There’s a very fine line between sharing your view, and coming across like you’re telling people what to do; especially when you’re a coach. So I’d like to start off this post by saying that the way I choose to train/think bears no relation on how I think you should train/live. The greatest thing about our bodies is that they’re all different, so they respond in varying weird and wonderful ways. We’re not all designed to do or enjoy the same things, although our shared passion for training does give us some things in common.
- A desire to work hard to achieve our goals.
- The enthusiasm and drive to challenge social norms and fill our lives with something more than the daily grind, and what is expected of us.
- A love of physical activity.
However, our motivations for all of the above will still differ, and judging someone on these things is wrong.
Personally, I’ve always loved being active. It’s something that makes me feel really alive! But it’s more than just that for me, I have a fierce competitive streak that’s been present in me since day one. Having three sport-mad brothers, all of whom are very close in age to me probably ignited this competitive fire that burns powerfully within me.
Being competitive has both its pros and cons, and more often than not, it’s been instrumental in helping me to achieve so many of the things I have done so far in life.
I competed with my siblings and my friends at school, trying to do better than them in everything I could, and long-term this had a positive effect, leading to me being a top flight student, and then completing a BSc with honours in Sports Science and Physiology at Leeds University.
Being naturally athletic all my life, I gravitated towards others who shared a similar love of physical activity, and before long I found myself playing every sport going, and wanting to be the best at everything. In the end it was a case of just finding the thing that I enjoyed doing most, which was track athletics – where I managed to go as far as running for the county, and then for the North of England. Eventually I gave up sprinting due to chronic injury in my feet; the result of the constant impact of running day in day out without addressing the strain on my joints and soft tissue. In hindsight, this outcome was inevitable.
As I’ve grown older I’ve continued to turn my hand to everything available to me, and more recently the greatly varied and hugely physical nature of Strongwoman training has got me hooked! Over the last couple of years it’s taken the lion’s share of my training focus, and the desire to prove that I could be great at it has led to me competing in 6 competitions, 3 of which have been top level title comps. The weights for these have crept up higher and higher, pushing my body to its limit and beyond. On the lead up to my last competition, Britain’s Strongest Woman, I followed an intensive 5-month programme, in which I was lifting so much heavier than I’d done previously, whilst having to keep my weight below the 63kg limit. All my hard work, pain, sweat and tears were rewarded when I managed to place 3rd in Britain on my first ever attempt at the competition.
But when does being so competitive and focus driven lead to negative outcomes?
…for me, the nerves before each competition are horrendous! I freak out so much, and analyse everything before it’s happened. Before Britain’s Strongest Woman I was unable to sleep, found it difficult to eat, and couldn’t focus on anything for more than a couple of minutes. The night before the competition I went to bed at a sensible hour, but every time I tried to close my eyes I’d be running through all the possible scenarios, and before I knew it my heart would be hammering inside my chest so hard that I was afraid it’d wake Rob up!
When competing, it takes me a couple of events to settle my head, my heart and my breathing, by which point I’ve got everyone around me stressing too.
Bigger than all of this though, is my inability to take appropriate care of my body when I have such a significant goal in sight. My mind becomes shrouded by the end goal so much, that my body starts to suffer, and I’m certainly not alone in this. This is, after all, what is
expected of a top level athlete. You compromise your long term health (in many cases) to achieve short-term greatness, and this is a choice that is weighed up by the athlete. Peak physical performance and peak physical health do not necessarily go together hand in hand. One of the main rewards for becoming great at a sport is receiving recognition from others, and this is a powerful motivator for so many of us. Who doesn’t want to be admired? How many of you have carried on through niggles for this reason? Or thought that pain is to be expected?
In Strongwoman, more so than many other sports, this becomes the norm. After all, we’re pushing our bodies through 5 or more hugely taxing events all in 1 day, often flinging around weights several times that of our own bodyweight.
For long-term health however, our bodies and minds crave balance. Powerful and explosive training really needs to be counterbalanced with slow and controlled movement; stretching, purposeful movement, and mindful breathing techniques. In order to be strong, flexible, fast, graceful, and to have stamina, you need to dedicate time and effort to each of these areas.
When training the general population, as coaches and trainers, a large part of our job is to work on our clients’ longevity and on improving their quality of life; helping them to find equilibrium in their bodies and minds, and keeping them happy, vibrant and fresh. Hammering just one system is not the way to achieve this, and now as an athlete I’m going to take on board a little of my own advice, and be kinder to my body and look a little further ahead than my next competition.
So for the time being, I’ve decided to lay off the competition, and the really heavy stuff, and to go back to doing more of what makes me really happy, and right now, that’s sprinting again! So I’ll be heading back to the track, with a spring in my step, the added benefit of my newfound strength and no expectations at all…other than enjoying movement without added weight, and seeing what my body is capable of. Though I’m sure it won’t be long before my inner fire is burning again, and pushing me to compete once more!