Full of positivity and MuscleFood pre-workout review

I’m in a super positive and happy place right now. I’ve started 2017 just feeling good and ready to take on the year. I came into work on Tuesday feeling in a good mood, much to the delight of my colleagues 😉

Though I don’t tend to make big grand New Year’s resolutions (last year’s resolution was to be more punctual. That lasted a week) I have made a couple of notes to myself on things I’d like to improve on. One being more conscious of my spending – so only one takeaway a month rather than three or four… Another is being more confident and ready to take on new challenges at work.

I’ve recently bee promoted, to start the new role in March, and it gave me all the anxieties before Christmas wondering if I could actually do it, whether I’d fail, whether they’d demote me once they found out I couldn’t do it…But instead I’ve switched it round and thought, “OK let’s do this”. If people have confidence in me, then who am I to argue with that? I just need to stay focused, work hard and not be afraid to ask for help.

In terms of running and goals in the fitness area? I actually haven’t a clue. I’ve become a lot more relaxed about running in general and I no longer feel the desperate urgency to fulfil my Marathon Major goals as soon as possible. After Tokyo I want to reset and chill for a bit. Just run for fun. Enter races that make me happy and just pootle along. I’m enjoying the gym so I’ll carry on there, maybe look for some new challenges in that area. Basically I’m content and it feels like a weird place to be in, but also very nice. I think I’ve relaxed a bit more….weird.

Onto my review then!

MuscleFood Rampage™ Pre-Workout Formula

A few weeks ago MuscleFood sent me some pre-workout to try out.Pre-workout is actually something I’ve only just become familiar with. I drink BCCAs (branched-chain amino acida) during my workout which help maintain muscle mass when doing strength workouts, especially as I do my morning workouts fasted. My goals are not to lose fat and I don’t want to lose muscle either.

So what’s a pre-workout then? You basically drink it before you workout as the name suggests! It usually contains a stimulant like caffeine and some other supplements to help get the most out of your workout and reduce fatigue.MuscleFood kindly sent me two different flavours of the their pre-workout Rampage (what a name, eh): Lem & Pink Grapefruit and Orange & Pineapple. It contains BCAAs to reduce muscle breakdown and help with recovery, as I mentioned above, Arginine AKG which is another essential amino aciden which helps the body to create energy from protein, fats and carbs, Beta Alaine which helps with performance (though be warned, it does cause some rather odd tingling!), Taurine for muscle growth promotion and recovery, Citrulline Malate to help fatigue and manage lactic acid, Creatine Monohydrate which is a well documented and studies supplement to help with building muscle and Beet4Perf™ which is a natural beetroot ingredient to help boost performance as well (I love my beetroot supplements!). It also contains 200mg of caffeine (the equivalent two cups of instant coffee).To be honest, I was highly sceptical of pre-workouts in general when I first heard about them as it all sounds a bit weird. Stimulants for working out? Hmmm. But then caffeine has been proven to help push harder and I often use caffeinated gels during marathons and drink a coffee before a race – and in general most mornings. I obviously don’t want to become dependent on caffeine but getting up at 5am to start my workout at 5.30am is tough going and having caffeine just before really helps. I just make sure I don’t have any further caffeine later in the day.

Though to be honest I don’t find I need anymore, whereas if I don’t drink the pre-workout by 10am I definitely need my morning cup of coffee. Normally I’d have two cups of coffee a day so now I’ve switched to decaf on days I drink this. I’m not hugely sensitive to caffeine and don’t get any headaches of withdrawal symptoms if I don’t drink it for a few days so I think I’m OK.

So what did I think? Well, the taste isn’t amazing. It’s not disgusting or unpleasant, it’s just something to get used to. Both flavours are nice enough but some mornings it does take an effort to get it down. I make up one scoop with 200ml of water and that seems like the perfect amount. Any more water and the taste gets worse as it waters down. The grapefruit flavour is better than the pineapple in my opinion.

Taste aside, did it aid with my performance and recovery? It’s a tough one to know for certain, but I do believe it’s helped me. Within 15 minutes of drinking it I start to get the tingles (they’re no hugely unpleasant, just a weird itchy palms kind of feeling) and then I feel a lot more awake. It’s not made me feel invicible and nor can I suddenly deadlift 10kg more. However I felt more “get up and go” and more alert. Obviously the caffeine is a big factor here but the other bits and bobs could be contributing too. After particularly heavy squats, my legs weren’t quite as sore as they might be. But again this is all very cause-effect stipulation and subjectivity.

