I had been working towards a flat split on my left side by 31 December 2019, however, despite lots of hard work, it didn't happen. My measurement on 31 December was 197 degrees (on tiles) on both sides. Since Aerial Divas reopened and I'm back to carpet, I'm not sliding as far, so my right split appears to have regressed (although it actually hasn't), but my left has dropped nicely.
Moving in 2020, I am working towards having a flat split on both sides by 31 December 2020.
Right Leg Forward: this is about 199 degrees, after one and a half hours of active flex and split specific stretching. It's not my lowest measurement, however I recently realised that I tend to measure lower at home because I have to take my photographs on tiles, so I slide a little further than when I am on the carpet at Aerial Divas. However, my right leg progress has consistently been below 200 degrees for three weeks or so now, so I'm happy with that.
Left Leg Forward: this is at 193 degrees; again, not my lowest, but the lowest measurement taken on carpet. I notice the largest fluctuation in my splits on this side, but it is consistently my more flexible side, not just in splits but in other shapes too. This measurement was also taken after an hour and a half of active flex and split specific stretching. I have the blocks further forward than is recommended so I can measure my angles. If I have them under my shoulders, I can't see how close I am to the floor, although I do know that if I turn out, I could touch the floor. However, while I'm stretching, I really work hard not to turn out and lose my form. On the stage, if I was splitting, I would probably turn out, but it would still look amazing to the audience.
Oh boy, have I been slack over here!
I apologise, but assure you that my intentions were good. I have been very active on Instagram and Facebook, but that's not the point, is it? My apologies again.
But, even though I've been rather slack with updating you all here, I have been working pretty hard.
I'm not doing weights at the moment, although I am trying to get back into it. I can't get to EP at the moment, so I'm using a commercial gym close to work, but I'd forgotten how much I dislike commercial gyms and I miss the intimate environment of EP.
But one thing I haven't stopped is Pole and Aerial Divas. I am still doing both pole and lyra, and been been consistently stretching every weekend and working on my front splits. I've been working towards getting a flat split on my left side since January this year. Check me out then!
At this point I still thought my right side was my splittier side, although I learned pretty quickly as I attended regular stretch classes that this was a false impression and I was definitely flexier on my left. Here's some progress from the middle of this year.
But it was last month, during October, that I started to see some real and consistent progress.
And here is my progress as of today!
My left front split is at 192 degrees, while my right side is at 213 degrees. I'm working down to 180 degrees, hoping to get there on my left side before the end of the year.
But I do need to be careful!
I know myself that, when something is so close, it is easy to try and rush to the finish line. Getting this far in one year, just twelve months, is huge and I need to continue going slowly. The floor ain't going anywhere, after all, and I am getting lower. If I go too hard I risk an injury that could set me back months of progress.
And if I'm not at 180 degrees by December 31?
Well, I'll be damn close!
And that's something I can be proud of.
Do you sometimes forget how far you've come?
I know I do!
Today I had the honour of seeing my 2016 flashback on the Evolving Physiques Instagram page. Lately I have been frustrated with my progress in a number of areas, as I feel like I've plateaued and I'm finding it hard to be motivated and maintain my discipline to keep training.
Then EP slapped me awake and reminded me how far I've come.
Left: 2014 - no weights, poor diet, minimal exercise, and poor mental health. Right: 2016 - completed my first weights program, learned how to incorporate Metabolic Precision into my diet, was doing regular cardio and training and had been able to come off anti-depressant medication. (Photo on the left is my own, photo on the right is by Danny D'Mello Photography).
Evolving Physiques: The 2016 Evolving Physiques Transformation of the Year - @barbelldancer.
Fun fact about this photo: I hadn't started pole dancing yet, I took that up in January 2017. While posing for a backstage shoot in my shorts and leather jacket, I posted an image on Facebook with the caption 'Take a picture, coz you ain't never gonna see me in leather and little shorts ever again'.
Click on the button below to see the original post on Evolving Physique's Instagram
Following each weights program, Evolving Physiques gives participants the opportunity to participate in a photoshoot, to showcase their hard work and celebrate their achievements. This year we had Kate, from Kate Stravrov Photography, come to EP to shoot us in our element, and I decided I was going to go all out this time.
In my previous shoots, I have chosen themes which match the kind of activities I am doing at the time of the photos (cycling, pole dancing, meditating) or that tie in with the theme of my program (such as my shoot with the Jolly Roger - you can read more about the symbolism behind this shoot here). This time, with my theme for the last few programs I have taken part in being The Winter Soldier, and the focus being on building muscle and gaining #wintersoldierarms, I decided to pay homage to that and include it in my shoot.
My cousin, Zoe (from Zoe Jane Make Up) is a professional make-up artist with some experience in special effects make-up, and I asked her if she could paint my left arm into a likeness of the Winter Soldier's titanium arm from The Winter Soldier and Civil War. She was up for the challenge and worked for three whole hours on Saturday morning getting me ready, then even made my face look amazing! My hair was done by Yeliz, who has done my hair and make-up for many a photoshoot before, and I was delighted with the results: I felt a bit like a celebrity (I confess) being pampered and painted.
