2014 – A Year To Learn (things to do and not do)

One of the things I realised in 2014 was that I would like to “help people be more awesome”. There is a lot to “awesome” (besides being an overused and increasingly un-cool word): being happy, being confident, being healthy, fulfilling your potential and so on. One of the reasons I wanted to force myself to write more was to find a stronger voice and angle for myself and this blog, and that goal is the keystone. It’s important to use what skills you have, so all I can do is share my experiences and hope that at the very least they are thought-provoking to my readers. I am aware there is a fine balance between “sharing experiences” and “writing narcissistically and incessantly about oneself”, so hopefully I will stay on the right side of that fence, and that my friends (and my readers!) will take me aside for a word if I don’t.
So without further ado, here is the counterpart to my previous post, about the things I have learnt in 2014.
1. Not to be a vain dick (or at least less of one)

When I first got into bodyweight training I was pretty much the only girl who was out and about in the parks of London, training hard and hanging around with the beasts who lived there. I got into making YouTube videos to track my progress, and these got loads of comments and shares. At that time I was in the unique (as far as I knew – back then I didn’t know much about Crossfit or even the bodyweight movement across the world) position of being one of a very small number of British women putting out such videos. Of course my little ego liked that – the good feedback, people thinking you’re strong, getting adds on Facebook every day, getting to see the view counter on YouTube rack up…

However, there was an element of my training being shaped by what would make a good video, rather than be what would actually be solid training. Instead of making myself a quality routine, leaving no holes and weaknesses unturned, in order to make me awesomely strong and uber-skilled, I got side-tracked by learning stupid tricks and showing off.

At the start of 2014 I grew a bit frustrated with my training – this happens occasionally when you train on your own without a coach to help you overcome plateaus or someone there to “cheerlead” you. I wanted more solid and consistent progress, and it was at that point I came across GMB. The timing was perfect, because as well as advice and guidance on the practical side of training, their approach made me see the errors in my ways and get back on a better track: the company oozes accessibility, clarity and a lack of ego I have yet to encounter in ANY other strength training organisation. The constant bombardment with down-to-earth messages and reminders of why I should be training helped re-establish myself fairly early on in the year. Which leads me to the second good lesson learnt…

2. How to focus more on my goals

Before, I just wanted to do EVERYTHING. Planche training, levers, running, deadlifting, pull ups – I had no single goal except TURN INTO A BEAST RAWWRRRRR. What I didn’t realise is that whilst being a jack of all trades has benefits, in order to master some, let alone one, I would need to make a real concerted effort on them, rather than try and cram in everything.

I’d always used 6 week blocks to cycle through things, but now I make sure that I only have one or two primary goals, and maybe two secondary ones, and that they get pride of place in my training. This is achieved by not only doing them more often, but also earlier on in a session when I’m fresh and can devote more energy to them.

I have since realised that you can only ever be highly skilled, fit or strong in one of those areas. You will never be a fast runner and epically strong. You can be more than strong enough for your needs – to build solid quads for down hills and a good upper body to get across obstacles – but if you’re looking to nail a two times bodyweight deadlift and a sub-20 minute 5km, you’re going to have a bloody battle on your hands.

This realisation – of having a main focus and sticking the others on low-moderate back burners – helped me learn the next big thing:

3. How to run

Running is one of those things I never thought I could do. In my head I’m small and stocky and great at generating power, but only over short distances and for brief periods of time. Somehow though, I managed to go from disliking running to being apathetic about it to absolutely loving it (and actually not being bad at it at all). And when I say “somehow”, what I actually mean is “by doing a lot of running”.

To do this I cut back my bodyweight training to the bare minimum – straight sets of bodyweight pull ups and dips, a bit of front and back lever work and some climbing. Running four or five times a week is pretty exhausting, but also after I did a heavy bodyweight workout I’d find that my lats ached when I ran – a weird and not at all pleasant sensation – plus I didn’t want to make my wings any bigger – they help you fly up the bar but definitely not along the ground.

Now I’ve injured my foot so have cut back on running and prioritised bodyweight training again, something I’m enjoying just as much. At first I worried that with these changing goals I’d be setting myself back, but at the end of the day I love running and I’m loving getting back into strength training, and when the time comes to make another change then I’ll be cool with that too. It’s all progress so it’s all good :) 

4. How to tell people what to do

Unlike many people, I don’t have any desire to have a team of minions working for me. This is probably more to do with my self-reliant control-freakery than anything else, but I’m very happy just managing myself (and let me tell you, that’s more than a full-time job). It’s also another thing I never thought I’d be good at it – I don’t consider myself to be in any way charismatic or one of those people who oozes authority. Telling people what to do always made me feel like an anxious Little Miss Bossyboots.

But one of my career highlights last year was project managing the build of an 8 x 12m garden at the 2013 RHS Chelsea Flower Show (see photos and read more here), which necessitated quite a lot of organisation before the build, than an intense week of ordering people around – getting a team of eight to fill steel cages with rocks for two days straight, asking people to move 5m high trees 30cm to the left then rotate them by 60 degrees, removing granite stones that had been epoxy-resined onto marine plywood and all…

At the time I was working with a lady who I will just describe as “slightly stressy” and I realised that managing people wasn’t about telling them what to do and being a massive drama queen about it, but empowering and guiding them to do it. I’d always struggled to make leading other people fit into my my life morals – the way I want to be treated and treat other people – but I realised that by staying calm, helping people feel happy and confident in their abilities and giving them lots of tea and biscuits that this management malarky isn’t so bad at all.

5. How not to give a f*&%

This has been lurking around for a while – the gradual lessening of fucks given what other people think – but finally, at the ripe old age of 36, I seem to have reached the point of actually acknowledging it. And you know what? It’s great. I do what I like, and if someone doesn’t like what I do or the way I do it, then that’s not my problem. No trying to please them or being scared of their dislike of me, just a straight-up “screw you”. Plus I care less what other people do. Whilst I would definitely prefer everyone to be healthy and happy (just plain awesome), not everyone is willing to change in order to fit what I think they should be. And you know what, that’s just fine. It’s their life and I won’t be worrying myself about it.

You may think this sounds massively flippant and like I don’t care about anything, so please take the time to read this most excellent article which explains it all much more clearly than I ever could, plus it contains more swearing than I could ever pull off.

So 2014 is over and done with, and it’s time to start 2015. Tomorrow night I have a party arranged by our sponsor from last years’ Chelsea Flower Show which should see a lot of the team – on the design, build and supplier sides – reunited, so perhaps that will bring some new opportunities my way. At the very least it’s at the beautiful Kensington Roof Gardens, plus there’ll be be free champagne!

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