I do enjoy taking it though and am happy to keep it in my routine. I won’t take it before every gym visit, just when I think I need it. I’ll also have a week or so without it every now and again to help keep my caffeine tolerance at a nice level. I don’t want to become too dependent or used to it.

I don’t think it’s necessary for the gym or to make any significant gains. It’s more of a pick-me-up to help supplement you as and when you need it – if you need it at all! But I do recommend it if you fancy adding a little it of oomph to your workout occasionally. I’m tempted to try it before a race as well to see how that goes.

Have you ever tried using per-workout?

Do you use any supplements?

Have you made any big goals for this year?

**Full Disclaimer: I was sent the Rampage Pre-Workout from MuscleFood for free in return for a review. All opinions are my own honest ones.**

 

Proud of my muscles

When I look at photos of me from just a few years ago, when I was first getting into running and racing, I can’t believe how much I’ve changed.

Mentally I’ve changed in a big way. I view running and exercise completely differently. I no longer just run. Several injuries have taught me my body is not the hardy type and I need to work on my weaknesses regularly to keep me running healthy and strong. But not just that, I found a great love of lifting weights. I no longer feel that running is my one and only (though if I had to choose, it would always be running. I am a runner first and foremost).img_6036For the past few weeks I’ve just been going to the gym and lifting and it’s been a great break from running. Though I’m itching to get back to it now, I haven’t been going out of my mind because “omg I haven’t been running”. I’m happy to take a break and refresh my system to get the mojo juices flowing again (nice). This is is different to the old me!

I thought I’d share this comparison pic I created because it kind of blew me away. The photo on the left is from around three years ago. I look like an entirely different person. I feel like an entirely different person.Transformation photoThe lack of self-confidence is obvious but also lack of muscle. This is why I love lifting. It’s given me a body I’m proud of. I’ve never hated my body or thought I looked bad, but seeing my body now in comparison to how it was has just validated my love for the gym. I feel better in myself and think I look better after gaining some muscle to my frame. And with that I’ve also gained confidence.Girls with muscleI stride into the gym knowing exactly what I’m going to do that morning. I feel confident going into the weights area, setting up the squat rack and doing my thing. And this has trickled into my life in general. At work I’m more confident, I stand taller, and with running I run stronger and feel like I can kick out that 7min/min at mile 26 of a marathon.img_6051There is also something so satisfying and fun about lifting weights. You can focus on so many different areas. Becoming a stronger runner with form drills and increasing my strength endurance, or focusing on aesthetic goals such as sculpting my shoulders and getting a perkier bum. Or just generally increasing my overall strength – can I smash my personal best when squatting or deadlifting? There’s so much you can do. I’m never bored at the gym.

I’m not saying everyone must lift, and everyone must have muscles. Absolutely not. What I think is important is finding that thing that you love and enjoy. Exercise shouldn’t always be a grind and it certainly shouldn’t be a punishment.

lucysewellIt has to be something that, first and foremost, is enjoyable. If it’s not you won’t stick to it.

It also has to make you feel GOOD. Both running and weight lifting make me feel fantastic. Realistically not every gym session or run is a “punch in the air” scenario, but overwhelming most of the time I enjoy it and look forward to doing it again. So choose something that makes you happy, whether it’s weight lifting, cross-fitting, running, swimming or walking, it’s all good stuff. And most importantly, don’t compare yourself to anyone else out there! No exercise is superior to another and everyone is in a chapter of their own story after all.

What is your favourite exercise?

Do you compare yourself to others?

How has exercise changed you?

Glute exercises and Oppo ice cream review

So many running-related injuries can happen due to weak or inactive glutes. One of the main reasons I go to the gym is injury prevention. Glutes are so important to our running form that you really do need to get them going if you want to avoid things like runner’s knee, IT band issues, hamstring problems and even shin splints.

You can always spot the runners at the gyms because when they’re not on the treadmill (or looking sad and dejected doing cross training on a bike) they’re doing all manner of glute exercises, lunges and squats while looking like they’d rather be anywhere but at the gym. I was definitely one of those back in the day! Luckily I now quite enjoy the gym, and not just for injury prevention workouts, but for general strength training. Though I would indeed look rather miserable on a cardio machine!

