Category Archives: Strength training

From couch potato to gym rat. My story.

How I got hooked on fitness…..

 

I have been asked many times over the years if there was a time in my life when I wasn’t into fitness.

I’d love to say no, and that I’ve always been super fit and healthy, but that would be a lie.

 The truth is that I used to be  a bit of a couch potato.

My diet was pretty bad. At the time I thought it was average but I didn’t know any better. I was never overweight, in fact I was what we in the fitness industry like to call “skinny fat.”

Skinny fat means being thin with a higher fat to muscle ratio, in other words, soft!

So how does one go from a skinny fat couch potato to a lean, mean fitness machine I hear you ask?

I’m going to tell you.

After my first child was born I struggled with a sleep routine for him. He was a happy, delightful baby, just wouldn’t sleep. I was a bit of a mess for a long time & my G.P. diagnosed post natal depression.

Eventually I got to breaking point and took him to a sleep clinic at 7 months old where the hard as nails nurses taught me to get tough on the little cherub.

Finally I had a dream baby who slept 12 hours at night.

Two months later I found out I was pregnant again. I was petrified and miserable. The birth and subsequent sleep tortured months were still too fresh in my mind and I wasn’t ready.

Besides, how could I love this baby when my heart was already bursting to overflowing with love for my baby boy?

During this period my father was fighting a losing battle with emphysema and my husband was working in a job with a lot of travelling and networking involved.

I couldn’t get excited about having another baby. I felt scared and alone in spite of having my fantastic sisters there to support me.

I was still depressed.

After a very quick and trouble free labor, I gave birth to my precious baby girl and fell in love immediately with her.

She was not an easy baby.

She cried almost constantly unless she was upright and in my arms. I had to try sleeping sitting up with her on my chest just so she would be quiet.

I also had a 17 month old to contend with and household duties.

I was in hell.

I got sick with an infection.

Then my son got sick with an infection. I was sick, with a sick toddler and the Anti-Christ projectile vomiting newborn, all while my husband was away on business interstate.

Off to the doctor we went but my G.P. ignored my snotty toddler and set off alarm bells over the color of my baby’s skin. She was yellow.

We were sent for tests. He rang that evening as soon as the results were back telling us we needed to head off to Monash hospital first thing to be admitted. My baby girl was very sick. I rang my husband who couldn’t come home till the following day.

We set off and got a flat tyre on the way just for good measure.

Me, feeling ill and frightened, my toddler, full of a chest infection, my newborn, bright yellow, and thankfully my oldest sister who was my rock and lifesaver!

We had test after test. They pinned my baby down and put needles in her tiny feet and hands. I just wanted to go home.

My son who had been the center of my universe up till now was ceremoniously dumped with my other lifesaving sister to become a part of her household for the following weeks while we waited even just for a diagnosis.

When we got the diagnosis it was shattering. I had been in denial thinking it would be something that would be fixed easily with antibiotics or some other fancy drug.

Not so.

She was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia and we were told she had a 30% chance of living to age 2, a 30% chance of getting through childhood but needing a liver transplant and a 30% chance of making adulthood but with cirrhosis of the liver. The other 10% just die.

Those stats were hard to hear.

She needed an operation regardless and we were told she would spend her life in and out of hospital if she survived.

She got her operation and the time was very traumatic for all of us. My weight had dropped to around 45kgs from the stress.

We came home and had regular tests and doctors visits in between visits to my very ill father.

I wasn’t coping.

With my husband away a lot, a toddler, the constant worry over my baby and my father I fell into a worse depression.

At the time when my father passed away I couldn’t even cry for fear I wouldn’t be able to stop.

I spent months in a state of negativity and resentment and guilt.

Finally a friend of mine, in an attempt to get me to “snap out of it” bought me a 30 day gym membership.

I didn’t want to go but there was a creche at the gym and she more or less dragged me.

I didn’t love it at all but I decided to make a commitment of not only the thirty days but added another 2 months to the membership.

I promised myself that no matter what I was going to have that one hour to myself 3 mornings per week while the creche was open. If I still hated it then I would quit.

Soon it turned into 4 days and by the time the 3 months was up I was hooked.

I felt better, I looked better, I had something outside of my larger than life husband and 2 babies.

I felt like I had found my drug of choice.

Naturally I wanted to learn more about the amazing things I could do to change my body. I decided to do my Cert III. Not because I wanted to work in the industry but because I wanted knowledge and the confidence that comes with that knowledge.

Cert III led to Cert IV and within 12 months I’d completed my course and walked straight into a job.

I have never looked back and have spent the years since learning as much as I can about what our bodies are capable of, and challenging that in my capacity as a personal trainer and group exercise instructor, and through my own training.

Only stopping to have my third child before getting straight back into training and learning.

Pushing myself physically has saved me mentally in the worst times of my life.

