Sunday, 27 November 2016

One month left of off-season...excited, nervous and enjoying having a full tummy!

Six months of hard work behind me and it’s almost time to wave goodbye to my first off-season and get back on competition prep.
In some ways it feels like a lifetime ago since I was on stage at the Yorkshire’s in May. In other ways it doesn’t feel like two minutes ago since I was gipping on my broccoli and vowing never to do it again. How time flies when you’re having fun, hey? It’s weird how the two contrasts in my perception of time differ so much based on the experience of that specific part of bodybuilding. The fun, euphoric moment of being on stage and all the hard work over the previous months paying off, seems so long ago. Yet the things that drove me to breaking point don’t seem to have been out of my life for long enough still.
And that’s where my mix of emotions come to fruition when I think about closing the door on the off-season and walking back into the crazy world that is competition prep.
I’ve had an incredible off-season; enjoyed two amazing holidays in America and Australia, plenty of time with family and friends and really enjoyed my time in the gym. I’ve loved getting stronger and feeling back to full fitness after feeling like a zombie for the last couple of months of prep. And it’s been nice to have variety with my training again and be able to have fun with it. I’m happy with the muscle I’ve added so far although I know there’s still some way to go yet.
I’m not going to lie; watching the changes to my body has not been that much fun and in all honesty I’d say it’s only the last 4-6 weeks that I’ve really felt comfortable in myself again which is a little depressing given I only have four weeks left to fully embrace it. I have found that side of things tough; I’d say it took a good couple of months for my body to stabilise after comp which saw big fluctuations in how my body looked and its composition. I really didn’t enjoy watching my abs disappear, my face fill out and my thighs become thick. I found it very hard mentally. The last 6 weeks though I’ve embraced those changes and enjoyed feeling and looking more ‘curvy’ especially when you remember that those changes are what are helping you develop in the off-season and get stronger.
 I also think it’s helped that almost everyone’s competition season has ended so everyone’s getting fat together haha (just kidding!) Throughout the summer months a lot of the girls I follow on Instagram who compete were preparing for other competitions so I was constantly faced with lean figures and abs popping all over the place. As it was summer too, a lot of people were trying to get in shape for summer holidays so I definitely felt out of place a lot during that time when I knew I wasn’t looking as lean and I was trying to build muscle which inevitably came with some additional fat too.
So with one month to go before the food cutbacks start, I’m feeling a range of emotions towards 2017. I have to say my biggest feeling is that of excitement. I’m excited to see the changes in my body, to be inching closer towards competition time, working on my posing and preparing to be on that stage. I’m excited to be back on stage and to feel that same buzz I felt this year.
I’m also feeling very anxious. Now it’s getting closer the struggles I had put to the back of my mind from this year’s prep stage, are becoming very vivid in my mind once again. Those very real feelings of being isolated when everyone is out enjoying themselves and you’re not able to join in properly; flash into my mind Those days where you’re constantly hungry and craving but know that giving in isn’t an option and those very tough times when it all gets too much and you’re left wiping away the tears willing yourself on. It is arguably the hardest battle I’ve ever done preparing to be on stage and I don’t forget how hard I found it at times.
In some ways I hope this season is ‘easier’. I went in completely blind last year and looking back I had no idea what was happening really and it was like an emotional rollercoaster. This time around I have no doubt it will be hard but I feel more prepared both physically and mentally. Plus I have a bigger network around me this time of people who are in the bodybuilding world and understand what it’s all about. That always helps and everyone is so supportive.
I’ve also put some things in place to help me be as prepared as possible for this upcoming journey. It’s safe to say over the last 6 months in particular, life has been hectic with all the different things going on in my life and it has pushed me to my absolute limits. I’ve had a few wobbles lately I don’t mind admitting, in my ability to cope with everything and I know I need to go into this season as fresh as possible.
I’m looking forward to some time off work over the Christmas period with not a lot planned so I can relax, recuperate and focus my mind for the upcoming year. I also have some time off at the end of January before the next phase of my competition prep begins to do the same again.
It’s going to be another challenging year; one that I’m sure will be full of ups and downs along the way. But there’s one thing for sure, by the time January comes I’ll never have been more prepared for anything before in my life. For now though, time to celebrate the Christmas period with family and friends; to enjoy a few too many pigs-in-blankets and to drink a few too many glasses of wine. In fact it’s almost like being on prep…prep for the actual competition prep so that I eat so much I almost can’t wait for my chicken and broccoli hehe!
Thanks for reading guys. Have a great week!

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Motivation is what gets you started...but what keeps you going?