Every week I’ll do one session (45mins – 1 hour long) doing glute-focused exercises. Here are some that I try to do regularly:

Lunges

A very simple exercise that I’m sure you’re familiar with. I either do it static, putting one foot forward, lowering my back knee, then bringing the leg back and switching legs. Or I do walking lunges. The important part is pushing through your glutes as you’re coming back up and not leaning too far forward. You can use a barbell, like below, or dumbbells held at your side.lunges

Single leg Deadlifts

This is a great exercise because it focuses on just one side of the body at a time so you can really focus on any imbalances or weaknesses. I know my left side is far weaker than my right so I can do a few more reps on it to try and increase its strength. It’s also a great exercise at improving your balance and strengthening your ankles.

Standing on one leg you lower the weight (or your hand) to the floor while sticking your other leg out behind you. As you come back up focus on using your glutes to stabilise and balance yourself, then raise your knee to really get that glute firing. Don’t go too quickly: the slower the better as you need more control that way. You don’t have to use a weight but I’ve been doing this exercise for a while now and needed more of a challenge.single-leg-deadlifts

Curtsy Squats

This is a good move to add a new angle into your usual squats. Put your right leg behind yourself then bend your knee to the ground, keeping your toes pointing forward. Again, you don’t need to use weights and similar to before, use your glutes to push your leg up to then swap your legs over.curtsy-squats

Cable Pull Through

Like many glute exercises, this one is one not to catch anyone’s eye while performing it 😉 It’s a bit awkward but it’s really good. Though you do need a cable machine to do it, so it’s not one you can do at home. You stand in with your back in front of a cable machine with a rope as the handle, pull the cable through your legs and have your feet wide apart. Reach through your legs, bending at the hips with your knees slightly bent and then pull the cable through using the motion of getting your hips straight. It’s important that you’re not using your arms or shoulders to pull the cable. You want to feel this in your glutes – squeeze as you come to the standing position (where your hands are now rather embarrassingly around your nether region holding a bit of rope…#awkward). glute-cable-pulls

Cable Kickbacks

Again, another one for the cable machine, but you can do this with ankle weights or even a resistance band attached to a solid frame. You want to attach an ankle strap/heel cup to your foot and then kick out from the machine. Do not go heavy on the weight as your targeting very small glute muscles here and adding heavier weight will likely cause your back to help out. You do not want this.

What I find that helps is actually feeling your glute with your hand while you do this workout so you can get that muscle-mind connection so the right muscles are being used. If it’s too hard, lower the weight or take the weight away completely.  You can kick backwards, to the side, to an angle… just go for different varieties to hit the glutes at different places. Ideally your rep ranges will be fairly high for these (15-20).glute-kickbacks

Oppo Ice Cream

Now moving on from exercise to… ice cream! Ice cream is such a crowd pleaser but it’s not a food you can really eat a huge amount of on a regular basis due to it’s high sugar and fat content. However, there is an ice cream out there that you can incorporate into your diet without accumulating big calories. And the best part? It’s not chemical ladened with artificial nasties.oppo-ice-cream-mintOppo Ice Cream isn’t full of sugar and fat. It uses ingredients like virgin coconut oil and stevia leaf instead. Stevia is naturally sweet but contains zero calories and zero sugars. Therefore the ice cream contains between 50-60% fewer calories and sugars than regular ice cream.oppo-ice-cream-comparison

Source

One of the founders also did a TED talk on how the ice cream came about which I found really interesting. I just love the whole ethos behind the company and what they’re trying to achieve.

There are three flavours Mint Choc Swirl, Salted Caramel and Madagascan Vanilla. I’ve tried the salted Caramel and mint. I like how within each of those flavours different natural ingredients have been used which also boost the nutrition of the product. In the vanilla, the baobab fruit is used which is rich in Vitamin C, potassium and anti-oxidants but also contributes to the creaminess and texture of the ice cream. For the salted caramel, the lacuma fruit is used which contains beta carotene, iron, zinc, vitamin B3, calcium and protein but also helps get the sweet flavour of the caramel. For the mint, spirulina is used to help get the green colouring. It’s 65% protein and a rich source of vitamin B, iron and manganese.oppo-ice-cream-salted-caramelThoughts? I love them. Both the mint and the salted caramel flavours rocked my world. I’m a big mint choc chip ice cream fan and I found it very minty and sweet, but not overly so. It was creamy and delicious and did feel naughty.oppo-ice-cream Though the salted caramel was my favourite. What I will say though is that you know you’re not eating Ben and Jerry’s. It’s not as thick and dense. It’s more airy and quick to melt. But it does hit the spot when you fancy a sweet treat but don’t want to be as indulgent as eating higher calorie ice creams.