The gym has taken me from being a shy, timid mouse to a women with power beyond measure.

It has gotten me through my darkest days and has allowed me to shine.

I am proud to be giving my children, especially my beautiful daughter, the best role model they can have for living healthy, active lives.

The gym or playground is my happy place.

When I’m training, or teaching, I am me.

I am in control, I am confident, I am free.

I love sharing that with others and seeing them gain strength, confidence and self esteem through realizing their capabilities.

It’s not easy to force ourselves out of the sad comfort of our own rut, but it’s so worth it.

Not every before and after is about the outside.

 

How to get your first pull up and beyond.

Go from zero to hero!

A progressive approach to pull-ups for beginners to intermediate.4

 

Being a badass doesn’t just happen.

You don’t just wake up and be great at something just because you have a gift.

When people see me smash out strict pull ups I get varying reactions.

Some think I’m a freak.

Others think it’s something that comes naturally to me because I have a certain body type.

There are a few who say things like “I could never do that.” Or “I can’t even do one.”

I’m sure there are those who think it takes some kind of genetic super power to do a pull up.
If that’s the case I’m here to share my super powers and take you from zero to hero….at least when it comes to pull up strength!

My first attempt at a pull up was a dismal failure.
I couldn’t even do one. It was a little embarrassing in a gym full of people I assumed were looking at me and laughing at my ridiculous attempts. My ego was shattered.

I had all of these muscles but they were useless to me. Just beach muscles.
Being a little dogmatic, and more than a little competitive I decided that just wouldn’t do.
So I practiced. A lot!

Don’t tell those science Nazi coaches, but I didn’t follow a very balanced program for a while. Every training day became pull up practice day. I never neglected the rest of my body. I just added whichever progression I was at, to build on my pull up strength.

To start with, I used a smith machine to do inverted rows.
Although working the back on a different angle inverted rows still build back strength by pulling body weight. I tried different angles and I believe this helped with my grip as well as mind to muscle awareness when it came to my mid and upper back.

I learned not to rely on just arm strength and to concentrate on what my shoulder blades and back muscles were doing.

From there I tried eccentric only and isometric holds.
With this method I’d get myself into the top phase of the pull up using a jump (cheating) or by climbing.
From the top of the lift I’d slowly lower myself (about 8 counts) down.

Sometimes I’d challenge myself by finding my “sticking” point (the point of failure on the up phase) and hold there in an isometric contraction or short ROM pulse up and down then slowly lower.

The options to progress from there are usually dependent on the tools available.

I had an assisted chin/dip machine at the gym I trained at, so that’s how I progressed to unassisted.

Assisted chin ups can be performed using a partner (your partner needs to be strong enough to help lift you). Another alternative is a power band or using an assisted chin/dip machine. You can also do self-assisted by keeping a foot or both on the ground or platform to take some of your weight.

This method works by not lifting your full body weight to get to the top of the lift but taking some of your weight through your legs.

Progressively you either use lighter bands or adjust the weight till eventually you’re lifting full body weight.

Another way to progress is with hand grip.

Starting out with a reverse/supine or a neutral grip is easier for most.
However, if you really want to target the big latissimus dorsi muscles, a wide overhand/prone grip is best.
These are usually much more difficult, especially for women do to our body composition.

I suggest when starting out with a prone grip to take the hands narrower. Progressively take them wider as you build the strength. Avoid bringing the shoulders forward (hunching) and keep your chest open. Imagine your shoulder blades coming down staying flat and meeting in the middle. Exaggerate pulling your chest to the bar.
Again work on the eccentric (down) phase being slower.

Eventually you should be able to perform strict prone wide grip pull-ups with regular practice.

To challenge yourself with body weight only, try altering the time under tension.
Think power in the lift phase and slow control in the lowering phase. Or do a slow lift all the way through.

You can use a rope or towel to increase the degree of difficulty and help with grip strength. This can be done as a wide or a close grip.
There are lots of ways to vary and create more of a challenge with body weight exercise without adding extra weight.

Once you can do 8-15 body weight pull ups relatively easily it’s time to add extra weight.

Remember to increase superhuman strength, lower reps are optimal.

You can use a weighted soft shell ball or sand bell between your knees.
Hold a dumb bell between your feet (this takes talent).
A kettle bell hooked on to your foot, a weight belt or vest is a great way to increase resistance if you have access to them.
Like anything you want to see improvement in, you need to put the time in and work up to it. 2-3 times consistently per week will see quicker results than a once a week focus.

Challenge yourself by progressively getting heavier as you would with any other lift.

Before you know it you will be so bad-ass at pull-ups that you will be mistaken for having some kind of freakish genetic superpowers too.

 

Follow this link for a video demonstration with a few of my favorite progressions:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ix5HzEVIc5g