Strong is Beautiful

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For the first time ever the other day, a family member saw me for the first time in a couple of months and the first thing she said to me was, “wow Emma, you have gotten BIG!” She poked and prodded my shoulders and could not believe the size of me. To be honest, initially I felt a little offended and self conscious because I have never experienced that kind of… honesty? before. So I said to her, “Not big, just strong”. Her reply was “No, BIG!” I then ended the conversation and just walked away.

I know many women in the fitness industry, and especially Crossfit, experience this type of criticism and I applaud those ladies who manage to just brush it off and walk away with confidence. But, I can also see how it can negatively impact your own sense of self and make you question whether your physique is “normal” for a woman or even attractive.

After this encounter, I thought about it a lot and about how it made me feel about myself. I have always been confident in my own body and proud of the way I look as I have worked hard for my muscles and physique. But of course, like most people, I have my insecurities. After giving this situation a lot of thought, I came to the conclusion that I am actually happy that she called me “big”. I figured that in her opinion, my physique is abnormal for a woman as she works in a very feminine industry and her own body shape resembles that of a classic woman- curvaceous and soft- so obviously my hard and muscular body was foreign to her. I am also working damn hard to build more muscle, especially in my upper body, so actually what she had to say was a compliment!

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Photo on the left was taken in 2010, photo on the right was taken December 2016

It fascinates me how many different ideals there are for the way women look. Men generally just have one ideal body type- lean and muscular. women on the other hand can be ‘curvy’, ‘skinny, ‘toned’ or ‘muscular’ and in all instances there are going to be negative and positive comments. But, what is apparent is the growing acceptance of muscular and fit looking women. Who said that girls can’t have muscles and be strong? Long gone are the days when women had to rely on men for everything. Physical fitness not only brings outer strength but also inner and mental strength which drive women to have to motivation and passion needed to succeed in a male dominated world.

So ladies, f#$k what the haters say… being strong is sexy. So embrace those muscles and walk around with confidence.

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What does it take to become a better Crossfit Athlete?

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I have been doing Crossfit for a little over a year now. Prior to that, I was a personal trainer and die-hard bicep curler. I thought I was fit. I thought I was strong. I even thought I was pretty muscular. Boy was I wrong! I have always been sporty and I can’t recall a time in my life when I have been inactive. I played first team netball in school and made it quite far in athletics (sprinting and javelin), but I never had the discipline or the passion to pursue any of those sports further.

Then along came Crossfit. I fell head over heels for this sport of fitness and all I wanted to do was get better… at EVERYTHING! Now, when you have never been a gymnast or a weightlifter it’s pretty hard to get good at everything in a short amount of time. It didn’t take me too long to catch on to the gymnastics side of things. I was able to do the simple moves such as kipping pull ups and handstand push ups within a couple of months. But as for the weightlifting, that took A LOT of time and dedication. Only now, a year or so later, can I say I have seen some real improvement in my strength.

Developing an engine is another vital component to Crossfit. It is what allows you to push through those WODs at a steady pace without hitting a wall. I can definitely say that my engine has increased, although I still need to work on maintaining those longer duration WODs, especially when it comes to cardiovascular exercises like rowing and running… oh and that damn assault bike!

When I started crossfit I was pretty puny. I think I weighed around 54kg, and I am now sitting at my heaviest I have ever been of 58-60kg (I don’t really ever get on the scale so I’m guestimating here)! But I know that it is purely muscle mass. I love seeing my muscles grow and feeling my strength just continue to increase. It makes me feel so confident and powerful, like I can do anything I set my mind to.

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Struggling to snatch 25kg…. weighing around 55kg
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55 x 70kg deadlifts… weighing 58kg

So how do you improve? How do you get better at all these different components? There are SO many exercises and domains of fitness that you need to improve, how do you go about targeting them ALL?? The following advice comes from my own experience in Crossfit and my progress through the last year.

1. First of all, you need to set some goals. What is it that you really want to achieve? Perfect your double unders? Get a muscle up? PB your deadlift or 2.5km row time? Whatever it is, write it down. Even if you have 10 goals! Start working on each of them one by one. Go into class early and practice. If it is a gymnastic goal you are aiming for (Pullups, muscle ups, double unders, handstands, etc.) you NEED to keep practicing. These movements require all the practice in the world to perfect, and once you get it, DON’T STOP! Weightlifting comes down to pure increases in strength. If you aren’t adding weight onto your bar incrementally, you are not going to get any stronger. If you aren’t RXing WODs, start trying to push yourself closer to those weights until you are able to do the recommended weight. Just ensure that when your weights start increasing, your form does not start decreasing. Whatever you do, do not sacrifice form and technique for heavier weights. You will end up hurting yourself and that technique is actually what allows you to lift that extra 5kgs!