The the edited photos came back, and I was staggered by the incredible results.
And, of course, I had to wear my custom made Winter Soldier Pleasers from Toes On Pointe.
Yikes! Just realised I haven't updated this section for a while: the autumn lifting program at EP is in full swing and I haven't given you a single lift to devour yet.
Confession: sometimes it's hard to remember to blog, although I'm always regularly updating @barbelldancer's Instagram page, so that's a good place to be for regular updates.
But, back to my lifting.
This program is different to any others I've done in the past as the main focus on this program is building strength. Of course, strength has come from other programs as well, but this program has been designed purely to help participants become the strongest version of themselves. That means taking things slowly, lifting heavier weights for less reps, and lots of focus on form and technique, rather than super-sets and burning muscles out.
It's very effective and I'm already seeing some great results.
Readers during my last weight program will know that I had an overall goal of deadlifting 100kgs for 1 set of 4 reps last time and, while I technically achieved it, it was not without struggle and my form was really, really off! Pat let me do it but we had a good old debrief about it before I started this program and we both agreed that I had pushed myself too hard and too far, and that, while I was physically strong enough to achieve the lift, what we needed to focus on now was technique.
I'm slowly moving towards a conventional deadlift at the moment, although to get there I have to work on the flexibility in my quads and hamstrings, so I'm not lifting with my lowerback. The reason I use a trapbar is because my body cannot get into the correct position (yet) to use a barbell and preform a conventional deadlift safely. Fun fact: I do not use a trapbar because I am (in the words of one Instagram troll) too weak for a conventional deadlift. A trapbar deadlift is just another form of deadlift that requires a different technique, it's not better or worse than a conventional deadlift and trapbar deadlifters are just as much strength athletes as conventional deadlifters, we just do it in a different way.
However, I digress!
Form is the cornerstone of this program and I've learned a lot, and my lifts have improved dramatically even just five weeks in.
I picked up a bad habit in previous programs of bending my elbows and yanking the trapbar as I deadlift, which puts strain on my elbows and doesn't improve my lift. Pat h as been helping me correct this by getting me to roll my shoulders down and back, replacing the yanking movement and ensuring that I keep my arms straight.
Have a look at the video below to demonstrate and notice the difference between my first lift and my final lift, when my technique is slipping. This illustrates what I'm trying to explain better than words ever could.
Next week is the last week of the EP Summer Program.
These twelve weeks have gone so quickly!
This challenge has also been the most physically and mentally challenging of all the weights programs I've done at EP. In previous challenges, I've steadily climbed right throughout, lifting heavier each week and seeing constant, rapid progress. Coming into this challenge, I expected the same, but this has been a real rollar-coaster ride for me, with some weeks being exceptional and some weeks just not.
There were also quite a few weeks where I felt like I was going backwards! For instance, one week I'd successfully progress from seventy-five to eighty and, the next week, I couldn't even get the seventy-five off the ground! This was frustrating for me, and if I hadn't had the support and encouragement from Pat and Hilal to keep going and continue, even when I felt like I was slipping, I don't believe I would have finished the challenge.
It's also helped that my arm day, when I deadlift, has been the same day as an amazing woman, who is super encouraging and inspiring. We make a great team and working out with her always pushes me to perform at my peak - even if my peak one week might be slightly less than last week. This has cemented for me the benefits of having someone else alongside you, to motivate and encourage you to keep going, while also having the accountability partners in Pat and Hilal to ensure that I turned up every single week.
And, overall, despite a few weeks of feeling like I was slipping, my performance has actually improved dramatically.
And nowhere have I felt this more than my deadlifts. I want to share the last three weeks of deadlift progress with you, as this really illustrates how far I've come in my strength progression. Each of these deadlifts was a personal best until next week came along and I smashed it, and none of these was easy! Each lift was a real fight and my technique slips every so often, but I lifted them all and know where I went wrong, so I can correct it next time I lift.
Date: 17 January 2019
Date: 24 January 2019
Date: 31 January 2019
I am hoping to hit 100kg for four reps next week. Stay tuned!
Actively trying to cultivate a new habit, a good habit, is hard. Habits usually form by accident, often with no conscious thought, and those kinds of habits don't tend to be the type we would knowingly cultivate.
And once you've got a habit, breaking it is even harder. Not impossible, mind you, but certainly difficult. If you've got a bad habit you're wanting to break, the best piece of advice I can give you is: don't go it alone. Find someone - a friend, family member, trainer etc. - who can be your accountability partner and help you stick to your goal of breaking your bad habit. Of course, the other thing you can do is contact Pat and Hilal at Evolving Physiques, who are experts at helping others break bad habits and cultivate new good ones, they are also excellent accountability partners.
But, as mentioned above, sometimes a habit just happens. Usually it's not a great habit, but, every now and then, you realise that you've cultivated a good habit without actually meaning to. I had a realisation like that today.