One question that I often get asked is ‘how can you be bothered?’ when I’m going to train yet again or I often get the comment ‘I wish I had your motivation’. I’ve learned to just smile and go along with it when yet another person will say the same thing to me. But the reality is I’m not always motivated and I can’t always be bothered.
I don’t always bounce out of bed at 05:45 to go to Bootcamp and I can’t always be bothered going to train after a long day at work. These things are slightly easier now in off-season but on competition prep when my body is depleted and I’m on reduced calories these things are HARD. My motivation isn’t exactly through the roof either when during prep people at work would be tucking into cakes and chips at fuddles and I’m there sat eating my cod and broccoli.
The reality is that when my alarm goes off at some crazy early hour to go train, I’m laid warm in bed, it’s cold outside, I have a big day at work ahead of me and my eyes struggle to open. It would be the easiest thing in the world to hit that snooze button for another hour and skip my workout but I drag myself out of bed, pour myself a coffee, throw on some clothes and get out of the door to the gym before my brain has chance to process what’s happening and form any sort of protest.
So what keeps me going? What makes me resist that extra slice of cake? And what makes me go to the gym 6 days a week?
Discipline. It’s as simple as that. And for anyone on a health and fitness journey that’s one thing you have to learn…and quick. Because the motivation of the goals you’ve set yourself won’t always be at its optimum on a daily basis, especially when the going gets tough and you have hard days. The only way you will achieve it is through discipline.
Motivation helps when you have an end goal to focus on but that’s a general motivation that won’t always be there at 6am in a morning or when you leave the office headed for the gym.
You have to learn how to stay on track and what’s needed to hit your goals. It doesn’t mean living a completely restricted life (unless you are on a competition prep and then yes it does because you can sadly kiss goodbye to any lifestyle flexibility) but it does mean that you have to learn how to say no sometimes and how to make yourself do things you don’t always want to do.
If you want to lose a stone in weight before a holiday, giving into the vending machine every day won’t help you. And when that mid-afternoon slump hits and you just want a bar of chocolate it’s tempting to think ‘oh just the one, it won’t hurt’ but that will just move you further away from your goals. And it’s the same with going to the gym or any type of keep fit, you won’t always want to go. But that fat certainly aint gonna shift itself.
I’m not 100% disciplined all of the time as at the moment I’m on off-season which means I can have a little more flexibility in my approach so if I want a packet of crisps I can have one…but not every day so there’s still an element of being disciplined but within realistic realms.
Becoming disciplined takes some practice and along the way I’ve found a few things that help me to do that. Structure and routine is the key for me. Without a real structure to your life it’s hard to stay on track as there’s a lot of room for slippage. I am a real routine person so for me that always works best for me but especially when I’m on competition prep.
My weeks would be meticulously planned out to a tee. On the Sunday ahead of a busy week I would know what each of my meals looked like for each day (it wasn’t hard to remember though given that it consisted mainly of cod, cod and more cod. Oh and a few veggies). I’d know what time my alarm would need to be set for each morning to allow for my cardio before my working day. I’d know what body part I was training each evening and I’d know that my gym routine after work would consist of 1 hour weight training, 20 minutes cardio and 15 minutes posing practice. My life was like a military operation and of course it’s not great to have to live that way all of the time; and sometimes it’s not possible with other commitments but when you have such strict goals you’re discipline must match those goals.
I can honestly say that during prep I would not flinch if a slice of cake was put right in front of me (I might drool a little perhaps). There was not a single cell in my brain that would consider having that. It was purely not an option. Now bodybuilding is something that requires the utmost discipline at all times on prep, without fail. For most of you out there whose goals are within normal parameters i.e. losing a bit of extra fat or training for a 10k run for example, you won’t need to exercise the same level of discipline as what’s required to compete on stage, however if you can’t discipline yourself you won’t hit your goals, it’s as simple as that.
So next time you’re struggling for that motivation, remember that’s normal. But also remember to dig deep and find that discipline to do what you need to do. No one’s going to do it for you and no one’s going to be more disappointed than you if you give in and don’t hit those goals.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

What do you do when your daughter tells you she wants to be a bodybuilder?

