this time last year when my lunches were the same every day and not long after so were my dinners, this year I eat a variety of meals during the week. These tend to revolve around similar foods i.e. beef mince, turkey mince, chicken, rice, pasta, potato etc. but having the variety has made a huge difference.
In addition, this year I don’t prep any of my meals myself. A local company was recommended to me at the start of the year who prepares meals in line with your calories and macros. Some people I know do not agree with this, questioning how you can be sure of calories and macros if you’re not preparing it yourself however as you’d expect I checked all this out with the company before I started using them and 12 weeks in, so far so good. This has made a huge difference to my prep, not having to put aside time each weekend to prepare my meals or start cooking after work and not only that, but they taste a whole lot better than anything I could cook, believe me.
2.    Cardio
…Or the lack of it, should I say. This time last year I was doing 40 minutes fasted cardio every morning (5 days per week) and then 20 minutes cardio after each weight session (5 times per week). I had a lot of body fat to lose last year after coming home from a year of travelling, in the October, going on prep in January and having my first competition in May. I had little muscle mass in comparison too after almost a year off weight training so my metabolism wasn’t the best. This year, at the moment during a week I probably do 45 minutes cardio at Bootcamp (which I do all year round anyway), a couple of 20 minute sessions on the stair master and a couple of outdoor walks (which again, I do all year round anyway). So in comparison, it’s hardly anything. Not only does this free up more of my time for other things but I’m not as physically exhausted from training so much and on such low calories. I see a lot of girls doing a lot of cardio on prep and it’s each to their own and whatever works for each individual but I want to keep cardio to a minimum where I can to ensure I don’t start chipping away at that muscle I’ve worked so hard to build.
3.     Mind set
Last but certainly not least, my mind set. Last year I wasn’t sure for a couple of months at the start of the year whether I was going to compete or not so my mind wasn’t as focused. I slipped up with my diet a few times and I didn’t have the same accountability as it wasn’t until mid-February that I decided I would definitely compete. Looking back, I don’t think my mind set was that great at all last year during prep, I resented the process and having never competed before I didn’t know much about bodybuilding at all if I’m honest, I didn’t know whether it would be worth it on the day or what my body needed to look like. As I’ve said before, I did it purely for the challenge but because of all of the above and added to that I’d only recently returned home from Australia and I was rebuilding my life, it all felt very hard to me. This year I had a lot of time in off-season to reflect, to refocus my mind, to think about what I wanted, what I wanted to do different, why I wanted to do it again and because of that I went into prep on 1 January completely focused on the next 21 weeks.
It’s felt strange at times this year, sometimes thinking to myself; okay where’s the catch? This is too easy this year. I haven’t really craved any food that I’m not allowed and I haven’t found myself getting to the same stages of hanger that I did last year. I’ve been able to go about my normal life and that’s one thing I’m very grateful and glad of. Last year I found it difficult being around normal food. Even to go shopping for a couple of hours I would see cakes and sweets and chocolate all around me and I would hate it so I just didn’t bother going. I couldn’t go round to my parents until I knew they’d finished eating because I resented the fact they were eating the foods I wanted but wasn’t allowed. I would avoid social situations as I just found myself frustrated. This year has been completely different and yesterday for example I went out with my Mum and Nan for Mother’s Day to a local cafĂ© and actually helped my Mum pick out the nicest ice-cream sundae from the menu. Last year I would have probably thrown it at her if she had ordered that in front of me haha.
Enjoying a coffee with my Mum in this afternoon's sunshine.
And I think one of the biggest differences with that this year is that I know why I’m doing it and I know it will be worth it. I know what differences I want to see in my body when I’m up on stage this year and I know what I need to do in order to get there. Things became much easier when my thought process shifted from ‘I can’t have that’ to ‘I don’t want that’. I know this year the elation I felt when I was on stage last year and how much it all meant to me. I know no ice-cream sundae could ever give me that feeling.
Thanks for reading. I hope you’ve all enjoyed the glorious weather we’ve had this weekend and I’ll keep you updated with how things progress over the next 9 weeks. Time flies when you’re having fun.
Posing practice last week at Ian Duckett's workshop