Trust me, I made that mistake early on in my Crossfit career. I got ahead of myself and thought I was stronger then I actually was and kept injuring my lower back. Injuries are horrible and prevent you from being able to workout, but they also teach you some valuable lessons about SMART training. Once my back felt better, I started from the bottom again and worked my way up with the weights. Today my body feels amazing! No niggles or pains (only muscular from DOMs- delayed onset muscle soreness- which is normal) and I am currently sitting with a 120kg deadlift, 85kg back squat and 65kg clean and jerk. But not to worry, these numbers will keep increasing, but slowly. No need to rush the process… enjoy the journey.

2. Nutrition is an EXTREMELY important component of your training. If you aren’t supplying your body with the right kind of food or enough food for the volume of training you’re doing, you are unlikely to see results. If you are someone who ‘forgets’ to eat (I really don’t understand how you do that, I forget NOT to eat), then you NEED to change that habit. If you have no fuel in the tank, how do you expect your body to work and recover? If you are someone who enjoys their junk food and take outs, I suggest you quit that nasty habit. Not only are you giving your body the WRONG fuel source, but you are starving your body of vital nutrients for normal daily functioning. Sugar, bread, processed foods… quit that shit! Opt for good quality protein (chicken, fish, lean beef), fresh fruits and vegetable and (if you have to) good quality grains such as oats and quinoa. STOP EATING MAN MADE FOOD!

I have played around with my diet quite a bit over the years to find out what works best for me. I tried a high carbohydrate diet which is great for high intensity workouts as it stores fast releasing energy, but when it comes to those long gruelling workouts, I ran out of fuel. I then tried the high fat diet, but that just made me feel sluggish and I put on a bit of weight. I am now on a diet which makes me feel really energetic and strong. It is very high in protein, moderate in fat and low in carbohydrates. I find that the protein really helps my muscles regenerate faster and the moderate amount of fat fuels me for endurance. I only eat carbohydrates pre and post workout as it gives me the energy I need for the high intensity aspects of my workouts and then helps replenish my glycogen stores in my muscles after my workout. A day of eating for me usually looks like this:

Pre workout (morning): Protein mug muffin (egg, oats, protein powder microwaved in a mug)
Post workout breakfast: ½ cup dry oats (cooked) with one egg, ½ scoop whey protein and half a banana
Snack: 2 egg omelette
Lunch and pre workout: Chicken and vegetable stir fry
Post workout: Protein shake with half banana
Dinner: Chicken/lean mince and veg stir fry

Its pretty boring I know, but I like routine so I pretty much just eat the same thing every day. That way I know if my diet is working for me and if I need to tweak anything. I get my fat mainly from coconut oil and eggs as all the other alternatives (avo, bacon, nuts, etc) are rather expensive and my little student budget can’t quite keep up with that.

3. Consistency! We are nothing without consistency. If you decide one week that you are going to do anything to get that damn muscle up, then the following week your motivation dwindles and you take a couple of days off, you’re going to go nowhere slowly. If you let your frustrations get the better of you, that will drive you to quit. Have patience with what you want to achieve. You know what they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. I have been working on my muscle ups (ring and bar) for months now and I STILL have a chicken wing. But you know what? I got my first strict ring muscle up yesterday (even though I chicken winged up), but it still counts as progress! Celebrate every little step forward that you take. Every bit counts and you should be proud of that. If you feel like the programming in your box is not supporting your goals, chat to the coaches and I’m sure they can give you alternatives that will supplement your objectives.

There is so much more that goes into achieving what you think is the impossible, but these are the first steps. Start working on your goals, nutrition and consistency and the rest will follow. Another thing that helps is research. Google and YouTube are my best friends when it comes to bettering myself. There are millions of resources out there that show you step by step guides on achieving any exercise. The internet is your oyster!
Now go out there and tick off those goals. Get stronger. Get leaner. Get better!

WOD: 7/01/16

Yesterday got a bit hectic and I forgot to post my workouts. I ended up doing Crossfit in the morning which was super tough! I struggle with thrusters as my shoulders fatigue quite quickly! I then went to HIIT class in the afternoon which was an absolute killer! But I feel like the assault bike and I have become one 😋

 

this was me one year ago when i first started crossfit
 
Am: strength- 2 rounds for reps: (40secs on 20 secs rest)

1 min left KB swing (24/16)

1 min right KB swing 

1 min American KB swing 

–> 137 reps

WOD: 7RFT

7 deadlifts (50/30)

7 thrusters (50/30)

7 ring K2E

–> 8:40

Pm: HIIT 3 rounds for reps

1 min row (cals)

1 min bench hops

1 min assault bike (cals)

1 min HRPU

1 min no handle sled push

1 min rest

–> 332 reps