Those who body build know that it’s not just your life that’s affected when you’re preparing to take part in a competition. The lives of those around you are massively affected also and your support network becomes a big factor in your success, or otherwise. I asked my mum to write a piece for my blog about her views on me becoming a bodybuilder and how she found the process, from the side lines.
Well never ever in my wildest of dreams did I picture myself sitting in the audience at Unity Hall in Wakefield, on a Sunday afternoon, 22nd May, watching the NPA Yorkshire Championships, let alone cheering on my youngest daughter in the Trained Figure Class 2 Competition.
What can I say? Rebecca has been into her keep fit and gym classes for quite a while now and loves her healthy lifestyle with a passion.
However, nothing could prepare me for the announcement that Rebecca casually dropped into a general conversation one day that she “wanted to compete”. I first thought it was a fad, typical Rebecca always striving for better things, bigger achievements etc. and to be honest I think my casual reply was something on the lines of “For God’s sake Rebecca, why?” or “What the hell for?” not taking what she had said too seriously. Big mistake. She was serious. She was determined. No matter what, she was going to compete.
Now as a mum of two beautiful healthy daughters, my own personal journey through the training and prep and strict diet regime was nothing less than a nightmare at times. The early stages I coped with ok as I would contribute by preparing batches of sweet potato mash, carefully weighed out and portioned into foil trays, cooking broccoli stems until I was gipping myself and I only prepared them! I had to make sure that when she came to ours for tea that accurately weighed chicken was plain and simple to accompany the lifeless mash and broccoli. I would on occasion get excited when she said she was changing her diet, thinking ‘oh thank the Lord’. Then she informed me that it would be a single portion of cod with accurately weighed peas!!! This was worse than the sweet potato mash and chicken. I tried to flavour and spice up the fish without adding calories. Not easy.
Now Rebecca’s dad, Steve didn’t like what he was seeing. As expected I was piggy in the middle.
“You need to tell her she’s not eating enough”
“She’s going to make herself ill” he would say.
Then I would have Rebecca saying to me “I’m not coming for tea if dad is going to be stuffing his face with pizza and wine. If I come I will eat before him and leave before he starts his supper”. This was a near impossible situation at times. “Dad never asks how my training is going” was another  question I had to try and explain.
Just let me make this clear before anyone reading this thinks that Steve doesn’t care. It was because he cared that he found it so difficult to support Rebecca on this occasion as much as he perhaps should have done.
As time passed by and the diet became more strict, the training more intense and Rebecca’s energy levels sometimes non-existent, her personality changed drastically too. This apparently is fairly normal for someone who is preparing for a comp and putting their body through such testing times. Life becomes so strict, no social life, no treats or alcohol, basically just training, sleeping (which also became drastically disturbed) and working was Rebecca’s life.
As a mum this was heart breaking to see at times. How I didn’t message her PT at times and ask him what the hell was he was doing to my daughter, I don’t know (Edit from Rebecca: Sorry Mikey I swear I never blamed you haha). The bubbly personality was quickly disappearing and being replaced by someone who was constantly snapping back, quiet and withdrawn from everyone. I found myself walking on egg shells when I was in her company.
Along with one or two of her friends I would then be the one left trying to lift her spirits, help to dry the tears that she shed and trying to support her when on more than one occasion she said to me “If I had known it was going to be like this mum I would never have done it”. But in true Rebecca fashion she never gave up. She was determined that she had come this far and she WAS going to compete!
As the competition date drew close I stocked her up with wine gums for the day of the competition and she had her bottle of wine ready for dehydration stage. Yes here I was again thinking to myself that Rebecca will be an absolute wreck if she ever makes it onto that stage and saying to her  “This isn’t right, this can’t be good for you”  “It has to be done mum” would be the reply.  Shut up Joanne and carry on as if it weren’t happening I thought.
Then comp day is finally upon us. I remember thinking to myself “let’s get this over with and get my real daughter back”
I get given the job of taking Rebecca and her comp tanning and support buddy, Lucy, to her PT’s house early in the morning. I leave them there, give her a hug and wish her well and I will see her at the venue. I then go on my next mission of collecting a dozen donuts from Krispy Kreme for the feast that Rebecca had planned with family and friends that evening.
I arrived at the venue that Sunday afternoon, full of nerves and not having a clue really of what I was going to witness. I sat with a couple of Rebecca’s friends one of which, we as a family have known well for many years; Steph. Now Steph along with me and my two girls is a Wakefield Wildcats fan and very inconveniently the competition date had fallen on the same day that the rugby league Magic Weekend fixture at Newcastle for Wakefield was to take place (Ironically Rebecca had bought me an overnight stay in Newcastle to watch the game as a gift for Mothers Day. This was quickly snatched back from me and replaced with a ticket to the NPA Championship!! - say no more on the subject Rebecca). Steph had it covered for me with regular score updates on her phone.
When Rebecca took to the stage I was so proud. All that she had worked for and sacrificed was now on show. You could see what it meant to her. All of a sudden I was cheering her on and chanting along with her friends as if I were on the terracing at the rugby match. She looked so good. Her bikini dazzled in the lights as she performed and posed on stage.
I don’t know much about these competitions but I do know that when she did her own individual routine, Rebecca was outstanding. So precise.  So accurately timed.  A different style to the other competitors. As near to perfect as could be. I was so emotional and excited for her but most importantly so proud. Her hard work and my mental torture was beginning to feel like it was worthwhile.  When they announced that Rebecca had been placed in her category and she collected her trophy, I couldn’t have been happier for her. It was so well deserved and meant everything to her.
 Every emotion you can imagine went through my youngest daughter that day. She had reached her goal and the bonus of a trophy was the icing on the cake.
She was glad it was over and at last she could return to a relatively normal life again. I remember her messaging me a couple of days later and it reading “I did it Mum”. I was choked.
As a birthday gift, Steve and I had Rebecca’s competition bikini and photograph framed as a memory and a keepsake of this special day which now sits proudly in Rebecca’s lounge.
After promising she was only going to compete this year for the experience and the challenge, she soon told me not long after that she wanted to compete again next this space!