Since I started my most recent twelve week challenge at EP, I have been sitting down at the beginning of my warm up and meditating. Early on in the challenge I did an athlete's visualisation to help get me into a head space for my lifts, but I found that, as I continued on through the challenge, the more I tried to focus on my visualisation, the more distracted I became and, consequently, the more mental energy I expended bringing my thoughts back to the image in my head.
So, recently, I just started meditating for five minutes at the start of every single session at EP, before I get into my warm up. I just focus on my breath, bringing myself back to the feel of air coming in and out of my nostrils every time my thoughts wander. One of the many benefits of meditation is that it releases energy and improves concentration and I have discovered, since I started meditating rather than forcing myself to visualise, I generally have a better, more results-driven session.
And I realised something else too.
The moment I walk into EP, my mind and body go 'it's time to meditate', without me even thinking about it. I just grab a mat, head over to a space out of everybody's way, and turn inwards to prepare for my session.
I have cultivated a good habit, that has benefited my training and assisted me to achieve results, without even trying.
Something to celebrate, methinks.
Last week was Week 6: half way through the summer challenge!
As most of you know, my big goal this program is about regaining the muscle and definition in my arms that I lost over my holiday, but I've been enjoying some other benefits too.
Since starting weights again, I'm less tired during the day, more focused, and my endurance has increased dramatically. I have less pain in my back and I'm sleeping better, all the while getting stronger and feeling great.
But, back to my arms. How have they been going? Well, have a look.
So there you have it. No magic, no steroids, no supplements, no celebrity-endorsed fad diet or the latest 'trendy' workout: just consistent training with a goal-orientated focus.
Now, I don't know about you, but I think my arms are just looking...
Those of you who read my post on Monday will know that I was feeling just a little not earlier in the week.
In fact, I was so not that I skipped an exercise and, instead of focusing on my workout, put my energy into watching the clock, counting down the minutes until the session was over.
So, come Thursday, I was ready to put myself in a better headspace and throw myself into my arm day workout. Not more not for me.
As I mentioned in Monday's post, exercise is just as mental as it is physical and if you're checked out mentally your physical performance will suffer for it. So, it was one thing to say that there would be no more not, but how did I go about making that happen? Words are powerful, but when it comes to exercise it is action that gets you results, not words.
Barbell Dancer's Pre-Workout Prep Routine
The secret to getting ahead is getting started. - Mark Twain
1. Athlete's Visualisation
I learned about the Athlete's Visualisation in a meditation app I use regularly, Insight Timer (incidentally, download it, it's the only meditation app you'll ever need!) and adapted it for my lifts. I find a spot where I can sit comfortably, take ten deep breaths, and then really focus on what I want for my session. On Thursday, I visualised myself doing my deadlifts, succeeding at them, and kept that picture firmly in my head for two whole minutes. I know this is a strategy that works for me, as other times I have done it before a session I have really 'levelled up' in my workout, and I find a combination of eyes closed to fix the image and then eyes open to take in the space works well for me.
2. Back Stretches
Back pain has been an unfortunate companion for me these last few weeks, although I'm pleased to say that some wonderful advice from Hilal on Monday has been extremely helpful. I actually have been doing these stretches morning and evening since Monday which excellent results - less pain and more mobility - and I can already see they are going to become a standard part of my pre-workout arsenal. I hold each stretch for between 30 - 45 seconds, and then stretch for the same amount of time on the other side.
3. Roll It Out
Once I'd stretched, I grabbed a foam foller and proceeded to roll out the back of my body and then onto my front. A foam roller gives tight muscles a massage and further loosens warm, stretched out muscles. Everybody is different, but I personally like to make sure I am at least a little warm before I use a foam roller, as using it on cold muscles is too painful for me. However, nothing feels better than the firm press of a roller across my back once I've stretched it out and it always feels excellent over my legs too.
Once I've rolled it out, I go into my warm-up. My warm up can include anything from further stretches, to skipping, to using a resistance band. I make sure I'm feeling warm and mobile before I jump into my session (both to prevent injury and to maximise performance), but engaging in my little routine pre-workout yesterday really helped me get in the zone and bring out my #wintersoldierarms at the finest!
So, before I sign off, how did my arm workout go yesterday?
See for yourself.
Arms: Week 5
I do three sets of ten trapbar deadlifts on arm day, and Thursday night I set new PBs, sucessfully lifting 70 and 70kg for ten reps. I've been quietly dreaming of 100kg for four reps by the end of this program, and last night made me feel that it's possible, but if I want it I have to work for it.
My final deadlift of the night - 75kg - with Pat egging me on.
I broke another personal record last night, doing six out of twelve assisted pull-ups with just the band. Pat jumped in to help me achieve the last six in the two sets that I did, but I successfully did the first six in each set with just the band. This is a 50% increase from last week, in which I did the first three in each set with just the band, and I'm determined to be able to do the full twelve with just the band by the end of this challenge.
My first six pull-ups with the band.
And then came the famous #armsbypat finisher. On Thursday night it was three sets of ten push ups... with a twist.
So there you have it! After the near-disaster that was leg day, I brought back my #wintersoldierdetermination for arm day and nailed it!
You don't find the willpower - you create it.
Me With No Apologies.