My friends, Kate and Jamie, tried the mint with me and they enjoyed it too. But Jay did say that it wasn’t quite as good as the really naughty stuff but it was good for a mid-week treat without having a blow-out. It’s also a lot easier to eat an entire tub because it’s not as dense! But at around 400 calories, it’s not that bad (compared to the 1,000s in other tubs!). Thumbs up from me!

Do you ever buy lower calorie versions of treats?

What’s your favourite ice cream brand?

What exercises do you do to try and prevent injuries?

**Full Disclaimer: I was sent a voucher for one tub of ice cream in exchange for a review. I bought the other tub because I enjoyed it so much. All opinions are my own.**

BTN Fitness Retreat–part 2

In part 1 I had just finished recapping the second and, in my opinion, physically hardest day. The run and insane obstacle course circuits almost ruined me (in a good way I think!). It meant that the next day I wasn’t feeling as fresh as I’d hoped for the actual obstacle course.

But I was going to give it my best shot. We’d planned to do it just before lunch but after popular demand it was brought forward to 7am before breakfast when it was cooler. We were organised into waves so the course wouldn’t get crowded. I kind of wish I’d have gotten to go in a wave with the boys (it was about 3-4 people per wave) but ended up in a bigger group with all the girls. This annoyed me a tiny bit (though to be fair I could have easily spoken up and voiced my opinion) because it meant a fair bit of waiting around for the obstacles as there were usually only one or two female-specific weights/versions of the obstacle. It also had the feel of “we’re just going to survive” rather than being competitive and really going for it, which I wanted to do. Also being in a group of six girls meant I couldn’t go as fast as I wanted. OK I’m not saying I was significantly held back or that the other girls were slow but I know I could have gone faster if I hadn’t had to have waited – this is purely my competitive personality coming out now.

Anyway, it is what it is. The obstacle course was ridiculously fun. A couple of things I didn’t do (and had to do 50 burpees instead – yes 50) like the hang tough purely because of where they came in the course. You were already knackered and your hands almost destroyed by ropes and holding heavy things. I didn’t fancy falling great heights because I couldn’t maintain a good grip.

I finished the course in about one hour and ten minutes and was happy with that (if not slightly disgruntled at having to wait for different obstacles…OK I’ll stop moaning about that now!).

Obstacle Course victory

We survived and felt amazing at the end. And incredibly I only sustained one injury.

Shot put injury

I managed to drop a 12kg stone shot put on myself. I thought I had it balanced ready to throw over the net (you had to throw it over eight times each side) but it rolled back off my hand and onto my lower back. Ouch.

After breakfast we then had a nutrition session with Ben Coomber himself. He gave a very thorough and good talk about general health (including the mind, sleep and recovery) and a detailed chat about nutrition. It was very informative!

Ben Coomber

At this point I was fully shattered and had to keep my eyes open. I didn’t want to fall asleep though obviously because a) it would be rude and b) I wanted to hear the talk!

Ben Coomber 2

Ben was really knowledgeable and answered all our questions. He has a very down to earth approach with a “take no rubbish” attitude. One of his points I remember was “if you don’t succeed at your goals, they’re not your goals”. Harsh I suppose but realistic. Don’t aim for something that you don’t fully believe in or want to commit to. Success isn’t handed to you; it’s hard work, sacrifice and realism. He also stressed that you should have your own goals rather than see something on social media and think that’s what you should be wanting/looking like/eating like/etc.

I really respect Ben, on many levels, but mainly because you know he’s not trying to simply sell you an idea. He was a great guy as well in general, exactly like his is on the podcast. Such a cool guy to spend time with.

After the nutrition chat, the majority of us headed off to a water park for a bit of fun.

Aqualand, Marbella

I actually didn’t realise how scared I can get on water slides. I don’t think I’ve been to a water park in a good while and some of the rides really frightened me. There was one ridiculously tall one and I freaked out. We had to walk up all these rickety stairs and I wasn’t sure I could do it. It’s different to a rollercoaster where you’re strapped in and have no control over the situation. With a water slide you literally have to push yourself off and then it’s free falling (well, going down a slide). Ben was such a nice guy and waited for the others to go and stayed with me to encourage me. I really appreciated it as no one else seemed to struggle!

