This year has seen some pretty dramatic changes for me with regards to my training, and whilst I would normally avoid these tedious “Year in Review” posts I feel like I actually have quite a lot to review for once.
Busy and want the tl;dr? I did some cool stuff and if you scroll down there’s a fun video at the bottom of this post :)
After finishing college at the end of 2011, I had the time and mental capacity to learn something new, having decided to take a break from karate which I’d been studying for about seven years, most recently living in Japan for two years and training pretty much every day – it’s fair to say I was burnt out by the time I got back. I came up with a coule of goals in the New Year which I thought would fill that hole, at least for the time being, but ended up not only discovering a sport that I previously knew absolutely nothing about, but actually managed to make some half decent progress in it.
Like everyone, sometimes I make stupid decisions. Nothing wrong with that – they are, for me at least, by far the best way to learn something. The first of these was the New Years resolution I called “6 Weeks to Supplement-Free Abs“, something born almost entirely out of vanity (hey – I’m nothing if not honest). It actually took me till the end of October to blog about the whole experience, so great was my fear that my friends would mercilessly rip the proverbial, although amazingly that never happened (and I actually ended up getting quite a few questions from people about how they could do it themselves – not something I anticipated!).
By itself that goal wouldn’t have been so stupid, but I decided to pair it with another complementary one (or so I thought): running 5km in 20 minutes. Several years ago I got down to about 23 minutes, so I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to knock off the last few, and would also give me something to focus on whilst starving myself and training my abs.
However, what I didn’t account for is that I would run smack-bang into the calisthenics bus and get knocked off my feet by it. So now I wasn’t eating as much as I should’ve done, doing mad amounts of cardio and starting some serious strength training. I kind of fucked myself up, breaking my periods for three months, and so was faced with the decision of what to do. First thing first – I needed to put a few kilo’s back on, so cultivated an obsession with peanut butter that has haunted me ever since (I am typing this with a cup of coffee and a spoonful of Whole Earth Crunchy next to me). Next up was deciding what to drop from my regime…
By this time I’d nailed the abs-olute resolution and was getting close to doing proper pull-ups, and you can probably guess that I decided to drop the running. Actually I don’t really like running, and it was mainly stubbornness that was keeping me going, although I had started training on the track at Tooting Bec which was quite fun. I also thought it was more likely to have a detrimental effect on my health – hormones, metabolism, cortisol levels etc. – so decided to just focus on calisthenics.
In January I found out about the Bar-barians after coming across a few of their videos on YouTube whilst researching the best ab exercises. Unlike most other people, it wasn’t videos of Hannibal or Zef I saw, but Jay and Lee’s videos of London workout parks (Part 1 and Part 2). They seemed like nice guys and I dropped Jay a line to see if I could train with them sometime. In early March I headed up to Primrose Hill for the first time, and was hooked.
More than the training, what made that first day so awesome was discovering what a great bunch of people trained there. I was absolutely shitting myself before I went up – thinking I was just some girl who’d “met” Jay on the internet, and that I wouldn’t be able to do half the stuff they could. But luckily the first exercise up was dips (I actually managed to do 11 IIRC) which got things off to a good start, and meeting guys like Miguel, Ify, Dan, Sai, George, Jefferson and Toga was very cool – good vibes all round :)
First trip to Primrose
In mid-March I found the Bar-barian forums, and there was a thread asking what peoples goals for 2012 were. Before I really knew much about cali, and before I knew just how hard some of the moves are, especially for a girl, I wrote:
– Run 5k in 20 minutes (probably about 23.5 now) – 1 x MU (not even thought about attempting) – Handstand (free) for 10 secs (about 2 secs now, but still next to wall) – 1 x HSPU (against wall) (doing negatives, still crashing head down last two inches!) – tuck planche for 3 secs (no idea where to even start – can do frog stand, but can’t lift legs off arms!)
So the running was struck off pretty swiftly. The muscle up ended up being a much bigger goal, in that I basically split it into various smaller ones: very low dips, explosive pull-ups, Russian dips etc. Before my injury I could do them on the squat rack and could probably have managed on the bars but never really got the chance to try properly (i.e. un-injured and unfatigued). So I’m calling it a success but they remain on the list for 2013.
Handstands… hmm, not at all my favourite things. Actually they kind of scare the crap out of me, given the fact that I have a tendancy to fall like a skyscraper given a hard shove by Gozilla. Moving out of the gym for Summer resulted in me stopping practising them entirely, something I shouldn’t have let happen, but I was too busy having fun swinging around in the sunshine. I managed to hold a 45s wall one a few months ago, although have never tried holding for longer than that. On good days I can push away from the wall and hold it for a few seconds, but definitely more work required on them!
The HSPU – handstand push-up – is a weird one. Before my injury I was doing a bit more handstand work and some HSPU negatives. I felt way off being able to do a proper HSPU though. However, last week I decided to do a handstand to see how my shoulder felt, and it was fine, so I decided to drop down. Still felt fine. Tried to push and… I just went up. Kind of weird. Guess those muscles were just rested, or I’ve somehow got stronger doing the inverse rows and lat pull downs, which are pretty much the only upper body moves I’ve been doing, although that seems unlikely. Either way, pretty damn pleased as I thought it was a goal I’d sacrificed to the tendonitis.
Before I knew anything about cali, I assumed that most things would be achievable with between three and six months of consistent practise. Little did I know! A tuck planche is a hard move for guys, let alone for a girl (with our puny shoulder girdle) so of course that’s now been re-filed onto the Very Long Term list ;)
Although that was my list, it didn’t even address the basics – pull-ups, push-ups and dips, although they’ve never been things that I set myself targets for – I have just always aimed to be better than I was before, so the reps have taken care of themselves. Many of the cooler moves I never set out to do: two finger pull-ups, assisted pull-ups, and even the weighted pulls and dips I ended up doing before my injury. I guess that whilst It’s useful having goals it’s also worth leaving yourself lots of space to play.
The first Bar-baric seminars were in June, and it was good to have all the techniques and proper form taught – just the kick up the ass I needed to start working on making sure my form was spot-on. I also met some great people there, several of whom have become firm friends, and also got to hang out with two of the American Bar-barians, Rick and Mark.
Overall, though, I think the thing that really made me strong and cemented my cali training was quitting the gym for the Summer. Training outside is just a different experience, and being on the bars instead of on poor equivalents in the gym just doesn’t compare. I made it out to the park at least every other day, if not every day, and those three or four months of putting my time in with the basics helped build up my strength foundation.
The last part of the year has been somewhat marred by my injury (supposedly tendonitis but still not really diagnosed). The last proper training on the bar was at the seminars in November, but even then I was neither rested nor recovered. At the moment I feel like I’m in limbo land – watching as my arms shrink and trying not to freak out about it ;)
That said, I’m just figuring out what my 2013 goals should be, and drawing up a new rehab training routine to get me back into pulls/pushes/dips, and hopefully back to full strength again by the end of March (assuming that the scan on my shoulder doesn’t show anything untoward).
Anyhow, injured or not it’s been a pretty awesome year, full of amazing people and cool stuff that I’d never dreamed I could do, let alone would do. To top it off I’ve been featured several times in a compilation video of strong women in calisthenics. It’s incredibly flattering to be in the same video as people like Alexa from Barstarzz and Carman Amara, who is an inspirationally strong gymnast. Have a look:
And I hope everyone has a fun night tonight, and a 2013 that’s even better than 2012 was :)