The rest of our time at the retreat was doing some really good workshops like learning some boxing.

BTN workshop - boxingI didn’t realise you had to wrap your hands before putting them in gloves!

Which I found out I’m rubbish at! There’s a lot of footwork and coordination involved which really isn’t my strong point. At the end we did get one minute in the ring to fully pummel Simon (who’s a very adept kick-boxer) to pieces (well, attempt to) which was good fun. Especially watching one of the guys who is a trained boxer!BTN workshop - boxing 2

Simon and him had a proper fight rather than let him beat him to a pulp. It was amazing to watch them move!

The next day we had the morning free and everyone was planning what they were going to do as we had free reign of the gym. The girls had decided they were going to do a “Victoria’s Secret workout” (aka legs, bums and tums). This is really not my thing. No offence to anyone who loves that sort of thing but it’s just not something I’d be keen to do. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good glute workout but it’s rather more running-specific. Anyway I found out that some of the guys were going down to the obstacle course to do some circuits on the combat zone and they invited me to join them. Now THIS was far more my thing.

Combat zone - Hang tough

So the next morning at 7am we headed down to the combat zone and basically just did whatever we fancied using the different obstacles. I had fun on the hang tough section (see above photo), the sledge hammer…

Combat zone - Sledge hammer

Lifting tyres…

Combat zone - tires

This looks a lot smaller than it was in reality! Though there were actually three sizes, I could only just about manage the medium size – the large one I had no chance.

Combat zone 2

This was pulling a rope down that was attached to a set of weights (the tyre and wood stacked in the photo). Basically we spent a good hour down there doing crazy things that didn’t feel like exercise. This has really opened my eyes to trying out an obstacle race at some point. It was really good fun and felt like proper functional strength training – actually lifting and moving things for a purpose.

Combat zone 3

The rest of the day we did some more workshops looking at pull ups, hypertrophy (which is essentially using lighter weights for more reps in order to big builder muscles – bodybuilding basically. But the exercises are usually accessory exercises rather than big compound moves like squats and deadlifts).

The food in the retreat was really good. We had a buffet style breakfast (everything from porridge and cereal to eggs, ham and cheese – and lots of gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian options as there was a vegan and people with certain intolerances). For lunch and dinner we had a good sized carb and protein balanced meal.

BTN Retreat mealsL-R: sausages in a lentil casserole-style dish; chicken with chickpeas and couscous

There was always lots of salad to add to your meal too. The funny thing was that most people left a good portion of their carbs. For example, there was a pasta meal one night and most people left the majority of the pasta and loaded up on salad instead. The meals were big enough that this didn’t mean you were hungry but it was an interesting trend. When I went to the running camp earlier in the year, all the runners loaded up on garlic bread, potatoes AND rice. They were like “give me ALL the carbs”. Whereas here it was a completely different story. It was like carbs were the devil.

BTN retreat group 2The kitchen and dining area

I will say that the one thing that did make me a little sad was when we went out for dinner on the last night (and then out clubbing – urghhh I did not enjoy this – a post for another time). You know I like my food and will often have something rather extravagant or ‘naughty’ over the weekend while eating generally quite healthily during the week (#balance Winking smile).

So I was looking forward to splashing out on something non-healthy and possibly pudding depending on what others were thinking. We had worked hard after all! But we got there and people started making comments like “I bet that has cream in it” or “’I might just order two small starters rather than a main”. I felt quite inhibited by the vibe of everyone else. I had spotted ribs on the menu and after hearing everyone else I immediately shrunk away from them and chose a salad instead. Looking back I’m annoyed at myself for not allowing myself to be “Anna the girl who enjoys her food” and instead just going with the crowd. The salad was good but I felt a bit deflated. And of course no one had pudding. God forbid they allow those macros into their bodies…

Anyway, aside from this minor blip the whole week was fantastic. I learnt so so much and realised I’m stronger than I think. My body can do amazing things when it wants to! It made me grateful for all the time I’d spent in the gym and I could kind of show off (to myself) what I could do. I’d definitely look to do something similar again. Huge thanks to the Body Type Nutrition guys and to Ben Coomber!

Have you ever done an obstacle course?

What’s your ideal workout?

What kind of fitness retreat, if you were to ever go on one, would you like to do?

Body Type Nutrition Fitness Retreat–part 1

So a couple of weeks ago I went on a Body Type Nutrition fitness retreat in Marbella in Spain. BTN is run by a very cool guy called Ben Coomber. He’s basically a coach (and BTN is his online coaching company) and he also owns a few different health-related businesses. I first heard about him through his podcast Ben Coomber Radio which if you’re into keeping fit and healthy, both mind and body, it’s worth checking out as it’s very good. Anyway, I signed myself up to the retreat as soon as I heard about it as I knew it was exactly the kind of thing I’d enjoy doing: learning about strength training, techniques in the gym, nutrition, mobility and also there was an epic obstacle course (the biggest in Europe) which we would get to have a go on.

The retreat was based at a gym/training facility which also had a set of cabins, a swimming pool, a kitchen (where we had three meals a day cooked for us) onsite and the obstacle course nearby.Mikes Gym, Marbella

The gym was insane. It pretty much had everything. It was very CrossFit focused but also had a boxing ring with boxing equipment, machines squat racks and weights, kettle bells, Bosu balls, resistance bands, monkey bars…just everything really. The guy that owned the gym (Mike) is a 51 unbelievably fit legend. He runs a CrossFit class most mornings at the gym (which by the way is just outside our cabins so we heard it going on every morning – it was like our alarm), has done triathlons and cycling events and is basically a machine. Originally from the UK, he’s been in Marbella for 11 years and has never looked back. But it was Ben that was running the show and planning the week (we were all grateful for this as Mike was literally the drill sergeant from hell).

Along with Ben, there was Simon Herbert and Carl Greenslade, two coaches who work for Ben who took us through several workshops and gave us great advice through the week.

BTN RetreatFrom L-R: Ben, Simon, me and Carl

There were, in total, about 16 of us. So a nice small group of like-minded people. Some people were personal trainers hoping to further their knowledge and coaching abilities and some were like me, just interested in fitness. It was not a beginner’s retreat though – everyone was fit, strong and knew their stuff. I was the only runner though.

BTN Retreat groupEveryone together – Mike is the guy without a top on

Unfortunately when I arrived in Spain around midday I was still feeling so very hung-over from the wedding the night before (having had only 3 hours sleep). I felt very unwell and actually really cold despite the 30 degrees C temperature. After meeting everyone I pretty much just went to bed to, for want of a better description, sweat it out. I missed dinner (you know I’m not well when I miss meal times) but honestly I felt so ill I just had to sleep. I was so worried I wouldn’t be up for anything the next day so prayed a good long sleep would help. Thankfully when I woke up the next morning I felt almost fully better.

Obstacle course - Mikes Gym

For our first proper day we checked out the obstacle course. The obstacle course is split into two sections: an endurance section and a combat section. The endurance section included things like climbing over walls, swinging across ditches, balancing across beams, running with a heavy sandbag on your shoulder across floats on water…etc. The combat section was basically a strength based area – one huge circuits set. You had to go from exercise to exercise completing the necessary reps. The weights were different for females and males and there was a ‘step down’ weight if you couldn’t do the proper one – but this was more reps.

Mikes Gym Obstacle Course

There were sit-ups, pull-ups, pushing and pulling weights, battle ropes, climbing a rope, sledge hammering a tyre, flipping a huge tyre, pressing logs, tossing atlas stones over your shoulder, bench pressing logs, monkey bars… Honestly it went on and on. So we got to go through each of the combat zone exercises to get familiar with them. We were going to do the obstacle course for real on Wednesday so we could practice before then.

Combat zone - Battle ropesHaving a battle rope battle against Simon (surprisingly I won lasting the longest as he started way to fast and aggressively, burning out quickly)

I loved doing all of this. It was just so much fun doing really random strength-based exercises that I’d never done before. Getting dusty and sweaty in the sun chucking heavy things around didn’t feel like exercise to me.

Combat zone 5

Later on we also did a mobility workshop which was really interesting. Simon and Carl showed us some great ways to warm up before lifting weights in the gym. Normally I just go on a machine for 4-5 minutes and then start lifting weights, but they showed us some great simple exercises to get us limbered up and ready in a more functional and specific way.

BTN Workshop 3

We did most of the workshops in the studio and then could practise the different techniques. Both Carl and Simon were great teachers and clearly knew their stuff. You never felt stupid either for asking what seemed like basic questions. They were very ‘hands on’ as well – helping us get into the correct positions and guiding each of to good technique.

Mobility workshop

After this we did a shoulder press session. This was so good as it’s an exercise I often do in the gym so to have some eyeball my technique and give me specific cues was fantastic! I also found I could lift heavier than I had kept to at the gym as I felt safer having spotters around me. But it’s given me confidence now to be more bold in the gym.

That evening Mike mentioned that he was going to be doing a run in the morning if anyone fancied joining. Well obviously my ears pricked up! A few of us were keen so we were told to meet at 7am to be ready to go in the morning. The next morning at 7am he took the small group of us from Ben’s group and Mike’s usual group down to the obstacle course for a ‘warm-up’.

Now when Mike said warm-up what he really meant was a 45 minute circuit session of the combat zone. We paired off and had to do each exercise for about 2 minutes before moving on. I paired with the only other woman, who was a regular of Mike’s classes. She was a MACHINE. I like to think I held my own – farmer walking two 30kg weights up through a slalom of hanging tyres (three times!), climbing up a rope to the top, pulling down weights on a pull system etc. I felt very comfortable pushing myself – a competitive element had also sparked off in me and a fear that Mike and his gang would think we were weak. My hands were destroyed though by the end as so many of the exercises required pulling or holding heavy things that tore into your skin.

Combat zone - Farmers walkFarmer’s walk holding heavy weighted wood – from a different day

Then we packed into a car and headed to some Spanish hills for the “10-12k run”. I say run but really it was run to every steep hill Mike could find, then struggle up it and carry on running. Luckily the sun wasn’t quite out to burn down on us. I had stupidly left my water in the car, not thinking I would need it as it wasn’t that hot yet. So I was very much dependent on one of Mike’s crew who had a Camelbak. He was lovely though and kept me nicely hydrated. The run though was INSANE.

Epic run through Spanish hills

Two guys from our group really struggled and we had to keep waiting for them. They hadn’t run more than 5k in a few years and the elevation gains were relentless. I relatively comfortable (well, I was dying but in a manageable way) as this was my territory being a runner. Mike was unforgiving and would yell at the slower runners to hurry up “you slugs!”.

IMG_3091

By 3 miles I wondered how we could really do 12k and prayed that Mike was just giving a rough estimate. In the end though it was 6.6 miles. Luckily the last mile was pretty much downhill so I could pick up some speed and open my stride but I could feel my body weakening and tiring. When I saw the cars I couldn’t have been more happy.

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But we survived! We felt like champions at the end, though exhausted and a little broken.

Post Spanish run

When we got back to the gym at around 10am (we had started at 7am!) we went straight for breakfast. It was fairly amusing that everyone else was just out sunbathing and hanging around while we came back covered in dust and sweat and completely destroyed. For breakfast I wolfed down porridge and boiled eggs – I was starving.

And the day had barely begun! For the rest of the day we tested out the endurance section of the obstacle course which I found a bit more tricky. Not necessarily in terms of physically doing it but in terms of genuine fear. One of the obstacles was climbing up a high rope wall and clambering over it to the other side to climb back down. I found this really nerve-wracking and when I got to the top I just basically lay clinging to the narrow beam not being able to get my leg to swing over for fear of losing my grip and falling. After lots of encouragement from the group though I was able to get over it and down. Another tough obstacle was using a rope to swing over a ditch and landing on the other side. I wouldn’t have been scared until I saw a couple of people either let go too early and fall awkwardly into the ditch or hit the side as they swung. Luckily though I made it across.

After finishing we then had lunch and got ready for some more workshops. This time it was squats and deadlifts.

BTN workshop - Weights session

I was really looking forward to this but I was also feeling quite fatigued now! Eating lots of food did help though of course. And we did have some down time between sessions where we could nap or sit in the sun.

Simon was really helpful during the squats session as he watched my technique and advised I raise my heels slightly to help with my form. This felt so much better! Deadlifts were good too. It was just so handy to have qualified trainers to watch and help you. It was like having a personal trainer for the week.

I’ll leave my recap there as I still have a lot to talk about. Hope you’re enjoying it so far – it was a fantastically varied and tough week Smile

Have you ever been to a fitness retreat?

Have you heard of Ben Coomber?

Have you ever done an obstacle course?